Iran crisis temporarily cools
It was a tense week in the U.S. as the nation wondered whether Iran would follow through on threats to target American military installations and personnel. Following the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, no one seemed sure of what would happen, but Republicans said it needed to be done. At the same time, Democrats mostly described it as escalating tensions.
After the Iranians sent missiles into a military base west of Baghdad, concern for military personnel was quick to come. There were universal well-wishes for the safety of Americans, but an occasional rock was thrown Trump’s way for the way he ordered the killing of Soleimani.
Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala tweeted:
Tonight, I am praying for the safety of our service members in Iraq who are facing unnecessary danger because of the reckless provocations of their Commander-in-Chief.
I hope we can soon find a peaceful resolution to this crisis.
Our country does not want another war.
— Rep. Donna E. Shalala (@RepShalala) January 8, 2020
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led the effort to pass a war powers resolution Thursday, limiting the President’s ability to engage in hostile action. The measure passed 224-194 (see Floridians below)
“I am concerned that the President and his team are playing too fast, too loose, in a volatile part of the world, without fully considering the implications of their decisions,” said St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist in a statement. “That kind of recklessness makes Americans less safe.”
Following a midweek briefing to Congress, Pelosi and Senate Democrats may have gained some Republican support for limiting the President’s authority. GOP Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah blasted the administration’s justification for the hit on Soleimani.
Sen. Marco Rubio, who received the same briefing, heard something entirely different.
Because Gen. Milley stated clearly & firmlythat Soleimani was about to kill Americans.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) January 9, 2020
Republicans have mostly been steadfast in their defense of Trump, with many saying he had the Iranians worried. That assessment may have proved accurate when word came Iran had provided advanced warning of the attack, which did not target the main base and did little structural damage.
Trump claimed Iran was ready to stand down and ordered no retaliatory strikes but did call for more of the sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. He pledged Iran would never have nuclear weapons while he was President.
In the end, both sides took comfort in the fact Trump took no further action, and the boiling rhetoric had simmered for now. Iran had another pressing problem of contending with the fact they may have accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet.
One of Trump’s biggest supporters, Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, tweeted:
— Matt Gaetz (@mattgaetz) January 8, 2020
Puerto Rico hit again
Impeachment and the dangerous situation with Iran dominated the news throughout the week, but a major event received little attention. Puerto Rico has suffered through multiple earthquakes over the past week, including one reaching a 6.4 magnitude.
Elected officials in Florida responded by urging Trump to authorize federal help for the island commonwealth immediately. Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott joined with Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico to write to the President, urging quick action.
“The localities that are grappling with the effects of the earth tremors are smaller municipalities that do not have the necessary resources to handle the situation alone, and the Puerto Rico local agencies are taxed to their limits by their fiscal condition and the continuing larger recovery effort,” they wrote. ‘It will be of great relief to the people of Puerto Rico to have the disaster support of the White House.”
The following day, Trump approved the emergency declaration requested by Gov. Wanda Vazquez. Officials declared a public health emergency, and two-thirds of the island was without power, although nearly 75% are expected to have power restored by the weekend.
“Time and again, our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico have proved their resiliency,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee. “The emergency declaration and resulting funds open the door to continued recovery for impacted communities on the ground. We are ready to assist to help rebuild the island.”
Small business chief lauded
This week the Senate confirmed Trump’s pick to lead the Small Business Administration. With an 88-5 vote, Jovita Carranza will now replace Linda McMahon nearly a year after McMahon left the administration.
She becomes the highest-ranking Latina official in the Trump administration. Carranza is a close confidante of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and has previously served as Treasurer of the United States.
“As we move into this new decade, it is imperative that the SBA evolves to meet the international challenge and needs of 21st-century firms,” Rubio said in a statement. “I applaud the Senate for confirming Ms. Carranza, and I look forward to working closely with her on modernizing the SBA and following up on commitments she made during her confirmation process.”
