Delegation for 3.6.20: Biden surge — coronavirus funding — Olympics — U.S. blamed — TRICARE

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Joe Biden's momentum after Super Tuesday is helping soothe nervous Democrats.

Biden surge soothes Democrats

The coronavirus is still the most crucial issue facing the Florida delegation and all lawmakers on Capitol Hill (see update below). For those taking a respite from the wall-to-wall coverage, the 2020 race for President provides something for everyone, even those paying the slightest of attention.

In the span of five days, former Vice President Joe Biden went from a “dead man walking” to resuming his place as the leader of the Democratic field for President. During that same amount of time, the field has seen the number of contenders, and perhaps second-tier candidates, dwindle from six to two (yes, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, we know you are still officially in the race).

Joementum is soothing many Democrats. Image via AP/Matt Rourke.

Within those five days, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar dropped out and endorsed Biden, who went on to a smashing Super Tuesday romp. That led to the exit of Mike Bloomberg (who immediately endorsed Biden) and, most recently, Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The pundits declared Biden finished following New Hampshire. After Sanders made and doubled down upon comments that Castro wasn’t all that bad, some delegation Democrats developed plenty of heartburn that the “Democratic socialist” appeared to be on his way to the nomination.

Even worse, having Sanders at the top of the ticket had the great potential to cause Democrats to stay home. That is how potentially vulnerable delegation Democrats could lose their seats.

Biden’s re-emergence has served as political Pepto-Bismol (or Maalox if you prefer) for some of those Democrats. A crisis has now been seemingly averted.

“The Joe-mentum is on, and it’s great,” said Rep. Charlie Crist. “Joe Biden is on a path … and it seems to be getting stronger by the day. It’s great for America. Thank God!”

Crist’s Democratic colleague, Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables, representing District 26, the closest to Cuba, was among the most troubled by Sanders’ Castro comments. As one whose district has thousands of Cuban exiles and descendants, she too is pleased with the dramatic turn of events.

“I don’t think that Bernie should be our candidate,” she said. “And I don’t think he’s going to be our candidate.”

While Super Tuesday is over, a few significant primaries still remain, including Florida on March 17, what will happen next? Does Bloomberg’s endorsement of Biden include monetary support? Will Warren’s supporters go mostly to Sanders?

Whatever happens, this has been one of the craziest weeks in American political history. It would be difficult to top this.

“It’s almost like all the stars aligned with the moon and the sun to cause this domino effect to take place on behalf of this good man who should be President,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and a supporter of Biden. “That was in no master plan, in no one’s vision, in no one’s blueprint as to what was going to happen on Super Tuesday.”

Without question.

Coronavirus funding approved

Late in the week, Congress came together to pass supplemental funding to combat the coronavirus. The House approved the $8.3 billion funding package by a vote of 415-2, while the Senate gave its approval 96-1. President Donald Trump signed the bill Friday morning.

Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said the funding would fully address the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis.” Republican Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine said: “It’s critical these departments and our states have every resource available to prevent further infections and protect America against this virus.”

Donald Trump signs the $8.3B coronavirus package.

Distribution of the funding includes directing more than $3 billion to increase the availability of coronavirus diagnostic tests and to invest in vaccine development. Approximately $2.2 billion of the package consists of funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including funding to prevent, prepare and respond to diseases.

Wednesday’s package came on the heels of an additional $500,000 to Florida from the CDC for coronavirus treatment and prevention.

“Passing this funding to comprehensively address the coronavirus is an important step in the right direction, but this is only the beginning of the process,” said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami, who inserted an amendment adding protections for TSA workers.”

Rep. Neal Dunn of Panama City said, “This is a huge step in the right direction, and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues and this Administration to keep Americans safe.”

The proceedings had a bizarre moment, courtesy of Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, who came to the House floor wearing a gas mask. Gaetz explained that “members of Congress are human Petri dishes.”

Scott leads Olympic resolution

Both conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats came together on a resolution calling for the 2022 Olympics removed from China. Sen. Rick Scott and Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced a resolution in the Senate calling for moving the games.

The resolution calls for the International Olympic Committee to open bidding for the games based on China’s record on human rights. The Chinese could continue to host the games if they address their human rights violations.

Rick Scott joined a bipartisan call for the 2022 Olympics to be taken away from China.

“Communist China should not be allowed to host the 2022 Olympic Games while simultaneously running concentration camps, violating human rights and oppressing the people of Hong Kong,” Scott said in a joint news release.

“The Olympic Games are an incredible opportunity to allow the world’s best athletes to represent their countries and unite our nations and should not be hosted by one of the world’s worst human rights abusers.”

Rubio was among those joining the resolution, pointing out specific instances of human rights abuses and said China should not “have the privilege and responsibility” of hosting the Olympics.

