Bondi answers the call
When the possibility of impeachment arose in 1998, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton signed off on establishing a “war room” to help shape public opinion. Included among the more notable participants was strategist James Carville and attorney/spokesman Lanny Davis, who recently represented former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
Until this week, Trump has resisted such a strategy but has now warmed slightly to it by bringing in former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and former U.S. Treasury spokesman Tony Sayegh to lead the impeachment communications efforts. Sayegh is expected to work behind the scenes on message development while Bondi will be the primary face of the “pushback.”
While the Clinton anti-impeachment effort left most of the talking to Davis and Carville, Bondi should expect Trump to continue counter-attacking. While she defends Trump, history indicates she will also be called upon to explain what he meant by a tweet or a comment.
“It’s going to be important for the White House to marshal legal minds around the country to carry the president’s message and defense during impeachment, and Pam Bondi is respected by attorneys general past and present as a consequence of her leadership in her time in Florida,” said Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz.
Despite the coverage surrounding the appointments, Bondi’s and Sayegh are not yet official members of Team Trump. Appearing on Fox and Friends Thursday morning, she revealed her interest in joining the White House team, but admitted it was not official.
“We’ll see. Most likely,” Bondi responded to a question whether she was heading to the West Wing. “If it works out, it’s going to be wonderful.”
It the appointment hits a snag, or somehow falls through, or Trump further ponders on whether to make it official, it would not be the first time a high profile legal appointment stalls. Most recently, former Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina was set to join the legal team, but that appointment was put on hold indefinitely.
After leaving office earlier this year, Bondi joined the Washington office of lobbyist Brian Ballard, another high-profile Floridian very close to Trump. Despite receiving the blessing of Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and First Daughter Ivanka Trump, Bondi’s lobby ties reportedly delayed her appointment.
While Bondi joins the effort fighting an accusation of a quid pro quo, Trump and Bondi detractors will resurrect the story of the former attorney general seeking a $25,000 campaign donation from, then later deciding against an investigation into Trump University. No quid pro quo was proved.
Things begin to get real next week when the first televised hearings of the impeachment inquiry take place. Bondi is unlikely to be officially on the team at that point, but she will be a go-to source for comment.
Senators propose safety bill
The horrible slaughter of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland took place due to multiple failures that could have stopped the shooter. A new bill introduced this week in the Senate would create a site containing successful practices that have worked to keep schools safe.
This week, Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio joined Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s proposal of the Luke and Alex School Safety Act in honor of Luke Hoyer, Alex Schachter and the 15 other victims of the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year.
The bill would create the Federal Clearinghouse on School Safety Best Practices. Its purpose is to help schools and their faculty, parents, and community officials identify school safety measures and resources for implementing them.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about the 17 souls that were taken from us in a brutal act of violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” Scott said in a joint release. “Following the tragedy, I worked with the families of the victims, including Max Schachter and Tom and Gena Hoyer, to pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act to make our schools safer and prevent future tragedies.
In addition to compiling case histories of things that worked, the bill would also review all federal grant programs that could provide funding for improvements and ensure stakeholders and parents are notified of the clearinghouse. Also, federal officials are required to identify those at the state level responsible for school safety, as well as any state grant program that may be used to implement best practices.
“There is an immense need to make a central point of information available to states and local education agencies on ways to improve school safety and creating a Federal Clearinghouse on School Safety Best Practices would fulfill that need,” Rubio said in a joint release. “Congress should act swiftly to pass this bill, as well as my bipartisan Red Flag proposal and threat assessment legislation, both of which would help to prevent future senseless acts of violence.”
FBI responds to Scott
On multiple occasions, Scott has vented frustration at FBI Director Christopher Wray and the lack of information coming from the FBI following the mishandled tips the bureau received on the Parkland shooter. After calling on Wray to resign two days following the shootings, Scott repeatedly asked for information on what internal action the bureau took and introduced legislation requiring more transparency and coordination.
This week, Scott and other Floridians received the answers they were seeking. Wray appeared before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, answering questions on various topics, including what actions the FBI took following the mishandled tips.
Wray told Scott the bureau has made “massive changes” since the shootings. Among those changes was enhancing training and technology in the call center, as well as adding more oversight and moved personnel.
