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A SCOTUS blockbuster
As the 2019-20 session nears its end, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling involving workplace discrimination. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that adds lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals to those protected from discrimination by employers.
“Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch for the majority. “We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
The ruling elicited a strong reaction from several delegation Democrats, who hailed the court’s step as something that was overdue and something to celebrate.
“Today is a historic day for the LGBTQ+ community and our country as a whole,” Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg said in a statement. “This landmark ruling sends a wave of hope to millions across the nation, while firmly striking down workplace injustice against our neighbors and loved ones in the LGBTQ+ community.”
At issue was a 1964 civil rights law that specifically made discrimination based on sex unlawful. The LGBTQ community has battled for inclusion as a protected category for decades.
“Thanks to the Supreme Court for being wise and fair, and to all whose activism & courage made this victory possible,” said Rep Al Lawson of Tallahassee on social media.
This issue has not been one Republicans have publicly supported, with few rushing to issue statements of support. The Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), a well-known group comprised of LGBTQ members, also cheered the ruling.
“While we celebrate today, we know that the real work needs to continue in Congress passing bipartisan legislation that will update the Civil Rights Act and remove any ambiguity that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected,” said LCR managing Director Charles Moran in a statement.
Crist and others are now shifting attention to legislation already passed in the House. The Equality Act, which would legislatively extend protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, passed the House 13 months ago by a vote of 236-173 with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart among eight Republicans voting for the measure.
“Tomorrow, we get back to work. The People’s House has already passed the Equality Act to extend civil rights to housing, education and public accommodations,” Crist said. “The Supreme Court stands on the right side of history. Americans are now counting on the Senate to follow suit.”
The bill would also allow the Justice Department to intervene in equal protection actions in federal court on account of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill would further prohibit an individual from being denied access to a shared facility, including a restroom, locker room or dressing room in accordance with the individual’s gender identity.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has shown no desire to bring up the bill for discussion or a vote. Calls for him to do so will grow, but he is just as likely to let the Supreme Court be the final word on the issue for now.
Who’s Zooming who?
Another conflict involving China recently surfaced when the teleconferencing technology known as Zoom recently deactivated at least one and maybe more accounts at the behest of the Chinese government. While Zoom has been a useful tool to conduct meetings and teleconferences during the lockdowns precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Marco Rubio and a group of bipartisan colleagues called out the company.
In a letter led by Rubio and Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden to Zoom’s Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan, a bipartisan group of 12 Senators demanded information why it took such a step after a group held a Zoom meeting on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Zoom admitted they complied with a request from the Chinese government, allegedly to comply with Chinese law.
“We write with deep concern regarding reports that Zoom, a U.S.-based company, deactivated the accounts of two U.S.-based, pro-democracy Chinese activists after they held a Zoom meeting on the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre,” the lawmakers wrote.
“Your company has admitted that it did so at the request of the Chinese government to comply with the laws of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), because some of the participants resided inside the PRC.”
The letter also contained specific questions including whether Zoom, an American company whose servers are located in China, shares information with the Chinese government; who specifically sought the deactivations; and how many other accounts outside of China were deactivated, among other questions.
China does not permit commemorations of the 1989 massacre. For the first time, Hong Kong’s government sought to ban them as well, but several took place anyway.
“Zoom’s millions of daily users across the world who support and demand basic freedoms deserve answers,” they wrote.
Violating trade deal?
The “Phase One” trade deal with China has taken a distant back seat to COVID-19 in recent months. Blaming your trading partner — with good reason — of withholding evidence as to the severity of the coronavirus does not engender mutual trust.
As China pledges it will honor the trade deal, Sen. Rick Scott wants something more tangible. He wrote a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer requesting information about Communist China’s failures to live up to its commitments.
“We know Communist China is a country that never keeps its word,” Scott wrote. “They have stolen our technology and have refused to open their markets to foreign goods as required by their participation in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“Nations around the world are fighting the coronavirus pandemic that spread because of Communist China’s lies and misinformation. Now, based on reported information, China is openly failing to comply with the Phase 1 trade agreement.”
Scott asked specific questions of Lighthizer, including whether COVID-19 affected compliance and what are the consequences for noncompliance.
“Our first priority must be to protect Americans from the growing threat of Communist China,” Scott continued. “The United States must continue to be the leading voice on fair and free trade agreements, and hold nations like China accountable if they want to pursue a global partnership.”
Pulse resolution introduced
Friday was a somber anniversary as Floridians, especially those in Central Florida, remembered the lives lost at the hands of a domestic terrorist at the Pulse nightclub. Both Scott and Rubio joined to introduce a resolution honoring the 49 victims.
“Floridians will never forget the horrific events of June 12, 2016 — the day our state, nation, the City of Orlando, and Hispanic and gay communities were attacked in an act of terror, and 49 innocent lives were lost,” Scott said in a joint release. “It was an evil act designed to divide us as a nation and put fear in our hearts and minds. But we didn’t let it. We came together and supported each other.”
The resolution described the gunman as one “inspired by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)” and designated June 12 as “Pulse Remembrance Day,” honoring the victims, survivors and first responders.
“The tragic, despicable terrorist attack on the Hispanic and gay communities in Orlando that took place four years ago was an act of evil that took the lives of 49 innocent people,” Rubio said. “Each one of them was a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a mother or father, a husband, a wife, or a partner. Most importantly, they were part of our families and of our communities.”
