Demings takes center stage
The last time a President of the United States was on trial after being impeached, no one alive had seen such a spectacle. More than a century had passed since President Andrew Johnson narrowly escaped removal.
In 1999, President Bill Clinton was never in any real jeopardy. Despite the fact that Republicans held the majority, many in the GOP conference, including Majority Leader Trent Lott, had no stomach for it.
Clinton’s favorability ratings were low due to the nature of his offenses, but his job approval numbers were quite high. The House impeachment managers, which included Republican Reps. Bill McCollum of Orlando and Charles Canady of Lakeland, never had a chance.
Fast forward to 2020, and the third trial is beginning. President Donald Trump, like Clinton a generation ago, holds underwater favorability ratings. Polls show that unlike Clinton, Trump’s job approval numbers are underwater as well.
Just as it was in 1999, Republicans hold a majority of 53 Senate seats, but this time Senators are to judge a member of their own party. The effort to remove a sitting President is as likely to fail this time as it did for a Republican House majority 21 years ago.
A Florida member of Congress will be in the spotlight just as McCollum and Canady were then. With her appointment as one of seven House impeachment managers, the life of Orlando Democrat Val Demings has changed forever.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to help defend our republic in this incredible moment in history,” Demings said in a news release. “I hope that every American who believes in democracy will take a stand.”
As the former Chief of Police and now a two-term member of the House, Demings is renowned around the region. Within hours of her selection by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both print, electronic and social media were spreading her name around the country, if not the world.
No matter how the process in the Senate turns out, millions more will come to recognize her name and face. She and her colleagues will face off against well-known names in legal circles.
After his service in the House, McCollum became Florida Attorney General and likely would have been Governor had he not come up against the personal fortune of Rick Scott. Today, Canady is Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.
Depending on how effective Demings presents her part of the House’s case, higher office may be in the cards. Though some see Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried as a leading candidate for U.S. Senate in two years, Demings could become part of the conversation if she decides to take such a step.
Speculation has already begun for consideration as a running mate for whoever becomes the Democratic nominee for President (see “Demings touted” below)
Though the odds of removing Trump are low, should lightning strike and change the dynamic, the sky is the limit. Demings believes that is possible if public opinion swings away from Trump.
“I understand that the politics of impeachment are difficult for many Senators. But I have not written off the Senate,” she said. “Each Senator still has the power to do the right thing. I know that as each Senator considers whether to side with justice or corruption, the voices of the American people will matter.”
The next chapter of American history is being written.
Peace Corps leaving China
Six months after the Peace Corps ignored Sen. Rick Scott’s call for the organization to withdraw from China, the organization reversed course and will pull its volunteer personnel out of the country reportedly by the end of June. Scott was pleased by the announcement and said, in effect, it’s about time.
“I’m glad the Peace Corps has finally come to its senses and sees Communist China for what it is: the second-largest economy in the world and an adversary of the United States,” Scott said in a statement. “There is no reason we should prop up our adversaries with U.S. tax dollars.”
The Peace Corps was originated during the Kennedy administration and designed to help developing countries with scarce resources. China is now the second-largest economy in the world.
“Today’s decision by the Peace Corps to withdraw its volunteers from China confirms what we all know — China is no longer a developing country,” said Sen. Marco Rubio in a statement.
Scott began to put pressure on Peace Corps Director Dr. Jody Olsen during a July meeting in Washington. When Olsen “refused,” he launched the Peace Corps Mission Accountability Act, which gained no traction in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but is now moot with last week’s decision.
“I’ve repeatedly asked the Peace Corps to pull all volunteers and resources from Communist China immediately, and I’m glad they finally decided to start protecting both taxpayer money and the American people,” Scott added. I will also be asking the Peace Corps to present their plan to me to ensure a speedy withdrawal of their resources in Communist China.”
Rubio pans China ‘deal’
Another part of the busy week in Washington was the signing of what was described as “phase one” of a trade deal with China. The White House and most Republicans described it as a major win for the Trump administration, while the media coverage, and even some Republicans, tended to downplay any real significance.
The main component of the deal has China set to purchase $200 billion of U.S. goods and services over the next two years. The U.S. will reduce tariffs on $120 billion in Chinese goods by 50%.
The signing ceremony featured many members of Congress and even some local Florida officials in the audience. Among those was Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan, who described the agreement as “another win for American consumers,” and Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who praised Trump for “ensuring all levels of government have a seat at the table.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has supported Trump’s efforts to get tough on China, bashed the deal. He faulted a failure to address China’s government subsidies for its businesses,
Rubio was a rare Republican who eventually came down closer to Schumer than to Trump. In a New York Times Op-Ed, he blasted part of the deal.
