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COVID-19 & ELECTION-20
As elections draw nearer, incumbents are traditionally blamed for some ongoing problem, whether real, perceived, or imagined. Incumbents, on the other hand, either look to prove that problem was not his or her fault and point the blame in another direction.
Assessing blame for the devastation caused by the COVID-19 virus will loom large in the fall. Democrats are pounding away at the “inadequate” or “slow” response of President Donald Trump and his administration, while Trump is all in on efforts to hold China accountable.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also gets its share of criticism from Trump and Republicans, leading to the U.S. pulling nearly $400 million in funding away from the organization. The criticisms include being too cozy with China and preventing Taiwan from sharing their story of successfully avoiding a health disaster on that island nation.
Since 2016, the WHO has kept Taiwan away from the annual World Health Assembly (WHA), the decision-making body of the WHO. This week, the Senate passed a bill calling for the Secretary of State to develop a strategy for Taiwan to regain observer status in the WHO.
“The United States must stand strong with Taiwan, a fellow democracy and important U.S. security and economic partner, especially in the face of the Chinese Communist Party’s ongoing efforts to isolate and intimidate Taiwan on the international stage,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, one of bill’s 23 bipartisan co-sponsors.
This legislation, which also included Sen. Rick Scott among the co-sponsors, passed by a unanimous voice vote. Scott and Rubio have both supported the withholding of WHO funding and calling for the resignation of Administrator-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The House passed similar legislation early in 2019 after Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho began the effort in 2017 soon after Taiwan was pushed out of the WHO. His bill was tweaked and resubmitted last year, quickly passing unanimously, but the Senate did not act.
“Taiwan’s exclusion from the WHO puts the world at risk,” said Yoho, the ranking member and former chairman of the subcommittee overseeing Asia and the Pacific. “That is why I have called for the re-establishment of Taiwan’s observer status on numerous occasions.”
Next week, the World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO, is holding its annual meeting in a virtual setting. Taiwan is trying to gain access to tell their story, but China is objecting, setting the potential for another week of China-bashing.
Taiwan’s story includes a warning to the WHO in late December of a human-to-human-spreading virus emanating from China. It would be three weeks later before China would admit to the reality of the looming crisis.
Their natural distrust of China led them to begin screening arrivals from the world’s most populous country starting December 31. To date, they have 440 COVID-19 cases and seven deaths without going through a lockdown.
While Trump blocked travel from China to the U.S. (except for returning Americans) January 31, his early statements seemingly downplaying the danger gave critics the brush to paint a picture of a slow response that will be the subject of thousands of 30-second ads.
Testing and safety equipment, or the lack thereof, is a Trump vulnerability that will also be exploited — and countered — for weeks, if not months. What action Trump and China took, along with when they took it, will continue to define the 2020 election cycle.
During most of the current year, Rubio has often written to Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Jovita Carranza. The subject has mostly dealt with COVID-19 and the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), but this week he wrote again inquiring about a topic with which few states are required to cope.
Rubio asked Carranza to provide information on the SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance’s (ODA) preparedness to respond to potential natural disasters. With the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season beginning June 1, he was seeking assurance that small businesses facing potential disasters from the weather can expect the SBA’s assistance if needed.
“The federal government has a significant role in preparedness, response, and recovery from natural disasters for all Americans impacted, no matter the origins,” he wrote. “We must ensure that all proper resources will be available and dispersed to the citizens of our nation in a timely manner.”
He shared the projection of an active hurricane season and described the ODA as “an important lifeline for individuals and small businesses.”
“The federal government has a significant role in preparedness, response, and recovery from natural disasters for all Americans impacted, no matter the origins,” the letter concludes. “We must ensure that all proper resources will be available and dispersed to the citizens of our nation in a timely manner.”
Politicians from both parties frequently use the word “accountability” to bludgeon an official or agency for inferior performance. With that in mind, a group of four Republican Senators led by Scott seeks to scrutinize the performance of the government more closely.
Scott has introduced the Agency Accountability Act that would give Congress the ability to help streamline operations and reduce waste at federal agencies. Joining Scott as bill co-sponsors are Republican Senators Mike Braun of Indiana, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.
