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Delegation for 5.19.20: Biden leads — vaccine hunt — China investments — Chairman Rubio — Chinese drones

Donald Trump’s reelection hinges on two factors. Joe Biden is hammering him on both.

Polls favor Biden

President Donald Trump’s reelection hopes lie with two factors, beginning with how well he can show that China bears most of the blame for the death and damage caused by the COVID-19 virus. The other part is explaining the administration’s response to the outbreak was either effective or as practical as it could be under the circumstances.

Presumptive nominee Joe Biden and the Democrats will continue to pound away at equipment shortages, and portraying Trump as downplaying the dangers and failing to do all that he could to protect Americans. In some states, Biden and surrogates are likely to link Republican governors with overwhelmed and underperforming unemployment systems — like Florida’s — to Trump.

New polling gives Joe Biden a six-point lead over Donald Trump among Florida voters. Image via AP.

Less than six months out from the November elections, polls show mixed results for the President. His overall job approval is in the mid-40s, while his pandemic performance shows him slightly lower.

The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows the President’s job approval number at between 46 and 47% and his disapproval around 51 or 52. The outliers on either side show a high of 51% approval in The Hill/Harris survey, compared to 41% in the Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Trump is struggling in some of the polling on the coronavirus response. Reuters shows a 40-55% approval to disapproval gap, while CNN’s survey shows a 42-55 gap.

He also faces a messaging mission over when it is safe to reopen the economy. The Economist/YouGov poll shows that 52% believe the economy should not be reopened before “several months” or one year have passed, which Trump and economic experts say is not an option.

Little polling has been done for head-to-head matchups between Biden and Trump, with Biden holding an average lead of between four and five points. In 2016, polls showed there was little doubt Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote, but by varying margins.

That election showed that America elects a president in 50 separate state elections, allowing the possibility of a popular vote loser becoming the overall winner in the Electoral College. A good example comes with the CNN poll showing Biden leading Trump nationally by 51-46 percent, but Trump holding a 52-45 edge among respondents from 15 battleground states.

The poll also shows Biden is more trusted to handle the coronavirus by 51 to 45%, while Trump is more trusted to handle the economy by 54 to 42% margin.

The only Florida poll taken in May shows Biden with a 53 to 47% lead over Trump in the recent Florida Atlantic University survey.

As the state and nation slowly move toward reopening, many chapters remain to be written before November.

Vaccine hunt 

Last week the President revealed an audacious plan to develop a usable vaccine against the COVID-19 virus by late fall. To come anywhere near that time frame, “Operation Warp Speed” will require a combination of round-the-clock research and trials through the use of biological engineering.

Sen. Marco Rubio has joined with Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey and Colorado Republican Cory Gardner to co-sponsor legislation introduced by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand designed to help that and future efforts. The four introduced the Bioeconomy Research and Development Act of 2020.

Marco Rubio has joined with Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey and Colorado Republican Cory Gardner in legislation to speed up the search for a vaccine.

“The preservation of the American economy is reliant on cutting edge innovation, technology and discovery,” Rubio said in a joint news release. “Amid the coronavirus pandemic, it is more important now more than ever that we invest in engineering biology research to help scientists working to develop a vaccine, while also establishing a legal framework to safeguard the research.”

The bill’s sponsors say it would strengthen and broaden engineering biology by establishing an initiative to promote research and development, advance biomanufacturing, develop the future bioeconomy workforce, and establish safeguards to ensure the research is secure and conducted ethically.

It would also establish a committee to coordinate all federal research in engineering biology across the federal agencies. Also, the bill would create an initiative through the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to strengthen and broaden the country’s research capacities.

Chairman Rubio

The Senate Intelligence Committee was looking for new leadership following the announcement by Chairman Richard Burr that he would temporarily step down. The North Carolina Republican, under federal investigation for possible insider trading, announced he would give up his gavel following the revelation that the FBI had seized his cellphone.

