Delegation for 4.17.20: Great reopening — level fields — Val Demings VP? — domestic violence — guns not essential?

Donald Trump seeks a 'grand reopening' of the nation's economy. Can it happen on his timeline?

Phased economic opening plan unveiled

Depending upon the region of the country, or even within a particular state, the decision to reopen the economy is either hard, complicated, or much simpler. The “Opening America guidelines revealed by President Donald Trump gives state governors the option to open their state for business in steps by reaching certain benchmarks.

An entertaining debate erupted earlier in the week when Trump declared he had sole authority to make the call nationwide and was challenged by elected officials from both parties. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said it was governors who ordered the shutdowns and governors will be the ones to lift them, while Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples posted the words from the 10th Amendment to the Constitution on social media.

Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus and plans to ‘reopen’ the country. Image via AP. 

Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz took the opportunity to insert a revered figure among conservatives into the conversation.

“(Trump) paging James Madison: I’m just gonna leave this right here,” she tweeted. “It’s the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. You should read it before you keep spouting off about your power being’ total.’”

Such momentous decisions by political leaders come as the economic red alert has risen to a level approaching the health crisis. More than 33,000 have died in the United States, including nearly 700 in Florida, but this week’s economic news is devastating.

Around 22 million have filed jobless claims around the country, while Florida has seen more than 350,000 new claims over the past two weeks and 800,000 total. Backlogs and a faulty unemployment system make it anyone’s guess how long it will take to get help to those out of work if the lockdown continues indefinitely.

Making things worse was the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was providing loans for dormant small businesses to keep their employees on the payroll, ran out of money because of a nonsensical political squabble. Marches and rallies against the continued lockdowns began to crop up in some states and may grow the longer the status quo remains.

Rubio, who was one of the authors of the PPP, said the country needs to take steps to get back into business. In a two-minute video, he said an economic policy must be formulated with the realization that risk-free interaction can only come once a coronavirus vaccine is developed and deployed.

The need for a vaccine was one of four “fundamental truths” that are part of any reopening. Others are people coming in contact with more people will lead to infections and death, the country cannot continue with the status quo until a vaccine is developed, and things will not get back to normal any time soon.

Sen. Rick Scott offered the view that politicians and elected officials can say or do a lot of things. Still, in the end, it is the individual Floridian, or resident of any other state, that will ultimately decide when the economy can come back.

“If the consumer decides they’re not going to get on the airplane because they don’t feel safe, it doesn’t really matter what all the elected officials say,” he said during an interview with NPR.

Meanwhile, a promising new drug to treat coronavirus patients is creating some optimism in medical circles and Wall Street. The stock market opened Friday to huge gains.

Senators seek level playing field

Another long-standing conflict between the U.S. and China involved the deployment of 5G telecommunications technology. Both Sens. Rubio and Scott have sought sanctions on the giant Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, a worldwide leader in 5G technology that the U.S. has determined to be a national security risk.

Deployment of 5G technology is still in the standard-setting stage, but Rubio and some of his colleagues are concerned American companies are hindered by regulations. For that reason, he joined in a letter to the secretaries of four federal agencies to take action that would allow U.S. 5G firms to compete on a level playing field.

Marco Rubio and Rick Scott want to level the playing field in regard to 5G technology.

“As senior Members of Senate Committees responsible for oversight of our national security and economic competitiveness, we write to urge your Department to issue regulations as soon as possible confirming that export control regulations do not restrict U.S. participation in 5G standards-setting,” the letter reads. “This step is needed urgently to ensure that U.S. technology continues to form the core of 5G foundational technology.”

In addition to Rubio, the letter is signed by GOP Sens. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Cornyn of Texas, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Todd Young of Indiana. They are concerned about Huawei having an extra advantage should American companies be hindered.

“When U.S. export controls restrict U.S. companies from participating in standards-setting bodies, China-based Huawei is well-positioned to fill any gaps,” the letter continued.

“As the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has said, any restrictions that hinder U.S. participation in 5G standards-setting bodies ‘would leave an opening for China to expand its influence on the 5G standard-setting process,’ a result that ‘would have substantial negative national security consequences for the United States.’”

Recovery committee members named

A bipartisan group of House and Senate members was appointed by the President to serve as an advisory group on reopening the economy. Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch and Stephanie Murphy, along with Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, were among the 32 House appointees.

