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This week marked the annual celebration of Presidents Day, where the legacies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and both Roosevelts are among those remembered. Four of these are memorialized on Mount Rushmore while Franklin D. Roosevelt is the longest-serving President who offered hope during the Great Depression and correctly labeled Dec. 7, 1941, a “Day of Infamy.”
The two most recent Presidents will also be remembered for generations to come. The two terms of President Barack Obama demonstrated that the U.S. was perfectly willing and able to elect an African American with left-of-center views twice.
President Donald Trump is writing a far different chapter in the history of the presidency. As Obama broke the tradition of white men holding the office, Trump has changed the perception of the office, perhaps forever, through the use of social media.
“Beneath the dignity of the office” is commonly heard following a Twitter rant or his frequent taunts to “Sleepy Joe” Biden, “Crazy Bernie” Sanders and many others. On occasion, those tweets dip below what even fair-minded Republicans will support, but social media clearly defines Trump’s three-plus years in office.
Delegation Democrats have not been shy about using social media to unload on Trump, especially when it comes to his immigration and travel policy, climate change and other issues. The President has stated his aversion to foreign wars, but Twitter wars are another matter. One way described a respite in Trump tweets as “all’s quiet on the West Wing front!”
With a booming economy, Democratic candidates are still looking for the best way to politically attack the President. They are currently trying to convince a majority of voters that he is unstable and dangerous because attacking him on the economy, where 70% of Americans are happy, is not the path to victory.
The eventual Democratic nominee will also need the best political strategists because Trump is being well-served. His campaign’s strategy of holding rallies in swing states before Democratic debates, caucuses or primaries is paying off in maintaining enthusiasm.
Trump’s vote totals in Iowa, despite facing only token opposition, were 6,000 votes more than Obama, who ran unopposed in 2012, and more than four times that of President George W. Bush in 2004. Trump’s 127,000 votes in New Hampshire more than doubled Bush’s and Obama’s totals.
One month out from the Florida presidential preference primary, Republicans have returned nearly 145,000 vote-by-mail ballots, roughly twice the number returned by Democrats. In fairness, many Democrats are likely waiting for changes in the field before voting.
Last weekend’s visit to the Daytona 500, where Trump was named Grand Marshal, was good theater for him. Thankfully, it did not end in tragedy following the last-lap crash involving Ryan Newman.
More events like this are sure to come, as are controversies that only Trump can generate. Whether all of this leads to a second term for Trump or it’s a one-term endeavor, he is likely to leave a legacy for future Presidents Days as one who stood out.
For better or worse.
Rubio urges Trump veto
With the Senate’s passage of a binding resolution denying the President authority to attack Iran, the United States Congress is seeking to claim full authority to sign off on hostilities with Iran. The resolution, which passed by a 55-45 vote, would require the President to end any hostilities with Iran absent a vote from Congress.
Despite Republicans holding a six-vote majority in the Senate, eight GOP caucus members crossed over to vote with Democrats. Both Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott voted against the resolution.
Rubio spoke out against the resolution on the Senate floor, arguing the message sent would be one of weakness. After passage, he urged Trump to veto the resolution after its certain passage in the House.
“And with all due respect I say this, whether you like it or not, the message that this sends is that in America, members of both parties do not want the President to respond militarily to an attack and do not want the President to act proactively to prevent one,” he said. “And that may not be the intention of the sponsors — I don’t believe that it is — but that will be how it’s portrayed.”
Senators beat back several amendments from Senators that many felt would kill the resolution if they were approved. One was from Rubio that would have added language to the findings section of the resolution asserting that the U.S. military is “not currently engaged in hostilities, as contemplated by the War Powers Resolution, against Iran.”
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who has teamed with Rubio to propose legislation on various issues, spoke against the resolution. One amendment to the findings section that did gain approval was introduced by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz praising Trump, the U.S. military and the intelligence communities for the Jan. 2 drone strike that killed Soleimani.
Trump is not expected to sign a measure limiting his authority.
U.S. gov’t vs. Huawei
The Chinese communications giant Huawei has the full attention of the United States government, and many on Capitol Hill are trying to get the attention of U.S. allies and domestic companies.
Federal prosecutors have charged Huawei with racketeering by conspiring to steal American trade secrets from six U.S. technology companies. The indictment, filed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, also accused the company of working with Iran to install technology to monitor, identify and detain protesters in 2009.
One day after the charges, Scott filed legislation to close a loophole where American technology companies are selling product to Huawei despite the company blacklisted as a security threat. The companies are finding ways around the blacklisting, including supplying Huawei through subsidiaries or partners in foreign countries.