“Instead of holding China accountable for exploiting American capital markets, ‘phase one’ of the deal will make sure American capital continues to directly fund China’s state-run economy,” he wrote. “But now this part of the ‘deal’ with China throws open the gates to American capital. They now get to keep up their exploitation, with our money.”
USMCA awaits Trump’s signature
Trump will soon sign the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement after the Senate gave its blessing Friday with an 89-10 vote. The House agreed to the revised version 385-41 Dec. 19 with Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho, who is retiring this year, casting the only “no” vote among the Florida delegation.
“The American people voted for a Democratic majority in the House to fight for their best interests,” Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said in a statement. “Democrats negotiated a stronger USMCA trade agreement by securing labor protections for American workers, ensuring environmental protections by establishing environment-focused monitors, and eliminating provisions that would unfairly lock in high prescription drug costs for American families.”
Republican Rep. Dan Webster of Clermont pointed out the agreement did not rectify the plight of growers facing unfair competition but said the deal was a good one for Americans.
“Replacing the outdated NAFTA, USMCA lays a solid foundation for the future of North American trade,” Webster said in a statement. “It includes new, cutting-edge rules on digital trade that will help American businesses & innovators continue to thrive in the modern economy.”
The USMCA made it through the House by large numbers due to Democratic leadership gaining greater worker protections sought by the AFL-CIO. Although Deutch pointed out increased environmental protections, which was not enough to secure the votes of nine Democratic Senators, including Schumer.
“Despite the fact that it includes very good labor provisions, I am voting against USMCA because it does not address climate change, the greatest threat facing the planet,” Schumer said.
After Trump signs the implementing legislation, Canada must approve the deal before it becomes effective. Mexico approved it in December.
The House has already passed a resolution demanding Trump to gain approval from Congress if he seeks to take further military action against Iran. In a detailed statement to constituents late last week, West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel recited the atrocities of assassinated Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Still, Trump’s action made the country less safe.
“While we do not mourn Soleimani’s death, the President’s use of force without congressional authorization or a plan for the aftermath has raised concerns about a dangerous precedent and triggering an Iranian response that could spiral into military conflict,” she wrote.
In the Senate, Democrat Tim Kaine of Virginia says he has the votes to pass a similar measure in the Senate after Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Todd Young of Indiana, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky announced their support. Neither Rubio nor Scott are expected to support the resolution when it comes up for a vote, which will likely be delayed due to the impeachment trial.
Iranian protests have been a regular occurrence over recent weeks, with more taking to the streets following the admission from the Iranian regime it had shot down a Ukrainian airliner. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sponsored a resolution in the House supporting the protesters.
“Americans know the importance of freedom and democracy, and the Iranian people deserve to have their voices heard,” said Dover Republican Ross Spano in a statement. “Leader McCarthy’s resolution is a step in the right direction. The United States should give the Iranian people our full support.”
House Democrats blocked a vote on the resolution with rumors indicating they may be drafting their own version.
FBI changes course
Nearly four years after the FBI determined Russian hackers were able to penetrate the election systems of two Florida counties but kept the state in the dark, the agency announced a policy change. The bureau is now committing to inform state authorities if such a breach occurs in the future.
While these breaches did occur, no votes were changed.
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Republican Rep. Mike Waltz of St. Augustine have urged the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to make the changes revealed. Six months ago, they introduced the ALERTS Act, co-sponsored by 14 bipartisan members of the delegation, requiring state officials to be notified.
They also arranged a classified briefing from the Department of Justice and the FBI describing how the breaches occurred, but not which counties were affected. The new policy does not provide everything the lawmakers sought, but it represented an important step.
“Our elections system is perhaps the most critical of all infrastructure to our republic — and as we’ve seen in the past, it is constantly under attack from foreign powers who do not share our values,” Waltz said in a news release.” This policy shift from the FBI will be vital to improve our elections system and promote transparency, especially as we head into an election year.
“While this is welcome news, I will continue to press for voters to be eventually included and notified of breaches and will continue to push for full transparency.”
Murphy agreed with her colleague, saying that while the FBI move was encouraging, “I will continue to push for federal officials to provide more information to the voting public when foreign powers interfere with our democracy.”
Members tour Puerto Rico
On Jan. 19, Murphy led a delegation to Puerto Rico to examine the damage and disruption caused by the recent earthquakes and to speak with residents. She was joined by Resident Commissioner (Congresswoman) Jenniffer González-Colón of Puerto Rico, Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge and Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables.