Rubio was selected as the acting chairman Monday. Though he was second in seniority among Republicans to Idaho Republican Jim Risch, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Risch will keep his current chairmanship.

Marco Rubio moves up, as Richard Burr steps down.

By the GOP’s own rules, those chairing an “A” committee, such as Foreign Relations, may not chair another “A” committee. This made Rubio the clear choice for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The two-term Republican, who chairs the Small Business Committee (SBC), was eligible for a second chairmanship due to the SBC’s classification as a “B” committee.

“I am grateful to Leader McConnell for his confidence in me to lead the Senate Intelligence Committee during Sen. Burr’s absence from the Chairmanship,” Rubio said in a statement. “The Committee has long been one that conducts its work seriously, and I look forward to continuing that tradition.”

Rubio becomes the second Floridian to lead the committee. Former Democratic Sen. Bob Graham served as chairman from 2001-2003.

Burr could return if he overcomes his legal problems. Still, if not, Rubio would become the committee’s chairman until January and longer if Republicans maintain their Senate majority in the November elections.

China investments

The rift between the U.S.and China has become as wide as the Pacific Ocean as the actions of the world’s most populous nation in the COVID-19 pandemic become better known. Calls for action ranging from sanctions to send the Chinese a bill for American costs have come from within the delegation.

Sen. Rick Scott is among those seeking accountability from China. He has called for a boycott of Chinese products and urges those overseeing investments to stay away from Chinese assets.

Rick Scott calls for a boycott of Chinese goods.

In a letter to U.S. stock exchanges, major pension plans, and underwriters, he warned of the “growing threat” posed by the Chinese Communist regime.

“I write to ask you how you and your organization can continue to feel comfortable selling, purchasing, or underwriting these securities when the risk to U.S. investors is so clear and present,” Scott wrote. “We can no longer allow Communist China to get away with flouting our laws, defrauding our citizens and harming American investments,”

Earlier, Scott joined with Rubio and Republican Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine, calling on anyone with authority to stop the managers of the federal employment and military retirement fund from investing in Chinese assets. Trump quickly replaced three board members, leading to a halt on those investments.

Scott claims China does not play fair and will only respond to an aggressive stance by the U.S.

“I’m a business guy, loved to compete,” Scott said. “These guys are out to lie, cheat, and steal to win.”

Chinese drones

Recently, Rep. Matt Gaetz voiced his concerns to Attorney General William Barr surrounding Chinese-produced drones used by U.S. law enforcement. He is now joined by nearly all of the Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee in pointing out the practice.

Gaetz and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the committee’s ranking member, and the other members have directed their concerns to the officials in the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with jurisdiction over law enforcement resources. Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, Florida’s other GOP committee member, also signed on.

Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz warn about the use of Chinese drones.

In the original letter, Gaetz called on Barr to ground the drones donated by Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) to local and state law enforcement for use in enhancing the monitoring of social distancing. The members fear the Chinese Communist Party may be using the drones to spy on the U.S.

“Although federal law enforcement agencies have warned of potential information security concerns with DJI drones, it is not clear whether state and local law enforcement agencies are fully aware of these issues.” the members wrote.

The concerns first arose when information surfaced that DJI donated several drones to the U.S. and local law enforcement to allegedly assist with social distancing enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gaetz earlier described the drones as “a Trojan horse.”

“Since the Chinese Communist Party routinely uses technology to invasively monitor their citizens, there is no reason to think that they would not use the same technology to spy on Americans,” Steube said. “We have already seen their true colors with the CCP’s handling of COVID-19, so let’s not give them another means to manipulate America’s safety and security.”

Battling future pandemics

Following critical shortages of supplies during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the White House is devising new plans to expand the Strategic National Stockpile. The plans include ensuring there is a 90-day supply of testing resources and essential drugs to serve as a safety net while the U.S. boosts manufacturing capacity.