“We’ve added an entirely new leadership team,” Wray told Scott, and described other actions, “some of which were disciplinary in nature.” Wray also described addressing structural issues designed to help the FBI work more closely with state and local authorities when bona fide threats come in.
While Wray stated privacy and pending litigation issues prevented him from going into full detail, he told Scott one of the two directly involved in the error was “reassigned” while the other “is no longer with the FBI.”
“I appreciate Director Wray’s response on steps the FBI has taken to hold individuals accountable and make changes following the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” Scott said in a statement following the hearing.
“The FBI’s failure to investigate and act on specific tips about the shooter is inexcusable, and I am glad, after more than a year of demanding answers, that we were finally able to get information on accountability and changes being made at the FBI.”
Gaetz backs Crist challenger
The Republican primary for Florida’s 13th Congressional District seat held by St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist continues to grow, but a delegation Republican has already chosen sides. Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz has announced his support for Anna Paulina Luna.
Gaetz, an outspoken supporter of Trump, said she would be in his corner as well.
“Anna Paulina Luna is a woman of action, someone who can be counted upon to support the President, and someone who will stand up for our country,” Gaetz said. “I am proud to endorse her candidacy for Congress.”
When Gaetz announced his endorsement, Luna was one of five Republicans looking for the chance to face off against Crist. The other candidates included former Capitol Hill staffer Amanda Makki, former St. Petersburg City Council candidate Sheila Griffin, political newcomer Matt Becker, and failed 2018 candidate George Buck.
Earlier this week, a sixth candidate, conservative Sharon Barry Newby, joined the race. She is a political newcomer.
Makki has raised more than $400,000 through Sept. 30, with Buck second at $179,000 and Becker third at $58,000. Luna, who has raised $55,000, thanked Gaetz for his support.
“Congressman Matt Gaetz is a visible, committed and outspoken leader in the fight for the heart of our constitutional republic,” Luna said. “He leads with both words and actions, and I am honored to receive his endorsement.”
Crist has a $2.6 million war chest.
Rutherford celebrates JAXPORT funding
There is some good news regarding jobs for the Jacksonville Port Authority (JAXPORT) courtesy of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford announced $20 million in federal funds for port infrastructure improvements, which could create thousands of new jobs.
“Today’s incredible news is just another installment of the sustained federal investment that Northeast Florida has experienced in recent years,” Rutherford said in a news release. “It’s clear that the Trump administration sees our region as a major logistics hub of the Eastern Seaboard. In fact, JAXPORT continues to set record cargo volumes, currently in its fourth consecutive record-breaking year.”
The funds are a part of DOT’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant program. They will be used to update a cargo terminal on Blount Island as JAXPORT prepares for the arrival of larger vessels after the expansion of the Panama and Suez Canals.
“This progress is fueled by the double-digit growth in Asian container volumes and the continuous support from my colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee, the federal government, and the folks at JAXPORT working hard every day to keep our port city thriving,” Rutherford continued. “A special thank you goes to Transportation Secretary (Elaine) Chao for making these investments a reality.”
According to Rutherford’s office, the project is expected to create an additional 15,000 jobs, with an estimated $24 return for every $1 invested. As one of the “Top 15” container ports in the nation, JAXPORT supports $26 billion in total economic output, 132,000 jobs, and $727 million in state and local taxes, of which cargo operations directly generate $169 million.
Fairness in funding sought
A majority of the Florida delegation believes the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) needs revamping to ensure ample funding for water quality projects in Florida. A letter led by St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz to the leadership of the House House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and signed by 15 members of the delegation, requested an update on the formula CWSRF uses for water allocation.
“The inadequacy of the allotment, as illustrated in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2016 report to Congress, Review of the Allotment of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (Report), restricts states like Florida from addressing serious water quality needs,” the members wrote. “We seek your cooperation to modernize the allotment in any legislation that amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.”
The CWSRF, established in 1987, provides states with an annual allotment for low-interest financing of local water infrastructure projects. Included are projects on wastewater systems and their treatment facilities, stormwater management, and estuary projects, among others.
Additionally, the CWSRF’s method for the determination of state allocations has not been updated since its enactment in 1987. According to a 2016 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report to Congress, the method does not adequately reflect changes in population, nor does it meet the needs of most states.
