Impeachment inquiry gets real
No set of Capitol Hill hearings in recent memory has generated the buzz this week’s live testimony of witnesses in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. While the Republican-led investigation into President Bill Clinton in 1998 was covered extensively, the televised spectacle involving President Richard Nixon in 1973 is unmatched.
Millions will be watching as cable news networks will provide gavel-to-gavel coverage. After three committees took part in depositions, the Intelligence Committee, led by controversial Chairman Adam Schiff, is leading the probe.
Most Americans seem to have their minds made up with polling showing a 50-50 breakdown. The delegation is just as divided.
“It’s obviously 100% partisan, despite the fact that (Speaker) Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff and (Judiciary Committee Chairman) Jerrold Nadler all were quoted as saying if this was not a bipartisan impeachment that it would not be good for the American people,” said Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota.
The two sides could come closer together, as they did in 1973, if a bombshell drops that makes clear Trump’s guilt or innocence. Republicans are confident there is no Alexander Butterfield-type of witness that will force the President from office.
In 1973, Butterfield was the deputy assistant to the President who shockingly revealed under oath the existence of an Oval Office recording system. That set in motion the events that led to Nixon’s resignation, preceded by Tennessee Republican Howard Baker’s famous question, “What did the President know and when did he know it?”
Most Democrats feel they have enough already without a blockbuster witness. This week’s lineup of Ambassador William Taylor, State Department Official George Kent, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich all provided negative information on Trump, according to transcripts.
“With regard to the Ukraine matter, we saw a transcript that showed pretty strong evidence of allegations that the president had abused power by asking a foreign country to investigate his top rival,” said Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto. “We saw allegations of bribery, holding back $391 million in foreign aid to Ukraine to push for that investigation.”
Republicans say they are prepared for the opportunity to question the witnesses in public. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy guaranteed some extra fireworks by appointing controversial Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan to the committee for the duration of the hearings.
The GOP put together a list of witnesses they wished to call, including the “whistleblower,” all who helped that whistleblower draft the complaint, and Hunter Biden, among others. Schiff indicated the entire list would not be fulfilled.
Floridians are playing a limited role in this phase. Orlando Democrat Val Demings is the only Floridian on the Intelligence Committee. Others will come into play when Schiff presents a final report to the Judiciary Committee for any action on drafting articles of impeachment.
Demings also serves on that committee, along with Democratic colleagues Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami. Republicans include Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Greg Steube of Sarasota.
If the House follows through with impeachment, Deutch would be a likely candidate to serve as one of the “prosecutors,” formally known as managers. During the 1999 impeachment trial of Clinton in the Senate, Republicans Bill McCollum and Charles Canady served in that role.
Another phase of U.S. history is about to begin. So, too are the partisan games.
Senators fear more violence
Conditions are deteriorating in Hong Kong. The latest violence saw police officers shooting two demonstrators, while a counterdemonstrator was set on fire, prompting Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to describe protesters as “the people’s enemy.”
Lawmakers, including both Florida Senators, are becoming more concerned that China will seek to put an end to the violence once and for all while mourning one who died.
Sen. Rick Scott, who traveled there last month, tweeted:
The violence from Beijing’s puppets in #HongKong continues to grow. Our hearts go out to the brave pro-democracy fighters as they mourn the passing of one of their own.
His family and friends deserve the truth. There should be a full & open investigation.https://t.co/yE6pErm4qb
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) November 11, 2019
Lam also told protesters they “will not succeed in securing their demands.” Rubio expressed concern the violence may increase.
Dangerously tense situation in #HongKong.
The world is witnessing the true nature of the Chinese government.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) November 11, 2019
The protests have continued for more than five months.
Panhandle gets agriculture grants
The Florida Panhandle received a significant lifeline with the announcement of a $380 million block grant designed to provide relief to farmers and help clean up rotting timber felled by Hurricane Michael. It was the first such grant Florida has ever received from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
With the agriculture industry suffering $3 billion in losses, the funds will not make timber farmers whole, but will provide them with some relief to recoup some of their losses and replant trees. Also, funding will go toward repairing irrigation infrastructure.
“Our Florida foresters are our best environmental stewards, and their livelihood depends on smart and sustainable conservation practices,” said Panama City Republican Neal Dunn, whose district was hit the hardest by Michael.
“These block grants will provide much-needed relief. I was happy to work with colleagues in Congress and (Agriculture) Secretary (Sonny) Perdue to ensure that the necessary resources flow to North Florida to revitalize our timber industry.”
