‘Purity test’ threatens Dems
Former President Barack Obama is trying to send a message to Democrats. Within the past two weeks, he has warned against going too far left and, most recently, a caution against imposing a “purity test” for their candidates.
He sees the internal divisiveness as a threat to electoral success in next year’s national elections. It is clearly an appeal to nominate less than rigid ideologues not only for President but down the ballot.
“We will not win just by increasing the turnout of the people who already agree with us completely on everything,” Obama told a group of donors in Los Angeles. “Which is why I am always suspicious of purity tests during elections. Because, you know what, the country is complicated.”
Florida provides a perfect example of what he criticizes.
As chair of the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor is a passionate advocate for government action to combat it. No one can make a credible case that Castor does not eat, sleep and breathe climate change.
Despite her bona fides, several climate activist groups believe she is not doing enough.
In a letter to Castor and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 259 groups urge the two lawmakers to “stop being wimpy” about the “climate emergency.” The letter urges passage of the Green New Deal, especially provisions that call for ending fossil fuel production.
“After decades of inaction and defeatist rhetoric about what is possible, our planet can no longer afford incremental or isolated policy tweaks that appear safe to Members of Congress, most of whom will not live to see the consequences of the disastrous choices that they have made,” the letter reads. “The climate emergency the world now faces requires the courage to champion transformative action in response: a Green New Deal to build a more just and sustainable world.”
Castor points to her record and the work done by the committee, as well as those who serve on it.
“Our members serve on many other climate-relevant committees,” she said in a recent op-ed. “They are working hard to make sure our policy recommendations become law to move our nation to a brighter future.”
The activists say that is insufficient and point to the importance of policies like the Green New Deal to counter social conditions.
“The need for a Green New Deal is more pronounced than ever, as marginalized communities are impacted by intersecting crises of climate change, increasing income/wealth inequality, and rising white nationalism and neo-fascism,” they wrote.
Republicans recently faced a similar test from determined members on the conservative right. Their lack of unity in the face of a determined Democratic electorate (and lots of money) in 2018 did not turn out well for them.
With Iowa, New Hampshire and other primaries and caucuses looming closer on the horizon, we are about to learn whether Democrats will heed Obama’s warning.
Senators seek board replacements
Sen. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio have been vocal critics of the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board (FRTIB). Despite urging the board not to place federal retirement funds into Chinese companies, their calls went unheeded.
Earlier this month, Rubio, along with Scott and five other bipartisan Senators, introduced the Taxpayers and Savings Protection (TSP) Act to prevent the FRTIB from making the Chinese investments. The TSP Act would conditionally ban the investment of Thrift Savings Plan funds in securities listed on mainland Chinese exchanges.
On Nov. 22. Scott and Rubio took additional action, writing to Trump, urging him to replace board members he has the power to appoint. Some are continuing to serve after their appointments have expired.
“These individuals have the responsibility to invest taxpayer dollars wisely, and their decision to support Communist China raises grave concerns regarding those investments,” they wrote. “We need leaders who will stand up for human rights and protect the retirement interests of our great federal employees.”
Those co-sponsoring the Rubio bill include Democrats Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Also signing on were Republicans Mike Braun of Indiana, Mitt Romney of Utah, and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows is sponsoring the House companion bill.
Voters rebuke China
The results from the weekend elections in Hong Kong sent shock waves around the world as China-backed candidates for the Hong Kong district council lost 156 of 177 races. While acknowledging the stinging rebuke, China warned the U.S. and others to stay out of what they call a matter of “national sovereign security.”
Scott was quick to take to Twitter saying:
Democracy at work! The people of #HongKong’s voice is being heard loud and clear today as votes are counted.
Communist China should take a close look and reconsider their current posture. Autonomy and human rights belong to HK! https://t.co/24KC1dg8BO
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) November 24, 2019
While the China-backed party candidates were overwhelmed, a coalition of other party candidates will take seats on the new council. Hong Kong’s pro-freedom Democratic Party won 54 of their 56 races.
“The people of #HongKong have made their voices heard loud and clear,” tweeted Rep. Mike Waltz of St. Augustine. “This is a victory for democracy and the people of Hong Kong!”
These events lead to an unanswered question: will Trump sign the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. The bill, sponsored by Rubio and co-sponsored by Scott, passed the House and Senate by a combined 517-1 and awaits the President’s signature.
Soon after, Rubio predicted Trump would sign the bill, but a pending trade deal with China is reportedly keeping the President from doing so. With a near-unanimous Congress favoring the legislation, the prospect of a veto override is highly likely.
Help for orange growers
Florida is the No. 1 producer of oranges in the country, but the numbers have dropped significantly following the hurricanes, which struck Florida over the past three years. Florida lawmakers are asking for help.
Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho and Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto led a letter signed by 17 delegation members to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, seeking an increase in funding for orange juice purchases in Florida.
They are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase funding for orange juice purchases in Florida to $90 million, which is twice the initial allocation from this past summer.
“After many years of setbacks in the orange juice industry, due to citrus greening and hurricanes, it is a uniquely important call of action to protect growers this year,” they wrote. “Some Florida growers have indicated that without such protections for this year’s crop, many farmers face the prospect of closing down their orange operations.”
The letter noted Florida orange production dropped by nearly 24 million boxes from 2017 to 2018 following Hurricane Irma. This year, Florida’s orange groves recovered much quicker than expected and produced 71.4 million boxes, leading to an oversupply that will cause a sharp drop in prices.
“After many years of setbacks in the orange juice industry due to citrus greening and hurricanes, it is uniquely important to protect growers this year,” they urged Perdue.
Port expansion project begins
Earlier this month, The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a $20 million grant dedicated to the port facility in Jacksonville (JAXPORT). Several elected officials joined the Florida Maritime Partnership (FMP) and U.S. Maritime Administrator Rear Adm. Mark Buzby to break ground on an expanded and upgraded SSA Jacksonville container terminal.
Among those joining the ceremonial event were Yoho and Republican Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville, along with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and JAXPORT Executive Director Eric Green. All were grateful for the funding, while some played a role in obtaining it.
“It was an honor to help secure a $20 million federal BUILD grant for JAXPORT’s Blunt Island Terminal enhancements,” said Rutherford. “Today’s announcement comes in addition to the millions of federal dollars already flowing to JAXPORT and other transportation projects throughout the region.”
Since launching the partnership in March, JAXPORT is the only seaport to join the 17-member Florida Maritime Partnership. According to the FMP, the domestic maritime industry creates 9,120 jobs in Jacksonville and has a $1.84 billion impact on the community.
“I am honored to be associated with the strong North Florida Congressional delegation, including Rep. John Rutherford and Rep. Waltz, that has worked hard to make this project a reality,” Yoho said. “For too long, investments in our ports and maritime industry were overlooked and as a result, we’ve faced unprecedented challenges. Under this Administration and with President Donald Trump’s leadership, that is all changing.”
‘Pay As You Go’
Citing the spiraling national debt, Rep. Stephanie Murphy and the Blue Dog Coalition she leads, put out a letter to Democratic House leaders Monday demanding that they adhere to their Pay-As-You-Go [PAYGO] rule, which requires Congress to pay for new priorities.
“At the beginning of the 116th Congress, the House passed a rules package with broad bipartisan support. That rules package included the Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) rule, which requires Congress to pay for new priorities,” states the Blue Dogs’ letter to Speaker Pelosi and other Democratic House leaders. “The rules package was key to upholding our pledge to the American people that Democrats would stand up for responsible governance, including fiscal responsibility.
“This year, the national debt surpassed $23 trillion for the first time in American history, and our budget deficit reached nearly $$1 trillion,” the letter continued. “Today, we spend more on interest per day than we spend on our kids. In other words, the growing national debt is already forcing us to spend more on our past than we invest in our future. That fact alone should be deeply concerning to both parties.”
In addition to Murphy, four other Blue Dogs co-chairs, Democratic Reps. Tom O’Halleran of Arizona, Lou Correa of California, Anthony Brindisi of New York, and Kurt Schrader of Oregon, and 12 members of the coalition co-signed the letter. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, another member, was not among the signatories.
In the letter, the Blue Dogs blamed Republicans for escalating the debt with the 2017 tax cuts.
“However, in the midst of one of the worst fiscal years in U.S. history, we have seen that leadership and the committees of jurisdiction have waived PAYGO several times for the convenience of bringing legislation to the floor,” the letter states. “The American people expect Congress to abide by the rules of governance — not circumvent them.
“Last week, our members sent a clear message: The House must abide by PAYGO to prevent our fiscal state from getting worse.”
Enhancing law enforcement technology
Modern-day law enforcement is adapting to a world becoming increasingly more digital every day. Two former heads of law enforcement organizations have joined in introducing legislation to provide more digital law enforcement tools.
Rep. Val Demings of Orlando and Rutherford launched the Technology in Criminal Justice Act of 2019. Demings is a former Orlando Chief of Police and Rutherford is the former Sheriff of Jacksonville.
The legislation would establish the Office of Digital Law Enforcement within the Office of Justice Programs and also develop grant programs to improve the digital evidence capacity of law enforcement personnel, among other things. It would also help state and local law enforcement modernize their digital evidence procedures and equip them with all of the resources necessary when they have the legal authority to do so.