During her confirmation hearing before Rubio’s committee, he saluted her commitment to fill job openings in critical parts of the agency within 100 days, testify before the committee within 90 days, work to implement a woman-owned certification program, and other specific pledges. Business groups also supported Carranza’s confirmation.
“Having a person in leadership at the SBA allows the administration to go champion their economic message across the country and talk about the things they’ve done, whether its tax reform or regulatory relief,” said Matt Haller, a senior vice president at the International Franchise Association.
Floridians celebrate Guaidó return
Chaos continued in Venezuela with National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó reclaiming his role after he and allies were denied entry into the chamber Sunday by Venezuelan forces loyal to dictator Nicolás Maduro. With Guaidó, recognized as interim President by the U.S. and 50 other countries, barred from entry, rival Luis Parra was elected, temporarily giving Maduro complete control over the government.
Earlier this week, Guaidó and his allies again stormed the entrance, but this time were allowed to pass, where he took his oath of office. Parra fled when Guaidó entered the chamber. interim President of Venezuela.
Rubio, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee overseeing the Western Hemisphere, joined with colleagues to praise the turn of events.
“This week, the international community once again witnessed the criminality of dictator Nicolás Maduro’s regime and the lengths he is willing to go in order to maintain his illegitimate grip on power,” the Senators said in a statement. “We reaffirm our support for Venezuela’s constitutionally legitimate government led by Interim President Juan Guaidó and the democratically elected National Assembly.”
Rubio was joined by Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine, Idaho Republican Jim Risch, and Texas Republican Ted Cruz.
Miami Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, the first native of South America to be elected to Congress, shared in celebrating Guaidó’s success.
Congratulations to @jguaido & all who stood by the legitimate Venezuelan National Assembly & Democracy. It’s time for Maduro’s cruel dictatorship to allow Venezuela’s democratic institutions to take leadership. It is what Venezuelan’s voted for & what’s best for the country.
— Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (@RepDMP) January 7, 2020
Moderates side with McConnell
The fight on Capitol Hill over whether to call witnesses for an impeachment trial of Trump continues, but events from this week may force Pelosi to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate soon.
While hoping four Republican Senators would join with Democrats to demand witnesses, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated any Senate trial should follow the model of the 1999 trial of President Bill Clinton, which began before deciding the question on witnesses.
Democrats have fiercely made a case for the preapproval of witnesses, especially after former National Security Adviser John Bolton stating he would honor a subpoena if called. Whether he ever appears before the Senate, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House is “reserving the option” to call him.
Orlando Democrat Val Demings tweeted, “The president’s enablers want to block evidence in his impeachment trial. If you were innocent of accusations, wouldn’t you want the jury to consider as much evidence as possible?”
With moderate Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine agreeing to go along with the 1999 model, Pelosi must now decide whether to back down from a demand that the Senate approves on witnesses before sending the articles to them. Also, with no agreement on the trial rules with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Republicans may implement those rules on a partisan vote.
“Leader McConnell’s view of the trial is ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ First, the trial, then the evidence,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “If the Senate were to agree to Leader McConnell’s proposal, the Senate will act as little more than a nationally televised meeting of a mock trial club.”
Floridians cross over
There was no surprise when Democrats were able to pass a resolution calling for the President to obtain approval from Congress before launching military operations against Iran. The 224-194 vote saw eight Democrats cross over to vote with Republicans while three Republicans sided with Democrats.
The surprise came when Gaetz became one of the three Republicans to vote for the resolution, as did retiring Naples Republican Francis Rooney. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park was one of the eight Democrats joining Republicans.
In a statement, Murphy said she was “not prepared to unduly limit our nation’s ability to respond to different contingencies that may arise.” Gaetz’s position could be seen as turning his back on Trump, but he said it was about requiring every member of Congress to take a stand.
“If our service members have the courage to fight and die in these wars, Congress ought to have the courage to vote for or against them,” he said on the House floor.
The Senate is expected to vote on its resolution next week.