According to Dunn, Timber was not eligible for loss payments in the 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP). State of Florida officials and members of the delegation worked with Perdue and the Department of Agriculture to ensure that timber producers could receive aid.
“The Panhandle has waited patiently for this money after the devastating effects of Hurricane Michael,” said Gaetz, whose district was also affected. “Thanks to the help of President Donald Trump, Gov. DeSantis, Sen. Rubio and Sen. Scott, Northwest Florida can continue the rebuilding process of our beautiful emerald coast.”
Jacksonville VA hospital sought
For years, efforts to establish a Veterans Affairs hospital in Jacksonville have come up short. Democratic Rep. Al Lawson has taken another step forward by reintroducing the Veterans Emergency Treatment Services Act.
Currently, veterans in the Jacksonville area requiring hospitalization must travel more than 60 miles to Gainesville and Lake City to receive emergency care. Lawson believes an area with so many veterans needs to provide for them.
“Jacksonville has one of the highest veteran populations in the nation and the highest concentration of veterans in the state of Florida,” Lawson said. “Establishing a VA hospital in Jacksonville is necessary to provide our service members with the critical care they need. Our brave men and women who have fought for our freedom deserve to be taken care of in their own community when they return home.”
Lawson, whose father was a disabled World War II veteran, has spent much of his career advocating for veterans. This includes providing employment, job training programs, access to health care, education benefits and affordable housing options.
Hacking notification guidelines issued
It took two years for Florida officials to be briefed on breaches into two county election systems. Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy is among those outraged Florida officials to demand more transparency from the FBI and the federal government.
Late last week, the Trump administration released guidelines for when it would notify the public of election interference. Murphy tweaked the administration for the slow response, but was grateful they took action.
“I’m pleased the Trump administration has finally recognized how important public notification is to the integrity and credibility of our elections and established a framework for when and how notification should occur,” Murphy said in a statement.
In a Sept. 3 op-ed for The Washington Post, Murphy has called for increased transparency in the event of interference by a foreign adversary. She joined with St. Augustine Republican Mike Waltz to introduce the ALERTS Act that would require notification to appropriate members of Congress and relevant state and local officials when an election system is breached, and voter information may have been compromised.
“While this belated step moves us in the right direction, I will continue to push for passage of the ALERTS Act because I believe Congress should establish a clear and consistent standard for notification and not leave this decision to the sole discretion of the executive branch,” Murphy added.
Flood insurance hike halted
Floridians are concerned with a possible significant increase in their flood insurance premiums following the stream of natural disasters in recent history. However, thanks to political pressure from members of Congress, including Reps. Charlie Crist, Mucarsel-Powell and Francis Rooney, they will have a year of reprieve before they face those challenges.
Action taken by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) delayed the proposed rate calculation changes from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) from Oct. 1, 2020, to Oct. 1, 2021. The decision came after the members led more than 60 of their colleagues in a letter supporting a delay in Risk Rating 2.0 as part of changes necessary to a long-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program.
“We’re encouraged that FEMA is listening to Congress’ concerns about the impacts of Risk Rating 2.0. FEMA’s promise to protect policyholders and minimize any unintentional negative effects in the transition is vital to ensuring the NFIP remains successful,” the group said. “We hope FEMA will more actively engage with Congress to ensure transparency around the fundamental changes they have proposed.”
The planned change to the method in which NFIP charges policyholders is meant to get the program out of its multibillion-dollar debts and help the country adapt to the growing risk of climate change.
No state would face a more considerable financial impact than Florida, where 35% of the program’s policies are written. The agency initially planned to release its new rate structure in April 2020.
CD 19 field grows
The campaign to succeed retiring Rep. Rooney is picking up steam. Some are deciding against a run for the Florida’s 19th Congressional District seat, while some are making their run official.
Jumping in was Cape Coral Republican Dane Eagle. The current Florida House Majority Leader announced late last week and raised $100,000 during the first 24 hours. Naples Urologist Dr. William Figlesthaler opened a campaign account, the first step in getting into the race.
While Eagle was likely pleased, State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass decided against running, as did Commissioner Brian Hamman, locally-known state Reps. Heather Fitzenhagen of Ft. Myers and Bob Rommel of Naples are leaving the door open.
