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Delegation for 1.28.20: Honoring Kobe — Bolton bombshell — coronavirus — Saudi training — Roe v. Wade

This week was more than just impeachment, for good and bad.

Bryant tragedy rocks nation

Few things can make everyone stop what they are doing and focus on a single event. Around 3 p.m. Sunday, the circus that is impeachment, the danger posed by a coronavirus, and the hoopla surrounding the Iowa caucuses were significant to only a few.

It was then that Americans and the world learned an icon had lost his life in a helicopter crash, as had his 13-year-old daughter and seven others. Everyone knew Kobe Bryant, and through the immense power of social media, millions were introduced to Gigi Bryant as her dad was playing his role as a dad.

To watch the video, click on the image below:

When word got out, social media brought out the best in humanity for the most part with messages of shock and sympathy.

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park tweeted:

Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted:

Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach tweeted:

Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell said: “I’m devastated and shocked to hear that we lost a great American athlete, leader and family man, Kobe Bryant, as well as his beautiful daughter.”

President Donald Trump offered condolences in a tweet, but even that brought out the critics, some accusing him of plagiarizing the words of former President Barack Obama:

Others circulated a 2017 tweet from Bryant calling out Trump for using words that “inspire dissension and hatred” which “can’t possibly “Make America Great Again.”

The Trump reaction notwithstanding, Americans were on the same page at least for a few hours. While Bryant’s death was tragic on its own, Americans, especially fathers of young daughters, deeply felt the loss of a teenager.

About eight hours after the news broke, the political class was back into impeachment mode when The New York Times released a story that former National Security Adviser John Bolton claimed Trump withheld aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into Democrats (see “Bolton shakes up” below).

Before the depth of the tragedy disappears into the swamp of impeachment: RIP Kobe and Gigi Bryant and the seven other souls lost on a hillside in Calabasas, California.

Bolton shakes up impeachment

While Americans were trying to absorb the tragedy surrounding Bryant, The New York Times broke a story late Sunday night involving former National Security Adviser John Bolton. According to the Times, Bolton will say in an upcoming book that Trump indicated he wished to delay funds to Ukraine until investigations into Democrats commenced.

For those seeking to remove Trump from office, or at the very least force Republicans to call Bolton to testify, the timing was impeccable. It came on the eve of Trump’s legal team embarking on the second day of his defense.

John Bolton expressed concerns to AG William Barr about Donald Trump granting favors to the autocratic leaders of China and Turkey.

“There can be no doubt now that Mr. Bolton directly contradicts the heart of the President’s defense and therefore must be called as a witness at the impeachment trial of President Trump,” tweeted Orlando Democrat Val Demings, one of seven House impeachment managers.

Depending on how effective the Trump defense team is in preventing moderate Republicans from joining the call to bring in Bolton — and likely others demanded by Republicans — the odds of him telling his story increased significantly. Demings demands to call Bolton, while moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she was “curious” about what Bolton might have to say.

Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine also indicated an interest in hearing from Bolton. Four Republicans would need to join with Democrats in calling for his testimony.

Republicans expect to finish their defense Tuesday. Perhaps they will end with less controversy than the concluding remarks of impeachment manager Adam Schiff, who spoke of a “Trump confidante” using the term “head on a pike” to describe the figurative fate of Senators who might vote for impeachment.

A vote on witnesses could come as early as Friday.

Rubio veterans’ bill heads to Trump’s desk

A bill sponsored by Rubio to help direct veterans into new careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics was approved Monday night by the U.S. House, sending it to President Trump’s desk.

House approval of Rubio’s Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act (Senate Bill 153) follows Senate approval in December.

The bill would assist veterans reentering the workforce by directing the National Science Foundation to encourage veterans to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

Marco Rubio’s veteran STEM bill is making its way to Donald Trump’s desk.

“This important bipartisan bill to ensure our nation’s veterans have the skills and opportunities to succeed in STEM careers is now on its way to the president’s desk,” Rubio stated in a news release. “The 21st-century workforce will be dominated by STEM roles, and our nation’s veterans are uniquely qualified to fill these jobs. I thank my colleagues in the Senate and House for getting this bipartisan bill across the finish line.”

