Trump sidelines Gaetz
Outside of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, two of the higher-profile committee members are Floridians. One is a fierce opponent of President Donald Trump, while the other has been his most reliable ally.
Earlier this week, this publication noted the rise of Orlando Democrat Val Demings culminating in her appointment as an impeachment manager. At the same time, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz was expected by many to be part of Trump’s defense team.
Demings was the first among the delegation to openly advocate for Trump’s impeachment, and her performance during the impeachment inquiry on both the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee never wavered. Gaetz has had Trump’s back from day one, earning the moniker as the “Trumpiest Congressman in Washington.”
Gaetz and a handful of Freedom Caucus colleagues have been relentless advocates for investigating how the Mueller investigation began, which is now underway and led by U.S. Attorney John Durham. During the impeachment inquiry in the Judiciary Committee, Gaetz had volatile exchanges with pro-impeachment law professors, led a group of House members trying to enter closed-door depositions, and conducted forceful examinations of witnesses during the hearings.
In the end, Demings was added as an impeachment manager, but Gaetz was not among the eight Republican House members chosen to aid the effort. The reason for the snub was apparent: Gaetz was one of only three Republicans (Francis Rooney was another) to vote for a Democratic resolution calling for a limit the President’s war powers.
Despite arguing his vote did not actually limit the President from defending the country and that he shares Trump’s view concerning “endless wars,” the vote was taken as a disloyal act.
In the context of Democrats blasting the President for taking out Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani without notifying them, Trump was apparently looking for the same unity Democrats gave their leaders. Voting “yes” was bad enough, but Trump was reportedly angry with Gaetz for apparently urging colleagues to also vote for the resolution.
Gaetz understood that was the reason for his omission, describing it as a “brush back.” White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland directly tied the snub to Gaetz’s vote on the resolution but added: “We look forward to working with Mr. Gaetz in the future.”
The two-term Republican indirectly engaged Ueland by saying, “I thought ‘legislative affairs’ folks were supposed to help the President add friends — not extend silly fights with the President’s best friends.”
While the legislative affairs director was explaining the bad news, there can be little doubt Trump made the final call himself to sideline his ally. Policy-wise, Gaetz earned some plaudits for his vote, especially from his representation of a district with a heavy military presence.
Politically it goes down as an unforced error, at least for now. The takeaway is constituents and pundits should not expect him to be on the opposite side of Trump for the remainder of the year.
Rubio sounds Huawei alarm
As fifth-generation wireless technology (5G) increasingly becomes a way of life, the United States and several allies have consciously avoided employing products from China’s Huawei corporation. Huawei is considered a security threat to those countries that use it.
As the United Kingdom and other countries determine their final path in developing 5G, Sen. Marco Rubio is urging them to steer clear of Huawei, the high-tech giant with ties to the Chinese government. In an op-ed published in The Telegraph of London, Rubio said the concern of the U.S. and allies is not “bluff or bluster.”
“Huawei presents potential clients with a set of false choices: between themselves and no one; choose them today or be left behind forever,” Rubio wrote. “This dishonest framing endangers UK security and risks the country’s autonomy.”
There are those in the UK, Germany and other European countries saying an outright ban on Huawei and replacing them with competitors would be prohibitive in cost and infrastructure. In Germany, lawmakers from both sides are agreeing with Rubio of potential Chinese espionage and questioning the stance of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Rubio described the danger posed by Huawei in everyday terms.
“If you had a neighbour who came over and rummaged through your garage tools every day, occasionally slipping silverware from your kitchen, would you trust him to redo the locks on your house? How about to install a state-of-the-art new security system? Of course not.”
Scott ‘open to witnesses’
After CNN reporter Manu Raju asked Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally about adding evidence to the impeachment trial, McSally dismissed him as a “liberal hack.” When another CNN reporter, Dana Bash, asked Sen. Rick Scott about having witnesses at the trial, she received a more courteous, and perhaps unexpected, response.
“Oh, absolutely,” Scott replied. “This is a process. This is what we all agreed to.”
Bash, perhaps taken by surprise at Scott’s response, asked: “For real, open to witnesses?”
