‘Pearl Harbor moment’
The warning from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams caused an already weary and apprehensive nation to gulp collectively. During an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Adams braced Americans for the week ahead, describing the coming days as “our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment” regarding people losing their lives.
In Florida, thousands are infected, hundreds are hospitalized, and scores are already losing their lives. Delegation Democrats thought the state could be better protected, writing two letters to Gov. Ron DeSantis respectfully requesting a statewide order for Floridians to stay at home, a request he honored last week after President Donald Trump extended the national guidelines for another 30 days.
The reaction was mostly met with a sigh of relief, but the concern was expressed over exemptions to the order. Some, including Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables, was a bit harsher, saying the delay “will be measured in human lives.”
Rep. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, was gracious in his assessment of DeSantis’ actions. Telling MSNBC’s Joy Reid, “I wish the Governor would have been more rapid in getting things moving in Florida,” Crist also said, “he did issue the order to stay at home, and I’m glad to see that.” As a former Gov., Crist said he was not going to be a “Monday morning quarterback.”
Tens of thousands of Floridians who have done the right thing to stay healthy — and keep others healthy — also face an extremely difficult week. They have lost their jobs after Congress earlier enacted enhanced unemployment benefits, but the states administer those benefits, and Florida’s broken unemployment system has added to their misery.
DeSantis may face the wrath of those put through an additional round of misery after losing their job if he and his team cannot quickly fix the problem, meaning politics is never far away. The $77 million Florida CONNECT system was rolled out under the administration of then-Gov. Rick Scott, a fact the current Governor’s supporters are likely to tout.
Something worrisome for both DeSantis and Trump, is the mood of virus survivors and those enduring the economic calamity it has created. Both realize the President cannot win reelection without winning Florida.
“But if we have to look past the crisis, it’s bad for the President, and it’s bad for the Governor,” a DeSantis adviser told POLITICO.
Team Trump knows a struggling economy could mean trouble in the nation’s third-largest state. Crist remembered his 2010 Senate race against Sen. Marco Rubio, where the state and national economy was still reeling from the 2008 financial meltdown.
“If unemployment continues to go up, and if so many people stay unemployed, it’s a nightmare for the President in this state,” Crist said. “I should know.”
A member of Rubio’s team agreed, saying, “We killed Charlie with the bad economy in 2010.”
Both the Trump team, the DeSantis administration, and, most importantly, those out of work, hope additional personnel, paper applications, and 72 new servers work well enough and long enough to get them their lifeline. Florida’s unemployment compensation tops out among the nation’s lowest at $275 per week, but the $2.2 trillion CARES Act contains an additional $600 per week for those out of work.
Economics aside, Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were about severe losses of life that took about one hour to unfold. The COVID-19 virus continues to kill after several months and continues to tax the health and endurance of not only the patients but the doctors, health care workers and first responders.
“All hands on deck” have never been more appropriate. Sadly, Florida’s worst week may still be yet to come.
Loan program encounters glitches
One part of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill known as the CARES Act was the loan program for small businesses known as the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP). Only seven days after signing the law, the PPP rolled out to a series of glitches and confusion.
Rubio was one of the architects of this portion of the bill, who acknowledged the problems and actively worked with the Trump administration to seek solutions to the many issues. He admitted one of the main problems centered around the original instructions from the Treasury Department, which he said was “too complicated,” therefore confusing many lenders.
In a lengthy Twitter feed, he identified specific problems that were in the process of being addressed, He said another issue that will need addressing is an eventual shortage of funds. Both he and Trump have already said more fundingCongress will be required to appropriate more money for those businesses.
“When you launch something this unprecedented & far-reaching, just 7 days after it became law, you are going to have some problems,” he said. “The GOOD NEWS is every problem we saw on Day One of #Ppploans can be fixed.”
He also said that enough of the system worked on the first day to line up $5 billion in loans to help small businesses, “which saved hundreds of thousands of jobs.”
Despite some new glitches and system crashes, the Treasury Department revealed they were processing 178,000 applications worth almost $33 billion, or nearly 10% of the $349 billion allotted to the program.