Panama City Republican Rep. Neal Dunn sponsored the House version. While the House bill did not pass the Senate, he was pleased the Senate bill is set to become law.

“This important legislation ensures our government goes above and beyond to bring STEM career opportunities to our veterans. By increasing education and having veterans fill these 21st-century jobs, we help keep our promise to those who serve and also maintain America’s competitive edge as a global technology leader.”

Scott urges CDC action

A new coronavirus is becoming a growing health concern, not just in China, where it began, but also in the United States as well. Sen. Rick Scott has urged U.S. officials to declare it a public health emergency. Scott cited the dangers of the disease spreading, and added his skepticism of Chinese officials to be open about what is really happening.

In a letter to Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Scott asked Redfield to provide information on steps being taken to protect the American public, as well as further steps CDC plans to take. The country needs to take protective measures because “China does not play straight with us.”

Rick Scott urges CDC chief Robert Redfield to be more aggressive over the coronavirus outbreak.

More than 50 have died in China, and 2,000 have reportedly become infected. At least five cases have been confirmed in the United States, prompting the State Department to order evacuations of American diplomatic personnel in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus began.

In a news release announcing his letter to the CDC, Scott emphasized the Chinese government cannot be trusted.

“We have to get serious about the threat of Coronavirus coming from China,” he said. “I don’t trust Communist China to coordinate in a transparent and efficient manner when it comes to combating the threat of the virus, so we have to do everything we can to protect Americans.”

Saudi training to resume

The Dec. 6 murder of three sailors at Pensacola Naval Air Station by a Saudi Arabian Air Force pilot brought accolades for the victims on Capitol Hill. In addition to Congressional resolutions, Sens. Rubio and Scott are also asking for greater recognition for the three who lost their lives in the attack as well as those injured while responding.

In a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modley, the Senators urged the military to posthumously award Purple Hearts to Joshua Watson, Cameron Walters and Mohammed Haitham.

Saudi nationals will soon be back training at Pensacola NAS.

“Through their heroism, these sailors nobly put their own lives at risk, preventing the terrorist from taking more lives,” they wrote. “Based on the information gathered to date, and a recent statement by the Attorney General, we believe that these service members wounded and killed in this attack warrant the Purple Heart.”

They also seek the Navy Distinguished Civilian Medal with Valor for a naval base police officer wounded in the attack and the Secretary of Defense Medal of Freedom for Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies who responded to the attack.

After suspending the training program and expelling 21 Saudi pilots, the training program will soon resume. Of those pilots, 12 were from the Pensacola base.

Department of Defense officials announced training could resume provided heavy monitoring of international students is maintained and implementing a prohibition on the possession — on or off U.S. military property — of privately owned firearms and ammunition by international military students and their families.

Both Rubio and Scott, along with Rep. Matt Gaetz, who represents the district where the shootings occurred, previously called for a thorough review of the vetting process for selecting the pilots chosen for the program.

Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson joined Scott and Rubio in another letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, asking Wolf to explain the process of how the Pensacola shooter was able to gain a visa to enter the United States.

Gaetz: Twitter shadow banning

As the March for Life rally approached, prominent conservatives were accusing Twitter of “shadow banning” their tweets. Among those accusing the social media giant of silencing them was Fort Walton Beach Republican Gaetz.

Gaetz, as well as Trump’s presidential campaign, each had their own experiences while using Twitter to post videos promoting the anti-abortion position. Twitter placed a warning of “explicit content” around both, though neither contained graphic material.

Gaetz smelled something sinister. He tweeted:

Neither posted anything graphic, with Trump’s video showing the image of an ultrasound. They received a “sensitive material” warning for graphic, gory, or violent content placed on their tweets the day before the March for Life rally Friday.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany accused the social media platform of “censorship” and argued that this was “a perfect example of the left stomping on any idea they don’t like.”

A spokeswoman for Twitter later said the warnings were on the posts in error.

Waltz draws another opponent

St. Augustine Republican Mike Waltz has gained a national profile on defense issues and raised a reasonable sum of campaign funds in 2019, but that hasn’t stopped two challengers from taking him on.