To that end, Trump issued an executive order to allow U.S. International Finance Corporation CEO Adam Boehler to issue targeted loans that support the production of supplies and assist with response and recovery. Rep. Ted Yoho was among those cheering the move.

Ted Yoho is cheering a move to bolster the nation’s medical supplies.

“I applaud President Trump for mobilizing the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation to help rescue American businesses and consumers,” the Gainesville Republican said in a news release. “The DFC was created with the mission to invest in developing nations in order to aid in the development of their economies for sustainable trade while promoting stable and sovereign governance — moving countries from ‘aid to trade.’”

Many local and state governments were not prepared for the health crisis that developed, with the federal government unable to fill some of those gaps quickly. A senior official in the Trump administration admitted many supplies “were never in the Strategic National Stockpile. They will be in the Strategic National Stockpile going forward.”

The stockpile was designed for bioterror threats in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and not for a pandemic such as the coronavirus. Repurposing for pandemic needs could prove to be an extremely important step if the second wave of infections emerge in the fall, as some public health experts predict.

According to a White House spokesperson, financing for the loans made under the new authority will come through the Defense Production Act fund at the Treasury Department. Congress recently appropriated $1 billion to the fund for coronavirus prevention and response as part of the CARES Act.

“Under the leadership of Adam Boehler, I can think of no better organization, with the necessary expertise to help guide America’s economy out of recession by repairing our domestic supply chains and moving many of those back home from abroad, Yoho concluded.”

VP talk

Biden’s filed his list for running mates with Democratic talent, including Governors, Senators, former rivals for the presidential nomination, and at least one member of the House. Although her national profile is not as large as other known candidates, Rep. Val Demings of Orlando is again attracting an increasing amount of attention from Biden advisers, donors, and Democrats in Congress.

After joining Demings on a virtual campaign stop at a food bank in Orlando, Biden acknowledged her appeal, telling Orlando’s ABC affiliate that “She is one of a group of close to a dozen really qualified and talented women who are on the list. She’s a very competent, very capable person.”

Demings told POLITICO that she is honored even to be considered.

Voices are rising as to why Val Demings would be a good VP pick.

“The American dream is alive and well if you work hard enough and you have enough people supporting you,” she said.

If Biden is open to advice from someone who will probably not vote for him, conservative Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby made a case why Demings would be a good choice for him and Democrats.

Jacoby touts her personal and career background, the fact that her home state is a battleground, her short but impressive tenure in Congress, her “middle-of-the-road” voting record, and her “wholesome and likable” private life are all reasons that she would be an “inspired choice.”

If there is a downside, Biden is thought to be leaning toward a running mate tested by a major state or nationwide campaign, which Demings does not yet have on her resume.’ Her profile did rise through her role as a House impeachment manager while representing an area along the I-4 corridor cannot hurt.

Three names, Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar, are thought to be front-runners for the post, although no one outside the campaign is in a position to keep score. Biden’s advisers say that he’s going to make the ultimate decision based on “his gut” and plans to make an announcement in July.

Biden adds Castor

Understanding the need for party unity to defeat Trump, the Biden campaign announced six policy task forces that prominently feature supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Among those announced was a climate change task force to be co-chaired by former Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry as well as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Media coverage focused heavily on the presence of Ocasio-Cortez to the exclusion of other appointees, including Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa. Castor, who chairs the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, was honored by her appointment.

Kathy Castor has been named to serve on Joe Biden’s climate task force.

“It’s very humbling,” Castor said. “While we grapple with the COVID-19 public health emergency, we cannot exacerbate the other emergency, and that’s the climate crisis.”

Biden was clearly reaching out to one of the most vocal Sanders supporters in Ocasio-Cortez. While the Green New Deal, of which she is a co-creator, does not carry broad support, Castor brings some bona fides to the task force and comes from a crucial swing state.

“To say the least, I’m enthused to help lead the way and work with action-oriented folks,” Castor said. “In Florida, we have more at stake than just about any other state in the country.”

