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The preferred communications tool of President Donald Trump is now the subject of his wrath. When Twitter decided to fact-check Trump tweets promising fraud if widespread mail voting was implemented, the social media giant took the unusual step of sending readers to links contradicting Trump’s statements.
As expected, Trump exploded using Twitter’s platform to accuse them of interfering in the 2020 elections and “stifling free speech,” which he vowed to “not let it happen.” On the other side, Trump’s opponents were deeply disappointed that Twitter didn’t fact check or remove outrageous tweets surrounding the death of a former intern working for then-Rep. Joe Scarborough nearly 20 years ago.
While the President has no authority to shut down any social media platform, Sen. Marco Rubio offered a preview of what was to come shortly after Twitter took its step.
“The law still protects social media companies like @Twitter because they are considered forums, not publishers,” Rubio tweeted. “But if they have now decided to exercise an editorial role like a publisher, then they should no longer be shielded from liability & treated as publishers under the law.”
Those opposing Rubio’s view argued social media platforms cannot be tagged as publishers by the mere act of providing contrasting views to a particular tweet. Republican Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine said if Twitter is going to police Trump, they had better start doing the same with China.
“I don’t know when Twitter decided it was the arbiter of truth in the United States, but if it’s going to decide to try to be that, then it needs to focus on the propaganda machine coming out of China,” he said. “We’re finding China on one hand denies its own citizens. It bans Twitter, bans Facebook. It is all over those platforms internationally,” added Waltz.
In a White House press event, Trump announced an executive order putting in motion a process designed to hamper social media’s ability to take actions similar to those taken by Twitter by holding them liable for violations. While the President cannot unilaterally change a platform’s status from forum to publisher, he is calling on Congress to take that action and claimed bipartisan support for it.
“We’re here today to defend free speech from one of the greatest dangers it has faced in American history, frankly, and you know what’s going on as well as anybody. It’s not good,” Trump told reporters.
Bills that would remove liability protections are in the works in the House and Senate. Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz said he was working on a bill, as did GOP Sen. Josh Howley of Missouri.
As Minneapolis descended into chaos following the death of George Floyd while in police custody, Trump lashed out on Twitter, criticizing local leadership. A subsequent tweet, screened by Twitter, said the military is ready if called and added, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Round Two of Trump v. Twitter promises to be a parallel sideshow to the ongoing tragedy of Floyd’s death and Minneapolis burning.
As the Chinese government announced its intention to “unilaterally and arbitrarily impose national security legislation on Hong Kong,” the Trump administration said it no longer considers Hong Kong as autonomous. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certified to Congress “that Hong Kong does not continue to warrant treatment under United States laws in the same manner as U.S. laws were applied to Hong Kong before” the 1997 agreement between Great Britain and China.
The U.S. move will affect trade and other cooperative actions between the two, prompting fears China may seek to make a similar move involving Taiwan. Rubio, who chairs the foreign relations subcommittee that oversees human rights and democracy, praised the U.S. action while lamenting the circumstances.
“For years, the Chinese government and Communist Party have walked back on its commitment to ensure autonomy and freedom for Hong Kong,” Rubio said in a statement. “I applaud the Trump Administration for taking the necessary step, as required under my Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, to protect American interests and safeguard the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”
U.S. policy dictates that Hong Kong can no longer enjoy a favored trading status if it is no longer considered autonomous.
“We cannot let Beijing profit from breaking the Sino-British Joint Declaration and trying to crush the spirit of Hong Kong’s people,” Rubio said.
Both Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott have recently described U.S. relations with China as that of being in a “cold war.”
Intelligence officials recently revealed China was attempting to hack into research underway in the U.S. to develop and market a vaccine to combat the COVID-19 virus. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said, “when it comes to COVID-19 research, understand that we have some bad actors. “China, specifically cyber actors.”
That revelation prompted Scott and six GOP colleagues to file the COVID-19 Vaccine Protection Act to prevent China from stealing or sabotaging American COVID-19 vaccine research.
