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Delegation for 1.14.20: Impeachment to Senate? — Puerto Rico — Israeli aid — trucking bill — red tide

Pelosi to send articles

Some have argued that President Donald Trump is not officially impeached until the articles of impeachment are transmitted to the Senate. Whether or not that is true, it becomes moot this week when Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally sends the charging document to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Nancy Pelosi sets Wednesday votes to send the impeachment to the Senate.

It has been nearly a full month since the House voted for two articles of impeachment December 18. Pelosi was attempting to force McConnell to agree to call witnesses. Still, the Kentucky Republican did not budge, saying he plans to run the trial like the one for President Bill Clinton, when the decision on witnesses came after the trial began.

The rules could have changed if four Republicans had broken ranks, but McConnell’s hand was strengthened, and Pelosi’s weakened, when moderate Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins backed McConnell’s strategy.

This was likely a significant factor leading some Democrats to urge moving forward. Republican Senators then sought to increase the pressure.

They hoped to force Pelosi’s hand with a resolution sponsored by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina that called for the immediate appointment of impeachment managers and the transmission of the articles of impeachment. While not part of the resolution, several Republicans intimated charges against Trump would be summarily dismissed if the delay continued.

Both Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott were among the resolution’s 25 co-sponsors. Even McConnell signed on.

Democrats are adamant that witnesses must be called and are unhappy with a process that does not set that out from the beginning.

Rubio tweeted:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is not done with the witness issue. He plans on forcing several votes on witnesses in an attempt to put potentially vulnerable Republican Senators in the position of siding with Trump.

While the focus is on the articles of impeachment, they cannot be transmitted without a resolution naming House impeachment managers, or prosecutors. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler are virtual certainties, but other interesting names are in the mix.

Despite not being a lawyer, Rep. Val Demings of Orlando appears to be high on the list. She serves on both the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, an attorney serving on the Judiciary Committee, is another possibility.

The President’s defense team is expected to include a handful of House members. One of those recommended by Rep. Mark Meadows, a conservative stalwart respected by Trump, is Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach.

Gaetz’s selection would signify Trump had gotten over the two-term Republican’s vote for the Iran war powers resolution (see “Gaetz defends” below).

The trial could begin as early as this week.

Scott tours Puerto Rico

As Gov., Scott made several trips to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. While fellow Republican Trump often provided controversial quotes regarding relief efforts, Scott’s efforts received favorable marks from the Puerto Rican community.

Last week he headed to Puerto Rico again following the devastating earthquakes that left most of the island without power created chaos for many residents. He toured the devastation with Gov. Wanda Vázquez and Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón.

Rick Scott again heads to Puerto Rico to survey the devastating earthquakes that created chaos for many residents.

“As Gov., I traveled to Puerto Rico regularly and did everything I could to help the island recover after Hurricane Maria,” he said in a news release.” As Sen., I have vowed to be the voice for Puerto Rico in the Senate, and will continue to fight for our brothers and sisters on the island.”

His efforts were recognized at the polls, where he won 48 % of the Hispanic vote, enabling him to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by 10,000 votes out of 8.2 million cast.

Dems call for Puerto Rico aid

Reps. Darren Soto, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Kathy Castor joined 13 other members of Congress Monday, urging FEMA to use all available resources to rebuild the power infrastructure in Puerto Rico following the earthquakes.

Soto, the Kissimmee congressman who, like Scott, spent much of last week touring the island, pointed out that the Jan. 7 quake caused major damage to the Costa Sur power plant, which is one of the island’s largest plants, and aftershocks have caused more damage to the power grid.

Darren Soto also headed to Puerto Rico to speak with leaders about earthquake recovery.

By Monday, power had essentially been restored throughout the island, but the system is precarious, he and the others maintained.

“This weekend, I saw firsthand the terrible toll these continuing earthquakes are taking upon hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans,” Soto stated in a news release. “Countless of our fellow Americans are without power, and strong aftershocks, like the one I experienced Saturday, have made restoration even more difficult for the island. It’s time for President Donald Trump and his administration to put an end to their personal vendetta against Puerto Rico and use all available resources to help the island rebuild.”

“We must do everything we can to help our fellow American citizens of Puerto Rico during these trying times,” Mucarsel-Powell stated. “The continued earthquakes and aftershocks have left many without power. The federal government must ensure that Puerto Rico has all the necessary resources to respond and to begin recovery as soon as possible.”