“Companies in the United States should not be allowed to sell to Huawei, and my legislation will further restrict their ability,” Scott said in a news release announcing his bill. “I look forward to all of my colleagues and the administration joining in support of my proposal to crack down on U.S. exports to Huawei, protect our national security, and the security and growth of the U.S. technology industry.”
The concern with Huawei is bipartisan. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also sounded the alarm at a security conference in Germany.
“This is the most insidious form of aggression, to have that line of communication, 5G, dominated by an autocratic government that does not share our values,” she said. “If you want to build a collective conscience of values and respect for human rights and the rest, don’t go near Huawei and instead, let’s internationalize and build something together that will be about freedom of information,” she added.
Gaetz praises AFTER Act
Government agencies have used animals for testing in federal labs. Following the tests, they routinely euthanize them.
Some good news came from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who revealed they will now allow adoption and transfers to shelters and sanctuaries. The Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) recently took similar action.
Many in the Florida delegation, as well as several colleagues, wish to make this policy the law of the land. A bipartisan group of 10 Florida lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors of the Animal Freedom from Testing, Experiments and Research (AFTER) Act to do just that.
“There are many issues that divide Washington — but legislation like the AFTER Act is supported by people on all sides of the political spectrum,” said Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Ft. Walton Beach in an email to constituents. “I hope the House will pass it quickly.”
Sponsor Brendan Boyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, launched the bill in June, but it is gaining more considerable attention with the recent action by the federal agencies. Among the bill’s 63 co-sponsors are Gaetz and fellow Republicans Brian Mast, Michael Waltz and Bill Posey.
Also co-sponsoring the bill are Democrats Charlie Crist, Alcee Hastings, Stephanie Murphy, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Donna Shalala and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Maine Republican Susan Collins sponsors a companion bill in the Senate.
It is good to see that agencies and departments are making strides to protect animals of their own volition. The FDA announced recently that it would allow animals used in experiments to be adopted — this is a huge step forward!
Mental health legislation introduced
Opposing sides on preventing significant rises in crime or stopping mass shootings focus on gun control on the one hand, while Second Amendment backers say the focus must be on mental health. Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville recently joined in introducing a bipartisan bill that focuses on the mental health of prisoners as they are released from custody.
Rutherford is an original co-sponsor of the Crisis Stabilization and Community Reentry Act that established local public/private partnerships to help former inmates become contributing members of their communities. Under the bill, local law enforcement will join with local mental health providers to facilitate the transition from custody to community.
“Today’s legislation enhances coordination between law enforcement officials and mental health professionals by authorizing federal grants to provide treatment options for individuals with mental illness as they transition from incarceration back into the community,” the two-term Republican said in a news release.
Local care for released inmates would include medication-assisted treatment, community-level crisis response programs, and technical assistance to develop innovative training and treatment for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals who have a mental illness. According to Rutherford’s office, recidivism rates decline when the mental health challenges that place formerly incarcerated individuals at risk of reoffending are addressed.
The bill’s primary sponsor is Democratic Rep. David Trone of Massachusetts, who said the country is “facing a mental health crisis in America, and our incarcerated citizens are not exempt from this crisis.”
Lawson announces hospital grant
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regularly issues grants to assist rural communities in a variety of ways, including for broadband expansion and health care resources. District 5 Rep. Al Lawson recently announced a USDA grant that will ultimately benefit his constituents in Madison County.
Lawson, a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, helped obtain the $149,000 USDA Rural Development Grant for Madison County Hospital. It is targeted for new equipment for the hospital’s operating room and allows them to provide more medical services to the community.
“These funds will dramatically improve the quality of health care available in Madison County, keep health care local and prevent residents from having to drive out of town for care,” Lawson said in a news release. “I will continue to work to ensure that Madison residents have access to lifesaving health care.”
Madison residents are currently required to travel more than 40 miles for surgical services. The grant is projected to benefit 19,224 people in the area.
Rep. Lawson is a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, where he works every day to improve the quality of life for the rural residents of his district.
More security funds coming
To help local law enforcement develop anti-terrorism programs, last year, Orlando and Tampa Bay each received $3.25 million while the Miami-Fort Lauderdale metropolitan area received $7 million.
For the second consecutive year, Orlando was selected by the Department of Homeland Security for a security grant. Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Darren Soto of Kissimmee and Val Demings of Orlando announced a terror-prevention and preparedness grant for this year that will fall between $2.8 and $3.5 million.
