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Bloomberg the Bernie alternative?
The impending demise of the candidacy of former Vice President Joe Biden is causing a great deal of uneasiness among Democrats in Florida and around the country. A growing concern with a ticket headed by Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, a once-every-four-years Democrat, is leading to apocalyptic predictions for November former Democrats such as former Bill Clinton consultant James Carville.
Carville says Democrats “losing our damn minds,” at the thought of nominating a socialist, prompting Sanders to call Carville “a political hack.” While the concern is real, where do moderate Democrats go if Biden finally flames out? Who among the field can beat President Donald Trump?
That would be a good question for Reps. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens. They publicly backed Biden’s candidacy after their first choice, Sen. Kamala Harris, ended her campaign.
Biden has long had a strong relationship with African American voters for several years. Several endorsements exemplified this relationship: from the Congressional Black Caucus, including early support from Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee, who said at the time, “They don’t make ’em like Joe anymore.”
When making his second run for Governor in 2014, Charlie Crist had Biden at his side campaigning with him. It was one reason Crist endorsed Biden in September.
All would likely argue that Biden is far from finished as he heads to diverse states such as Nevada and South Carolina before Super Tuesday arrives March 3. Delegate-rich states such as California, Texas and five other southern states are in the Super Tuesday mix.
But the Biden showings in Iowa and New Hampshire were horrendous, with Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg taking votes that might otherwise have gone to Biden. Pundits give them little chance going forward due to inexperience in attracting black and Latino voters.
That, and tens of millions of dollars in television ads, might lead Floridians to give Mike Bloomberg a hard look.
Last month, Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park became the first delegation Democrat to back the New York billionaire and was joined this week by Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and two African American state legislators: Florida House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee and state Sen. Darryl Rouson.
Other delegation Democrats could weigh in before Super Tuesday, but it may be a safer bet to wait until the results from Super Tuesday settle in. In addition, endorsing Bloomberg could be risky before the full fallout from the release of old recordings showing him making controversial remarks about black and Latino men is known.
Florida’s primary is March 17. A lot can happen between now and then, but what seems to be clear for Democrats is find someone to beat Bernie Sanders and make sure that someone can beat Trump.
It won’t be easy.
Scott defends Peace Corps push
For months, Sen. Rick Scott urged or demanded the Peace Corps cease operating in China due to the fact the world’s most populous nation also possessed the world’s second-largest economy. In January, Scott’s wishes were fulfilled with the announcement they would cease operating in China.
Scott also wanted to place the organization under the State Department and recently sent a letter asking for a detailed plan for the withdrawal. The coronavirus rendered that moot when all volunteers in China were forced to evacuate last week.
With that reality, a campaign is underway to get the Peace Corps to reverse their decision to leave. Some believe the organization caved to prevent them from losing their identity.
“The fact that Scott was trying to put them under the State Department and also had in the legislation to end the China program gave a lot of us the suspicion that basically Peace Corps almost sacrificed the China program to save the independence of the rest of the agency,” said Transylvania University professor Steve Hess, a former Peace Corps volunteer in China.
Scott stood by his reasoning in the effort to see the Peace Corps leave China.
“Peace Corps doesn’t go into developed countries. Right? That’s what they do, they go into developing countries,” he told The Hill. “This is a developed country. So if you look at the Peace Corps criteria, they’re not meeting their own criteria.”
Rubio questions SBA budget
Trump’s budget proposal released earlier this week brought some high praise for agencies that would receive increases and plenty of scorn for those targeted for cuts. The military, Veterans Affairs, NASA and Homeland Security were in line for more money. Still, the Department of Education, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services would see billions in cuts.
The complaining was mainly carried out by Democrats, but Sen. Marco Rubio found something with which to quarrel as a result of at least one proposed budget cut. As Chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, he expressed displeasure with the Small Business Administration (SBA) requiring Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) to submit budget proposals based on the President’s proposed budget.