Increased Israeli aid sought

As the Trump administration grows increasingly closer to Israel, a bipartisan pair of Senators seek to ensure the Israelis receive billions of dollars of U.S. aid each year. Rubio and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware have introduced legislation that guarantees $3.3 billion in aid to Israel.

The bill seeks to put into law an aid agreement between the two countries reached in 2016 amid concern over rising Middle East tensions. The 2016 agreement was a “memorandum of understanding,” while the Rubio-Coons legislation would require the funding.

Marco Rubio joins with Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware to seek more aid for Israel.

Rubio and Coons introduced the legislation within the context of heightened tensions in the Middle East following the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani. Iran pledged an attack on Israel if the U.S. hit them again, and they have long stated a desire to “wipe Israel off the map.”

Coons said: “The events of the past few days are a stark reminder of the importance of U.S. assistance to Israel’s security.” Rubio described the current scenario as “unprecedented threats.”

Gaetz defends vote

When it came time to vote on the Iran war powers resolution last week, delegation Republicans knew that Gaetz was going to join with Democrats to vote in favor of limiting the President’s authority to attack Iran or their interests. After lobbying his colleagues to do likewise, which did not sit well with Trump, he became one of only three in his party to vote for the resolution, which was approved 224-194.

Some of those frequently supporting him were also unhappy. Postings on his tweet announcing his vote included messages such as “Bad move, bruh,” while another called him a “turncoat,” and another said, “Have fun being a RINO.”

Delegation Republicans knew Matt Gaetz was going to join with Democrats to vote in favor of limiting the President’s authority to attack Iran or their interests.

In a message to constituents, Gaetz said he did not criticize the President. He added, “this resolution does not limit the President’s power to defend our Nation, protect our military, or fight terrorism. It does not prevent the President from acting in America’s self-defense. If it had done any of those things, I would not have voted for it.”

Gaetz appeared to understand he would be in Trump’s doghouse, telling CNN, “I think he would’ve preferred I voted differently, but he understands my principled view on this subject.” A senior White House official told The Washington Post that it was ‘super uncool’ and ‘quite unwise’ for Gaetz to support limits of the President’s authority.

When asked if Trump urged him not to vote for the resolution, Gaetz merely said, “He clarified his view, and I did the same.”

That can be taken as a “yes,” but Gaetz has been too steadfast of an ally to believe Trump will stay mad for very long. Florida’s other “yes” vote, Republican Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples, already earned the President’s scorn for being open to impeachment, though he voted against it.

“It’s never tense. Friends should be able to disagree,” he added.

Rutherford accused of racism

While the threat of a full-scale war with Iran seems to be lessening with each passing day, Twitter wars are a growing part of everyday life on Capitol Hill. Rep. John Rutherford was attacked for alleged racism after responding to a statement from Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington.

Jayapal questioned Trump’s motives in ordering the recent attack on Iranian Gen. Soleimani.

“President Donald Trump recklessly assassinated Qasem Soleimani. He had no evidence of an imminent threat or attack,” Jayapal said.

Rutherford, not commonly known as a flamethrower, quickly responded.

Rutherford tweeted:

Jayapal escalated the encounter by accusing Rutherford of inserting “racist tropes” into his comment. Rutherford’s main challenger for reelection jumped in as well.

“To call a woman of color a terrorist ‘sympathizer’ simply because of her faith background, is reprehensible and exactly what divides us,” tweeted Democrat Donna Deegan.”

Buchanan gets trade commitment

While Florida agriculture leaders remain concerned about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer pledged to Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan’s office that the Trump administration would use its power to combat unfair trade practices as well.

Buchanan, the top Republican on the House Trade Subcommittee, served as a senior liaison between the White House and Congress as the USMCA deal got worked out. But critics like Orlando Democrat Darren Soto and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried continue to say the new agreement hurts farmers.

Vern Buchanan has been on a roll.

But Lighthizer promised in a letter, also sent to Rubio and Scott, that the USMCA would be enacted with a plan to identify and remedy any trade-distorting policies which continue to create unfair pricing in the domestic marketplace, with particular attention to those producing seasonal and perishable products.