“After seeing every level of community safety in Orlando, from midnight patrols to Chief of police, I know how important this federal support is to our law enforcement’s ability to be proactive against possible threats,” Demings said in a joint news release.
The Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) provides funding to help with terror-prevention planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercises in urban areas that could be targeted. Orlando received $3.25 million in 2019 and $1.5 million in 2018. Before this, Orlando was excluded from the program starting in 2014.
“As a top tourist destination, the Orlando area is vulnerable to acts of terrorism that endanger the lives of residents and visitors alike,” Murphy said in a joint release. “That’s why our congressional delegation fought so hard to ensure Orlando received this critical funding.”
The program assists with terror-prevention, planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercises in urban areas that could be potential targets. The basis for the final figure of the grant will be on the alignment of local programs to cybersecurity, soft targets/crowded places, intelligence and information sharing and emerging threats.
“Nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of Central Floridians,” Soto added. “We are extremely grateful to be approved for funding this year under Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative, which will aid us in funding programs focused on terror-prevention and preparedness.”
Buchanan going to bat for New College
The chance to celebrate Major League Baseball’s contributions to Florida through Spring Training drew many elected officials to the Governor’s Baseball Dinner. But Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan showed up ready to go to bat for New College of Florida.
The Sarasota liberal arts university sits in Buchanan’s home district., so he took notice when state lawmakers signaled plans to merge the state’s honors college into Florida State University. While that’s ultimately a decision for the Florida Legislature, Buchanan flagged Gov. (and former Delegation member) Ron DeSantis down in West Palm Beach to try and strike the plan out.
“20 years ago, I fought for the independence of New College,” Buchanan said. “It’s considered a gem in our community, and it’s one of the top colleges of its size in the country of its size.”
Buchanan said he’s bothered by the speed with which this plan is heading toward the plate. He’s worried lawmakers aren’t even using the right information to make decisions.
“There seems to be a lot of top-down decision-making,” he said. “Right now, we need to slow things down.”
Buchanan worries about the decision coming at a time when most state House members in the region (a group that includes his son James and his reelection opponent Margaret Good) are freshmen lawmakers. But if his weight as chair of the Florida Delegation helps save the school, he’s ready to make a pitch.
Steube calls for EPA abolition
The President’s budget proposal brought a great deal of anguish for those seeing the cuts to several agencies, including the Department of Education, Department Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency and others. On the other hand, at least one Florida Republican believes the cuts to the EPA do not go far enough.
Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota is advocating for the abolition of the EPA. Instead, he calls for carrying out an environmental policy at the state level.
“We shouldn’t have a federal EPA dishing out federal policy,” he said on the network’s American Agenda program. (I)t should be at the state level. Those are the types of things that can be done at the state level, and so we absolutely need to cut our spending here in Washington.”
Steube said his suggestion centers around a necessity to reduce the federal budget and eventually begin to trim the national debt, which now stands at $23 trillion. He pointed out during an interview on Newsmax TV that $1 trillion in deficit spending has taken place over the past year.
Steube offered an alternative if the deficit is not ultimately brought under control.
“(I)f we don’t start paying down our deficit” within the next year, “just our interest payments on the debt alone will surpass health, [Department of Justice, Department of Veterans Affairs,] and NASA’s budget combined, so we absolutely need to look at that,” he said.
Plant a trillion trees
Climate change legislation often calls for a carbon tax to provide economic disincentives for pollution. While this is usually a position for Capitol Hill Democrats, some Republicans, including Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples, have signed on to that approach.
A group of Republicans has proposed legislation that they claim will reduce greenhouse gases without a carbon tax. The Trillion Trees Act, which commits to planting that many trees around the world by 2050, would also incentivize the use of wood products as a way to pull carbon from the atmosphere.
Sponsored by Arkansas Republican Bruce Westerman and co-sponsored by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and eight others, the bill does not place new restrictions on the fossil fuel industry.
Democrats, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thanked the Republicans for the effort but said it falls far short of what is needed.
“OK guys, it’s nice some of you recognized climate change (tho your news release doesn’t mention ‘climate’),” she tweeted. “But sorry, subsidies for fossil fuels won’t cut it & even the White House calls these messaging bills. We must price carbon & promote renewables.”
Trump pledged to join the trillion tree movement during his recent visit to Davos, Switzerland, and reiterated the pledge during the State of the Union address.
Ecuador salutes Mucarsel-Powell
The first native of Ecuador, as well as all South America, to be elected to Congress was recently honored by the President of her birth country. Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami was recently bestowed with the National Order of Merit recognition by President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador.