Scott mentioned Hunter Biden, but Bash was more interested in Scott’s view on hearing from former National Security Adviser John Bolton.
“I’m open to witnesses, OK, but I think we need to go through the right process,” he responded, meaning finishing the initial arguments and questions before deciding.
At the end of the nearly four-minute interview, Scott told Bash that Democrats were not making their case and that it was “hard to stay awake” during the long first night.
A rumor that Hunter Biden would be called if Republicans allowed Bolton’s testimony was knocked down by both sides. According to trial rules passed by Senate Republicans, a decision on whether to call witnesses comes after both sides have 24 hours of opening arguments, followed by 16 hours of questions.
Pro-life week in D.C.
For the first time, a U.S. President will address the March for Life rally in Washington. Trump was to speak to the tens of thousands gathered Friday to protest legalized abortion.
“From the appointment of pro-life judges and federal workers, to cutting taxpayer funding for abortions here and abroad, to calling for an end to late-term abortions, President Trump and his administration have been consistent champions for life, and their support for the March for Life has been unwavering,” said Jeanne Mancini, President of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, who is organizing the march.
“We are grateful for all these pro-life accomplishments and look forward to gaining more victories for life in the future.”
In anticipation of the march, earlier this week the Susan B. Anthony List released its scorecard rating members for their stands on pro-life issues. Not surprisingly, nearly all Republicans earned As and almost all Democrats earned Fs.
Among Florida Republicans, all earned perfect scores except for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, who scored a B, while all Delegation Democrats all scored an F. He was marked down for voting in favor of the Equality Act.
“Every life is a gift, and is valuable at each and every stage,” said Clermont Republican Dan Webster. “I thank the SBA List for recognizing my actions to protect the rights of our most vulnerable — the unborn. Throughout my years serving Florida and my country, I have and will continue to fight for and defend the right to life. I will never waver.”
Only 35 Senators were rated with neither Rubio nor Scott receiving a score.
Outgoing Indian ambassador lauded
With his appointment as Foreign Secretary of India, current Ambassador Harsh Shringla has made arrangements to leave his post. Members of Congress, including two from Florida, joined Shringla for a farewell breakfast, where he thanked President Trump for strengthening ties between the U.S. and India.
South Carolina Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, a member of the House India Caucus, hosted the event. Those joining included fellow caucus members Republican Reps. Neal Dunn of Panama City and Ted Yoho of Gainesville.
Shringla was feted with a Special Congressional Recognition at breakfast, which was co-hosted by the Indian American International Chamber of Commerce. He was lauded for his interaction with the U.S. Congress.
During a trip to Florida, Shringla met with Yoho, who recalled discussing “our shared vision of democracy, rule of law and equal opportunities for all citizens is the foundation of the strategic partnership.” He begins his new duties as a foreign secretary on Jan. 29.
Bilirakis cancer bill passes
Among the many areas where Rep. Gus Bilirakis has been active is addressing those who have cancer. Bilirakis, one of the chairs of the Caucus to Cure Blood Cancers and Other Blood Disorders, joined legislation to facilitate cell transplants.
Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind originally proposed the Patient Access to Cellular Transplant (PACT) Act with Bilirakis signing on as an original co-sponsor. The bill became law after it was rolled into broader legislation and signed by Trump.
The legislation updates Medicare policy to reimburse hospitals for the cost of acquiring bone marrow and stem cells; the same way it pays solid organ acquisition costs. According to Bilirakis’ office, this means that patients who may have otherwise died without these lifesaving treatments will now have access to the care they need.
“Medicare policy simply hadn’t kept pace with technological advances; and tragically, this disparity threatened the lives of older Americans with blood cancers — often stripping them of hope for a cure,” the Palm Harbor Republican said in a news release. “Whereas physicians once had very few options to treat these patients, today, blood transplants offer a cure.
“These treatments can be the difference between life and death, and I am proud that our new law fixes the problem and ensures access,” he added.
Among the bill’s 30 co-sponsors were Florida Democratic Reps. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.
Trans athlete restrictions proposed
Sarasota Republican Greg Steube has introduced federal legislation designed to prohibit those born as males from competing as a female. The Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act would prevent the use of Title IX funds to support women’s sports in which biological male athletes are allowed to participate against biological women athletes.