“Florida farmers have been severely impacted by current unfair trade practices and mounting Mexican imports flooding our markets,” Buchanan said. “I want to thank Ambassador Lighthizer and the administration for hearing our concerns and committing to working with us to protect Florida farmers.”

And one agricultural group also praised Buchanan for securing the administration commitment. “We look forward to continuing to work with Congressman Buchanan and the administration and remain optimistic about resolving our industry’s concerns in an effective, timely manner,” said Mike Joyner, president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

Steube introduces trucking bill

Truck drivers are subject to numerous safety regulations, including requirements of when they take breaks and how long they can be on the road. Sarasota Republican Greg Steube believes there is room for flexibility while maintaining safety and providing service.

Steube has introduced the Freedom from Regulating Edible Supplies and Horticulture Trucking Act, otherwise known as the Fresh Trucking Act. The bill aims to improve safety conditions for commercial agricultural drivers by eliminating harmful regulations that can result in dangerous driving practices and spoilage of products.

Greg Steube feels there is room for flexibility in the trucking industry while maintaining safety and providing service.

“My district is the largest citrus-producing district in the United States,” Steube said in a news release. “These citrus producers, and all the hardworking farmers and growers across my district, rely on commercial agricultural drivers to get their products from point A to point B.”

The FRESH Trucking Act changes the hours of service and break regulations for commercial agricultural drivers, allowing them to complete their trip if they are over the maximum on-duty drive time but within 150 miles of their destination.

The bill also removes loading and unloading time from being counted against on-duty time and gives agricultural drivers discretion to use their mandatory 30-minute break how and when they see fit across their eight-hour shift.

“Unfortunately, current federal regulations for drivers often create dangerous driving situations and can lead to the expiration of agricultural, horticultural, or floricultural products including fruits and flowers,” Steube added. “This bill seeks to remedy these issues to improve safety and service.”

 Combating red tide

The damaging effects of red tide and harmful algal blooms were on the mind of two bipartisan delegation members this week. They shared their thoughts with constituents.

Palm City Republican Rep. Brian Mast expressed concern with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to store additional water in Lake Okeechobee into the hurricane season. Mast described the overall strategy as “taking one step forward and two steps back.”

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: we need shared adversity,” Mast said in a message to constituents. “It is absolutely critical that we work together to ensure Lake O is not kept artificially high during the dry season to allow for greater flexibility during the months of heavy rainfall.”

The algal blooms and red tide caused massive problems in South Florida and other parts of the state in 2018. Over the weekend, St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist assembled a panel of local leaders to assess the ongoing red tide issue, its impacts on the region, and develop a strategy to mitigate the problem.

The group of government officials, scientists, business owners and fishermen discussed the ongoing red tide issue, its impacts on the region, and current and future efforts to mitigate and combat the recurring menace of algae blooms.

Crist tweeted:

Ecosystem protection bill introduced

Mast continued his efforts on estuaries with new legislation designed to capture the power of the ocean and estuaries as a way to protect coastal blue carbon ecosystems like the St. Lucie Estuary and Indian River Lagoon. He joined with Oregon Democrat Suzanne Bonamici to introduce the bipartisan Blue Carbon for Our Planet Act.

“Blue carbon ecosystems like those all along Florida’s coastlines serve a critical purpose providing habitats for fish and oysters, protecting our shorelines and improving water quality,” Mast said in a joint news release. “But if we continue down the current path of mistreating our coastal ecosystems and poisoning our waterways, we are going to exponentially increase the damage and risks for future generations. Making sure we protect and restore these ecosystems is a must.”

Brian Mast has teamed up with Oregon Democrat Suzanne Bonamici on the Blue Carbon for Our Planet Act.

Healthy blue carbon ecosystems, such as mangroves, tidal marshes, seagrasses and kelp forests, can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for centuries in stems, branches, leaves, roots and soil. According to the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, the protection and restoration of blue carbon ecosystems could prevent approximately one gigaton of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere by 2050.

“The unprecedented scale of the climate crisis requires that we act immediately, and our ocean and coastal ecosystems can be part of the solution,” Bonamici said. “Blue carbon refers to the powerful ability of coastal ecosystems to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for centuries to millennia in plants and soil. Despite their value, coastal blue carbon ecosystems are disappearing at an unsustainable rate.

