Wag the dog II?
The House and Senate are back in session this week following a holiday season that was anything but calm and reflective. As 2019 drew to a close, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to withhold the approved articles of impeachment dominated the late-2019 political discussion.
President Donald Trump’s order to take out Iranian Major Gen. Qasem Soleimani with a drone strike January 3 pushed everything else, including impeachment, to the side. Before the attack, some Democrats and others in the media questioned if the earlier assault on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, orchestrated by Soleimani, was Trump’s “own Benghazi” moment.
Republicans and Democrats agreed on two areas of the strike but broadly disagreed on the mechanism and the motive.
Statements issued by both sides agreed that Soleimani was responsible for the deaths and injuries of American service personnel in the Middle East. They also decided that an Iranian response was likely, with one member of the Iranian Parliament urging an attack on the White House.
Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis said, “While I am certainly concerned with escalating violence in the Middle East, I believe we must use whatever force is necessary to protect American lives.”
St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz, a former Green Beret officer, said: “This is a bold, decisive and frankly long overdue move on the part of the United States to take down Soleimani.”
After saying the U.S. must prepare for retaliation, Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton also tweeted:
We should prepare for potential retaliatory attacks by Iran & its proxies. We must ensure the security of US personnel in the region. The Admin must inform Congress of next steps and clarify legal basis for military action. Reminder that Congress has not authorized war with Iran.
— Rep. Ted Deutch (@RepTedDeutch) January 3, 2020
Democrats found fault with the President’s lack of consultation with Congress before the attack and the lack of a plan for what happens next. Some also questioned the Trump administration’s claim of an “imminent” threat to Americans in the region.
Others, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, was among those claiming the President’s motives were far more sinister. In a CNN interview, she opined impeachment had something to do with it as Trump needed to deflect from his engagement in an “illegal cover-up.”
“This action was taken more in President’s Trump’s self-interest than our national interest,” she told Jim Sciutto, “where emails came out that made it very clear that they covered up the real reason behind the withholding of hundreds of millions of dollars to Ukraine.”
In one of his many tweets on the subject, Sen. Marco Rubio said:
But some are so blinded by hatred of Trump that they argue he has done something sinister. Its crazy. Total derangement.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 3, 2020
An impeachment followed by bombs and missiles is not new. Neither are accusations of a President under siege launching strikes to divert attention.
In 1998, on the day Monica Lewinsky returned to the grand jury, President Bill Clinton ordered strikes on terrorist camps in Afghanistan and Sudan against those deemed responsible for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Republicans accused Clinton of engaging in a “wag the dog” distraction from impeachment.
More than 20 years later, it is the Democrats’ turn to return the favor.
Floridians blast Maduro move
With the Middle East and impeachment capturing the attention of the U.S. and much of the world, happenings in Venezuela have received little to no notice. That changed over the past few days when dictator Nicolás Maduro and Venezuelan armed forces joined to effectively take over the country’s parliament by blocking the reelection of Juan Guaidó.
“Today’s assault by the despotic Maduro regime and his mercenaries is yet another move to undermine the only democratic body left in Venezuela, the National Assembly,” Rubio said in a statement. “Members of the National Assembly and interim President Juan Guaidó deserve tremendous credit for their unwavering defense of Venezuela’s democratic institutions and the nation’s future.”
Despite the statements from Rubio and others who support Guaidó, there appears little outsiders can do to influence the event. Despite crippling sanctions on regime officials imposed by the U.S., Maduro’s regime continues with the support of Russia, China and Cuba.
Meanwhile, American politicians are left with statements and tweets while hoping the Venezuelan military will revolt.
“This is Maduro’s #Venezuela,” tweeted Scott. “Ruling through violence and intimidation. What a disgrace!”
Campaigns raise big bucks
With the start of a new fundraising quarter, results from the fourth quarter and calendar year 2019 will soon begin to trickle in. Those with impressive numbers will not wait until the reporting deadline of Jan. 31.
The Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee (RNC) and two Trump presidential entities were quick to announce staggering numbers. On Jan. 3, the Trump team announced the campaign had raised $46 million during the quarter, while the RNC brought in $72.3 million; two related Trump committees added nearly $36 million more.
The total of $154 million brought the total raised for 2019 to $463.6 million, a record for any year in election history. The effort to impeach and remove Trump from office is credited with spurring some to contribute.
“The President’s record of accomplishment has inspired unprecedented grassroots support which will translate to his own reelection and resounding victories for Republicans from coast to coast,” said Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale.
Democratic presidential candidates had something to brag about as well. Sen. Bernie Sanders revealed an impressive total of $34.5 million for the quarter, while Mayor Pete Buttigieg hauled in $24.7 million and Joe Biden had his best quarter with $22.7 million.
The RNC expects to outraise the Democratic National Committee (DNC) significantly. In contrast, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) expect to report totals showing little advantage.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) will likely maintain its advantage over the National Republican Congressional Campaign (NRCC).
Scott heads Top 25
Who was Florida’s top politician during the recently-completed decade? According to a distinguished panel assembled by Florida Politics, the answer is Sen. Rick Scott.