A survey taken shortly after Rooney’s announcement should give Eagle some encouragement. The study conducted by St. Pete Polls put Benacquisto in the lead, followed by former state Rep. Matt Caldwell, with Eagle in third. Caldwell has not expressed any interest in running.
More Republicans will weigh whether to join the race, if not a Democrat or two, but the winner of the GOP primary in the solidly red district will most likely be headed to Washington in January 2021.
Wasserman Schultz seeks chairmanship
A rumored interest by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to seek a top leadership position is becoming more transparent. The Weston Democrat is reportedly seeking to become chair of the House Appropriations Committee for the 117th Congress.
The position is open due to the pending retirement of the current chair, 32-year veteran Rep. Nita Lowey of New York. Assuming Democrats retain control of the House, Wasserman Schultz would need to leap over a number of more senior Democrats.
Among those: Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, the longest-serving woman in the House, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. Kaptur, 73, and DeLauro, 76, have both indicated they would seek the post.
Wasserman Schultz does have some backing within the delegation. One committee Democrat with more seniority, Rep. Peter Visclosky of Indiana, is also retiring.
“I’m excited that she’s making a bid for Appropriations chair,” said Soto of Kissimmee. “She has over 10 years of experience and is a very savvy and hardworking member of Congress, one of the hardest working members of Congress.”
Wasserman Schultz currently chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees military construction. Only one Floridian, the late Republican Rep. Bill Young, has previously led the committee.
Farm workforce legislation proposed
Farmers and ranchers across the United States are in desperate need of a high-quality, reliable workforce, and the current H-2A, guest worker program, requires meaningful, bipartisan reform. To help address the situation, Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart has joined with a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce the Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019.
The bill establishes a program for agricultural workers in the United States to earn legal status through continued agricultural employment and contribution to the U.S. agricultural economy. It follows months of negotiations also creates a first-of-its-kind, merit-based visa program specifically designed for the nation’s agricultural sector.
“The success of our farmers, growers, and producers is essential not only for our economy but for our national security. For far too long, we’ve suffered from a broken H2A visa system — making it difficult for farmers to hire the workforce necessary to provide to the American people,” said Diaz-Balart.
If enacted, agricultural employers would be required to use the E-Verify system to guarantee the eligibility of workers. It would also ensure the due process of those rejected.
The bill is sponsored by California Democrat Zoe Lofgren, with 46 co-sponsors. Those include, in addition to Diaz-Balart, Rep. Lawson of Tallahassee.
Kennedy Space Center honored
Purple Hearts are awarded to those in the military who were wounded and/or killed in action. Another type of Purple Heart is awarded to those recognized as supportive of veterans.
Last week, the Military Order of the Purple Heart honored the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) or their demonstrated record of supporting veterans. The recognition was presented during a ceremony at the KSC auditorium in Cape Canaveral.
“Usually when veterans get out, they want to be away from any kind of government service,“ said Christopher Vedvick, Commander, Department of Florida Military Order of the Purple Heart. “Here at Kennedy, they’ve embraced that … they have their own group of veterans who really make up the fabric of what we felt to be Kennedy Space Center.”
Kennedy is being recognized as a Purple Heart Entity for the support of veterans through employment opportunities and services provided to veterans by the center’s veterans employee resource group. More than 300 veterans are employed at KSC.
“Veterans will continue to play a vital role in securing the legacy of America’s space program,” said KSC Associate Director Kelvin Manning. “We would not be successful without our veteran contributions. Service goes beyond the uniform. This Veterans Day, we honor the men and women who have worn the uniform and continue to serve our country.”
On this day
Nov. 12, 2018 — As the recount in Broward County continued, Gov. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi demanded an investigation amid claims of voter fraud. Circuit Judge Jack Tuter rejected Scott’s call to impound Broward voting machines.
Scott has seen his election night lead over Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson dwindle from 57,000 votes to 12,500, while in the Governor’s race, a 77,000-vote lead for former Rep. Ron DeSantis over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has dropped to nearly 34,000 votes. Scott has called for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement but has not forwarded a formal, written request.
Nov. 12, 2007 — House Democrats ignored a White House veto threat and passed legislation that would require the government to negotiate lower prices for Medicare’s prescription drug program. President George W. Bush has vowed to veto the bill if it clears the Senate.
Speaker Pelosi called the vote “a resounding victory for America’s seniors over the special interests.” The measure passed by a vote of 255-170 with 24 Republicans joining with Democrats, including Vern Buchanan from Sarasota and Jeff Miller from Pensacola.