Last week another candidate threw his hat into the ring for the race for Florida’s 6th Congressional District. Democrat Richard Thripp, 28, from Orange City, is looking to unseat the first-term incumbent.

Rep. Mike Waltz draws yet another Democratic opponent.

The adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida joins Clint Curtis as the second Democrat challenging Waltz. Libertarian Samuel Adams of Daytona Beach had filed initial paperwork with the Federal Election Commission last summer but dropped out and endorsed Waltz.

“I became increasingly outraged by the terrible policies and attitudes we are seeing,” Thripp, a former Republican, wrote in a blog on his website.

Waltz raised $263,000 in the fourth quarter, bringing his 2019 total to $826,135 for the year. He ended 2019 with $558,931.

Waltz defeated a well-financed Nancy Soderberg, a former ambassador, in 2018.

Murphy calls for repeal of Trump’s Muslim ban

Rep. Murphy led a group of 34 Democrats in Congress, urging House leadership to swiftly pass the “National Origin-Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act,” aimed at repealing Trump’s travel ban, which primarily targets Muslim-majority countries.

Monday marked the third anniversary of Trump’s Executive Order 13769, the first iteration of the President’s travel ban.

Stephanie Murphy is again calling for a repeal of Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, which is in its third year.

Murphy cited a recent POLITICO report that the administration may soon expand the ban to cover more countries.

Murphy, of Winter Park, and the co-signers sent the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders in the House. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg was among the co-signers urging approval of House Resolution 2214.

“As Americans, we must stand against the persecution of religious minorities,” their letter states. “To pass the NO BAN Act is to stand up for the bedrock American value of religious liberty. That is why a broad coalition of interfaith leaders support the bill, along with more than 200 Members of Congress, ourselves included.”

Soto introduces climate bill

With 8,400 miles of coastline and 34 million acres of land encompassing a variety of habitats for numerous species, conservation and attention to the environment are high on the “to-do” list of many Floridians. Attention to climate change is becoming more of a bipartisan issue as well.

Rep. Darren Soto has introduced legislation furthering the goal of combating climate change. The Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act seeks to ensure the U.S. achieves a net-zero greenhouse gas pollution record by no later than 2050.

Darren Soto Is taking the next step in combating climate change.

“The climate crisis impacts everyone — every industry, every community, every American,” the Kissimmee Democrat said. “While the Trump Administration has taken us backward in our fight against climate change, the CLEAN Future Act represents House Democrats’ commitment to ensuring the long-term sustainability of our environment and public health.”

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, avoiding the most catastrophic outcomes of climate change requires cutting carbon pollution to net-zero by 2050. Soto said the CLEAN Future Act incorporates both proven and novel concepts, presenting a set of policy proposals that will put the U.S. on the path to a clean and prosperous economy.

Soto announced the bill during a climate change town hall he sponsored. Spearheading the bill is the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, of which Soto is a member.

Bloomberg backs P.R. statehood

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg has weighed in on statehood for Puerto Rico, indicating his support for creating a 51st state. The former New York Mayor also laid out an economic plan for the financially beleaguered commonwealth.

“For decades, Puerto Ricans and their interests have been ignored by Washington,” Bloomberg said. “And there’s a simple reason why: They don’t have a vote in Congress. And so, politicians don’t have to care how they feel.”

That was precisely what Democrat Soto wanted to hear. The second-term Democrat has been a strong advocate for Puerto Rican statehood.

Democratic presidential candidate, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaks to campaign workers and supporters in Minneapolis, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, as he opens the first field office in Minnesota and meets with local community leaders and voters to share his vision for the country. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Michael Bloomberg is pushing Puerto Rico statehood, which is music to Darren Soto’s ears.

“It’s essential for Americans in Puerto Rico to know that their votes will be taken seriously,” Soto said. “It’s key that the next President will act and support statehood.”

Puerto Ricans traditionally vote Democratic in substantial numbers, and with the growing numbers moving to Florida, Bloomberg’s announcement may increase his support heading into the Florida Primary March 17.