“EPA’s Report fails to identify factors constituting the current allotment and finds most states do not receive annual funding in proportion to water infrastructure needs or population,” the letter continues. “Florida receives the third-lowest allocation per capita, has significant water quality demands, and welcomes 1,000 new residents every day.”
If Congress were to implement one of the EPA’s recommendations for modernizing the allotment, Florida could receive an annual increase from the program between 102 and 166%. Doubling the annual allocation would increase it between $55 million and $90 million, which would be retained by the state and used for necessary projects.
Castor promotes open enrollment
Open enrollment is underway for health care under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and for the second consecutive year, premiums are inching downward. More companies are offering policies under Healthcare.gov while other basic, non-comprehensive coverage plans are also available.
Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor has long been an opponent of the latter, referring to them as “junk plans.” She said such plans that do not cover basic necessities such as drug treatment and mental health services.
“Consumers are left on the hook — often for massive medical bills,” Castor said at a Tampa event highlighting open enrollment. “If you sign up for a ‘junk plan’ and then get a cancer diagnosis, you could probably end up in bankruptcy.”
Trump has highlighted the growing number of available health plans while his administration touts bringing stability to the marketplace. That particularly galls Castor, who blames the President for supporting a lawsuit that would gut the ACA.
“It’s really unbelievable that the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have continued to press so hard for repeal of the Affordable Care Act now, because they couldn’t repeal it in Congress,” she said. “They’re pushing in the courts to have it repealed.”
Buchanan: hold China accountable
China is well-known as a major source of the lethal drug, fentanyl. With their inability or reluctance, to stop its flow into the U.S., Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan introduced the Fentanyl Sanctions Act in the spring as a way to pressure the Chinese to take action.
The bill, co-sponsored by Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton, is not moving, prompting Buchanan to draw attention to the legislation. This week he wrote to the chairmen of the Armed Services Committee in the House and Senate.
“As you work to finalize a conference agreement for the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I am urging you to include my legislation to help combat the deadly, synthetic opioids being trafficked in the United States,” Buchanan wrote to Republican Sen. James Inhofe and Democratic Rep. Adam Smith. “The drug epidemic is a matter of national security.”
Both the House and Senate have passed separate versions of the NDAA, and now a conference committee is responsible for drafting a final compromise bill, which must be passed by both chambers again before being signed into law.
“We need to hold Beijing accountable for any lack of progress controlling the fentanyl freely flowing out of their country,” he added.
Rooney promotes SHEET Act
Among the more prominent issues the United States has with China is its theft of intellectual property and espionage leading to the acquisition of trade secrets. Theft spread to major universities, leading Naples Republican Francis Rooney to join with Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to introduce the Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft Act of 2019 (SHEET) in June.
A recent revelation of involving the theft of biomedical data for China from a major research hospital aligned with the University of Texas caught the attention of Rooney. He is calling for passage of his bill as a way to prevent further occurrences.
“Chinese espionage on American campuses is a grave threat to our national and economic security,” Rooney tweeted. “My bill, the SHEET Act (HR 3071), introduced with @SenTedCruz would protect our open academic environment and prevent this sort of malign behavior.”
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some researchers under some of the more than 200 investigations have obtained patents in China on work funded by the United States government and owned by American institutions. Others are suspected of setting up labs in China that secretly duplicated American research, according to government officials and university administrators.
Among the Rooney bill’s nine co-sponsors are Republican Reps.Gaetz, Daniel Webster, Bill Posey and Greg Steube.
Protecting pets globally
Two leading animal rights advocates have taken another step designed to stop the global trade of dog and cat meat. Buchanan and Rep. Alcee Hastings, co-chairs of the delegation, introduced a concurrent resolution calling on all nations to stop the practice and to enforce existing law.
During the last Congress, the two joined in filing a resolution banning the practice within the United States. The resolution was inserted into the most recent Farm Bill that passed in December 2018.
“The thousands of animal welfare advocates and numerous organizations who work day-in-and-day-out to ensure the humane treatment of these innocent animals have my utmost admiration and gratitude,” said Hastings, a Delray Beach Democrat. “Together, I look forward to working with the endorsing organizations along with my colleagues to pass this resolution, not only to strengthen the U.S. commitment to the protection of animals, but also the rapidly growing global movement to end this brutal and heartbreaking trade.”