“From Hurricane Maria to these recent earthquakes, our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico have been strong and resilient in the face of adversity,” Murphy said in a joint news release. “They need to know that the federal government has their back.”
Last week, Murphy, González-Colón, Shalala, Posey, and other members of the Florida delegation sent a letter to Trump urging him to issue a major disaster declaration for Puerto Rico. It would make available a wide range of federal assistance for individuals and communities impacted by the earthquakes. Trump issued the declaration.
“It’s important to see firsthand how recovery efforts are going, so Congress knows how best to assist the government of Puerto Rico in their recovery efforts,” Posey said, “The earthquake complicates the road to recovery from last season’s hurricanes.”
The delegation toured affected areas and received briefings from federal officials, including FEMA, who briefed them on government efforts to help residents. Shalala sought to ensure Puerto Ricans are treated fairly.
“Throughout these difficult times, our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico have often been treated as second-class citizens. That is unacceptable,” Shalala said. I’m traveling to the affected areas to find out how Congress can help to make sure these communities can begin rebuilding their lives as soon as possible.”
While the delegation was in Puerto Rico, a scandal that involved the discovery of a warehouse full of emergency supplies. Some of the aid has reportedly sat in the warehouse since 2017.
Waltz introduces PTSD bill
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a significant issue among returning members of the military, as well as for some in civilian life. Statistics reveal there may be ways to reverse the trend.
According to a 2013 study by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Medical Corps Mental Health Department, reported cases of PTSD among Israeli soldiers are among the lowest in military forces worldwide. For example, after the 2006 Second Lebanon War, one and one-half percent of Israeli soldiers in mandatory service and the reserves were diagnosed with PTSD compared to the between 11 to 20% from American soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Recently, Waltz and five House colleagues introduced bipartisan legislation to leverage research conducted by the U.S. and Israel to treat PTSD. The United States-Israel PTSD Collaborative Research Act looks to share research assets and experiences of the U.S. and Israel to develop best practices in research, diagnosis and treatment of PTSD.
“Serving in combat changes you and many times, our service members return home much different than they were when they deployed,” said Waltz, a former Army Green Beret. “This is not their fault. PTSD is a natural response for our service members who have seen war firsthand and it affects veterans from all backgrounds and walks of life.
“It’s critical we leverage every tool possible to better help our veterans heal from PTSD and adjust to life back home.”
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, women veterans have a higher rate of PTSD at nearly 20% when it came to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Further research, coupled with treatment options, can help better understand, diagnose, and treat those suffering from this affliction.
“If we want to thank our veterans for putting their lives on the line for our freedoms, we should ensure they lead happy, healthy lives when they return home,” Waltz said.
Waltz is the bill’s lead sponsor, joined by five original co-sponsors. They are Democratic Reps. Chrissy Houlahan and Susan Wild from Pennsylvania, along with Elaine Luria from Virginia. Republican co-sponsors are Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and Dan Wild from Texas.
Bloomberg names Murphy co-chair
Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg picked up a key Florida endorsement when Murphy threw her support behind his effort. Murphy cited Bloomberg’s organization and resources, plus his focus on gun control put him in the best position to defeat Trump in November.
“The work that Mayor Bloomberg has done through Everytown has been critical in allowing us to notch some of the legislative wins,” Murphy said, referring to the Everytown for Gun Safety nonprofit that Bloomberg founded.
“And I think Mayor Bloomberg, whether it is as an executive or as Mayor or as a philanthropist, is focused on achieving results. And I believe this country needs that approach.”
Also, Bloomberg has selected Murphy as a national co-chair for his campaign. The former New York City Mayor, who was elected as a Republican, but later became a Democrat, is running as a moderate. Murphy is co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition in the House.
“We share a vision for breaking the gridlock in Congress, ensuring the safety of all Americans and giving them a larger voice in our future,” Bloomberg said. “After the Pulse nightclub shooting, she ran for office to bring change to Washington, including common-sense gun laws, and as President, I will work closely with her to get it done.”
Bloomberg’s campaign is staffing up big in Florida. Considering its large population of New York expats and Jewish Americans, Florida is a top target as part of its strategy to compete in states that begin voting on Super Tuesday.
Murphy previously endorsed former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who dropped out of the race late in 2019.
Demings for VP?
With Demings assuming her role as an impeachment manager, some in the Democratic Party believe she may have another role once impeachment is over. A prominent name in Central Florida politics believes Demings may have a higher calling.
Former Orange County Mayor Linda Chapin has taken it upon herself to make Demings a political project. She is using the full extent of her network to get the former Orlando Chief of Police into the national conversation as a vice-presidential candidate. The conversation, however, seems to be happening even without Chapin’s efforts.