Rutherford lauds port grant
A vision to expand regional shipping is taking shape as Port Fernandina, located north of Jacksonville, is receiving federal dollars to help fund the plan’s increase. Rep. John Rutherford has announced the port will receive $1.3 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to streamline the Fernandina Express barge service.
The service will stretch from Fernandina Beach to the Port of Charleston and other large ports on the East Coast. These funds will give the port the ability to take trucks off the road and put them on the water.
Great start to the new year for the Port of Fernandina! This $1.3 million federal award is the port’s first since being designated as part of America’s Marine Highways. I advocated strongly in Washington for this designation and I am pleased to see it already yielding results. pic.twitter.com/7L288knE0s
— Rep. John Rutherford (@RepRutherfordFL) January 2, 2020
Though truckers may not be enthused, Port director and CEO of Worldwide Terminals Christopher Ragucci says this project could take up to 400 tractor-trailers off the road. He said the barge project would eliminate thousands of miles driven and would, in turn, clear congestion on local roadways.
The port expects to receive the funds in the spring. The port and Worldwide Terminals employ around 60 people, but the funds are estimated to create 20-25 jobs starting at $20 per hour.
Murphy hosts essay contest
Trump will deliver the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress February 4. Last year several Democratic members boycotted the once-delayed event, and some will undoubtedly do the same this year.
Murphy is one member who will definitely be there. The Winter Park Democrat does not yet know who will accompany her to the traditional ritual.
Members are allowed to bring a guest, leading Murphy to conduct an essay contest open to high school students. Those submitting essays are instructed to state why their voice “needs to be heard in the democratic process.
The winner and a parent or guardian will be flown to Washington and be provided with accommodations for one night in addition to being Murphy’s guest at the event.
“As the Chair of Future Forum, an influential group of young House Democrats who advocate for issues and opportunities important to younger Americans, I want to use this historic occasion to elevate the voices of young people in my district,” Murphy said in an email notice to constituents.
Soto pushes 5G ‘Prague Proposals’
Democratic Rep. Darren Soto has gotten the House of Representatives to approve his proposal that the United States carefully considers “The Prague Proposals” in the deployment of 5G communications infrastructure.
Soto’s measure, House Resolution 575, co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Flores, a Texas Republican, also encourages the President and federal agencies to promote trade and security policies on the international stage that are consistent with “The Prague Proposals.”
The House approved the bill Wednesday.
The Prague Proposals call for 5G telecommunications networks to be regulated and built keeping in mind resilience, security, transparency and equitability. They also call for countries to inform customers about the origin of components in software that affect the security level of the products they use.
“Nothing is more essential than being at the forefront in the deployment and development of 5G technologies,” Soto, of Kissimmee, stated in a news release. “Both rural and metropolitan areas, like the ones represented in my district, are in need of practical and secure telecom technology.
“Currently, there are research efforts underway at the University of Central Florida and components, like tamper-resistant sensors, being developed at the BRIDG facility in my district,” Soto added.
Environmental regs changes debated
This week, Trump proposed what would be significant changes to environmental laws that establish the relationship between environmental protection and development. By developing new guidelines for implementing requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, those seeking permits for roads, bridges, pipelines and other projects will see the process move faster, according to the President.
In announcing the changes, Trump said: “We’re maintaining America’s world-class standards of environmental protection. “We’re going to have very strong regulation, but it’s going to go very quickly.”
Critics maintain it allows those seeking permits to cut corners on environmental protection that will lead to lasting damage. On the other hand, the proposal was music to the ears of Clermont Republican Daniel Webster.
“Trump knows from personal experience how damaging slow, burdensome red-tape can be to much-needed infrastructure projects,” Webster said in a statement. “A streamlined process with deadlines will improve the review of critical road, bridge and water projects and save taxpayer dollars.
“Throughout my public service, I have advocated for policies that support local projects and find solutions that protect Florida’s precious natural resources, public safety and health; while balancing the needs of our growing economy.”
Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor, who chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, blasted the proposal, liking it to putting polluters in charge.