“I look forward to working with this bipartisan group of lawmakers and the White House to help get our country back on its feet in the safest way possible, one that is guided by science and sound public health principles,” Deutch said in a statement.

Matt Gaetz is a member of the White House committee on reopening the economy.

In her statement, Murphy said, “I’ll use this opportunity to inform the President about the unique economic conditions facing Central Florida and then work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to ensure our response prioritizes working families and struggling businesses, especially small businesses.”

Gaetz said, “I’m excited to serve on this new task force and look to advancing his America First vision for our great nation as we work to build an even brighter future for all.”

Those comprising the Senate group include both Scott and Rubio. Appointees amount to two-thirds of Senators, with 52 Republicans among them. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the only Republican not invited.

“Restarting the greatest economy in the world will require a methodical, comprehensive approach that takes into account public health and safety conditions across the country,” Rubio said in a statement. “We will only have one shot to get this right.”

In a tweet, Scott said: “Glad to be a part of @realDonaldTrump’s @WhiteHouse Task Force on reopening the economy. While we remain focused on combating the #Coronavirus, we must start laying out steps to get our economy back.”

Gaetz wants lab funding stopped

Even before a shocking report surfaced that the COVID-19 virus may have been hatched in a Wuhan, China laboratory, some in Congress were uneasy with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) still funding a research grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Gaetz is asking HHS Secretary Alex Azar to cease the funding.

The Daily Mail recently reported that the Wuhan institute “undertook coronavirus experiments on mammals captured more than 1,000 miles away … funded by a $3.7 million grant from the U.S. government.” The Fort Walton Beach Republican said Azar could end the funding “with the stroke of a pen.”

Matt Gaetz tells Tucker Carlson that he is asking HHS Secretary Alex Azar to cease the funding to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Image via Getty.

“I’m against funding Chinese research in our country, but I’m sure against funding it in China,” he told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. “The NIH [National Institutes of Health] gives a $3.7 million grant to the Wuhan Institute of Virology [and] they then advertise that they need coronavirus researchers and following that, coronavirus erupts in Wuhan.”

Gaetz claims that if Azar ends funding for the grant, it would “be consistent with the fantastic news” that Trump is stopping funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) while the U.S. investigates their actions during the global crisis.

“So at best, Americans are funding people who are lying to us, and at worst, we’re funding people who we knew had problems handling pathogens, who then birthed a monster virus onto the world,” Gaetz added.

Dunn feeling better

More than one week after testing positive for COVID-19, Rep. Neal Dunn reported he was feeling much better. Dunn became the sixth member of Congress and the second from the delegation to test positive for COVID-19, joining Hialeah Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who has since recovered.

Dunn, a urologist and a surgeon, believes he was exposed to the virus while visiting a friend in the hospital for non-COVID related reasons. That individual tested positive shortly after.

Neal Dunn says he is feeling better after testing positive for COVID-19.

He says that he has not experienced any respiratory distress, but instead categorized the symptoms as gastrointestinal. He gives some credit for feeling better to already available medications but said there is no magic elixir.

“It’s different for each patient. You can’t make a blanket statement about any of the medicines, obviously,” Dunn said in an interview. “We’re glad we were able to repurpose some old medicines for this, and they seem to have benefited. But it’s an individual situation. Anybody who has tested positive — I listened to my doctor — I think you should listen to yours too.”

Bilirakis co-sponsors drug supply bill

With the shortages in protective equipment frequently in the news, additional concerns involve shortages in medication. A point of conversation within the delegation is ending the U.S. reliance on China for several items, but especially ingredients for pharmaceuticals consumed by Americans.

Rep. Gus Bilirakis joined with several House colleagues to introduce the bipartisan Preventing Drug Shortages Act, which would help address the critical issue of drug shortages that affect the quality of care patients receive across the country.

The introduction of the bill comes days after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the first U.S. drug shortage related to factory shutdowns and shipping problems in China due to the recent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

Gus Bilirakis is looking to keep the supply lines open for medications.

“Fortifying our drug chain will help ensure critical access to necessary medications, especially during emergency situations when the current system has often experienced strain,” said the Palm Harbor Republican. “This common-sense, necessary step, is integral to protecting public safety, and I urge my colleagues to join this bipartisan effort to expedite passage.”