It also requires a thorough national security evaluation and clearance by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation of all Chinese student visa holders taking part in activities related to COVID-19 vaccine research.
“Communist China is responsible for the Coronavirus pandemic, and their lies and misinformation cost American lives,” Scott said in a news release. “We cannot let Communist China off the hook for this, and we absolutely cannot allow Communist China to steal or sabotage any American research efforts related to the Coronavirus vaccine.”
Joining Scott as co-sponsors are Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Martha McSally of Arizona, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Also, U.S. officials are warning American firms to exercise “extreme caution” to protect against theft.
Small business SOS
The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has provided more than $500 billion in loans or grants to help small businesses keep employees on the payroll during the coronavirus pandemic with another $100 billion still in the pipeline. Democratic Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee believes more is needed, especially for minority small-business owners.
Lawson has joined with Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts to sponsor the Saving Our Streets (SOS) Act, which would provide non-publicly traded small businesses and nonprofits with up to $250,000 in grants. The SOS Act establishes a Microbusiness Assistance Fund of $124.5 billion to provide grants up to $250,000 to small businesses with fewer than 10 employees.
“Our small businesses contribute trillions to the U.S. economy each year, but unfortunately, they are not finding the federal relief they need to keep functioning,” Lawson said in a news release. “From hair salons to barbershops, many small-business owners are in need of immediate financial assistance.”
Lawson said the funding would be reserved for the small businesses earning under $1 million in revenue a year, while nonprofits with less than $500,000 in gross receipts and fewer than 10 employees will also be able to receive funding. Funds cannot be used to pay salaries over $100,000, and 75% of the funding goes to historically underrepresented businesses, including minority-owned businesses.
“From the very beginning of this public health crisis, I have continually called for greater federal assistance for truly small businesses, including minority-owned, women-owned, and veteran-owned businesses,” Lawson added. “The Saving Our Street Act is another tool in the toolbox to get money down to those small businesses and into the communities that need it most.”
Among the bill’s 30 other co-sponsors was Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings. Sen. Kamala Harris will sponsor companion legislation.
Despite the disappointment of postponing the scheduled space launch earlier this week, Reps. Darren Soto and Democratic colleague Bill Flores of Texas introduced bipartisan legislation that looks to improve space exploration. Both were in Cape Canaveral hoping to witness the historic resumption of the U.S. space program, but must now wait until Saturday at the earliest.
The Leveraging American Understanding of Next-generation Challenges Exploring Space (LAUNCHES) Act, seeks to eliminate unnecessary barriers hindering the ability of private companies to obtain spectrum licenses required to launch rockets into space domestically. Additionally, it looks to streamline the bureaucratic aspects of the rocket launching process.
“Space exploration has long been an integral part of our national goal to advance humanity, science, and innovation,” the Kissimmee Democrat said in a news release. “However, the extent to which regulations and restrictions have been imposed in the rocket launching process only delay those who seek to make progress on this frontier.”
Currently, all commercial missions from the U.S. use the government-owned spectrum to communicate with the rockets during the 10 minutes it takes to reach orbit. Ahead of the launch, companies must apply to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to receive “Special Temporary Authority” (STA) to use the spectrum.
The FCC coordinates each separate STA license with multiple federal agencies that could possibly all be using the spectrum simultaneously. The bill seeks to streamline this process.
Specifically, the FCC streamlining of the launch authorization process would eliminate the STA process, permit multi-launch authorizations, and automate the frequency review process. Furthermore, it is also consistent with Space Policy Directive-2, issued by the President, designed to streamline federal spectrum regulations while minimizing regulatory burdens.
“Curiosity is a part of the American spirit, and it’s past time we modernize the launch process in a way that’s beneficial to both the federal government and private companies,” Soto concluded.
Mom and pops
While there appears to be some light ahead, the economic fallout from COVID-19 continues to pound small businesses. Small businesses are often defined as those with less than 500 employees, while the smallest, often known as “mom and pop” operations, have as few as one or two.