“The Chinese government and Communist Party represses the basic freedoms of the Chinese people and commits horrific human rights abuses, including detaining over a million Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”

A bipartisan group of six Republican and two Democratic Senators co-sponsored the resolution.

U.S. blamed for coronavirus

Though the blame game surrounding the coronavirus has calmed in the United States, it is picking up steam in parts of the world where media coverage is strictly controlled. The fault of the developing pandemic, says China, Iran and Russia, is the U.S.

In an op-ed published in the New York Post, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio claimed agents of both countries are spreading falsehoods that the U.S. is to blame. Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Foreign Relations Committee, cited a post from the Chinese military portal that claimed the virus is “a biochemical weapon produced by the U.S. to target China.”

Russian trolls are blaming the U.S. for coronavirus, posting the virus is meant “to wage economic war on China.” Image via AP.

Rubio pointed to Iran where “a prominent cleric accused the United States of introducing the virus ‘to damage [the city of Qom’s] culture and honor.’” The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard took it further, claiming the virus could be the result of a U.S. biological attack.

Russian trolls are posting the virus is meant “to wage economic war on China.”

“The slanders are outrageous. But such disinformation also risks fatal consequences to the populations that receive it,” Rubio wrote. “To combat disinformation, we must identify the sources of deception campaigns, educate the global community, and equip foreign governments to combat it.”

According to Rubio, the anti-U.S. message may be getting through. He cited an example where Iranians with normally positive views of America “note with confidence that America is behind the outbreak.”

He called on the world to unite to present a positive front for confronting the spread of the virus, saying, “if we don’t, those propagating these lies could slow efforts to respond — and cost lives.”

Sanders’ AIPAC comments blasted

This week the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. This gathering touts the strong relationship between the United States and Israel and features dozens of speakers from the highest levels of government and policy experts.

Vice President Mike Pence spoke, as did senior members of the Trump foreign policy team, along with Bloomberg. Sanders revealed two weeks ago he would not attend AIPAC, which he described as a venue “for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”

Bernie Sanders’ comments about AIPAC have angered some Jews on both sides of the aisle. Image via AP.

That upset several Jewish Americans of both parties. Rep. Ted Deutch strongly expressed his disagreement.

“I will continue to strongly support Israel’s security in the face of ongoing attacks and other serious threats,” the Boca Raton Democrat said in a statement at the time. “And unlike Sen. Sanders, I look forward to sharing my views with the pro-Israel Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who will be gathering in Washington next week.”

Deutch was among five current and former delegation members participating in this week’s event. Also, Democratic Reps. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, along with Rep. Waltz and former GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami had speaking roles.

During his remarks, Bloomberg called Sanders “dead wrong” for his depiction of bigotry among attendees.

“The reality is: AIPAC doesn’t fuel hatred,” Bloomberg said. “AIPAC works to combat it — and the violence that it can produce.”

More than 18,000 pro-Israel Americans attended the conference, including several nonspeaking members of the delegation. Others welcomed constituent attendees to their offices.

‘Demings for VP?’

After being named one of seven House impeachment managers in December, Rep. Val Demings began receiving some national attention as a possible running mate for the eventual Democratic nominee for President. Delegation colleague Rep. Lois Frankel also talked up Demings in January.

Running mate speculation died down as impeachment took the spotlight, but now that the campaign is in full swing, her name has come up again. The New York Times reported this week that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has her on his list of potential candidates.

Val Demings for VP? The chatter starts anew.

The speculation will likely intensify following Demings’ public endorsement of Biden this week. She said Biden “has been there in the trenches fighting for those things that are important to the American people.”

Demings has heard the speculation and did not rule out accepting the role if offered. For those claiming she was late with her endorsement of Biden, Demings said endorsing while serving as an impeachment manager “would have undermined the work that we were doing.”

The history of a House member being elected Vice president is short, with John Nance Garner being the last, serving two terms with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Michigan Rep. Gerald Ford was appointed Vice president in December 1973.

Bilirakis on VA list?

Among the many House Republicans retiring at the end of the year is veteran Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee. Roe is the current ranking member and former chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, prompting an impending contest to become the committee’s top Republican.

Among those mentioned is Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, the senior Republican on the committee. Bilirakis was thought to be in line for the chairmanship in 2017. Still, Roe jumped over him due to an unwritten House rule prohibiting members from chairing one committee while serving on another high profile committee.

Gus Bilirakis’ possible chairmanship was thwarted by an obscure (and unwritten) House rule.

Bilirakis would face the same decision regarding his service on the Energy and Commerce Committee should he decide to run. He told CQ Roll Call he was “leaving the door open.”

Other Republicans on the committee include Dunn and first-term Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota. Dunn may have considered a run, but said: “I think there’s another path actually for me.”

Former Rep. Jeff Miller of Pensacola served as committee chairman from 2011-2017 until his retirement.