The Preventing Drug Shortages Act would help mitigate these shortage triggers by enhancing transparency throughout the drug supply chain process and strengthening FDA interagency efforts to fend off drug shortages. The bill would also empower the FDA to enforce greater reporting standards on drug and active pharmaceutical ingredient makers to identify and correct vulnerabilities in their supply chains.

The bill’s lead sponsor is California Democratic Rep. Scott Peters, while serving as original co-sponsors are Democratic Reps. Eliot Engel of New York, Anna Eshoo of California and Kurt Schrader of Oregon. In addition to Bilirakis, Republican co-sponsors are Brett Guthrie of Kentucky, Richard Hudson of North Carolina and Michael McCaul of Texas.

Crist nominates ‘Profile in Courage’

In a time where COVID-19 bombards the country with sadness on an hourly basis, there are occasions where certain individuals stand out. Rep. Charlie Crist is focusing on one of those by nominating Navy Captain Brett Crozier, the former commanding officer of the coronavirus-ravaged USS Theodore Roosevelt, for the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award. Crozier himself would ultimately test positive for the virus.

The award recognizes officials at the local, state, or federal level whose actions demonstrate qualities of politically courageous leadership in especially perilous times for the greater good. Crist cited Crozier for showing bravery and courageous leadership in alerting military leaders to COVID-19 health concerns for the sailors under his command.

Charlie Crist is nominating Navy Capt. Brett Crozier for a ‘Profile in Courage’ award. Image via AP.

The St. Petersburg Democrat submitted his nomination in the form of a letter to the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Committee at the JFK Presidential Library-Museum. Crozier was relieved of his command after written internal for help on behalf of his stricken crew became public.

“We entrust and hold our military leadership to a higher standard. Captain Crozier exemplifies servant leadership, protecting the best interests of those under his command,” Crist wrote. “Captain Crozier’s actions were courageous and in keeping with those principles. He chose to selflessly sacrifice his career to better secure the safety of his crew — a Profile in Courage.”

Crozier’s removal prompted Crist to be among the first to call for the resignation of Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modley, who had called Crozier’s actions “stupid and naive.” Modley resigned April 7.

“A distinguished military career of nearly 30 years, Capt. Crozier knew his actions would likely be his last in uniform. He did so anyway because it was the right thing to do — a true example of leadership and a Profile in Courage,” the letter concludes.

Buchanan seeks funds for media

With the U.S. economy taking on water due to social distancing, a broad range of industries needs the assistance the $2.2 trillion CARES act is designed to provide. Rep. Vern Buchanan believes local news media should receive assistance from those funds.

The Longboat Key Republican wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying local reporters are facing layoffs just as workers in other industries face the same reality. The shutdown in local businesses has caused local media outlets to lose ad revenue needed to stay afloat.

Vern Buchanan believes the media should get a bailout, too.

“I am urging you to consider including much-needed relief for local journalism as a part of future economic response packages,” Buchanan wrote. “Congress should start by putting aside the partisan games and provide additional funding for the federal government’s newly-created small business lending program, which is rapidly running out of money, and clarify that local media and news organizations qualify for these loans.”

Although Buchanan specified local media, the idea does not resonate with many Republicans, who often tangle with the media, especially in Washington and larger cities. Gaetz was among those who oppose any assistance.

“I hate this idea as much as I love Vern Buchanan,” Gaetz tweeted. “In editorial rooms throughout America, media knuckleheads resent their own viewers/readers/listeners for voting for @realDonaldTrump. Like hell, they deserve bailouts from taxpayers who are tuning out their bullsh**.”

Steube blasts China appointment

The United Nations recently added China to the U.N. Human Rights Council, prompting outrage and disbelief in the U.S. China has a decadeslong record of systematic human rights abuses and their secrecy surrounding the coronavirus is widely blamed for costing lives both domestically and around the world.

Jiang Duan, minister at the Chinese Mission in Geneva, will serve as the representative of the Asia-Pacific states among a council consulting group.

Rep. Greg Steube was outraged enough to file a resolution in the House condemning the appointment. He said adding China is basically business as usual at the U.N.

“This is just another drop in the bucket for the United Nations’ failure to uphold the fundamental values of human rights,” the Sarasota Republican said in a news release announcing the resolution.

Greg Steube is behind a resolution to hold China and the United Nations accountable for human rights violations.

