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The death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police has exposed the rift between races to be much more extensive than previously thought. While the U.S. stands for the “United States,” at no point in recent memory has “United” been so distant from “States.”
Americans from all walks of life condemned the actions of the four officers surrounding Floyd’s death. The aftermath exposed the disconnect, characterized by Democratic Rep. Val Demings as the “ghost in the room,” between those seeking an end to violence and those participating or cheering on the outpouring of emotion.
Legitimate protesters were joined by those who wished to exploit the situation as well as by anarchists and other troublemakers. Many in the delegation stood up for protesters while calling out the actions of those committing crimes.
After a flare-up in her community, West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel lamented “respectful interactions between participants and police should not be overshadowed by a night of vandalism by a small group of people whose actions were counterproductive and wrong.”
Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson urged protesters to listen to Floyd’s brother, Terrance, urging them “don’t wild out.”
President Donald Trump offered sympathy for the death of Floyd, but also expressed increasing impatience with the unrest, calling mayors and governors “weak” for not restoring law and order. His offers of National Guard assistance to the states earned the support of St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz, saying, “the rest of America has rights, too.”
The President said earlier this week that authorities need to “dominate” activists and “take back” the streets, prompting Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey to describe the President as “scum.” GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz wanted to see Antifa “hunted down” (see Gaetz v. Twitter below).
In one of the more politically polarizing moments of the unrest, vandals set fire to the venerable St. John’s Church across from the White House. The following day, protesters were forced out of the area with the help of smoke canisters and pepper balls before the President walked to the front of the church, where he was photographed holding a Bible.
In Tallahassee, a man drove a pickup truck through a group of peaceful protesters, fortunately without serious injuries, before being arrested. Democratic Rep. Al Lawson, who represents the area in Congress, condemned “violence of any kind.”
“Every American has the right to assemble,” he said. “We can disagree peacefully and respectfully, but violence should never be the answer.”
Later in the week, Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray announced they had uncovered evidence that Antifa “and other groups of different political persuasions,” as well as “foreign actors (are) playing all sides to exacerbate the violence.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, interim chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, warned of foreign involvement shortly after the protests broke into riots.
No poll was needed to gauge that an overwhelming majority of most Americans wanted the four officers to face severe charges for Floyd’s death. A majority would want those who killed innocent people and caused mayhem during the riots to face the consequences as well, but for the African American community, nothing short of stopping disparate treatment and further incidents exemplified by the killing of Floyd or Eric Garner will do.
Demings, with her many years in law enforcement, is taking a step by proposing legislation that would establish national police standards involving hiring and training. Other ideas are likely to emerge, but until there is some consensus, the divisions are unlikely to narrow.
Last week’s SpaceX launch from Cape Canaveral marked the official return of the U.S. space program. The public/private partnership laid out the path for future space operations in the U.S.
To further that goal, Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott helped lead a bipartisan effort to enhance those partnerships further, bolster U.S. leadership in the space industry, and further increase American innovation.
Rubio sponsors the American Space Commerce Act of 2020, with Scott, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, along with Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California serving as original co-sponsors.
“American leadership in the space industry has, and will continue to be, a pillar of our nation’s economy that every American should take pride in,” Rubio said in a joint news release. “The American Space Commerce Act will strengthen the space industry’s public-private partnerships with American companies and ensure that our nation continues to be a global industry leader.”
The legislation seeks to build on the successful cooperation between NASA and SpaceX, with other companies such as Boeing and Blue Origin poised to be major parts of the effort to return to the moon by 2024. The bill provides economic incentives, defines “qualified space launch property,” and only considers a spacecraft launched in the U.S. if the craft is substantially made domestically or launched from aircraft originating from the U.S.
“Our nation is competing against known adversaries like Communist China and Russia in the space launch industry, and we must put American interests and national security first,” Scott said. “I’m proud to sponsor the American Space Commerce Act to enhance our nation’s self-reliance in the space industry, prioritize American businesses, and ensure our nation remains a leader in space exploration.”
Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge and Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg introduced the companion bill in the House on May 8.
Many issues have fallen from prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing confrontations in communities around the country following the death of Floyd in Minneapolis. Among those is climate change, the subject of a joint effort by Rubio and Feinstein.
They have called on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the first federal financial regulator to create a climate risk working group, to include specific recommendations for addressing the financial risk of climate change in the upcoming report by its Climate-Related Market Risk Subcommittee.