“This year’s federal budget deficit will be the largest in the history of our nation. Congress has to get serious about how we are spending taxpayer dollars,” Scott said in a news release. “An easy way to do that is to routinely examine efficiencies at our federal agencies. I did it on the state level as Governor of Florida, and it saved Florida taxpayers millions of dollars.”
The bill creates a review process to routinely evaluate the efficiency of federal agencies, justify their existence in their current structure, and offer recommendations for change in the form of proposed legislation. It calls for ending poor performing or outdated agencies to face a “sunset commission.”
Each federal agency would be reviewed every six years by the sunset commission, who could recommend if any agency should be abolished. In addition, the commission would be called upon to review introduced legislation that calls for establishing a new agency or commission.
Entrepreneur Elon Musk raised quite a stir by threatening to pull his Tesla automobile operations out of Fremont, California, after he was among regional businesses prohibited from reopening. He threatened to move to lower-tax states, including Colorado or Texas, while Florida, among the nation’s lowest-taxed states, was not on Musk’s list.
That did not stop some Florida officials, including Rep. Neal Dunn, from firing off a letter inviting him to move his operations to the Florida Panhandle. In the letter, the Panama City Republican said the state and the region has a lot to offer.
Dunn touted the climate, environment, real estate, educational opportunities, and other benefits. Playing on Musk’s other prominent role, CEO of SpaceX, Dunn mentioned it would be only a “short hop” to the Florida Space Coast.
“I support your efforts to reopen in a safe and responsible manner and return your furloughed employees back to work,” Dunn wrote. “Unfortunately, the actions of Gov. (Gavin) Newsom and local officials do not appear to be designed in a manner to allow Tesla to operate on a level playing field within a highly competitive marketplace.”
Musk noted the other car manufacturers were allowed to reopen their facilities in other states. He took the bold step of reopening anyway and asked enforcement authorities to arrest only him if they came to enforce the order.
Despite Dunn’s efforts, and those of another Panama City resident, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who questioned why Musk would “deal with the dysfunction of California.”
In the end, Musk’s bluster got him what he wanted. Not only was he not arrested, officials caved and allowed his assembly plan to reopen and apparently keep the thousands of jobs the company provides.
As parts of the country slowly begin to reopen, concerns still exist concerning the availability of coronavirus tests and sufficient workers to conduct them. Two House colleagues have a suggestion.
Rep. Michael Waltz and Pennsylvania Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, both in their first term, introduced legislation to create a National Public Health Corps. The corps would employ hundreds of thousands to conduct testing, contact tracing, and eventually even vaccinations of those infected or potentially infected.
Additionally, the effort aims to address both the health and economic crisis by assisting in the creation of a national testing strategy and the hiring of Americans out of work or furloughed because of the virus.
“If we have taxpayer dollars going out the door for these service programs, let’s get a return on that investment that the nation needs right now,” Waltz told CNN.
The corps would serve within the Corporation for National and Community Service and also partner with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in member placement across the United States.
Estimates show the program could initially hire between 200,000 to 300,000 and would cost millions of dollars, which pales in comparison to the trillions already spent and trillions more under consideration in the House.
He added that the bill would provide a “social benefit” of helping individuals learn discipline and leadership skills. He also noted that the Peace Corps volunteers, along with other national service participants, have lost their jobs during the pandemic, and the federal government could “repurpose” them to help address the crisis.
Waltz, a former Green Beret and active Lt. Colonel in the National Guard, and Houlahan, a captain in the Air Force Reserve, both told CNN that their shared background was a motivation to try to give Americans a better way to express their common purpose. The two have previously teamed up on public service legislation.
Also signing on as co-sponsors were Democratic Reps. Darren Soto of Kissimmee and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.
This week, the House introduced the HEROES Act, the latest, and largest, of spending bills designed to help individuals, state and local governments, and entities impacted by the coronavirus. Republicans say the price is too high and seek to slow down the effort, vowing to block the current House bill, which is calling for borrowing $3 trillion more on top of what has already been committed.
Big-spending liberals and budget hawk conservatives alike have already voted for more than $3 trillion in prior spending bills. Still, Republicans seem universally opposed to the latest proposal, and some moderate Democrats may vote “no” when it comes to the House floor.
Moderate Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, who has previously joined a call for a balanced budget, is speaking favorably about the bill. Her views are in line with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who insists Congress must put more money into the economy to prevent long-term damage.