According to Rubio, the centers were required to submit proposals that are 35% lower than their current budget authorized by Congress and 13% below Trump’s 2019-20 proposal. Rubio led a letter to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza urging her to evaluate the practice of submitting budget proposals based on the President’s budget.
“By requiring SBDC grant recipients to draft their annual budgets to this level, the SBA is effectively reducing a center’s time to serve clients, inhibiting their ability to efficiently budget and spend grant dollars, and ultimately limiting program success and performance,” the letter reads.
Joining Rubio in the letter was the committee’s ranking member, Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland. The Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, Democratic Rep. Nydia Velasquez of New York, also joined the letter.
Rubio and the co-signers asked for more information on the policy from Carranza by Feb. 28.
More Trump judges confirmed
Democrats have plenty of reasons to want to defeat Trump in November. Among those reasons is a desperate desire to stop him from appointing more originalist judges to the federal courts.
Together with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republicans are confirming judges at a record pace. Among one Florida Democrats passionately wanted to thwart this week was Judge Andrew Brasher of Alabama, who was up for a seat on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Florida in its jurisdiction.
Democrats and liberals accuse Brasher of effectively advocating to deny minorities the right to vote. He advocated the position of those suing to reverse a requirement requiring jurisdictions with past histories of discrimination to first obtain pre-clearance from the Justice Department before making voting changes.
The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately struck down the requirement in Shelby County v. Holder. Democrats believe that for this and other conservative beliefs, Brasher was unfit.
“Right after rubber-stamping Trump’s efforts to interfere with the 2020 election, Senate Republicans are working to put a nominee who supports voter suppression on the federal bench,” tweeted Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens. “To protect our elections and #ProtecttheVote, we must #StopBrasher.”
It was one of a string of tweets Wilson posted as part of a concerted effort to deny Brasher a seat on the court, which is one step away from the Supreme Court. In another, Wilson said: “Today, the Senate will decide whether Andrew Brasher’s career spent working to keep people of color from voting should be rewarded with a lifetime seat on the federal bench.”
Despite the multiple calls to deny confirmation, Brasher was approved by an entirely partisan vote of 52-43. Four other judges were confirmed later that day.
Trump signs vets STEM bill
Rubio and Republican Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City had a good day earlier this week when Trump signed the Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act. Rubio sponsored the Senate bill that Trump ultimately signed, which will assist veterans reentering the workforce by directing the National Science Foundation (NSF) to encourage them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Dunn sponsored the House version of the bill, which passed the House nearly a year ago. The Senate version was ultimately chosen as the final document for passage in both chambers.
“Veterans who are returning to civilian life are uniquely qualified to excel in STEM roles, and the 21st-century workforce will be dominated by these jobs,” Rubio said in a joint news release. “This bipartisan bill will ensure the skills our veterans attain during their service to our nation are put to good use for decades to come as they successfully transition back to civilian life.”
The bill also updates the NSF Noyce Teacher Scholarship program, fellowship program, and cyber grant programs to include outreach to veterans. Additionally, the bill tasks the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy with examining how to increase veteran participation in STEM career fields.
“President Trump recognizes the importance of keeping our promise to America’s heroes and ensuring they have the tools they need to succeed in civilian life,” Dunn said. “STEM-related jobs are growing at an unprecedented rate in the United States, and many of our veterans have the unique skills to excel in these fields.”
The original co-sponsor of the Rubio legislation had a great day. Trump signed the bill on the same day Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar surged to a surprising third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary.
Yoho proposes farm legislation
With 47,000 in commercial farms totaling 9.45 million acres, a permanent and temporary workforce is necessary. To help combat the current labor shortage for seasonal and year-round producers, Rep. Ted Yoho, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, is finalizing a bill that directly addresses the issues.
Yoho is proposing an Agricultural Guest Worker Program that will create a reliable, vetted workforce through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor. He seeks to address issues surrounding lower-skilled workers and not tackle a more comprehensive approach.