“Digital evidence has been crucial in cases ranging from financial crimes to child endangerment,” Demings said in a joint release. “Only with proper training can we ensure that communities are being kept safe and that officers know both the techniques and the most up-to-date practices to protect both the safety and the privacy of the communities they serve.”
In addition to the Office of Digital law enforcement, the bill would develop a center of Excellence for Digital Forensics, Law Enforcement Technology to State and Local Law Enforcement, and a Technology Policy Advisory Board. These offices would all collectively centralize training, guide DOJ grants to help law enforcement handle digital evidence, and advise the attorney general on best practices.
“With more crimes involving digital technology, many law enforcement agencies lack the tools they need to collect digital evidence,” Rutherford said, adding the need to provide law enforcement with the ability to analyze evidence “today and in the future.”
Also serving as original co-sponsors are Texas Republican Brian Babin and Pennsylvania Democrat Conor Lamb.
Spano announces DOT grant
Public transportation in the Tampa Bay area got a big financial boost recently. Dover Republican Ross Spano announced a $4.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART).
“This is outstanding news for Hillsborough County as it is one of the top 10 fastest growing counties in the nation,” said Spano, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“Unfortunately, our infrastructure has been unable to keep pace, and we welcome these funds to help improve our public transit system and accommodate further growth.”
The grants have an environmental benefit as the funds are to be used to replace diesel-fueled buses with vehicles that use compressed natural gas. Spano’s office noted the funds would also be used to finance buses and bus facilities capital projects, including replacing, rehabilitating, purchasing or leasing buses and bus-related facilities.
HART serves a coverage area of 1,266 square miles.
FDA Israel branch promoted
The thought of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) opening a branch office in Israel may seem like an out-of-the-ordinary idea, but it has a fair amount of support. Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings and South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson led a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging the move.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin broached the idea last month while meeting with health ministry officials in Israel. The U.S. currently has branch offices open in China and several European and Latin American countries.
“As a global leader in innovation, Israel’s world-class medical research programs have spurred breakthrough developments in medical technologies, pharmaceuticals, and other advancements in medicine that have positively impacted the global health system,” they wrote. “We believe establishing an FDA office in Israel would facilitate collaboration in lifesaving research and is a natural step for strengthening the special relationship between our countries.”
The growing concentration of biotech and medtech companies is a major reason the branch office is under consideration.
“As US-Israel cooperation continues to reach historic levels, we believe that an FDA regional office in Israel would benefit both Americans & Israelis alike,” Hastings tweeted.
Democrats signing on to the letter included Murphy, Soto, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg.
Republicans joining the letter included Waltz, Yoho, Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key, and Greg Steube of Sarasota.
DWS makes it official
Rep. Wasserman Schultz has made it official: she is running to become the chair of the House Appropriations Committee. After current chair Nita Lowey of New York announced her impending retirement, rumors surfaced Wasserman Schultz may take such a step, culminating in a letter to her colleagues last week asking for support.
“We must ensure that as we move into a new decade, we have strong and strategic leadership to bring about sensible, 21st-century reforms that will make the House Appropriations Committee process more inclusive, accessible, and even more transparent for all members,” she wrote.
The Weston Democrat current serves as the chair of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees military construction. She touts 11 years of experience as an appropriator.
“As a veteran appropriator who recognizes the need for reform, I respectfully ask for your consideration and support as I embark on a campaign to serve as chair of the House Committee on Appropriations for the 117th Congress.”
To gain the post, which will not be named until after the 2020 elections, she must climb over more experienced Democrats who seek the job, including Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro and Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur.
Those seeking the post will seek the support of the Steering and Policy panel that recommends leadership selections. It is rare for someone without that backing would appeal directly to members.
All of this is contingent on Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives next year, which is expected.
Farmworker bill advances
A bill designed to establish a program for immigrant agricultural workers and eventually provide legal status for those workers is headed to the House floor. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, co-sponsored by Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, was approved by the Judiciary Committee by an 18-12 vote.
“We are one step closer to finally solving the labor crisis facing our nation’s agriculture,” Diaz-Balart said in a joint release. “This bill has not only received bipartisan support, but over 300 agriculture organizations have advocated for the passing of this legislation, which adheres to the rule of law, modernizes our antiquated H2A visa system, and bolsters the economy.”
According to information provided by Diaz-Balart’s office, 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 bipartisan reform. The legislation creates a workforce solution for America’s agriculture industry by providing stability, predictability, and fairness to one of the most critical sectors of our nation’s economy.
The bill also requires the use of the E-Verify system to ascertain eligibility for workers. It also allows due process for those who may have been unfairly rejected.