IRS auditing practices questioned

Critics of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are concerned with audits that apparently disproportionately target and discriminate against low-income, minority Black, Hispanic and Native American communities. Rep. Crist is pressing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to put an end to the practice.

In the Financial Services and General Government subcommittee hearing on the 2021 Treasury Budget Request, Crist thanked Mnuchin for reports that direct the IRS to ramp up audits on higher-income taxpayers, while securing a commitment from the Secretary to root out discriminatory auditing practices.

Charlie Crist is pressuring Steve Mnuchin to end discrimination in IRS audits.

The IRS has faced backlash over audit numbers that reveal lower-income taxpayers being audited at a higher percentage. In contrast, higher-income taxpayers saw a fairly significant decline in their audit rates.

“Reports detailing the extent to which the IRS is inadvertently participating in discriminatory auditing of Black, Hispanic, and Native American communities is deeply troubling and needs to be brought to an end, now,” the St. Petersburg Democrat said in a news release. “The IRS should not be in the business of discrimination. While I do not believe it is intentional, if policies result in discriminatory outcomes, the policies need to change.”

This is the third time that Crist has brought IRS audit discrimination to the Treasury leadership’s attention. In April 2019, Crist questioned Commissioner of Internal Revenue Charles Rettig after ProPublica initially reported the racial discrimination in the agency’s auditing. Crist also addressed the issue with the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, in September of last year.

“I commend Secretary Mnuchin for expressing concern about this and thank him for his commitment to direct the IRS Commissioner to ensure that Black, Hispanic, and Native Americans are not disproportionately targeted. This is simply an issue of fairness,” Crist concluded.

Addressing lapsed TRICARE benefits

Last November, Republican Rep. Ross Spano joined with Rep. Gabbard to introduce the TRICARE Fairness for National Guard and Reserve Retirees Act. The bill intends to allow National Guard members and reserve retirees who are not yet 60 but receive retirement pay, to buy into the military’s health care program.

Tulsi Gabbard and Ross Spano are teaming up for a bill to allow National Guard members and reserve retirees who receive retirement pay to buy into the military’s health care program.

He has now joined with several colleagues seeking answers on lapses in TRICARE benefits for National Guard and retired reserve members and families. In a letter to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, the members request a report on those lapses.

“While serving our nation overseas, soldiers should not be forced to deal with lapses in health coverage and access to TRICARE benefits,” they wrote. “Pregnant wives, children with disabilities, and other members of the National Guard and reserve personnel rely on TRICARE benefits for health coverage.”

Spano described the thought of having benefits lapsing while deployed “unacceptable on so many levels.”

Spano and Gabbard were honored with the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Eagle Award from the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS) for their efforts. Included among their bill’s 22 co-sponsors are Republican Reps. Daniel Webster of Clermont and Bill Posey of Rockledge.

DCCC runs coronavirus ads

Shortly after two confirmed cases of the coronavirus were announced, Spano and Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key were the targets of political ads involving the disease. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is running the ads criticizing the response of the Trump administration and demanding the lawmakers step in to help current or potential future patients.

“It’s disturbing that the Trump Administration is too concerned about drug manufacturers’ profits to even attempt to make an affordable vaccine for a virus that is rapidly spreading across the globe,” said DCCC spokesperson Sarah Guggenheimer.

Last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told a House committee that he could not guarantee any vaccine would be affordable. It would not affect the current situation as, despite Trump’s prodding, it would take a future vaccine between one year and 18 months to be ready for the market.

For his part, Buchanan has met with medical officials involved with the treatment of at least one patient diagnosed with the virus and has already urged the House to pass supplemental funding to combat the disease quickly. His opponent, state Rep. Margaret Good was criticized for fundraising off the coronavirus.

The ads will run on Facebook and Instagram within the districts of Spano and Buchanan.

To view the ad, click on the image below:

Rooney bill advances

Those living in areas prone to damage from Harmful Algal Blooms depend on forecasting and monitoring of events and developments to help protect their communities. A bill that keeps the information coming even if the federal government shuts down,

This week the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, sponsored by Naples Republican Rep. Francis Rooney, passed unanimously out of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on the Environment. This legislation would require the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS), which monitor waters for Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), to continue all forecasting and monitoring, even during a government shutdown.

Francis Rooney’s bipartisan Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act advances.

“Politics aside, monitoring and forecasting HABs is imperative during major outbreaks no matter the status of government operations,” Rooney said in a news release. “To preserve our oceans and lakes, we need to ensure the constant monitoring is sustained — even during the politics of a government shutdown.

Rooney’s bill gained 14 bipartisan co-sponsors, including Republican Reps. Gaetz, Posey and Steube, along with Democratic Reps. Crist, Lawson, Stephanie Murphy and Alcee Hastings. Crist is a fellow subcommittee member.