In an interview with Fox News Digital, Murphy said that the bill’s primary goal is to help states and local communities devastated by the self-crippling of the economy.
“This virus knows no borders,” she said. “So, if you have a failed local or state system anywhere in the United States, their inability to manage this public health crisis will find its way into other states because this virus isn’t minding the borders between Florida and Georgia, New York or otherwise.”
Nearly $1 trillion would go to cities, states and tribal governments to prevent layoffs that could include police, firefighters, teachers and providers of other necessary services. Republicans believe it is also intended to help bail out states for debts not related to the virus. Still, Murphy operates on the assumption the funds would cover deficits, not standing debt.
“We cannot allow them to close that (budget) gap by firing teachers or making cuts out of education or from law enforcement or police officers,” she added. “That’s why it’s critically important that we get the HEROES Act passed so that we can get that state and local support out to our state and local governments.”
The House was expected to pass the bill May 15, but Trump said on the eve of the vote it was “DOA. Dead on arrival” in the Senate. House Republicans like Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach claims the bill contains “egregious content,” while Senate Republicans have indicated a desire to assess the effects of previously appropriated funds before spending more and demand protection for businesses from lawsuit liability.
Logan Act repeal?
In 1799 Congress passed the Logan Act, intended to make it illegal for individuals outside of the federal government to engage in foreign policy. While it has never led to any successful prosecutions in over two centuries, Trump has recently suggested Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and former Secretary of State John Kerry had committed Logan Act violations.
Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates suggested in 2017 that National Security Adviser-designate Michael Flynn may have run afoul of that law, that set in motion a process that led to Flynn’s ouster for lying to federal agents. With the ongoing saga of Flynn flaring up again recently, Rep. Greg Steube believes the time has come for the Logan Act to go.
The Sarasota Republican joined with Pennsylvania Republican Guy Reschenthaler to introduce legislation that would repeal the Logan Act. The Time to Repeal an Archaic Policy (TRAP) Act focuses on the insistence by Republicans and Flynn’s attorney that the former three-star general was the victim of a perjury trap with the Logan Act as the hub.
“The Logan Act is just another tool in the deep state’s belt to manipulate the justice system to serve their political agendas,” Steube said. “This law has never been used in the history of our country until the dishonest and politicized FBI used it to try and take down a decorated public servant and attack President Trump’s Administration. It should be repealed immediately to prevent another breakdown in justice like this tragedy.”
Reschenthaler is the original sponsor of the bill, with Steube joining as one of six co-sponsors.
Military child abuse
This week, Palm City Republican Brian Mast joined with California Democrat Gil Cisneros to introduce the End Military-Connected Child Abuse and Neglect Act. The bipartisan bill would improve how the Department of Defense tracks and responds to incidents of child abuse and neglect occurring on military installations or involving military dependents.
Earlier this year, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report outlining 23 recommendations for the Department of Defense to implement. The End Military-Connected Child Abuse and Neglect Act seeks to codify these GAO recommendations.
“Children are among the most vulnerable in our society, and it is clear that protecting the more than 1.2 million children in military families needs to be a higher priority,” Mast said in a news release. “This legislation will ensure we are working together to protect children from abuse and making sure no one slips through the cracks.”
The lawmakers pointed to the fact there are approximately 1.2 million school-aged military dependents around the world, including tens of thousands in the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) schools.
“Incidents of abuse can have a significant impact not only on the victims but also on military families and service member performance,” Cisneros said. “I’m grateful to work with Rep. Mast to introduce this bipartisan bill to ensure the safety of military children and families everywhere.”
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota are introducing a Senate companion bill.
Protecting dementia patients
Among the many things concerning Deutch during the COVID-19 crisis has been the added vulnerability of seniors living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia to scams and other crimes. This week, the Boca Raton Democrat joined with Republican Rep. Reschenthaler to introduce the Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness to Prevent Elder Abuse Act.
According to Deutch and Rescenthaler, this portion of the population is particularly vulnerable to scams as their condition makes it more difficult for them to communicate the crimes to law enforcement or to seek lifesaving assistance from first responders.
Particularly amid the coronavirus pandemic, having best practices will help first responders, and other professionals effectively interact with people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementia targeted by fraud and in need.