Rep. Gus Bilirakis has introduced bipartisan legislation designed to ensure the financial solvency of the smallest businesses within communities across the country. The “Maximizing Our Money and Addressing Novel Disasters by Protecting Our Proprietors Act” or “MOM-AND-POP Act,” will require the Small Business Administration (SBA) to put aside funding for businesses with less than 25 employees when allocating funds.
“Our nation’s family-owned businesses, mom-and-pop shops, and sole-proprietors are already trying to compete with national, and sometimes, international competitors during good times,” the Palm Harbor Republican said in a news release. “They are there for our communities, engaging in local charities, teaching our kids entrepreneurial lessons, and bettering our nation. They should not be forgotten in their time of need.”
The set-aside provisions in the bill would apply to any additional appropriations for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and perhaps other similar approved programs under the Stafford Act in response to future emergencies.
Bilirakis pointed to figures provided by the Small Business Administration that revealed 74% of PPP loans distributed in the initial round of funding were less than or equal to $150,000. However, that only equates to 17% of the total dollar amount of the loans that were given out.
The bill, co-sponsored by Delaware Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester, looks to make a minimum of 25% of the total dollar amount allocated to businesses with less than 25 employees. The provisions will ensure businesses such as independent contractors and sole proprietors have access to the necessary capital to weather the financial storm.
“We have to do even more to provide direct support to these small businesses. I understand that they are the backbone of our economy, and I will not stop fighting to ensure our community gets the help it needs,” Bilirakis concluded.
Forcing President’s hand
When emergency supplies were a major concern during the worst times of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump and his administration was frequently criticized for not using the Defense Production Act (DPA) often enough. While there are still some calls for its use, some lawmakers, including St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist, are seeking Congressional authority to force the President to invoke its use.
Crist and Blunt Rochester are joining with original sponsor Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, to co-sponsor the COVID-19 Emergency Production Act. The legislation would force the President to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) if directed by Congress.
“We still don’t have enough tests for everyone who wants one, and our hospitals, health agencies, and first responders continue to compete with each other and the rest of the world for personal protective equipment,” the St. Petersburg Democrat said in a news release. “All 50 states are in some stage of reopening, and shortages will get worse if we see another spike.”
Specifically, the bill would require the President to use the DPA to designate all Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), testing supplies, and any future COVID-19 vaccine as critical material essential to the national defense. Materials would be produced and distributed to states and territories based on requests for supplies in proportion to their population.
Crist points to information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reports less than 4% of the country’s population has been tested, and 13% have come back positive. The group believes the full force of the DPA is required to combat the crisis effectively.
“Everybody should have access to testing; every worker should have the PPE they need to do their jobs safely; and eventually, everyone should be able to get a vaccine,” Crist added. “If the President won’t use his authority under the Defense Production Act to get Americans what we need to beat this virus, Congress must step in and require it.”
Keep them buzzing
Concern for broken food supply chains has led to layoffs and economic calamity for farmers around the country. Though few realize the important link bees provide in the supply chain, some members of Congress are urging the federal government to assist beekeepers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hastings and Illinois Republican Rodney Davis, co-chairs of the Congressional Pollinator Caucus, led a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue requesting he include beekeepers and honey producers as eligible for financial relief under the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). They cite the critical role played by bees in growing the country’s food supply.
“Beekeepers and honey producers in states like Florida and Illinois have shown us their dedication to contributing to the nation’s food supply chain as they continue working during the health and economic crisis,” the letter reads. “But these businesses, like many others, are struggling to adapt to the rapid changes in the market due to the pandemic, including shifting market demand and direct-to-consumer sales.”
They cite statistics showing that 35% of all crops are pollinated by bees, which adds $15 billion in added value. Transportation disruptions have prevented the normal movement of bee populations to areas with crops in need of pollination.
Among those also signing on to the letter were Republican Reps. Neal Dunn, Ted Yoho, and Greg Steube.
Events involving allies and enemies alike play a role in the national security of the United States. Four of the highest-ranking members of the House foreign policy and national security committees believe a thorough review of the Trump administration’s policies in these areas is warranted.