Scott was lauded for his two terms as governor as the state was trying to emerge from a stubborn recession. A political novice 10 years ago, Scott won three statewide elections during the decade.
A significant number of current and former Florida delegation members fell into the Top 25, according to the panel. Rubio came in at No. 3, while Gov. and former Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis placed fourth on the list.
Former Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson was fifth, former Gov. and current Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist was 10th, Wasserman Schultz was 14th, followed by former Agriculture Commissioner and former Republican Rep. Adam Putnam at 18th.
The late former Republican Rep. Bill Young was 19th, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz came in at No. 22, followed by former Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen at No. 24.
The panel, consisting of lobbyists, journalists, political consultants, attorneys, political party leaders, and communications professionals, was charged with choosing a group that left “an indelible mark on Florida politics over the decade.”
Republicans move on abortion
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Gee, a case involving a strict Louisiana abortion law. In a rare move, the court has set aside the entire day of March 4 to hear from both sides.
A case of this magnitude draws significant attention and several players. Just last week, several advocates from both sides filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs, including one by 207 members of Congress.
The case involves a 2014 Louisiana statute requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Both the lower court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals have held that the law is unconstitutional.
Rubio was one of 39 Senators signing on to the brief, while 10 House delegation members also put their names on the document. They include Republican Reps. Waltz, Gaetz, Mario Diaz-Balart, Neal Dunn, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, Ross Spano, Greg Steube, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho.
The brief specifically urges upholding the Louisiana law while also going to the very foundation of federal abortion rights. The group claims previous decisions in the case “illustrates the unworkability of the ‘right to abortion’ found in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) and the need for the Court to again take up the issue of whether Roe and (Planned Parenthood v.) Casey should be reconsidered and, if appropriate, overruled.”
Counsel for the defense?
If and when Pelosi sends the articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial, a group of House Democrats will serve as prosecutors. Still, the President is likely to have a small handful of defenders. Retiring Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a stalwart member of the Freedom Caucus, is pushing for an outspoken Floridian to fill one of those slots.
Meadows believes Gaetz should be part of Trump’s defense team. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone will play a leading role, but Meadows says the President would be well-served by having one of his most prominent defenders on Capitol Hill at the defense table.
“He had one of the greatest performances in the Judiciary (Committee hearings), and I say performances because he brought the truth,” Meadows said.” Listen, everybody wants to have their day in the sunshine. “This is not a time to play politics, this is a time to put your best team on there, and I think Matt Gaetz would be one of them.”
While extolling the virtues of Gaetz, Meadows also mentioned other prominent Freedom Caucus members.
“If I had to pick a team, I would say you get in Jim Jordan. You get in a Matt Gaetz. You put your ‘A-Team,’ a John Ratcliffe” of Texas, Meadows said.
Trump has already met with Jordan and Ratcliffe on the matter.
Gaetz is well-remembered for leading a group of GOP colleagues to enter a secure facility in October where impeachment depositions were taking place. Later, his fiery exchanges with pro-impeachment law professors during a Judiciary Committee hearing also gained him further notoriety.
More capital for farmers
According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the most recent agricultural census in 2017 revealed Florida has 47,000 commercial farms and ranches totaling 9.5 million acres. To assist farmers and manufacturers, Rep. Stephanie Murphy introduced legislation at year’s end to help them receive financing for their businesses.
The Modernizing Agriculture and Manufacturing Bonds Act (MAMBA) would “modernize decades-old financing tools used by farmers and manufacturers to grow and create more jobs” by streamlining “private activity bonds to help small manufacturers and first-time farmers grow their businesses, invest in new equipment, and hire more workers.”
Murphy maintains the bonds are a critical economic tool for state and local authorities to assist in financing small to mid-sized manufacturers. Illinois Republican Rep. Darin LaHood is the bill’s co-sponsor.
“Florida farmers and manufacturers deserve to have innovative and updated financing tools to invest in their local community and hire more workers,” the Winter Park Democrat said. “I’m proud to lead this bipartisan bill with Rep. LaHood that will modernize the way farmers and manufacturers across the country acquire capital, providing them with the resources they need to grow, create more jobs, and bring their businesses into the 21st century.”
The Florida Development Finance Corporation, the Illinois Finance Authority, the Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA) and the National Council of State Agricultural Finance Programs have all endorsed the bill.
Concern over veterans’ suicides
According to a 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 20 veterans die each day as a result of suicide. The report, which analyzed veterans’ records from 1979 to 2014, prompted Crist and Bilirakis to seek assistance on further improving the accuracy of data on veterans’ life expectancy and mortality.
At the end of 2019, the lawmakers wrote a letter to DeSantis requesting the State of Florida establish a policy requiring medical examiners and investigators to indicate whether a victim of suicide is a veteran on their death certificates.
“As you know, Congress tasks the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to report annual veterans suicide data, along with general data on mortality and life expectancy,” they wrote. “However, because not all veterans use the VA, they also rely on a combination of U.S. Department of Defense service records and state death certificates.”
The letter to the Governor came after a joint meeting of the veteran advisory boards both lawmakers created. The boards, which represent more than 110,000 veterans in their districts, voiced concerns about the potentially inaccurate data.