In a letter to Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chairman Bob Litterman, the Senators pointed to the threats facing the financial system and the financial well-being of individuals. They seek “reasonable, responsible, nonideological, and common-sense recommendations” for mitigating the risks of climate change to the U.S. financial system.
“We appreciate that the CFTC recognizes the importance of climate change risk, and we encourage you to produce robust and specific recommendations for understanding and mitigating the risks of climate change to the U.S. financial system,” the senators wrote.
“Most experts understand that climate risk is a serious source of financial instability, and we are pleased to see a U.S. financial regulatory agency make recommendations that multiple federal regulators may be able to use as a model. It is essential to adapt our financial system to climate-related risks, and we look forward to reviewing the subcommittee’s recommendations.”
Rubio falls into the category of acknowledging climate change, but has stated that the role of humans is less than conventional wisdom holds. He has previously advocated for “adaptive solutions” while confronting the issue.
Gaetz vs. Twitter
Last week, Twitter screened a tweet from Trump, which they described as the President “glorifying violence.” This earned the wrath of the President as well as Gaetz, who this week earned the same sanction from the social media giant.
With rioting and anarchy taking over the news cycle from those peacefully protesting the death of Floyd, Gaetz tweeted a desire to “hunt down” Antifa, whom Trump earlier labeled as “domestic terrorists.”
“Now that we clearly see Antifa as terrorists, can we hunt them down like we do those in the Middle East?” he said.
In a subsequent tweet, he described the Twitter warning as a “badge of honor” and accused them of “enabling” Antifa while pledging to “keep saying it.” He further retweeted postings from others that could be described as glorifying violence without interference from Twitter and hinted at House Judiciary Committee hearings.
Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler will need to agree to that agenda.
Protecting fire departments
The Heroes Act, recently passed by the House of Representatives, contained provisions designed to provide more financial relief for individuals as well as local and state governments. It also included a provision causing Rep. Al Lawson some concern.
Lawson, whose district in North Florida contains several rural counties, is bothered by a waiver in the bill that would eliminate the requirement that FEMA allocate 25% of the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) awards go to volunteer fire departments. He sent a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate, urging the waivers not to be included in the next round of COVID-19 aid that Congress passes.
“Volunteer fire departments have been hit hard by the impact of COVID-19 and are experiencing higher-than-normal staffing losses because volunteers are concerned for their personal health and that of their families,” Lawson said in the letter.
“I believe that waving these protections would put our volunteer and small departments in Gadsden, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Baker and Columbia counties at a disadvantage when applying for emergency AFG funding because they would now be competing for grants against larger departments such as New York City and Miami-Dade.”
The AFG funding is awarded to fire departments and nonaffiliated EMS organizations based on a competitive grant process. According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, 44% of respondents reported that staff was unwilling or unable to volunteer.
According to Lawson, several emergency services are struggling to obtain critical personal protective equipment (PPE). Without the ability to access AFG funding, these shortages will inevitably increase, putting volunteer and small fire departments at an even greater disadvantage.
Among the letter’s 17 co-signers is Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach. It could be a moot point as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has dubbed the Heroes Act an “unserious” piece of legislation.
Bringing minerals home
Relations with China have gone downhill in recent years, but plummeted since the onset of the COVID-19 virus, which originated there. Calls to reduce America’s dependence on Chinese goods have steadily increased in recent weeks, with Waltz frequently speaking out on the topic.
He has introduced the American Critical Minerals Exploration and Innovation Act that seeks to bring the U.S. supply chain from China back to America, therefore reducing dependence on foreign sources of critical minerals. These minerals have applications in health care, defense systems and renewable energy,
“From health care to electronics and our defense systems, critical minerals are integral to our way of life. Unfortunately, China currently has a stronghold on the supply of these natural resources,” Waltz said in a news release.
“As coronavirus has unfortunately demonstrated, if China can threaten to cut off our pharmaceutical supply, they can do the same with their supply of rare earth minerals. We need to bring this supply chain back to America — and this bill will be an important step to do that.”
China has dominated and controlled the critical minerals market for years. Fourteen of the 35 critical minerals identified by the United States Geological Survey are imported to the U.S. at a rate of 100%.
Specifically, the bill looks to permit reform, look into recycling efficiency and alternatives, designate critical minerals by publishing periodic updates via the Secretary of the Interior, support innovation at mining schools, and manage mineral resources.