“This year, a rare opportunity has presented itself. There is bipartisan interest in the House to get something done to solve this issue, the Gainesville Republican said in a statement. “Additionally, we see a willingness from President Trump and his top advisers to address this issue before the end of the 116th Congress.”
According to Yoho’s office, the proposal will focus on the agricultural sector but will work in similar ways for the construction and hospitality sectors. First, it creates a steady, reliable, and predictable workforce for our producers while giving a legal opportunity for the migrant to enter the country legally.
The legislation would also streamline and modernize the H-2A program and move the program from the Department of Labor to the Department of Agriculture. Yoho’s Republican colleague, Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota, introduced a bill last week covering this specific area.
The bill would also create a program under the Department of Agriculture to give year-round agricultural employers access to prescreened migrant workers.
“These industries need a reliable, predictable, and steady supply of workers with the flexibility to come and go as the growing/busy seasons dictate — from seasonal to year-round,” Yoho added.
Yoho also introduced guest worker legislation in September 2019.
Crist seeks CDC transparency
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) closely monitors the outbreak of the coronavirus that has affected tens of thousands, the virus (fortunately) has not significantly spread to the United States. However, Crist is asking the CDC to take more significant action on detecting and preventing the spread of the sickness.
In a letter to CDC director, Robert Redfield, Crist is asking for transparency in the agency’s planning as well as additional action on how people can take preventive action. While only 12 cases have currently been reported in the U.S., officials are concerned more action is required to keep the problem from becoming more widespread.
“With new information coming out every day, my constituents are concerned about what the virus could mean for them and their families and what their government is doing to keep them safe,” Crist wrote. “They want to be informed and engaged, not left in the dark like what they are seeing out of China.”
Crist also expressed his disappointment in the Chinese government as he believes the virus spread because they concealed early information about the illness.
“To avoid a repeat of that in the United States, transparency is key,” he added. “While the administration recently announced bold steps, it is critical that CDC get the message through to the American people about what they can be doing to protect themselves and their families.”
According to The Hill, at this point, President Donald Trump does not plan to request emergency funding to respond to the outbreak, which has left many lawmakers frustrated.
Steube introduces farmworker bill
Florida farmers and those in other states sometimes take advantage of H-2A visas, which allow foreign workers to fill temporary agricultural jobs. With the focus of these workers squarely on agriculture, Steube believes the jurisdiction of H-2A visas should be transferred from the U.S. Department of Labor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“Given that the purpose of the H-2A program is to address agricultural labor needs, it seems only logical that we would rely on the Department of Agriculture to review and grant these visas,” the Sarasota Republican said in a news release announcing the bill. “The USDA is the expert when it comes to agriculture, and I, for one, think it is the best department to determine the needs of the agricultural community when it comes to labor.”
The transfer of the H-2A visa program would include all personnel, funding, and other materials necessary for the administration of the program. The bill also transfers the responsibility for issuing the visa from the Attorney General to the Secretary of Homeland Security.
“It is my hope that with the transfer of this program, farmers in Florida and across America will see expedited review times and an overall improvement in the administration of the program,” Steube added. “It’s time we trust the experts to manage this critical program and ensure the needs of our farmers are being met efficiently and effectively.”
Military voting bill introduced
Each election seems to carry stories of military personnel stationed overseas seeking to have their absentee ballots arrive on time to be counted. The problem is not widespread, but some stationed in remote areas or nonmilitary locations are never certain their votes will arrive in time to be counted.
Palm City Republican Brian Mast has joined with fellow Republican Rodney Davis of Illinois to ensure such problems are a thing of the past. They have introduced the Counting All Military Votes Act that would require all absentee ballots cast by active-duty, overseas military personnel be shipped by Express Mail, ensuring their delivery before the collection deadline.
“The men and women who put on the uniform risk their lives each and every day to protect the rights and liberties we hold dear as a nation,” Mast said in a joint release. “The very least we can do is ensure those serving around the world are able to exercise the rights they work so hard to defend, especially their right to cast a vote at the ballot box.”