Scott: Stop exporting equipment
Late last week, Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s Director of the Division of Emergency Management, called out 3M Corp. for not selling desperately-need medical masks to the state. That case was one of the reasons Trump used the Defense Production Act to prohibit further exports of critical safety equipment for health care workers.
Saying “We are not happy with 3M,” Trump issued an executive order directing FEMA to prevent the export of N95 masks and other equipment. Scott is interested in learning how decisions to send medical equipment are made.
In a letter to Acting Administrator John Barsa of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Scott asked how much equipment already has left the U.S. and how exporting decisions are made. He specifically asked what the administration is doing about “favoring other countries over the United States in a time of national emergency.”
“As our country faces the #Coronavirus, we are in a desperate fight to save American lives,” Scott said upon releasing the letter. “We shouldn’t be sending vital supplies to other nations right now.”
U.S. offers Venezuela plan
Among the lingering issues in the Western Hemisphere is the continually deteriorating situation in Venezuela. The economic problems were vividly documented even before COVID-19. Still, with the threat of a humanitarian tragedy in the beleaguered South American country, the U.S. has proposed a framework for appointing an interim government that would result in the lifting of sanctions.
The proposal calls for a government that would include neither dictator Nicolás Maduro nor opposition leader Juan Guaidó, providing clear evidence the Trump administration has given up on Guaidó’s ability to force Maduro to relinquish power. Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami, the first native of South America elected to Congress, is engaged on the issue.
“I am closely monitoring the crisis in Venezuela,” she said. “We need assurances that the U.S. strategy is cohesive and singularly focused on bringing democracy to the Venezuelan people. I remain in contact with State & @jguaido’s team to move VZ closer to democracy.”
Reports indicate Venezuela is woefully unprepared for an outbreak of coronavirus, another reason Secretary of State Mike Pompeo believes Maduro must go.
“The United States has long been committed to finding a solution to the man-made crisis in Venezuela,” he said in a statement announcing the framework. “The urgency for this has become all the more serious in light of the Maduro regime’s failure to prepare for and address the global COVID-19 pandemic adequately.
“This framework demonstrates our commitment to helping Venezuela fully recover and ensures that the voice of the Venezuelan people is respected and included.”
Gaetz praises visas halt
Before the full impact of COVID-19 hit, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took what appeared to be routine action by calling for more guest worker visas. Over the coming months, 35,000 nonagricultural workers were to be let in over April and May through what are known as H-2B visas to assist seasonal employers.
With millions of American workers losing their jobs, calls to reverse the policy grew. Last week, DHS revealed the plan is on hold.
Nearly one-third of the visas were to go to workers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in support of those countries’ efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigration. The economic reality caused the U.S. to change course, which earned the full support of Rep. Matt Gaetz.
“As we work together to rebuild our economy, it is imperative that foreign labor is not prioritized over American job-seekers,” the Fort Walton Beach Republican said. “I commend the (DHS and Labor) secretaries for their pragmatic, ‘America First’ decision.”
Murphy calls for commission
Last week, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California said he was drafting legislation that would form a “9/11-style commission” to scrutinize the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. Rep. Stephanie Murphy appears to have beaten Schiff to the courthouse.
Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, and New York Republican John Katko jointly introduced legislation to create a bipartisan commission to assess the U.S.’ preparation and response to the crisis. The National Commission on COVID-19 Act is based on the 2002 law establishing the 9/11 Commission, which was enacted following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.
“Right now, we must all be laser-focused on the immediate public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. But we do need a bipartisan, comprehensive review of our response when we emerge from this crisis,” Murphy said in a news release. “What did we learn? What did we do wrong? What did we do right? These are critical questions that must be answered.”
The Murphy/Katko proposal suggests a 10-member Commission split equally between Republicans and Democrats and would be appointed by the President and congressional leaders of both chambers and parties. The bill stipulates they are to have deep experience and expertise in fields like public health, medicine, emergency management and response, and public administration.
The legislation calls for the commission to begin its work no earlier than next year and would produce a report by March 2022. Murphy has earned a reputation as a moderate and suggestions coming from here would be taken far more seriously among Republicans than anything coming from Schiff, whom they detest.