“With the House passage of H.R. 5 earlier this Congress, women and girls participating in competitive sports across the country are at risk of losing the equal playing field they were guaranteed by the Education Amendments of 1972,” Steube said in a news release. “We must protect our female athletes from being forced to compete against biological male athletes in competitive sports.”
The legislation is popping up in some states as well. Bills in Idaho and New Hampshire were introduced at about the same time as Steube’s national legislation. Republicans are the primary sponsors of each bill.
In New Hampshire, the Attorney General’s Office under GOP Attorney General Gordon MacDonald said the state legislation would violate the state’s anti-discrimination law.
Steube’s bill would require that sex for participation in a sport be determined by the athlete’s sex as determined by a physician at birth.
No heart for planned parkway?
Prompted by concerns from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan weighed in on a state issue — the planned Heartland Parkway toll road.
The Congressman sent a letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis, himself a former member of the delegation, raising concerns about a threat posed to the Florida panther. He noted only around 250 of the species are accounted for, and that vehicles pose the greatest threat. Cars killed 23 panthers in Florida last year.
“Modernizing our infrastructure to deal with continued population growth is important, but so is ensuring the survival of an endangered species that also happens to be the Florida state animal,” Buchanan said. “We don’t get a second chance once a species becomes extinct.”
Of course, the words earned particular notice as Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, the chief legislative force behind the highway, is actually one of Buchanan’s constituents. Galvano has maintained for a year cautions will be taken to protect the environment, including panthers.
The 140-mile roadway, planned from Polk to Collier counties, will begin construction in 2022.
Buchanan specifically called for animal-friendly overpasses and underpasses. But he said the state should not ignore alarms sounded by federal environmental officials.
“I was very concerned to see a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently warn that ‘This project would have very serious impacts on the Florida panther,’” Buchanan wrote. “That is why it is important that you take this into consideration and plan accordingly as you construct the state’s largest highway expansion in more than half a century.”
Mast backs Stuart lawsuit
Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City has often tangled publicly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) over Lake Okeechobee water levels. By keeping them high during the dry season, Mast and other residents fear discharges of highly polluted water during the rainy season.
Also concerned were Stuart city commissioners, who unanimously voted to sue the COE for the water levels. Mast offered to help in any way he could, short of joining the lawsuit.
“I absolutely support the city reserving that right” to sue the Corps, Mast said before a news conference along the St. Lucie in downtown Stuart. “Elected officials have the right to sue if the area they’re representing is being poisoned.”
Mast said he could not join the lawsuit because he does not have legal “standing” as a plaintiff, but offered to file a friend-of-the-court (amicus) brief. Both Mast and the commission want the COE to keep the lake level below 11 feet as they did last year.
The COE is set to keep the levels at 12 feet. Mast and the commission note there were no harmful discharges last year and they claim the chances of that occurring drop to 20 % if the lake is kept at 11 feet.
Deutch: Amend U.S. Constitution
This week marked the 10th anniversary of the historical — some say infamous — Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United. Members of Congress, mostly Democrats, have advocated action to help reverse that decision that allowed unlimited campaign spending from corporations.
Among those is Rep. Deutch, who wrote an op-ed on the NBC News website advocating for a constitutional amendment that would effectively overrule the Supreme Court. The Boca Raton Democrat said the process must begin with legislation.
“Citizens United, and the cases that followed, corrupted our elections by elevating the interests of billionaires and corporations above the concerns of American voters,” Deutch wrote. “Ten years later, we must advance our fight to put voters back in charge of Washington and restore the faith of the American people in our democracy.”
One year ago, Deutch joined with Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Republican Rep. John Katko of New York to file the Democracy for all Amendment. The stated goal is focused on “getting big money out of politics.”
The process is lengthy. Should the legislation be enacted, approval from 38 state legislatures would be required.
Hastings, Wilson back Biden
In a crowded field of candidates, those not running frequently make endorsements of those who are. For example, Reps. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens threw their support behind California Sen. Kamala Harris.