The legislation would close a gap in current law that excludes military personnel serving on nontraditional military bases — including embassies, consulates and diplomatic posts — from having their absentee ballots sent via Express Mail.
“Every American has the right to vote, including when serving overseas as deployed active-duty military,” Davis said. “Currently, our military serving overseas on posts not under the Department of Defense are unable to expedite their ballots to ensure arrival before Election Day.”
School safety clearinghouse applauded
Two years after the horrific shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, a national clearinghouse to share best practices for protecting schools has become a reality. Earlier this week, the clearinghouse was officially launched at a White House event.
Parkland families have been active in promoting such a site, as well as members of Congress such as Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami. Both lauded the launch of SchoolSafety.gov by the Trump administration, which is designed to provide information and tools for developing a plan to prevent future tragedies.
“I cannot say enough about the strength of the Parkland survivors,” Deutch said in a joint release. “After surviving unimaginable loss, the parents have concentrated their energy into preventing other families from facing the same horrible feeling of never seeing their child return home from school.
“Their leadership and commitment to school safety was instrumental in leading the White House to launch SchoolSafety.gov. This new clearinghouse can help our schools protect our children and save lives.”
The site comes less than three months after Deutch and Diaz-Balart joined with Republican Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville and Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park to introduce the Luke and Alex School Safety Act that called for such a clearinghouse.
The legislation was the companion to a similar Senate bill co-sponsored by Rubio and Scott. It was named after Parkland victims Luke Hoyer and Alex Schachter, but representing all 17 victims of the Valentine’s Day tragedy. Neither bill has made it to the floor for a vote.
“The creation of a federal clearinghouse for school safety has been a top priority for the administration and the Parkland families, and I have been working with my colleagues to codify this effort in statute with the Luke and Alex School Safety Act,” said Diaz-Balart, who attended the White House event along with some of the Parkland families.
“It is imperative that our communities have access to this vital information, and I look forward to continuing to work with the administration to ensure the safety of our children and our schools.”
Port Everglades gets boost
It was a big week for those seeking to boost the cruise and shipping industry in South Florida. Members of Congress representing the region celebrated the news that the process of deepening and widening the navigation channels serving Port Everglades is now underway.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) issued a “New Start” designation that funds $29.1 million to build a new U.S. Coast Guard facility that will require improvements to the channel. The bottom line will be the ability to receive larger ships in the port located in Broward County.
This is tremendous news for Broward County and all of South Florida,” said Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. “Beyond job creation, the deepening and widening project at Port Everglades will open it up to larger, more efficient cargo and cruise ships. It will also improve the ability of larger ships to navigate through the Port, ensuring that tourist and commercial vessels can enter and exit the Port more quickly and safely.”
The Port Everglades deepening and widening project was authorized for construction in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 2016, and the USACE is currently in the preconstruction engineering and design phase. The full deepening and widening project is designed to enable safe passage of next-generation cruise ships and deep draft Neo-Panamax cargo ships, according to a news release.
Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach said the channel improvements helps meet the requirement that “Port Everglades must modernize and expand, or new ships will pass us by — taking with them thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars of economic impact for South Florida each year.” The completed project is expected to create 2,200 construction jobs and nearly 1,500 permanent direct jobs resulting from additional cargo capacity.
Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, called the designation “a major achievement in the port’s long quest to prepare it for the next generation of cruise and cargo ships.”
The COE’s Port Everglades Navigation Improvements Project (PENIP) has enjoyed broad bipartisan support from Scott, Rubio, Wasserman Schultz, Frankel, Deutch, Diaz-Balart, Democratic Reps. Wilson and Hastings.
DMP secures Keys funding
One of the goals of the Florida Keys Water Quality Improvement Program (FKWQIP) is to transition residents of the Keys from septic systems to sewer systems. This week, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, vice-chair of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, celebrated new funding to help accomplish that goal.
The Army Corps of Engineers (COE) has included $5 million in its FY 2020 work plan for the FKWQIP. In a January committee hearing, she repeated a request to the COE to release as much funding as possible for Keys’ water quality.