“The Chinese Communist Party openly violates freedoms of belief, expression, and privacy and now the United Nations expects them to prosecute the violations they themselves perpetuate — this dishonest attempt to excuse China’s abhorrent behavior should have us all rethinking our decision to fund this organization,” he added.

The resolution aims to hold China and the United Nations accountable for human rights violations and demands serious reform to the United Nations if the United States is to continue to participate and provide funding.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, joined by several GOP colleagues, wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asking him to rescind the appointment. Rubio was among the seven Senators signing the letter.

Trump vs. Pelosi vs. Mast

Speaker Pelosi wrote to the Democratic caucus this week seeking to inject some “truth” into the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. In her “Dear Democratic Colleagues” letter, Pelosi promised the country will overcome the health and economic crisis before the nation, but added, “success requires one fundamental from which all actions will follow: we need the truth.”

The letter accused Trump of ignoring warnings, dismantling pandemic-fighting infrastructure, calling the pandemic a hoax, and failing to have sufficient equipment and testing capabilities. These failures, Pelosi said, means “a strong economy handed to Donald Trump is now a disaster,” and further described the President as “a weak person” and a “poor leader” who “takes no responsibility.”

Nancy Pelosi injects some truth into Donald Trump’s coronavirus narrative.

That sounds about right to Rep. Val Demings, who is rumored to be on former Vice President Joe Biden’s shortlist as a running mate.

“Speaker Pelosi cuts through the spin: The president has utterly failed to protect us,” tweeted the Orlando Democrat. “As we try to make up for lost time, we have to fully understand the depths of his failures, so we can correct his mistakes and save as many lives as possible.”

While Pelosi was accusing Trump of a lack of leadership, Rep. Brian Mast was doing the same thing to the Speaker. In an op-ed published on, Mast said the House is not accomplishing anything by remaining spread out around the country and called on Pelosi to get everyone back to Washington.

“Congress has been out of session — not even debating new ways to help Americans — for weeks,” the Palm City Republican wrote. “The message to citizens of the United States is clear: our country’s leaders will not make the same kind of personal sacrifices to keep our country running that grocery workers, food service staff, truckers, delivery drivers, bankers, doctors, nurses, first responders and our military are willing to make.”

He likened the situation on Capitol Hill to the one faced by health care workers, who risk their health for the betterment of others. Mast says Congress needs to step forward on behalf of the people they serve.

“If Speaker Pelosi needs to borrow my mothballed protective gear and gas mask to gavel the House into order, so be it,” he continued. “There is work to do and a mission to accomplish.”

Frankel spotlights domestic violence victims

A heartbreaking, but not unexpected effect from orders to stay at home is the rise of domestic violence. Victims, mostly women and children, in proximity to violent partners are more vulnerable to harm.

Rep. Lois Frankel is seeking additional funding to help address the growing problem. A recent report indicated domestic violence cases increased by 79 percent in Treasure Coast counties between March 6 and April 6.

Lois Frankel shines a spotlight on domestic violence during stay-at-home orders.

“People who are victims are now basically prisoners in their own home with their abusers,” the West Palm Beach Democrat said during a Zoom conference with advocates.

The conference also focused on available resources. Frankel also spoke of the funding to help the increased number of victims.

“In the latest action by the Congress — the CARES Act — we provided another $45 million for the Family Violence Prevention Services Act and $2 million for the national domestic violence hotline,” she added. “That money should be flowing back soon through state services.”

Frankel also revealed she had joined with several members in a letter to congressional leadership seeking additional funding.

DWS: Guns not essential commerce

With the Florida and national economy effectively in shutdown mode, some business activity continues when deemed “essential.” The debate sometimes centers on what should be included in that category.

Recently, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz joined with several Democratic colleagues to seek the removal of the gun industry from the essential category. In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf, signees questioned how firearm sales made the list.

Guns are not essential commerce, says Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

“We cannot shoot this virus. Defeating COVID-19 requires bolstering our health systems and diligent social distancing and sanitation measures,” the letter reads. “The National Rifle Association already unleashed a gun violence health menace on this nation, we should not allow gun lobbyists to make this unfolding viral health pandemic any worse.”

Among delegation Democrats signing the letter were Reps. Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Darren Soto and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

“The battle against this pandemic is being fought in homes and hospitals across our nation; we call on the Department of Homeland Security to listen to the research and not exacerbate this already dire situation by keeping gun and ammunition retailers on the list of essential businesses,” the letter added.