Under the #TrumpToxicTeam’s latest proposal, polluters would get to ignore the climate impacts of their infrastructure projects while the American people suffer the consequences. We cannot afford to cut corners. It’s time to put #PeopleOverPolluters. pic.twitter.com/7q7mRYexPJ
— US Rep Kathy Castor (@USRepKCastor) January 9, 2020
Climate and Australia fires
A primary cause for the fires is not known, but the fire’s intensity has a culprit, many believe. This phenomenon is a prime example of why climate change needs to be addressed.
Castor believes the U.S. needs to act before something similar happens in the U.S.
Castor and climate change scientists say the “link between global warming, forests and wildfires is multifaceted, but very clear.” A recent study from Columbia University claimed, “Each degree of warming has a bigger effect on forest fire than did the previous degree of warming,”
Donalds joins crowded field
A crowded primary for this fall’s Congressional District 19 race became even more crowded with the entry of Republican state Rep. Byron Donalds of Naples became the eighth GOP candidate to announce his bid. Donalds announced his intentions on the Fox and Friends program and provided his initial campaign video to Florida Politics.
“I am everything the fake news media tells you doesn’t exist,” the Naples Republican said in the video. “A strong, Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect black man.”
In addition to being one of eight Republicans, Donalds is the third sitting member of the legislature to seek the seat currently held by the retiring Rep. Francis Rooney. Other House colleagues in the race are Reps. Dane Eagle of Cape Coral and Heather Fitzenhagen of Fort Myers.
His video seeks to immediately diffuse a potential line of attack by opening with the story of his drug arrest years before and how his life has changed since. Donalds says he knew he had to get his life in order and “through the grace of God I did.”
Donalds also criticizes the Republican Party, who “caved” on the Second Amendment. That reference was to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which passed in 2018 with Donalds voting against it.
In addition to Eagle and Fitzenhagen, Donalds also faces Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson, former Minnesota state Rep. Dan Severson, professional commentator Ford O’Connell, Naples physician William Figlesthaler and former New York City Mayoral candidate Darren Dione Aquino in the Republican primary.
Delegation expected to grow
If projections are correct, the Florida delegation will grow to more than 30 members. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates Florida’s will grow to 21.48 million people when the 2020 census is completed.
Not only will this lead to an increase in federal funding, but the state is also expected to pick up two more seats in the House. Including both Senators, the delegation will be the third-largest at 31 members, trailing only Texas and California.
Texas is projected to gain three seats, bringing their new total to 41, while California is expected to lose one seat, dropping to 54. Changes would go into effect for the 2022 election cycle and following a likely round of court battles once the legislature draws congressional lines.
Bitter battles followed the last reapportionment. Armed by a constitutional amendment, the Florida Supreme Court basically told the legislature how to draw eight districts.
Florida is not far away from a third seat. With the latest annual population estimates, Florida is 172,169 people away from that third seat. Just one year ago, the state was 366,735 people away according to Virginia-based political consulting firm Election Data Services (EDS)’s estimates.
Last year, an average of 640 people per day moved to the state, which included Trump.
According to projections, single seats would be picked up by Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon. Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia are projected to each lose a seat. Every other state would keep the status quo.
On this day
Jan. 10, 2002 — With hoods over their heads, a batch of al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners were flown out of Afghanistan to become the first detainees at the new prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. As a security precaution, the 20 prisoners were chained to each other during the long cross-continental flight.
The human rights group Amnesty International called reports of the prisoners’ treatment “worrying” and a “breach of international standards.” A spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command in Miami said, “After Sept. 11, a little paranoia is a good thing.”
Jan. 10, 2011 — Former House Majority Whip Tom DeLay was sentenced in Texas state court to three years in prison for his conviction over what was described as a conspiracy scheme to influence elections. The man known as “the hammer” was released on bail shortly after that while he appeals.
During remarks to Senior Judge Pat Priest before sentencing, the Texas Republican said, “I can’t be remorseful for something I don’t think I did.” During the trial, DeLay had provided 30 character witnesses who included eight House colleagues and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.