“This is not a time to point fingers or assign blame,” Murphy added. “Our goal is to make our country more resilient in times of crisis by assessing our nation’s pandemic response and recommending concrete policy changes that will better prepare all Americans for the next global pandemic.”
Demings urges greater DPA use
Since the COVID-19 crisis began to affect the ability to supply the health care system adequately, Trump has used the Defense Production Act (DPA) on certain occasions to step up production or direct distribution of certain vital materials.
Price gouging on essential commodities is a critical concern. This stems from hoarding, which prompted Rep. Val Demings of Orlando to ask the President for help in this area.
Demings is calling on the President to increase the use of the DPA to better protect consumers from those against price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among its many benefits, the act keeps people from hoarding materials to resell them at a higher price.
“Full implementation of the Defense Production Act would help us in terms of holding bad actors more accountable by providing that necessary oversight over them,” Demings told NPR.
Demings feels that giving one federal agency oversight could make it easier to regulate these companies. Trump has used the act to order two companies to produce N-95 masks and ventilators, while also sending supplies to six other companies. However, the mandate did not include any plan to enforce quotas.
Dems: No $$$ for oil
The price of crude oil has cratered, creating the ultimate good news/bad news scenario. The steep drop in oil prices has led to significant declines in the price at the pump, but it has also put the jobs of workers in the industry at risk, prompting oil executives to ask Trump for a slice of the $500 billion in funds for distressed industries.
They came away from an April 3 White House meeting encouraged that the Trump administration was looking to help, even if pump prices begin to rise again. Following the meeting, American Petroleum Institute CEO Mike Sommers said the President was “very receptive” to their plight.
Not so fast, said Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, who chairs the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
“As more than 10 million workers suddenly find themselves without a job, Trump is shamefully cozying up with oil and gas executives, increasing prices at the gas pump in order to protect the profits of polluters,” Castor said in a statement. “He is also ignoring the millions of clean energy workers who are driving innovation and lowering energy costs across the nation.”
The per-barrel price drop came as the result of a feud between Saudi Arabia and Russia overproduction and price. Several Republican lawmakers are urging Trump to work with the industry, but Castor is not alone in her desire to leave the oil industry hanging.
“No way will @HouseDemocrats or @AppropsDems let oil and gas corporations hijack Congress’s COVID-19 relief efforts,” tweeted Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz.” “Sorry, you don’t get a bailout when you actively put our planet in peril.”
Perdue urged to approve D-SNAP
Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, joined by all of the delegation Democrats, is seeking enhanced assistance for their constituents impacted by COVID-19. The members wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging him to approve the State of Florida’s request to implement the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP).
D-SNAP allows people who have been impacted by a disaster, but would not typically be eligible for SNAP benefits, to receive aid. Additionally, current SNAP recipients would see an increase in their supplemental benefits to the maximum amount for their household size.
“The actual number of people seeking benefits is potentially higher given how overwhelmed the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is due to high call volume and website traffic,” the letter said. “Sadly, the number of people needing assistance will increase significantly as the virus continues to spread, and businesses are forced to close their doors.”
On March 22, Gov. DeSantis also sent a letter to the administration requesting an emergency declaration for the state of Florida, which was granted and the activation of D-SNAP. Unemployment is surging in Florida as well as the rest of the country.
“Even in the best of times, it is often a struggle for many families to put food on the table,” said Wilson. “In the midst of this crisis, many Floridians who have been laid off or had to cover unexpected COVID-19-related expenses don’t know where to turn to get their next meal. D-SNAP could make all the difference for struggling families and I hope that USDA acts swiftly to approve this much-needed aid.”
In addition to Wilson’s fellow Democrats, Sen. Rubio and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Hialeah signed the letter.
Diaz-Balart returns home
With so much tragic news coming from around the world, some good news was reported over the weekend. Diaz-Balart, the first member of the House to contract the coronavirus, has now recovered and is back home.
“Today, after being deemed #COVID19 free by my doctor, I was able to reunite with my family in Miami,” he said on Twitter. “Though still a bit weak, I feel well, & I applied to participate in the @RedCross plasma donation to help those with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections.”