Rep. Ted Deutch has signed on as an original co-sponsor of a bill that would establish a national commission on United States counterterrorism policy, among other things. Sponsoring the National Commission on U.S. Counterterrorism Policy Act is New York Democrat Eliot Engel, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Terror threats against the United States look differently today than even 10 or 20 years ago,” said the Boca Raton Democrat. “We need to stay ahead of the constantly evolving nature of these threats by reviewing and updating our counterterrorism strategies accordingly.”
“The purpose of the national commission would be to ensure that U.S. counterterrorism efforts are effective and balanced at a time when the U.S. faces a growing number of other security challenges and domestic priorities,” added Deutch, who chairs the foreign affairs subcommittee overseeing the Middle East and terrorism.
Other original co-sponsors include Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, and New York Democrat Max Rose, the chairman of the homeland security subcommittee overseeing intelligence and counterterrorism.
Those aged 60 and above are the most at-risk sectors of the population for becoming infected by the COVID-19 virus. Rep. Lois Frankel is sponsoring a bill that would create a resource center for older Americans and create a new grant program for their benefit.
The Protecting the Health of America’s Older Adults During COVID-19 and Beyond Act would establish a National COVID-19 Resource Center for Older Adults under the leadership of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). It would also create the Healthy Aging grant program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“While the COVID-19 pandemic has touched the lives of all Americans, our seniors are at the highest risk,” the West Palm Beach Democrat said in a news release. “This new legislation will establish the research, resources, and collaboration needed at the federal level to ensure we are doing everything possible to keep older Americans safe and healthy during this crisis.”
According to Frankel, the resource center would fill the gaps by fostering collaboration among sectors, including the identification and dissemination of evidence-based practices to assess the most vulnerable older adults. It would also limit exposure of older adults and their caregivers to COVID-19 and better care for older adults who are infected.
The grant program through the CDC would support local and state public health departments to promote older adult health and well-being, as well as provide resources to this vulnerable community.
Joining as co-sponsors are Bilirakis and Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala. Bilirakis describes the bill’s goal as “a moral imperative.” At the same time, Shalala, a former Secretary of HHS, said the legislation would help “fortify our public health system and help us prepare for any future waves of this disease.”
The third original co-sponsor is Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell.
Florida Democrats have often taken the opportunity to criticize Gov. Ron DeSantis for decisions made during the COVID-19 crisis. Still, he has their full support as he seeks authorization to administer the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP). Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens joined with Lawson in a letter to Trump, asking him to grant the request from DeSantis.
“It is our understanding that the Department of Agriculture has taken the position that the limited approval of IA (individual assistance) for Florida is not sufficient for USDA-FNS to approve D-SNAP operations,” they wrote. “Therefore, we request that you grant Florida a full IA declaration, to include authorization of the Individuals and Households Program, which reflects the need for assistance at the household level in all affected areas.”
DeSantis wrote to the White House on March 22, seeking D-SNAP authority along with Disaster Unemployment Assistance, crisis counseling and Community Disaster Loans. The federal government allowed state management for all but D-SNAP.
“Many Florida families are struggling to put food on the table amid this crisis, including households that never needed assistance before the coronavirus pandemic engulfed our state,” Wilson said in a separate statement.
“Disaster food aid would go a long way in helping to ensure that no Floridian is forced to go hungry, and I urge the administration to ensure this program is up and running as quickly as possible.”
The lawmakers asked Trump to use his authority to adjust the program.
“We can immediately help Floridians impacted by the coronavirus pandemic by ensuring that eligible families can have access to D-SNAP benefits,” Lawson said. “By approving this request, we can ensure that food assistance is part of our comprehensive recovery efforts.”