According to literature released by the House Committees on Science, Space and Technology and the Committee on Natural Resources, “Ensuring a stable supply of critical minerals starts with encouraging responsible critical minerals production and innovation here at home.”
The bill has 37 Republican co-sponsors, including Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge. Rubio introduced a similar bill, the RE-Coop 21st Century Manufacturing Act, in the Senate on July 11, 2019.
As businesses slowly begin to reopen, those returning to the workplace must feel certain that the place of business has been adequately sanitized. Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Republican Rep. Darin LaHood of Illinois have introduced bipartisan legislation to incentivize companies to properly clean their places of operation after lifting the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Clean Start: Back to Work Tax Credit legislation would create a temporary tax incentive to help offset increased costs of cleaning and disinfection needed to combat the virus. The legislation looks to protect both workers and customers.
“As our economy begins to gradually reopen, responsible business owners will want to do everything possible to safeguard their workers and customers from COVID-19,” Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, said. “This temporary tax credit will help businesses afford cleaning services and supplies, which will protect public health and spur economic activity.”
Many businesses do not have the expertise, products, or trained personnel to disinfect the virus properly. The tax credit would be available to businesses to apply toward the expense of industry-recognized training and certification, contracting a cleaning company and/or the purchase of necessary cleaning products and other supplies.
Murphy said research suggests the virus can survive on surfaces for days unless appropriately disinfected. As a result, the combination of properly trained and certified cleaning personnel and the right supplies are critical in helping prevent further spread. Cleaning costs associated with the virus are up to 50% higher than they usually would be.
Each business entity, commercial property owners and management companies will be eligible for a 50% tax credit of up to $25,000 per location, or up to a maximum of $250,000 per business entity. Eligible expenses must be made by March 31, 2021, to help offset the increased costs associated with a potential “second wave” of COVID-19 during the fall or winter.
The legislation has the support of numerous industry associations.
Last week, Congress took up two bills reported to improve the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). One enjoyed nearly unanimous support, while the other narrowly failed despite enjoying bipartisan backing.
The Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act increases the length of time companies have to use PPP loan funds from eight weeks to 24 weeks and pushes back the June 30 deadline to rehire workers. The bill, which passed by a vote of 417-1, also addressed complaints about the high cost of living states to reduce the required percentage of the loans dedicated to payroll from 75% to 60%.
“Ultimately, small-business owners know what is needed to keep their businesses running better than the federal government, and this fix will give them the flexibility to do just that,” Claremont Republican Daniel Webster said in an email to constituents.
Among the bill’s 86 co-sponsors were Democratic Reps. Kathy Castor and Ted Deutch, along with Republican Rep. Neal Dunn. McConnell pledged to move the bill toward passage as quickly as possible.
The Small Business Transparency and Reporting for the Underbanked and Taxpayers at Home Act, or the TRUTH Act, was designed to require the Small Business Administration (SBA) to make information regarding those receiving PPP loans publicly available.
Despite earning 269 votes, the bill failed by 10 votes because it required a two-thirds majority. All Democrats voted for the bill, while 38 Republicans, including Gaetz, Posey, Mario Diaz-Balart, John Rutherford and Greg Steube also supported it.
Hurricanes, pandemics and unrest
After several relatively quiet years during hurricane season, the past three years have seen death and destruction in Florida. As a pandemic and civil unrest blanket the nation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is calling for 13-19 named storms and 6-10 hurricanes with three to six of those 10 becoming major hurricanes.
This week marked the beginning of the Atlantic hurricane season, which has captured the extra attention of officials trying to keep social distancing in order while dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. The co-chairs of the Florida delegation took the opportunity to urge preparedness for a potentially damaging season.
“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, hurricane preparation will look different this year. You should give yourself more time to prepare your emergency supplies of food, water and medicine, using delivery whenever possible,” said Democratic Rep. Hastings of Delray Beach in a statement.
Two named storms, Arthur and Bertha, formed in May, but did little damage. Cristobal is a threat to become a hurricane and move through the Gulf of Mexico west of Florida in the coming days.
“I’m pleased to see that Florida officials are incorporating necessary safety and social distancing practices into their evacuation and shelter guidelines in order to help prevent the spread of this deadly virus,” Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key said in a separate statement. “Smart planning and preparation help save lives and protect property.”