Also signing on as a co-sponsor was Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee. The bill sponsor is California Democrat Zoe Lofgren.
“I encourage the Speaker to bring this important legislation to the floor for a vote so that we can achieve a good-faith, bipartisan solution for our nation’s farmers,”
Latina Equal Pay Day
“The gender pay gap is real, and it hurts Latina women and families,” she said during remarks on the House floor. “We know that Latinas make only 54 cents that a white, non-Hispanic male makes for doing the same job. We must find a way to close the wage for the sake of our mothers, our sisters, our daughters and our families.”
The resolution states the wage gap is even more significant for some with no hope of catching up.
“if the current trends continue, on average Latina women will have to wait 205 years to achieve equal pay,” it reads.
Among those joining the resolution as a co-sponsor was Soto.
Dems: fire Stephen Miller
For Democrats and others who oppose Trump, White House senior aide Stephen Miller is someone who can elicit the fingernails-on-the-blackboard-type of adverse reaction when he appears on television. After the Southern Poverty Law Center reviewed hundreds of Miller’s emails with Breitbart News, “white nationalist” was added to his negative profile among the President’s detractors.
Much of the focus on Miller’s emails centered around his communications leading up to the 2016 election. Among the many things Miller worked on during that period was pushing anti-Rubio stories to Breitbart.
House Democrats are calling for Miller’s ouster. A group of 107, including five from Florida, wrote to Trump, calling on him to immediately terminate his aide.
“A documented white nationalist has no place in any presidential administration, and especially not in such an influential position,” they wrote. “Beyond the disturbing emails that Mr. Miller wrote, is the clear conclusion he brought his dedication to white nationalism with him into your administration and translated this hateful ideology directly into your administration’s discriminatory immigration policies.”
Deputy White House press secretary Hogan Gidley offered a defense of Miller saying he “hates bigotry in all forms — and it deeply concerns me as to why so many on the left consistently attack Jewish members of this administration.”
Those signing the letter include Soto, Wilson, Mucarsel-Powell, Demings and Wasserman Schultz.
Football rivalries bring bipartisanship
This weekend provides a rare opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to join forces to oppose other Republicans and Democrats. Some of the most well-known football rivalry games are nearing kickoff, especially the Florida vs. Florida State game.
The Gators are heavy favorites to beat the Seminoles for the second straight year and the first time in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium since 2009. That would be just fine with Rubio, Yoho, Steube and Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor. They are joined by Rep. Wasserman Schultz, a fellow UF graduate.
Pulling for the upset will be FSU alums representing both parties. Joining forces in rooting on the Seminoles Democratic Reps. Demings and Crist, along with Republican Reps. Rutherford and Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach.
On Friday night, the War on I-4 pits Central Florida vs. South Florida in Orlando. No UCF graduate is among the delegation, but Republican Reps. Spano and Diaz-Balart are pulling for USF, their alma mater.
Other big rivalry games close to members of the delegation include Georgia vs. Georgia Tech, where Clermont Republican Dan Webster knows his “Ramblin’ Wreck” team has an uphill climb against the Bulldogs. Millions of eyes will be on Ann Arbor, Michigan where Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch hopes his Michigan Wolverines can reverse a trend and somehow defeat the Ohio State Buckeyes for the first time since 2011.
Condolences go out to Rep. Lawson for a rivalry game already played. His Florida A&M Rattlers lost to the archrival Bethune-Cookman Wildcats in the final minutes of the annual Florida Classic played Nov. 23.in Orlando.
On this day
Nov. 26, 1998 — To possibly stave off impeachment, some House Democrats are quietly proposing the idea of censuring President Bill Clinton for his actions surrounding White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Some Republicans may consider supporting censure, citing the difficulty of convicting Clinton in the Senate on even one count of perjury.
Public opinion polls find two-thirds of Americans do not want Clinton removed from office, while half support a censure. If the full House fails to impeach Clinton, censure would still be an option, but Democratic support would likely diminish.
Nov. 26, 2014 — Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a heart stent implanted, reviving talk about how long the 81-year-old liberal jurist will be staying on the court. Ginsburg was expected back at work within five days, but her hospitalization raised concerns about whether Obama would still be in office to choose a like-minded justice before he leaves office in 2017.
Concern on the left is rising, but Ginsburg’s supporters point out that despite health problems, she has yet to miss one day of arguments before the court since her 1993 appointment by President Bill Clinton. The speculation comes three weeks after Republicans regained control of the Senate.
Happy Birthday (Dec. 1) to Sen. Rick Scott.
Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers from everyone at Florida Politics. The Delegation will return Friday, Dec. 6.