Diaz-Balart announced his positive diagnosis on March 18, followed a few hours later by Utah Democrat Ben McAdams. He remained in Washington to seek treatment, deciding against trying to return home and exposing his wife, who would be at “exceptionally high risk” due to a preexisting condition.
While Diaz-Balart remains the only member of the delegation to contract the disease, others have placed themselves in self-quarantine after exposure to those who tested positive. Among those were Murphy, Wilson, Gaetz and Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton
Mucarsel-Powell rips IG firing
The best time to release news that the newsmaker wishes to stay under the radar is a Friday afternoon. When Trump decided to fire a key figure who played a role in his impeachment, he and the White House chose Friday afternoon during a worldwide pandemic to announce the news.
On April 3, the White House informed the Senate Intelligence Committee he intended to fire Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community. Atkinson brought a complaint from an individual who had information on the President’s telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that ultimately led to Trump’s impeachment and subsequent acquittal.
With the relative lack of immediate response to the move, the strategy may have worked as key players were silent. Committee Chairman Richard Burr is battling allegations of insider trading, while Rubio, a committee member, had his full attention on the rollout of the Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses (see “Loan program” above).
Delegation Democrats did not quickly rush to their keyboards to express outrage over Twitter, with the possible exception of Mucarsel-Powell. Others began to comment this week
“The late-night firing of Atkinson in the midst of a global crisis is blatant corruption,” she tweeted. “Trump has proved time & time again that he will retaliate against any public servant who seeks the truth & provides oversight to this admin. This is a risk to our democracy & nat ‘l security.”
While Burr did not respond, the Intelligence Committee ranking member did. Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner called the move “unconscionable,” while Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump’s “dead of night decision puts our country and national security at even greater risk.”
When asked about the matter during his April 4 coronavirus task force briefing, Trump responded by saying, “That man is a disgrace to IGs, he’s a total disgrace.”
Dems seek small communities help
It is a near certainty that another coronavirus relief package will be coming. The question centers more around “when” rather than “if.” Both Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi favors substantial spending for infrastructure. Still, a group of House Democrats is urging her to include direct assistance to smaller communities in the next bill.
A group of 128 House Democrats, including nine from Florida, signed on to a letter to Pelosi led by Democratic Reps. Andy Levin of Illinois, Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, Tom Malinowski of New Jersey and Joe Neguse of Colorado urging help for constituents residing in smaller communities.
“As you work to craft the next package to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we urge you to include direct stabilization funding to localities with populations under 500,000, or to lower the threshold for direct funding through the Coronavirus Relief Fun,” the letter reads.
Among those joining the letter was Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach, saying, “Across our nation, communities are being affected by #COVID19 & deserve swift relief!”
Also, adding their names were Democratic Reps. Mucarsel-Powell, Castor, Crist, Demings, Deutch, Shalala, Al Lawson and Darren Soto.
On this day
April 7, 2000 — After an emotional meeting with the father of Elian Gonzalez, Attorney General Janet Reno began completing plans to return the youth to Juan Miguel Gonzalez, who said he would take his son back to Cuba. Elian has been living with relatives in Miami since his arrival in the U.S. after a perilous journey from Cuba that claimed the life of his mother.
The fierce controversy is sure to continue in Little Havana, where the Cuban exile community is doing everything they can to keep the boy in the United States. Reno said, “I understand and respect with all my heart the deep-seated beliefs which the Cuban exile community feels on this subject … but it is not our place to punish a father for his political beliefs or where he wants to raise his child.”
April 7, 2003 — U.S. troops officially captured Baghdad as the end of the reign of Saddam Hussein grew near. Senior U.S. officials were initially cautious about confirming the event, with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saying, “Almost all first reports we get turn out to be wrong.”
At the same time, Rumsfeld was quick to accept that an airstrike had reportedly killed Gen. Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as “Chemical Ali,” who led a chemical attack on Iraqi Kurds in 1988. He said, “We believe that the reign of terror of Chemical Ali has come to an end.”
(NOTE: Ali was not killed but was instead later captured and ultimately hung in 2010.)