Pandemic preparedness

The Defense Production Act (DPA) has recently been used to require some American companies to switch to producing emergency supplies. Employing the act is rare, but it was necessary to combat the once-in-a-century COVID-19 virus.

Rep. Vern Buchanan has signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation amending the Defense Production Act to ensure the availability of critical medical supplies, such as protective equipment and testing kits. The SAVE Act, sponsored by Arkansas Republican French Hill, also requires the President to create a long-term strategy on securing medical article supply chains.

Vern Buchanan joins with Arkansas Republican French Hill to help ensure an adequate national supply of medical products.

“We should never again be caught unprepared in the face of a pandemic,” the Longboat Key Republican said in a news release. “If we have learned anything over the past three months, it’s that we need to strengthen our medical supply chain and be less reliant on other countries.”

The coronavirus pandemic has led to global shortages in medical supplies, including personal protective equipment and pharmaceuticals. Buchanan’s office pointed out, “the Chinese government intentionally concealed the severity of COVID-19 from the international community in early January while it stockpiled medical supplies by both increasing imports and decreasing exports.”

“As we confront the coronavirus, it has become clear how dangerously reliant we are on other countries for vital medical and protective equipment,” Buchanan said. “That’s why we must act swiftly to ensure that America is never again forced to rely on other countries for lifesaving medical supplies.”

Reservoir project delayed

The on-again-off-again saga of the South Florida reservoir designed to protect communities from the release of toxic water from Lake Okeechobee is off again, or at least for another year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) is refusing to reclassify the project, a requirement to immediately begin funding it, causing a delay of at least one year.

The COE’s decision was relayed to Republican Rep. Brian Mast of Palm City in a telephone call from R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. Both U.S. Senators and South Florida representatives were deeply disappointed with the decision, citing the “shared vision” of Trump, the Florida delegation and Gov. Ron DeSantis to reclassify the project as “ongoing” to speed up its progress.

Brian Mast is urging R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, to get the reservoir project back on track.

“However, the Army Corps’ bureaucracy has proved an impediment to this vision shared by the President, Congress, and the State of Florida, by incorrectly interpreting the law and insisting that the EAA (Everglades Agricultural Area) requires a ‘new start’ designation,” Mast said in a joint statement with Rubio and Naples Republican Rep. Francis Rooney.

“Through the 2018 Water Resources Development Act, Congress was crystal clear that the EAA reservoir is a part of the Central Everglades Planning Project, and does not require a ‘new start’ designation.”

In a separate statement, Scott also expressed frustration with the decision by the COE, lamenting the delays it will cause.

“Congress and President Trump were clear when they passed and signed the 2018 Water Resources Development Act into law that the EAA reservoir was a part of the Central Everglades Planning Project,” Scott said in a separate statement.

“The Army Corps of Engineers reversing course will slow the great progress we have made, and I will be working with the Florida Congressional delegation to ensure this is addressed.”

Swastikas in cemeteries

Some German soldiers captured during World War II died in the United States while in captivity. Two national cemeteries located in Texas and Oklahoma are among the final resting places of some of those soldiers. Still, only two have swastikas adorn the headstones of three soldiers who fought for the Nazis, but whose bodies were unclaimed after the war.

Among those outraged include Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. In a statement, she demanded the removal of the symbol of hatred that resulted in the death of 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands more who fought in the war.

One of two German graves bearing swastikas in federal veteran’s cemeteries.

“It is deeply troubling and terribly offensive that swastika-adorned headstones that include messages honoring Hitler continue to stand in this nation’s Veterans Affairs National Cemeteries,” she said in a statement. “Allowing these gravestones to remain with the swastikas and messages in place — symbols of hatred, racism, intolerance, and genocide — is offensive to veterans who risked, and often lost, their lives defending this country and our way of life.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (Veterans Affairs) is aware of the controversy, but does not intend to remove or alter the headstones in question. A Veterans Affairs spokesman told Salon the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 permits their presence and the Veterans Affairs “will continue to preserve these headstones, like every past administration has.”