“Receiving this recognition is, without a doubt, one of the highest honors of my career,” said Mucarsel-Powell. “I dedicate this award to the thousands of Ecuadorians and Hispanic Americans who have come to the United States with the goal of serving their communities and achieving the American dream through hard work and a sense of duty to our shared values.”
The National Order of Merit was established Oct. 8, 1921, and is the second-highest among the decorations granted by the President of Ecuador for extraordinary achievements in service of the country in the civil or military fields. Also on hand for the presentation was House Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
“As a transformative freshman Member and the first immigrant from Ecuador elected to Congress, Congresswoman Mucarsel-Powell is a trailblazer whose vision, values, and voice have been critical to delivering results for Florida families and all Americans,” Pelosi said. “She is well-deserving of this honor.”
Miller’s different week
Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller had quite a week containing two noteworthy events. The two could not be more polar opposites.
On the right side for him, he was married in Washington to Katie Waldman, press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence. On the other hand, House and Senate Democrats introduced resolutions calling for his resignation or firing for “bringing white supremacy” into American foreign policy.
Rep. Wasserman Schultz sounds the trumpet that Miller must go. In a Newsweek op-ed with National Council of Jewish Women President Sheila Katzis, the two argue Miller’s involvement with Trump’s immigration and travel policy is an affront to those wishing to reside in or travel to the United States.
“Our Jewish ancestors, just like his Jewish ancestors, were targeted by the same “great replacement” theory being weaponized against immigrants and Muslims,” they wrote. “Mr. Miller has, for example, spearheaded all iterations of the ban on immigrants coming from primarily Muslim countries, which continues to tear families apart, a theme in many of his policies.
The writers acknowledge neither resolution is binding, but they call for Congressional hearings into his writings and actions, which will “lead the American people to reject Mr. Miller’s reprehensible approach and demand he be ejected from his White House position of influence.”
Miller seems unlikely to leave on his own, and Trump gave a visual sign of satisfaction with his aide by making an appearance at his wedding. The President flew from Daytona International Speedway to Washington to attend the wedding held at the Trump International Hotel.
“He is the only one who could have a damn wedding in the middle of Presidents Day weekend,” the President reportedly told the couple. “I’m sure it didn’t affect anybody here.”
ERA effort comes to life
The decadeslong attempt to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) took a delayed step forward in the House with the passage of a bill that would revive the chance for it to become part of the U.S. Constitution. The legislation, passed by a 232-183 vote, would repeal the 1982 deadline for the 38 states to approve the amendment.
“We are on the verge of a breakthrough for equality, despite all the obstacles in our current political & social climate,” tweeted Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala. “Adopting the ERA will bring our country closer to truly fulfilling our values of inclusion & equal opportunity for all people.”
The drive for the ERA apparently died when the deadline passed, and proponents missed by only three states of getting it through. When the Virginia legislature flipped to Democratic control this year, their passage of the ERA revived the effort. Florida has yet to approve the amendment.
“With passage of this resolution, our country takes a big step toward gender equality from sea to shining sea,” said Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. “Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment is long overdue, and for women in Pinellas County and across the state of Florida, this vote represents a pathway to a new chapter in our nation’s history.”
The delegation voted entirely along partisan lines with five Republicans joining Democrats to vote for the bill. All GOP women voted “no.”
Republicans fear the amendment’s passage would lead to federal funding of abortions.
On this day
Feb. 18, 2000 — After a shocking defeat in the New Hampshire primary, Texas Gov. George W. Bush was counting on a much better showing in South Carolina, which takes place Feb. 19. The Bush camp described the Palmetto State as their “firewall” as they sought to get back onto the path toward the GOP nomination.
Observers believe another loss to Arizona Sen. John McCain, who won New Hampshire by 18 points, might create unstoppable momentum for the former Vietnam prisoner of war. McCain took the position of a reformer, saying: “We are starting a revolution.”
Feb. 18, 2016 — In a surprising rebuke of an American candidate for President, Pope Francis described Republican front-runner Trump as something short of being a Christian. The pontiff criticized Trump for his pledge to build a border wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
Pope Francis claimed anyone focusing on building walls “and not building bridges is not Christian. This is not in the gospel.” Trump did not hold back in responding, calling the Pope’s criticism of his faith as “disgraceful” and pledged to “not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened.”
Belated greetings to Rep. Donna Shalala (Feb. 14) and Rep. Neal Dunn (Feb. 16).