During the past few days, Hastings and Wilson got behind their second choice, as did Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park. Murphy previously endorsed former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, but is now behind Michael Bloomberg, while Hastings and Wilson are currently in the camp of former Vice President Joe Biden.
“Joe’s record of delivering for our working families, including by passing Obamacare and defeating the NRA twice — two issues that have improved the lives of my constituents and Americans across our country,” Hastings said in a statement. “He has the proven ability to connect and empathize with folks of all backgrounds.”
In addition to Hastings and Wilson, endorsements from Democratic Reps. Sanford Bishop of Georgia and Donald Payne of New Jersey, brought the number of Congressional Black Caucus members backing Biden to 15. In a recent Washington Post poll, Biden had the support of 48 % of black voters in the primary with Sen. Bernie Sanders a distant second with 20 %.
“(Biden’s) broad-based, achievable plans to improve our education system speak to the urgency of addressing education issues head-on and honestly,” said Wilson. “I trust Joe Biden to deliver for Florida families and look forward to doing my part in helping him turn Florida blue in November because Florida is pivotal.”
Frankel pleased with reimbursements
Local officials have frequently expressed concerns with the use of local law enforcement resources when Trump stays at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach. Now that the President has declared himself a resident of Florida, those trips will likely increase.
Recently, the federal government sent nearly $4 million to reimburse three local law enforcement agencies for their roles in protecting the President. Reimbursements are distributed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Presidential Residence Protection Assistance Grant, which compensates law enforcement for overtime costs associated with protecting President Trump at his nongovernmental residences.
“Trump’s many trips to Mar-a-Lago have a significant impact on local budgets, Frankel said in a news release announcing the funds. “This money will provide much-needed relief. I will continue working with colleagues to make sure our community is provided with appropriate, timely federal compensation as long as the President continues to call Palm Beach his home.”
As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Frankel has advocated for these reimbursements and will continue to support full funding for the grant program.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is receiving $3.86 million, while the West Palm Beach Police Department is getting $57,597 and the Town of Palm Beach another $15,102. Frankel’s office noted that since his election, Trump had spent 143 days at Mar-a-Lago.
Crime victims bill proposed
The plea deal that gave serial sex offender Jeffrey Epstein a slap on the wrist is still a source of outrage from victims and those in the delegation. Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz has introduced legislation to prevent a future occurrence.
The Crime Victims Rights Act of 2020 would outlaw secret plea deals such as the one agreed to by the office of then-U. S. Attorney Alex Acosta and Epstein. The man who abused dozens of underage girls plead to lesser state charges — without the knowledge of victims — that carried only minimal jail time that was subject to work release benefits.
Those responsible for such arrangements, including top prosecutors, would be held accountable.
“If federal prosecutors re-victimize innocent victims — as Epstein’s horrific plea deal did — they must be held accountable, in a timely fashion,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “His victims deserve to know that no one will suffer the way they have again.”
Joining as the original co-sponsor is Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner. A former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Sensenbrenner authored landmark legislation enhancing the rights of crime victims.
“Alex Acosta’s plea deal wrist slapped one of the most heinous criminals in modern history,’ Wasserman Schultz tweeted. “It was a cruel insult to the children he abused. Epstein’s victims deserve to know that no one will suffer this way again.”
On this day
Jan. 24, 1973 — As the nation neared the end of a 30-day mourning period for former President Harry S. Truman, one of Truman’s successors has also died. Former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who left office only four years before, died on Jan. 22 following a heart attack at his Texas ranch. Truman died Dec. 26 in Kansas City following complications from pneumonia.
The Vietnam War dogged Johnson during his five years in office, precipitating his decision not to seek reelection in 1968. The day following Johnson’s death, President Richard Nixon announced a cease-fire agreement with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.
Jan. 24, 1999 — House impeachment managers interviewed Monica Lewinsky, the person central to the impeachment case against President Bill Clinton. Despite complaints from Senate Democrats, Republican Reps. Ed Bryant of Tennessee, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, and Bill McCollum of Florida spent the afternoon speaking with Lewinsky.
“We found that she might be a very helpful witness to the Senate, if called,” McCollum said afterward. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said he would go ahead with plans to submit written questions to Clinton, who was not expected to respond.