“During this pandemic, the health and safety of people living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are at greater risk,” Deutch said in a joint release. “This population is also particularly vulnerable to scammers who try to trick seniors into giving up sensitive information. Developing best practices will help these professionals better treat, protect, and care for the 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and others living with dementia.”
The two lawmakers previously sought to have these protections included in future coronavirus stimulus plans. They introduced this bill shortly after the House unveiled the latest $3 trillion stimulus plan.
Homeless, voting bills
Concern for the homeless has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of those on the street was already an issue in multiple large cities, but the fear of spreading the virus has led to at least one offer of a solution.
Rep. Alcee Hastings has joined with Democratic Reps. Jared Huffman of California and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas to introduce the COVID-19 Shelter Act of 2020. The bill aims to ensure that the federal government supports creative ways to shelter the homeless during and after the coronavirus outbreak.
“In addition to exposing preexisting issues in our housing system, this pandemic has caused many families and workers in Florida and across our nation to face financial challenges, housing insecurity, and other hardships they could have never anticipated,” Hastings said in a joint statement.
“We have a responsibility to address the housing shortages, shelter overcrowding, and other urgent issues this crisis has created for the organizations trying to keep up with the growing need for innovative housing solutions,”
With the virus also having the potential to cause disruptions in elections, Hastings joined with House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina as an original co-sponsor for the VoteSafe Act. The bill’s intent is to expand voting options, including “no-excuse mail-in absentee voting” and improve the safety and accessibility of polling places across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic changes so many aspects of our lives, it is vital that we not allow it to limit our sacred and fundamental access to the ballot box, especially for communities that have experienced voter suppression and systematic disenfranchisement long before this crisis,” Hastings said in a statement.
“This legislation provides critical resources for states and localities to prepare now so that together we can protect a safe and secure process for Floridians and all Americans to cast their ballots.”
The Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy have released their annual ranking of House and Senate members on bipartisanship. Those assessing the scores look at bill proposals, bipartisan cosponsorships by the member, or by how many bipartisan co-sponsors that member acquires on bills he or she introduces.
In the House, Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick is far and away the most bipartisan member, according to the Lugar survey. The highest-ranking Floridian is Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis at No. 32, who earned a score of 1.06.
“Especially in these difficult times, I believe people want their leaders to work together in order to do what’s right for our country and our constituents,” Bilirakis said in a news release. “I consider myself a workhorse, not a show horse — always seeking to work in a bipartisan manner to find areas of common ground on matters that will make a positive difference in the lives of the people I serve, regardless of political affiliation.”
Other delegation members in the Top 50 were Republican John Rutherford ranked No. 41; Soto is at No. 47.
In the Senate, Maine Republican Susan Collins was the runaway leader with an overall score of 4.06, while Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski was second at 2.67. Rubio ranked ninth with a score of 1.50 while Scott came in at number 81 with a score of minus 0.45.
“It’s an honor to be recognized by the Lugar Center and Georgetown University as someone who knows how to work across the aisle and get results,” Rubio said. “All too often partisan squabbles dominate headlines, but the real work of legislating, governing, and leading requires building a bipartisan consensus for ideas.
On this day
May 15, 2000 — With Vice President Al Gore now the apparent Democratic nominee for President, he has the luxury of looking at potential running mates. With Florida a key to his success, Sen. Bob Graham is reportedly under consideration.
Graham, a native of Miami, has been a popular Governor and Senator and he has a chance to draw support from Miami Cuban Americans due to his, as well as Gore’s, opposition to the raid that took young Elian Gonzalez at gunpoint last month. Norm Ornstein, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, described the soft-spoken Graham as “not Mr. Excitement” but is “demonstratively a straight shooter.”
May 15, 2018 — With a summit between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un still on the schedule, Kim’s regime wants it to be known they are no fan of National Security Adviser John Bolton. While expressing “repugnance” toward Bolton’s insistence on denuclearization, Kim also threw doubt into whether the summit will occur.
“It is a ridiculous comedy to see that the Trump administration, claiming to take a different road, still clings to the outdated policy on the DPRK (North Korea),” read an official statement from the regime. “If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit.”
Greetings to Rep. Lois Frankel (May 16).