“Families who visit their loved ones who are buried in the same cemeteries with the Nazi soldiers whom they fought against, should never have to confront symbols of hatred that are antithetical to our American values,” added Wasserman Schultz.

“The VA’s decision to leave the swastika’s in place, as well as the messages honoring Hitler, while ignoring calls to take the headstones down is callous, irresponsible and unacceptable — and comes at a time when documented anti-Semitic incidents in the United States have reached a new high.”

Outreach needed

Experts claim that a key to defeating the COVID-19 virus is to unleash antibodies in the blood developed through exposure and recovery from the virus. A bipartisan group of legislators joined together to write the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a call to step up efforts to enlist the public’s help.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the first member of Congress to contract the disease, has joined with South Carolina Democrat Joe Cunningham and Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota to write to CDC Director Robert Redfield and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn asking for more aggressive messaging of the benefits of plasma donation.

Mario Diaz-Balart wants better messaging on plasma donations. Image via Getty.

“Given the unprecedented scale and nature of this outbreak, is it critically important that we support the development of safe and science-based treatments. In some cases, clinicians and investigators rely on plasma donation by people who have recovered to develop these treatments,” the lawmakers wrote.

The federally sponsored Expanded Access program for convalescent plasma, an investigational treatment for COVID-19, involves giving patients with a coronavirus infection an infusion of antibody-rich plasma from someone who has recovered from the virus. Diaz-Balart and Cunningham are both survivors of COVID-19, as is Klobuchar’s husband, John Bessler.

“We understand that FDA and CDC have taken initial steps to encourage plasma donation by partnering with outside organizations, issuing guidance on plasma collection, and developing an informational webpage,” they added. “We encourage FDA and CDC to take additional steps to effectively share these resources with the public, people who have recovered from coronavirus, and hospitals and health systems caring for patients with the virus.”

GAO review sought

Delegation Democrats are continuing their calls to both fix Florida’s beleaguered unemployment system, or get to the bottom of what went wrong. After urging DeSantis to conduct a review, which he has agreed to do, they are now calling for a federal review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In a letter to Gene Dodaro, the Comptroller General of the United States, the members highlighted the problems with the Florida system both before and after the onset of the COVID-19 virus. Since federal dollars are involved, they seek a review to determine where the problems began.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz seeks federal intervention in Florida’s unemployment website fiasco.

“According to an analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data performed by The Associated Press, nearly 7 of every 8 Floridians who filed unemployment claims from mid-March to early April were still waiting on the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) to process their claims by the end of April,” they wrote. “This represents the worst rate in the country.”

The overall purpose, said Wasserman Schultz, is to seek “recommendations on what can be done and give us some guidance on how we got into this horrific mess and honestly help us hold accountable — since it is the government accountability office — those that are responsible for it.”

All 13 Democratic members of the delegation signed the letter.

On this day

May 19, 1992 — The recent riots in Los Angeles followed shortly after the acquittal of four police officers shown beating Rodney King. Vice President Dan Quayle expressed his belief that it goes deeper, including a deteriorating fabric of American society, which he described as “a poverty of values.”

Offering up an example, Quayle pointed to the television show Murphy Brown where Brown, portrayed by actress Candice Bergen, had a child out of wedlock. He said that “even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood, network TV, the national newspapers routine jeer at this, I think most of us in this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong.”

May 19, 2015 — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is all in on the release of 55,000 emails by the State Department, which covers her tenure as the top U.S. diplomat. She said: “I want those emails out” at a campaign rally in Iowa.

Clinton drew the interest of Republicans when it was learned she conducted her private and official business on a private server located at the Clinton home in Chappaqua, New York. A federal judge ordered their release, but Clinton said she had no control over the timing, adding” “They are not mine. They belong to the State Department.”

Happy birthday

Greetings to Rep. Greg Steube (May 19).

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