Shalala rips ICE secrecy

A controversy arose this week when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was ordered by a federal magistrate to disclose how many contractors and detainees at three South Florida detention centers tested positive for COVID-19. ICE has maintained the third-party contractors were not “staff,” preempting a requirement to disclose such information on their website.

Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman dismissed the argument that a contractor is exempt from complying with requests for public information.

“To the contrary, it is designed to encompass anyone and everyone who works at the three facilities — including, by way of example, employees of third party contractors who provide services and personnel to the detention centers,” he said.

Donna Shalala demands more transparency at the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency. Image via Getty. 

Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala of Coral Gables blasted ICE for their stance.

“(ICE) continues to play games with disclosing how many people it may have exposed to COVID-19,” she tweeted. “ICE does not have the staff or facilities to handle an outbreak among the people in its custody. Nor does it seem to care.”

Goodman gave the government until April 17 to file the information.

Democrats seek reporting transparency

As the death toll continues to climb with the coronavirus, questions arise whether the official count in Florida and other states is accurate, or even close. For example, New York increased its count by 3,778 this week because some who died at home were not previously counted.

That action helped prompt all 13 delegation Democrats to ask Gov. Ron DeSantis to ensure Floridians are receiving “a complete and clear picture” of what is happening in the state. In a letter led by Reps. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Shalala, the members pointed to discrepancies in totals posted by the state and those from county health departments.

Ted Deutch urges Ron DeSantis to be more accurate with coronavirus deaths, illnesses.

“We ask that you work with the Florida Department of Health and county medical examiners to improve the accuracy and transparency of the data reported to the public,” the letter reads. “Doing so will be necessary as we work together to protect the health and safety of Floridians and our visitors.”

They asked specific questions involving the logic of the state reporting statistics, which differentiate between residents and nonresidents. In citing the action taken in New York, the members inquired whether Florida will take comparable action if similar information is revealed.

“We thank you for your efforts to protect Floridians and visitors from COVID-19. Complete, transparent, and accurate reporting about the impact of the outbreak in our state is necessary to improve the response from all levels of government and to save lives,” the letter concludes.

Delegation fights for fishing industry

The Florida delegation is pitching in to help another struggling portion of the state’s economy. Members are advocating for a small portion of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act to be directed to the fishing and seafood industry.

In a letter to Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, both Florida Senators and 25 of 27 House members point out that current conditions are only part of a broad range of problems confronting those who depend on fishing for a livelihood.

Florida’s delegation wants Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to further protect the state’s fishing and seafood industries. 

“Florida’s fishing industries have experienced several crises in recent years. Impacts from Hurricanes Irma and Michael, major fish kills caused by harmful algal blooms, significant habitat loss in the Florida Reef Tract due to coral bleaching and disease, and massive seagrass die-offs in many of our state’s estuaries have taken their toll,” the letter reads.

“Even for those businesses who have endured these events, the economic crisis we face today as a result of the pandemic may prove fatal without your assistance.”

In a separate statement, Rooney said, “This bipartisan effort to ensure that Florida’s fishing and seafood industry receives economic relief is key to financial recovery in Florida. It is imperative that funding in the CARES Act be designated to the Florida seafood industry — including those in Southwest Florida.”

On this day

April 17, 1961 — Slightly more than two years after Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba and sent exiles fleeing to Florida, many of those exiles launched an attack on their homeland, trying to turn the tables. Initial reports indicated the exile force successfully landed, but were facing heavy opposition from Cuban forces.

The U.S. government, who staunchly opposes the Cuban regime, claimed no part of the invasion. Secretary of State Dean Rusk denied any involvement and spoke for President John F. Kennedy by saying “what happens in Cuba is for the Cuban people themselves to decide.”

April 17, 1970 — A harrowing journey came to a safe conclusion when the Apollo 13 space capsule, ironically nicknamed Odyssey, splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after an 87-hour battle for survival after an explosion damaged their spacecraft. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert somehow managed to limp back to earth with many features rendered inoperable.

President Richard M. Nixon declared April 19 a national day of prayer and thanksgiving and will head for Hawaii to welcome the astronauts back on U.S. soil and present each with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On the way, he will stop in Houston to visit the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center and give the wives of the astronauts a lift to Honolulu on Air Force One for the reunion with their husbands.

Staff Reports

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