Following the war in Vietnam, thousands of military personnel returned home and fell victim to the cancerous side effects from exposure to Agent Orange. Veterans of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeing the effects of exposure to open-air burn pits, where trash and human waste were used for disposal.
Like Agent Orange, the pits are known to emit toxins that can lead to cancer. Rep. Brian Mast has joined with Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii to introduce the SFC Heath Robinson Burn Pit Transparency Act tasking the Department of Veterans Affairs with regularly notifying Congress of reported cases of burn pit exposure.
“There’s no doubt that burn pits are the Agent Orange of our generation,” the Palm City Republican said in a news release announcing the legislation. “Service members that were exposed in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeing horrible health effects and are dying as a result.”
In addition to quarterly notifications, the bill requires the VA to submit a biannual report identifying numbers reporting exposure as well as disability claims, the handling of the claims, and a comprehensive list of locations and conditions of the burn pits where veterans were exposed. Health care providers are also required to inform veterans mentioning burn pits about the existing Burn Pit Registry.
“Our veterans deserve care, compensation, and disability benefits,” said Gabbard, the bill’s primary sponsor. “Every day, we lose more of our brothers and sisters, like Heath, to the toxic scars they endured as part of their service to and sacrifice for our nation.”
This legislation builds on Reps. Mast and Gabbard’s Burn Pits Accountability Act, which was passed as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act in December 2019. However, the registry is currently voluntary for veterans, and many are unaware of it.
“We’ve made progress, but much more must be done, which is why we need this bill to track exposure to burn pits so exposed veterans can get the care they need,” added Mast, the legislation’s original co-sponsor.
Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman have filed companion legislation in that chamber.
As Memorial Day approached, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz called attention to the presence of swastikas on the graves of German soldiers buried in VA cemeteries. She demanded the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) promptly remove the symbols from the grave markers.
“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 Weston Democrat said in a statement.
After first citing existing law and historic relevance guiding policy allowing the markers to remain untouched, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie changed course after a bipartisan letter demanding action reached his desk. Wasserman Schultz, chair of the subcommittee overseeing appropriations for Veterans Affairs, was one of the signers of the letter that called the VA’s reluctance “callous, irresponsible and unacceptable.”
Wilkie appeared before Wasserman Schultz’s subcommittee and, shortly after that, advised the VA would begin the legal process of removing the symbols from the markers.
“The families of soldiers who fought against intolerance and hatred must never be forced to confront glorification of those very ideologies when visiting their loved ones,” she said in a news release. “VA’s initial decision to leave the gravestones in place was callous and irresponsible, but today’s decision is an honorable move in the right direction.”
On this day
June 5, 1968 — Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was shot three times by Jordanian immigrant Sirhan B. Sirhan as the brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy had just won the crucial California primary election. Coming only two months after the slaying of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. news of the attack stunned citizens and elected officials alike.
Democratic Rep. Claude Pepper of Miami said: “I don’t know what has come into American life that this sort of thing is beginning to appear.” Democratic Sen. George Smathers, a close confidant of former President Kennedy, said he was “shocked and heartbroken” with the tragic event.
June 5, 2007 — Scooter Libby, the former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is sentenced to 30 months in prison along with a $250,000 fine for perjury and obstruction of justice into the criminal investigation into the leaking of the name of former CIA agent Valerie Plame. The hopes of many Republicans and the concerns of many Democrats centered around the possibility President George W. Bush might quickly pardon the now-convicted Libby.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “The President must not pardon him.” At the same time, Bill Barr, who served as Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush, said there would likely be “a significant political price to pay” and “a tough call to (pardon) at this stage.”
Federal judge confirmed
As the Senate continues to confirm judicial appointees from the President, the latest new federal judge is John Badalamenti. After a 55-22 confirmation vote in the Senate, Badalamenti will be the newest judge for the Middle District of Florida and based in Tampa.
He comes to the federal bench after serving on Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal as an appointee of then-Governor Scott. The Middle District of Florida covers 35 counties spreading from Jacksonville to Fort Myers and includes Tampa and Orlando.
Badalamenti, like many Trump appointees, is a member of the conservative Federalist Society and is only 47 years old. He earned both his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Florida.
“I am pleased that the Senate today confirmed Judge Badalamenti to serve as a federal-district court judge for the Middle District of Florida,” Rubio said in a statement. “Judge Badalamenti is a highly qualified individual who will uphold the constitution from the federal bench. I look forward to continuing to confirm well-qualified nominees to our nation’s federal courts.”