Since COVID-19 turned into a pandemic, the curiously small effects from totalitarian regimes such as China, Iran, and Nicaragua raised skepticism. Growing concern about the true status in Nicaragua is drawing more attention to doctors worldwide as well as in Florida.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the first in Congress to contract and recover from COVID-19, is highly skeptical of the actions coming from the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. Diaz-Balart shared his concerns surrounding the regime’s response and increased human rights abuses with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“I write to express my profound concern regarding human rights abuses and danger posed to the Nicaraguan people by the Ortega regime’s appalling lack of transparency,” the Hialeah Republican wrote.
“For this reason, I respectfully request, within all applicable rules and regulations, that you consider increasing efforts to promote democracy and human rights within Nicaragua while working with independent human rights groups to gather accurate information.”
Reports of “express burials” lead to the conclusion the country is hiding a disaster that could ravage Central America. A doctor now living in exile in Miami said doctors are forced to classify virus deaths as pneumonia or other respiratory causes.
“I respectfully request that you consider coordinating with our allies and international organizations to raise awareness of the human rights abuses in Nicaragua, and that you increase efforts to hear from independent sources in the country that may convey reliable information on increased repression during the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote in conclusion.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell recently responded to constituent concerns about the Crystal Health and Rehab Center in Islamorada. She personally visited the facility after hearing complaints from families of older residents at the facility about a lack of notification of positive testings for the COVID-19 virus.
At least 16 residents have tested positive at the facility, prompting her visit. Despite wearing a mask during the visit and after assurances the area she visited was safe, she learned that was not true and subsequently placed herself in quarantine.
“Out of an abundance of caution and following the advice of health care professionals, I will be getting tested for coronavirus and will remain in self-quarantine until I have the test results back, and my doctor says it is safe for me to leave my home,” she said.
The first-term Democrat from the 26th District said the director pledged family members would receive more timely and complete information on the status at the facility. Mucarsel-Powell has now tested negative for COVID-19.
Others who self-quarantined without becoming infected were Scott, Republican Rep. Gaetz, and Democratic Reps. Wilson, Deutch and Stephanie Murphy.
According to the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW), a conservative organization, Democrats are big spenders with little accountability, while Republicans are held in much higher regard. The organization released the 2019 Congressional ratings with 135 House members and 14 Senators earning the status of “Taxpayer Hero.”
The 2019 ratings scored 80 votes in the House of Representatives and 12 votes in the Senate to come up with scores between one and 100. Those above 80 were “Taxpayer Heroes” while those scoring between zero and 19% were deemed “hostile.
Rubio was among the Senators earning hero status, scoring an 83. Scott received only a “lukewarm” tag by earning a score of 58.
In the House, eight of the 14 delegation Republicans reached “hero” status. Among those were Reps. Bilirakis, Gaetz, Steube, Neal Dunn, Bill Posey, Ross Spano, Daniel Webster and Ted Yoho.
“We applaud the Taxpayer Heroes for their votes to cut wasteful spending and defend the interests of taxpayers,” said CCAGW President Tom Schatz. “In this unprecedented time in American history, the actions of these members are an encouraging sign, and their constituents should congratulate them.”
All 13 delegation Democrats earned the “hostile” tag, with 11 of them receiving a score of one. The two exceptions were Hastings, who scored two points, and Murphy, who earned a score of four.
On this day
May 29, 2015 — In a move sparking controversy, especially in South Florida, the administration of President Barack Obama has removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, an act believed to be a significant step toward normalizing relations with the island nation. Those remaining on the State Department’s list are Iran, Syria and Sudan.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush said Obama seems more interested in “capitulating to our adversaries than in confronting them.” Sen. Rubio, the son of Cuban exiles, said: “I simply don’t understand how the President can, in good conscience, continue these giveaways to the Castro regime …”
May 29, 2019 — In his first public remarks since issuing his report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Special Counsel Robert Mueller disputed claims by President Donald Trump that the results of his two-year investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 elections represented “total exoneration.”
Mueller said the investigation operated on the assumption a sitting President may not be indicted. The former FBI Director added, “If we had confidence that the President did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” while Trump, who has repeatedly called the Mueller probe a “witch hunt,” said via Twitter “the case is closed! Thank you.”
Belated greetings to Sen. Rubio (May 28).