“Unfortunately, state death certificates do not always tell the full picture,” the letter said. “After a death, veteran status is indicated on a form filled out by a funeral home; however, when local medical examiners take over death investigations in cases of a suspected suicide, they do not necessarily investigate whether the deceased is a veteran.
“We are concerned that this dynamic is leading to an undercount of veteran suicides.”
Crist and Bilirakis maintain that in cases where there are incomplete or even missing service records, medical examiners and investigators can collaborate with veteran service organizations to improve accuracy.
Good drugs in, bad dealers out
With 2020 started anew, Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan laid out an “ambitious agenda” for the coming year (which happens to build up to a high-profile reelection fight with Democrat Margaret Good). His plan includes expanding Medicare, protecting the coast, and slowing illegal immigration while keeping his focusing on debt reduction.
“I will continue to put people before politics and work in a bipartisan way to get the job done,” Buchanan said. “We have much more that unites us than divides us.”
From his spot on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, Buchanan expects an outsized influence on budget issues. As co-chair of the Delegation, he’s in a place to rally votes against drilling off the coast and for researching water quality. He expects fishery protection to be a vital issue this year.
On immigration, Buchanan said he’s pushing to use drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s assets on border security and wants to streamline deportations for known gang members and felony drug offenders. Buchanan also intends to continue efforts to boost penalties for cop killers and to fund better education to combat anti-Semitism.
And with 88,000 veterans living in Florida’s 16th Congressional District, Buchanan also wants to expand veterans’ benefits while addressing opioid abuse and suicides within that population. He’s also pushing to enact Gov. DeSantis’ drug importation plan.
VA officially evicts members
In September, the Department of Veterans Affairs told six Florida lawmakers they would no longer be provided with office space at local VA medical centers. The eviction notice gave them until the end of the year.
“We need to flip (the VA) upside down in order to change the whole climate of what’s going on there,” Mast told Fox News. “And if the people in charge aren’t willing to do that, then they’re not doing the right thing.”
Mast shared his West Palm Beach VA office with Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach and Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach. Democratic Reps. Darren Soto of Kissimmee and Murphy, who shared space in the Orlando VA facility, were also told to clear out.
When the deadline to leave came, only Hastings fired a parting shot. He released the official “move out” letter he received from the VA and expressed his disappointment in the agency.
“I find it most regrettable that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has made an extremely shortsighted decision to terminate the shared-space agreement at the VAMC-WPB, effective Dec. 31, 2019,” he said in a news release. “This was the first-of-its-kind agreement, which enabled the entire Palm Beach Congressional delegation to hold office hours at the VAMC-WPB, helping to improve constituent access to our Congressional offices.”
The VA, with the full support of Secretary Robert Wilkie, acted after Mast and Soto proposed legislation in May that would require the VA to provide office space if a member of Congress requested it.
Shalala, Spano target NCAA
College athletics in general, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in particular, have come under increased scrutiny in recent years. The criticism stems from the hundreds of millions of dollars coming into big-time college athletics and, critics claim, the lack of concern for the well-being of student-athletes.
Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala and Spano say the many issues should be identified and addressed. That led them to introduce the Congressional Advisory Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics Act, which would create a commission to accomplish that goal.
“As profits, compensation for coaches, and spending on luxurious athletic facilities have ballooned, the (NCAA) has repeatedly failed to address systemic problems with respect to the health and well-being of student-athletes,” Shalala said in a news release.
“The demands of year-round training, sacrificing study time and sleep to clock more hours at the gym, and pushing through exhaustion have taken a toll on athletes’ physical and mental health.”
The bill empowers an independent commission to thoroughly review, analyze and report back to Congress on the state of the NCAA and the athletic programs participating in intercollegiate sports. This legislation examines the interaction between athletics and academics, the financing of college sports, recruitment policies and retention practices for student-athletes.
Additionally, the bill further examines the NCAA’s policies on institutional oversight and governance, compensation, the health and safety protections for college athletes, due process and equal enforcement of rules.
“Our higher education institutions receive a substantial amount of federal student support funding,” Spano said. “There is little oversight, and as a result, we have little insight into how the funding is being spent and if the students’ best interests are being prioritized. This commission would fill that gap.”
On this day
Jan. 7, 1999 — As the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton began, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist gave the oath to Senators to deliver “impartial justice.” Soon after, a dispute over whether to call witnesses brought proceedings to a halt.
The Clinton team was ready to admit to many facts presented in the report of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, while the majority Republicans sought to hear from others. Once the dispute is settled, the trial will resume with 13 House impeachment managers that include Republican Reps. Bill McCollum of Orlando and Charles Canady of Lakeland.
Jan. 7, 2015 — Conservative dissatisfaction with the performance of House Speaker John Boehner has led to an insurrection from some Republicans seeking to replace him. Rep. Webster of Clermont, a former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, declared himself a candidate.
Webster gained only a dozen votes, but the move agitated the veteran Ohio Republican enough to threaten to remove Webster from his seat on the influential House Rules Committee. Webster met with Boehner later saying: “Maybe I’ll be on the committee, maybe not.”