Chapin and other Demings fans tout an impressive professional résumé and the intangibles that make up a successful candidate. Along with being from a critical swing state in an area considered one of the state’s most crucial voting blocs, Democrats could covet having an African American woman on any ticket.
“Think of what she could do for Democrats in Florida, purple Florida,” Chapin said. “She’s smart. She’s got a great story. She’s got a great professional background that is unimpeachable. She’s got a husband who everybody likes.”
Val Demings’ husband, Jerry, is the current Mayor of Orange County.
Some have spoken of Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, who lost a close race for Governor of Georgia, as a potential running mate. Chapin believes Demings would be a better choice due to her experience, electoral success and less baggage.
Helping domestic violence survivors
In many cases of domestic violence, victims are forced to leave their homes quickly, leaving behind nearly everything. Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg has joined with González-Colón to help survivors of domestic violence.
They have introduced the Documents for Continued Safety Act in the House. The bipartisan legislation would empower survivors of domestic violence by making it easier for them to replace vital documents lost or missing after fleeing their abuser.
“Escaping domestic violence is one of the most difficult things a person can do,” Crist said in a news release. “This legislation supports survivors who make the brave choice to restart their lives safely and independently, ensuring one step in that process is a little less burdensome.”
Under the proposal, the Social Security Administration would not charge administrative fees required to replace birth certificates, driver’s licenses and Social Security cards. These identification documents are necessary for survivors to establish safe and independent lives after experiencing abuse.
“This bill is crucial to end the lack of access to survivor’s documentation and providing the necessary resources to start a new life free from abuse,” said González-Colón. “As a Co-Vice Chair of the Congressional Women’s Caucus, I will always support equality and safety for women.”
Escaping domestic violence is often rushed and desperate. Domestic violence shelters report that survivors frequently do not have their vital documents or access to financial resources — because either the abuser withholds them, or the abused forgets them in the process of fleeing.
HUD sending millions
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced the awarding of $2.2 billion in housing grants to support local homeless assistance programs around the nation. Florida programs will receive 309 of those grants for $87.5 million.
“A safe, affordable place to call home is key when creating a path toward opportunity and self-sufficiency,” said HUD Secretary Ben Carson in Ohio, where he made the funding announcement. “The grants awarded today help our partners on the ground to reduce homelessness in their communities and help our most vulnerable neighbors.”
Miami-Dade County will receive the largest share of funding directed toward Florida. More than $31 million is targeted toward 55 projects in the county.
These grants will help our communities advance further as we continue to work to eliminate homelessness, particularly for the most vulnerable among us, including veterans, the elderly, families with children and the disabled,” Republican Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart of Miami said in a statement.
“I thank Secretary Carson for his long-standing commitment to bettering our communities, and I look forward to our continued work as we improve the quality and efficiency of our housing programs.”
Pinellas County is set to benefit from $4.4 million in federal funds.
“In the wealthiest country in the world, no one should be left without a roof over their head,” Crist said. “Our local governments and nonprofits do the best they can, but simply don’t have enough resources to reach everyone in need.”
On this day
Jan. 21, 1977 — On his first full day in office, President Jimmy Carter kept a campaign promise by granting full, complete, and unconditional pardons to all Vietnam-era draft evaders who were not involved in any violent acts. Those residing outside of the United States may now return home without fear of prosecution, but the pardon does not cover those who deserted.
Rep. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who was wounded in World War II, called it “distressing to see conscientious disobedience condoned on a blanket basis.” On the other hand, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy described Carter’s move “a major, impressive and compassionate step toward healing the wounds of Vietnam.”
Jan. 21, 1999 — With no sign the Senate has the votes to remove President Clinton from office, Senators from both parties have launched informal, behind-the-scenes efforts to find a strategy for ending the impeachment trial. Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith described Clinton as “an aggressive philanderer and adulterer, but you don’t remove him on that.”
The appearance of trial witnesses is still up in the air, with Smith believing the need for them is “diminishing.” Sen. Connie Mack, chair of the Senate Republican Conference, said witnesses were “a foregone conclusion.”
Jan. 21, 2010 — The Supreme Court handed down a landmark opinion when they swept aside decades of legislative restrictions on the role of corporations in political campaigns. The effect of the ruling in Citizens United v. FEC means corporations are no longer restricted from involvement in political campaigns.
President Barack Obama described the ruling as “giving a green light to a new stampede of special interest money” and promised to “develop a forceful response” with Democratic Congressional leaders. The ruling invalidated a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law involving corporations, leading Sen. John McCain to express his disappointment with the 5-4 decision.
Belated wishes (Jan. 18) to Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.