“I am thrilled that my efforts over this past year have resulted in the largest reimbursement for this critical Keys’ project in a decade,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a news release. “This transition has been crucial for public health, the protection of our delicate natural environment, and every aspect of the local economy.”
To date, the Keys have received $68.5 million from the federal government of the $100 million authorized by Congress for FKWQIP. Mucarsel-Powell’s office added that despite the President zeroing out the FKWQIP funding source in his FY 2020 budget request, Mucarsel-Powell and south Florida colleagues successfully championed the current funding.
“I applaud the leadership of our Subcommittee Vice Chair, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, in working with the Corps to address the local water quality needs of the Florida Keys,” said California Democrat Grace F. Napolitano, the subcommittee chair.
Puerto Ricans facing unpaid claims
Nearly two-and-a-half years after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, a figure from The New York Times suggests that $1.6 billion in insurance claims have still yet to be paid. Two Democratic members of the delegation are seeking help for those still waiting.
Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables claims storm victims are being treated like “second class citizens.” Rep. Darren Soto is suggesting a House Committee should review the issue.
For example, a company called MAPFRE, which is based out of Spain, has come under fire following the Times’ story from several cities and condo associations seeking to have their claims resolved. Alexis Sánchez Geigel, President of MAPFRE Puerto Rico, said the company had resolved 99% of its claims while maintaining several of the unpaid claims show evidence of fraud.
Milton Vazquez, a spokesperson for a group advocating on behalf of these claimants, concedes some fraudulent claims, but those do not account for the $1.6 billion remaining unpaid. Vazquez said, “Those are just examples they’re using and trotting out there to justify dragging their feet on the other claims.”
The lawmakers say the current situation is unacceptable. In a statement to Florida Politics responding to the NYT article, Shalala said more needs to be done to ensure the claims are paid.
“It has now been more than two years since Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, but thousands of insurance claims, estimated to be valued at over $1.6 billion, remain unpaid,” Shalala said.
Soto added a statement of his own, suggesting a House investigation may be in order.
“Time and again, our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico have fallen victim to a system that never had their best interests in mind,” the Kissimmee Democrat said. “Puerto Rico can’t continue on its road to recovery if, two years after Hurricane Maria, $1.6 billion in insurance claims remain unpaid.
“I have spoken with Rep. Nydia Velazquez about having her Financial Services Committee investigate this matter. One thing is clear — these claims need to be settled as soon as possible.”
On this day
Feb. 14, 1973 — On a sunny Valentine’s Day, a C-141 cargo plane carrying 20 released prisoners of the Vietnam War landed at California’s Travis Air Force Base. The men, some of whom had been in captivity for more than six years, were the first to return to the United States following a 16.5-hour flight from Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines.
Some of the men had families waiting, while others flew on to other locations for their reunions. The first off the plane, Navy Capt. Jeremiah Denton spoke to those assembled, saying, “God bless America.”
Feb. 14, 1999 — Democrats are riding a wave of optimism after the failed attempt to remove President Clinton from office via impeachment. Polls suggest voters are appalled at Clinton’s behavior, but are even more disgusted with Republicans for their handling of the matter.
“If the election were held today, (Democrats) would not only not only win back the House, but in spades,” said GOP political consultant Rick Wilson. Some Democrats are considering running for higher office, including Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson, rumored to be thinking about Sen. Connie Mack’s seat. While Wilson gave Democrats optimism for winning the House, he added, “They’re smoking crack if they think they’re going to beat Connie.”
Feb. 14, 2018 — The deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook unfolded in horrific fashion as a gunman killed 17 and wounded countless others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Sen. Nelson told MSNBC the shooter “set off the fire alarm so the kids would come out into the hallways” to be systematically shot.
Trump tweeted that “no child, teacher, or anyone else should feel unsafe in an American school.” Deutch, who represents Parkland in Congress, said: “This was a blow to the gut for me and for the entire community. It’s really personal when it strikes home.”