If enacted, the Blue Carbon for Our Planet Act would create a national map of coastal blue carbon ecosystems and their sequestration potential, study the effects of environmental stressors on rates of carbon sequestration, improve protections for existing coastal blue carbon ecosystems and restore degraded ecosystems.

Lower drug prices sought

House Democrats often slam Senate Republicans for not acting on legislation passed in the House. Rep. Lois Frankel went to the House floor to criticize the lack of action on the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (HR 3).

Frankel held up a pill cutter to illustrate the point of the legislation.

Pharmacists tell me that it’s one of the most popular gadgets in the drugstore. Why? Because many prescription drugs are so unaffordable that, at the expense of their health, Americans are cutting their pills in half.

Lois Frankel took to the House floor to blast the foot-dragging on the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

The bill passed the House December 12, 2019, by a vote of 230 to 192 with the delegation voting along party lines. Republicans voted against the bill due to their stated opposition to government involvement in drug pricing.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) ran ads against Republicans Buchanan, Mast, and Ross Spano of Dover for their “no” votes on the bill.

If enacted, the law “will give Medicare the power to negotiate with drug companies, lower the costs of the most expensive drugs for all Americans, and stop pharmaceutical companies from charging more for drugs that are cheaper in other countries,” Frankel added.

Dems attack DMP challenger

Republicans were already looking at two crowded primaries as they seek to nominate a successor to Rep. Ted Yoho in District 3 and Francis Rooney in District 19. A less crowded, but competitive GOP primary is shaping up as they seek a challenger to first-term Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in District 26.

Restaurateur Irina Vilariño is already in, as is Omar Blanco, the former head of the Miami-Dade Firefighters union. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez is reportedly set to announce a run as well.

The Florida Democratic Party did not wait for Giménez to announce before launching an ad attacking him. The theme is “corrupt Carlos.”

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

“Corrupt Carlos Giménez has a long history of abusing his power to enrich himself, his family and his wealthy donors and this new ad will make sure South Florida voters know the truth about Giménez’s swampy record,” said FDP spokeswoman Luisana Pérez Fernández.

Mucarsel-Powell is well-funded. She raised $2.1 million in 2019 and entered 2020 with $1.6 million cash on hand. She is also on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) Frontline program that is committed to protecting the current freshman class.

She is a target of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

Toxic chemicals bill passes

Communities are frequently looking for funds to clean up contaminated sites. The House has now passed legislation that would require strategies to deal with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), toxic chemicals that can threaten public health if left unaddressed.

The PFAS Action Act sponsored by Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell, was approved by a vote of 247-159. It requires the Environmental Protection Agency to mandate cleanup of contaminated sites, set air emission limits, limit new PFAS chemicals in the marketplace, and identify health risks by requiring comprehensive health testing, reporting and monitoring of PFAS.

A handful of Florida Republicans signed onto the PFAS Action Act sponsored by Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell.

Among the bill’s co-sponsors is Democrats Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, Darren Soto of Kissimmee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Donna Shalala of Coral Gables. While the vote was mostly partisan, Reps. Bill Posey of Rockledge, Mast and Rooney were among the 24 who joined with Democrats to approve the bill.

The stand-alone bill came after PFAS provisions were struck from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed late last year. The legislation requires the U.S. military to transition from PFAS-laded firefighting foam by 2024 and to test PFAS levels in military firefighters’ blood.

Policy advisers to Trump called some provisions of the bill “duplicative” to those already contained in the NDAA, and the legislation would create “unrealistic” requirements on state and local communities. If the bill passes the Senate, they would recommend a veto.

On this day

Jan. 14, 2003 — President George W. Bush said for the first time that if North Korea abandoned its nuclear weapons program, the U.S. would consider offering a “bold initiative” that could bring aid, security and diplomatic normalcy. China immediately agreed to facilitate a meeting between representatives of the two countries.

While trying to persuade North Korea, Bush spoke harshly concerning weapons held by Iraq. “Time is running out on Saddam (Hussein). Iraq must disarm,” he said.

Jan. 14, 2009 — Congress is mulling over a plan that would get inefficient, gas-guzzling cars off the road. Both the House and Senate proposed the legislation that reportedly has the support of incoming President Barack Obama.

If enacted, “Cash for Clunkers” would provide $4,500 to owners and scrap the vehicles. People could also turn in their vehicles and receive vouchers to ride public transportation.

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