“I am thankful for the subcommittee recognizing the importance of H.R. 3297 and look forward to our work to advance this legislation,” Rooney added. “I will continue to fight for better HAB response and forecasting and protecting our coastlines and human health.”

The full committee is expected to take up the bill in the coming weeks.

School infrastructure bill advances

A bill that would appropriate $100 billion to repair brick and mortar and add greater digital capacity in public schools is headed to the House floor. The Rebuild America’s Schools Act cleared the House Education and Labor Committee by a 26-20 vote.

The bill, sponsored by Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott, would fund $70 billion in grants and $30 billion in bonds to help address public school needs. Scott said economic projections indicated the bill would also create more than 1.9 million well-paying jobs.

Donna Shalala was one of more than 200 co-sponsors of the Rebuild America’s Schools Act from Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott.

“America’s public schools are the foundation of success for young people across this country,” tweeted Rep. Wilson, a committee member. “That’s why I support the Rebuild America’s School Act, which would invest $100 billion in the critical physical and digital infrastructure of public schools. #MovingForward

Among the legislation’s 212 co-sponsors are Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala, also a member of the committee and 10 other delegation Democrats. The lone GOP co-sponsor is New Jersey’s Jeff Van Drew, who recently switched his registration from the Democratic Party.

The bill is not expected to have difficulty passing the House but would face a bleak future in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Lewis honored on birthday

A true civil rights icon celebrated his 80th birthday recently, with members hosting a party to commemorate the occasion. Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis was the guest of honor with some members of the Florida delegation among the celebrants.

While the party was actually a few days after his actual birthday, the celebration took on added significance with his recent diagnosis of advanced pancreatic cancer. Rep Lawson was among the attendees.

Val Demings was part of the festivities for civil rights icon John Lewis’ 80th birthday. Image via Twitter.

“Surprise birthday party for my dear friend and colleague, @RepJohnLewis,” Lawson tweeted.

Lewis represents Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, which includes large portions of Atlanta, and was first elected in 1986. Lewis was a leader in the civil rights movement and was among those savagely beaten when they famously marched from Selma to Alabama’s capital, Montgomery on March 7, 1965.

Rep. Demings, another party attendee, also tweeted a photo of the event but wondered if Lewis was actually caught off guard.

“At @repjohnlewis 80th Birthday Party. I ‘think’ it was a surprise,” Demings tweeted.

Trump spotlights Pasco commissioner

This week the National Association of Counties held their annual gathering in Washington, D.C. (NACo). Trump addressed the 1,200 attendees before calling up Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey to speak to the group about interacting with his administration, especially Hurricane Irma.

During her brief remarks, Starkey thanked the administration for having an open-door policy with local governments. Before Hurricane Irma, Starkey said, the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs invited commissioners from across the country, regardless of party affiliation, to meet and establish contact with federal agency leaders.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and President Donald Trump. Photo courtesy of the National Association of Counties
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey gets a shoutout from Donald Trump. Image via National Association of Counties.

“This opened a bridge for communication with federal agencies,” Starkey said during her comments.

Starkey currently chairs the Federal Committee for the Florida Association of Counties and is the Chair of the International Economic Development Task Force at NACo.

“It was a real honor to be called up to the stage,” Starkey later said in a statement.

On this day

March 6, 2000 — As Super Tuesday approaches, the state of the race for President is more evident on one side and not so much on the other. Vice president Al Gore is poised to gain the Democratic nomination, but Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain are battling in 13 states on this day.

Bush did poorly in New Hampshire but gained momentum by bouncing back in South Carolina. McCain called Bush’s South Carolina attack ads against him as “Clintonesque.” Bush spent the evening before Super Tuesday trading jokes with late-night comedian Jay Leno.

March 6, 2007 — A jury convicted Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, of perjury and obstruction of justice into the investigation of leaking the CIA status of former operative Valerie Plame. Libby became the highest-ranking White House official to be convicted of a felony since the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.

Sen. John Kerry, who lost a close election to President George W. Bush in 2004, said: “The verdict brings accountability at last for official deception and the politics of smear and fear.” Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers, who is close to the administration, said this would be a stain on the Bush legacy “much like Iran-Contra and Monica Lewinsky.”

Cherry blossoms set to bloom

The current climate in Washington, D.C. might be toxic, but nature provides an excellent reason to visit the national capital later this month. The National Park Service announced this week the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms that ring the Tidal Basin should be between March 27-30.

Cherry Blossoms are getting ready to bloom in full. Image via AP.

This is the projected point when 70% of the Yoshino cherry trees are expected to be blossoming. Those dates could change slightly based upon altered weather patterns, but they shall fall along those general patterns.

The annual Cherry Blossom Festival is slated to run from March 20 to April 12. The festival celebrates Japan’s 1912 gift of more than 3,000 cherry trees.

Staff Reports


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