Bloomberg also seeks an independent audit of Puerto Rico’s debt and restructuring proposals, provide equal “safety net” funding like Medicaid, and structure disaster recovery and federal funding with more of an eye toward climate change and energy efficiency.

Soto leads letter seeking Puerto Rico earthquake housing

Soto and nine other Florida Democratic members of Congress urged FEMA to set up emergency housing programs in Florida to help a wave of Puerto Rico earthquake refugees.

In a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor, Soto and Reps. Demings, Murphy, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Al Lawson, Lois Frankel, Hastings, Frederica Wilson, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, urged the agency to work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide transitional or affordable housing for Puerto Ricans arriving in Florida.

Specifically, they called for FEMA to activate its Disaster Housing Assistance Program and, or alternatively, authorize Transitional Sheltering Assistance programs for the evacuees

The call for relief comes after a series of earthquakes this month, one of a 6.4 magnitude, hit the island.

Soto cited reports that at least 150 families have moved to Soto’s Florida’s 9th Congressional District in the Orlando-Kissimmee area, fleeing earthquake damage.

This comes after thousands of Puerto Ricans moved to Florida, many to Soto’s district, following widespread destruction from Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017.

“After living through the strongest and biggest earthquake swarm in decades, hundreds of families have relocated from Puerto Rico to Florida because their homes have been destroyed. Among the many issues disaster victims face, these evacuees cannot afford a security deposit, much less secure affordable housing. This makes DHAP and TSA vital assistance mechanisms.

DCCC targets Spano

Throughout the year, Democrats are expected to run ads tying Republicans to controversial Trump statements or policies. An early example is the launching of Facebook advertisements by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) against 11 Republicans, including Rep. Ross Spano of Dover.

The ads focus on a recent Trump statement that he “would take a look” at possibly cutting future entitlement benefits to help reduce the debt. Though he later said he would “save” the programs, ammunition for the ads had already been provided.

The DCCC is targeting Ross Spano (again). This time, it’s for entitlement cuts floated by Donald Trump.

Democrats also are also targeting Republicans’ opposition to a bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

“House Republicans already backed Trump’s efforts to eliminate protections for people with preexisting conditions and keep prescription drug costs high,” DCCC spokesperson Robyn Patterson said. “Voters deserve to know if House Republicans will also blindly support his plan to gut Medicare.”

In addition to Spano, Republicans Brian Mast of Palm City and Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key are on the DCCC target list, but Spano is the only Floridian targeted through the ad buy.

Deutch introduces Holocaust resolution

This week marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, prompting a resolution commemorating 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp at the close of World War II. Rep. Ted Deutch, fellow Democrat Grace Meng of New York, and Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York introduced the bipartisan resolution.

The resolution honors the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazi regime and the millions of other minorities whose lives were tragically cut short. The measure also reaffirms the United States’ shared commitment to combating anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry whenever and wherever they arise.

Deutch was clearly moved and motivated by a recent trip to Auschwitz.

“I will never forget what I experienced during my visit to Auschwitz this week — the gas chambers, the crematorium, the hair and glasses, and personal belongings that were taken from murdered Jews,” the Boca Raton Democrat said. “Let us honor the Survivors and ensure their dignity in their remaining years, and work to make sure our children learn of the horrors of the Holocaust, so it never happens again.”

Endorsing the resolution are the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Jewish Federations of North America, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Union of Reform Judaism, Union of Orthodox Congregations of America, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, HIAS, B’nai Brith International, National Council of Jewish Women, American Zionist Movement, Jewish Women International, MERCAZ USA, National Association of Jewish Legislators, and Hadassah.

Included among 45 original co-sponsors are Democratic Reps. Hastings of Delray Beach and Wasserman Schultz of Weston.

Delegation addresses human trafficking

The Florida delegation will hold their first meeting of 2020 Wednesday morning. Delegation co-chairs Hastings, a Delray Beach Democrat, and Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, indicated four panelists would share their expertise with meeting attendees.

Appearing at the meeting will be Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good, co-founder and CEO of Selah Freedom and Selah Way Foundation, and Trent Frazier, Executive Director for the Office of Campaigns and Academic Engagement from the Department of Homeland Security.

Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good, co-founder and CEO of Selah Freedom and Selah Way Foundation, will be among the speakers at a Florida delegation meeting on human trafficking. 

Also appearing will be Heidi Schaeffer, M.D. of the Broward Human Trafficking Coalition, and Roger DeHart, Founder of First S.T.O.P (Saving Teens and Others from Predators).

“Human trafficking is a vile and monstrous crime against women and children,” Buchanan said in a news release. “Educating students and teachers about the warning signs is critical to addressing the problem. This is especially important in hot spots for human trafficking like Florida.”

The issue has taken on added urgency in Florida with the Super Bowl coming to Miami this week. State officials are ramping up efforts to combat the expected increase in activity in the Miami area. More than 160 people were arrested in Atlanta during last year’s Super Bowl week in Atlanta.

Roe v. Wade remembered

On the 47th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, tens of thousands of abortion opponents came to Washington to engage in the March for Life. Joining the marchers was President Trump, who received an enthusiastic reception for being the first President to join them.

“The unborn have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” Trump said. “Young people are the heart of the March for Life, and it’s your generation that is making America the pro-family, pro-life nation.”

Republicans used the march to focus on appealing to swing voters who may agree with abortion rights, but oppose late-term abortions. House Republicans tweeted Democrats have blocked a bill preventing “infanticide” 80 times.

Democrats also use the Roe anniversary to renew their commitment to keeping the rights won by the 1973 decision.

Democratic Rep. Frankel of West Palm Beach tweeted:

As the march was taking place, Vice President Mike Pence was in the Vatican meeting with Pope Francis. The Catholic Church teaches the pro-life position.

 Naples Republican Francis Rooney, a former ambassador to the Holy See, tweeted:

Trump backs Giménez

While the official announcement was somewhat delayed, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez is officially a candidate for the 26th Congressional District seat currently held by first-term Democrat Mucarsel-Powell. He had planned to announce his run January 15 but delayed it until Trump came to Florida to attend the Republican National Committee event at Trump Doral in Miami.

“Thank you for all you’ve done for our economy & to fight socialism,” Giménez said in his announcement via Twitter. “I look forward to standing w/ you against the radical left who are determined to turn the U.S. into Venezuela.”

Donald Trump is endorsing Carlos Giménez for Congress.

Trump responded shortly thereafter with a tweet endorsing Giménez.

“Carlos will win big, very exciting. Great for Florida, great for USA! He has my complete and total Endorsement!”

That must have been a disappointment to two Republicans already in the race, but in a poll with a hypothetical matchup taken in October, Giménez was up big. Restaurateur Irina Vilariño and Omar Blanco, the former head of Miami-Dade Firefighters Local 1403, joined the race weeks ago.

Even before the official announcement, the Democrats began tagging him as “corrupt.”

“Corrupt Carlos Giménez is swampier than the Everglades and voters will learn about his decadeslong record of enriching himself, his family and his wealthy friends at the expense of hardworking Floridians,” the DCCC said in a statement.

No matter who emerges among Republicans, Mucarsel-Powell entered 2020 with a $1.6 million war chest.

On this day

Jan. 28, 1986 — An unspeakable tragedy occurred in Cape Canaveral shortly after liftoff when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven aboard. Among them was schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, whose parents witnessed the tragedy.

At nearly the same time, former Gov. Bob Graham announced he was running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Paula Hawkins but postponed a statewide tour due to the Challenger tragedy. Graham said, “This is not a time for partisan politics; this is a time for grief.”

Jan. 28, 2016 — Republicans held their seventh presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, with Rubio facing intense questioning on his evolving stance on immigration. Trump kept his promise to skip the event, but fellow Floridian Jeb Bush, had harsh words for his former protégé, who said Rubio decided to “cut and run” when the immigration debate heated up.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz piled on, prompting Rubio to accuse his rival of wanting to “trump Trump on immigration.” Trump skipped the debate due to an ongoing feud with Fox News but was in Des Moines holding a rally for military veterans. He plans to be at the next debate in New Hampshire.

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