The resolution calls for an end to the consumption and trade of dog and cat meat on cruelty and public health grounds and urges all nations with a dog or cat meat trade to adopt and enforce laws banning that trade.
In addition, the legislation affirms the commitment of the United States to advance the cause of animal protection and animal welfare, both domestically and around the world.
“The United States sent a strong message last year by passing the bill that Rep. Hastings and I introduced to permanently ban the practice domestically,” said Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican. “The U.S. should continue to be a leader against this inhumane and unsafe industry by passing this resolution condemning the practice across the globe.”
Leading the resolution in the Senate is Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley.
PACT Act passes Congress
Deutch, Buchanan and most of the Florida delegation had another reason to celebrate this week when the Senate unanimously passed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act. The bill, introduced by Deutch and Buchanan, now heads for the President’s desk.
The legislation makes certain acts of cruelty against animals a federal offense but contains an exception for hunting. A previous Congress passed legislation outlawing videos that depicted cruelty but not the acts themselves.
“Preventing animal cruelty is not partisan; it’s part of our values as a country,” Deutch said in a news release. “I’m proud that this legislation moved so swiftly through Congress, with such broad bipartisan support. Our country needs a federal law to prevent abuse against animals.”
Specifically, the law will amend the federal criminal code to prohibit the intentional acts of crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling, or otherwise subjecting animals to serious bodily harm. Those convicted would face federal felony charges, fines, and up to seven years in prison.
“This is a milestone for pet owners and animal lovers across the country,” Buchanan said. “For the first time, a national law has been passed by Congress to protect animals from cruelty and abuse.”
The bill had 301 co-sponsors, including 22 from the delegation, who are eager for the next step.
“I urge President Trump to quickly sign this bill into law and make animal cruelty a federal offense,” Deutch said.
Dems pan Paris withdrawal
As he promised, Trump began the formal yearlong process of withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. Although the President’s action took no one by surprise, it elicited pointed responses from Democrats around the country.
Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach called the move “misguided and dangerous.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston said:
Subservience to polluters is all this President knows.
It's obvious @realDonaldTrump is too weak to lead on climate change.
We need to elect a new Administration, one that will not fail future generations.https://t.co/uxL3Buzx0I
— Debbie Wasserman Schultz (@DWStweets) November 4, 2019
“We can’t wait for President Trump and his administration of climate deniers to wake up,” Deutch said in a statement following Trump’s announcement. “As the President tries to make it easier for polluters, Congress needs to step up and create the change we need to reduce our carbon emissions and confront this crisis.”
Among the bill’s 68 co-sponsors are Democratic Reps. Crist of St. Petersburg, Al Lawson of Tallahassee and Hastings of Delray Beach. Deutch’s co-chair on the Climate Solutions Caucus, Naples Republican Rooney, is also a co-sponsor.
On this day
Nov. 9, 2000 — A little over 36 hours after all polls closed, the nation had no idea who the next President of the United States would be. All except Florida knew who had won their state, but the margin showed Gov. George W. Bush with a slim 1,784 lead over Vice President Al Gore in Florida. Gore had 260 electoral votes and Bush had 246, leaving Florida as winner-take-all.
Chaos reigned in Palm Beach County, where some seniors believed they voted for Pat Buchanan instead of Gore do to a confusing ballot. Democratic Rep. Peter Deutsch of Ft. Lauderdale, pointing to a history of fraud in South Florida, is convinced there was a problem saying, “This isn’t a conspiracy movie out of Hollywood. This has been reality here.”
Nov. 8, 2016 — Despite polls predicting defeat, Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States over Clinton, the prohibitive favorite. Clinton earned nearly 3 million more votes than Trump, but his apparent narrow wins in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida gave him enough electoral votes to win. Trump’s former presidential rival, Sen. Rubio, won a second term over Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy.
Three House seats changed hands, with Democrats flipping two seats and Republicans winning one back again. Democrat Stephanie Murphy upset longtime incumbent Republican John Mica in District 7 while former Gov. Crist edged Republican David Jolly in District 13. Republican Neal Dunn won the District 2 seat vacated by Democrat Gwen Graham.
Belated happy birthday (Nov. 5) to Rep. Frederica Wilson.