In the House, a resolution designating a national landmark for the site is one step closer to reality (see “Resolution gets vote” below).
Taking a stand
In 2017, the United States Soccer Federation’s (USSF) Board of Directors instituted a new policy after Megan Rapinoe knelt during the national anthem in support of people of color, similar to protests inspired by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In the wake of recent events, the board has voted to repeal that policy.
This triggered a strong reaction from Rep. Matt Gaetz, who opined on his podcast that he is drafting legislation compelling the USSF to reverse their recent decision.
“I’d rather the U.S. not have a soccer team than have a soccer team that won’t stand for the national anthem,” the Fort Walton Beach Republican tweeted. “You shouldn’t get to play under our flag as our national team if you won’t stand when it’s raised.”
Gaetz notes that he differentiates this from the NFL allowing players to kneel during games “because as much as I oppose that and don’t like it … at least those are private people, working for a private company … who absolutely have the First Amendment right to do whatever the heck they want to do, so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”
He is expected to introduce the bill, which is doomed to failure in the Democratic-controlled House, sometime this week.
“I certainly think that we have the right to compel that our national team stand for the national anthem,” Gaetz added. “While our anthem is playing, while you serve on the team, I think there is an obligation to respect our country.”
The issue ignited an extended Twitter fight between Gaetz and actor Ron Perlman, an outspoken basher of President Donald Trump. It is safe to say Twitter engaged in no censorship of this cyberspace tête-à-tête.
Jax tackles convention
Last week, Jacksonville was officially named as the site for the high profile portions of the Republican National Convention, including Trump’s acceptance speech. Official business will remain in Charlotte as originally planned.
Now that Jacksonville knows the role it will play in August, the community will need structure, volunteers and money. Rep. Michael Waltz, who is credited with making an early pitch to Trump for bringing the convention to Florida, will play a leading role.
To demonstrate local commitment, Waltz, JAX Chamber President and CEO, Daniel Davis, and Visit Jacksonville President Michael Corrigan formed the Jacksonville Host Committee Inc. According to the filing with the State of Florida, the committee was formed to “assist in the planning, coordinating and implementing of the marketing and promotion of the City of Jacksonville for the Republican National Committee Nomination Acceptance.”
More information on what led up to last week’s announcement is emerging. Waltz thanked those in Washington, but made it a point to call out the commitment from Gov. Ron DeSantis, Mayor Lenny Curry and a number of local officials as well party leadership.
“I want to give Ronna McDaniel, the head of the RNC, full credit for seeing my hometown for what it is, which is an amazing city,” Waltz said earlier this week on Fox and Friends. “The business community needs this shot in the arm and they are ready to roll out the red carpet.”
The region’s other representatives spoke of the obvious economic impact. Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford called the event “a huge win for Northeast Florida and the Republican Party,” while Democratic Rep. Al Lawson expressed concern for public safety as thousands converge on Northeast Florida.
Now that Jacksonville is set for the big event, Waltz and the host committee have a lot of work to do over the next two months.
Resolution gets vote
June 12 holds somber memories in Central Florida as it marks the anniversary of the tragedy at Pulse nightclub in Orlando that left 49 people dead and 53 people wounded. This year brought the sad remembrances, but also a meaningful step toward ensuring what happened on June 12, 2016, are not forgotten.
On this year’s fourth anniversary, legislation sponsored by Orlando-area Democrats Darren Soto, Stephanie Murphy, and Val Demings has been cleared for a U.S. House floor vote. House Resolution 3094, which aims to designate the site as the “National Pulse Memorial,” was introduced just one week before the third anniversary of the tragedy last year.
“I am pleased to announce that Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has committed to bringing our bill to the House Floor for a vote before the end of June,” Soto, the resolution’s lead sponsor, said in a news release. “Given the Pulse Remembrance Ceremony today, supporters may take some solace in this latest development during this time of mourning, reflection and unity.”
Specifically, it would give the permanent memorial and museum national designation as a federal memorial, but leave full control of it to the onePULSE Foundation, a nonprofit organization established by Pulse owner Barbara Poma.
The National Pulse Memorial & Museum would be built around the Pulse nightclub, which is the site of an interim memorial and would include a museum and an education center dedicated to victims, survivors, and first responders.
Most national memorials are owned and run by the U.S. National Park Service, however, some are not. This allows them to raise money through public or private grants and to operate independently. Although the bill is likely to be approved in the Democratic-controlled House, there is no sponsor yet in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Soto said that Rubio declined his invitation to lead that effort.
More navigators needed
With the loss of millions of jobs due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, now-unemployed workers face another threat that involves their health care. With the loss of a job comes the loss of employer-provided health care, forcing Americans to look for other options.
Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa joined with Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger in an effort to help those find health care through the assistance of more experts known as “navigators.”
They crafted a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Seema Verna seeking additional funding for more navigators to shore up the efforts of the current team of overwhelmed navigators.
“Given the extent of the ongoing public health and economic crisis, we urge your department to increase funding for Navigator programs from the insurers’ user fees and release the awards as soon as possible,” they wrote. “Increased and immediate access to funding will allow Navigators to effectively assist the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and their insurance since the COVID-19 pandemic began.”
According to Castor and Spanberger, HHS support for navigators has decreased by 84% since 2016, even as the user fees paid by insurers remain substantially similar. In their letter, the members also urged HHS to recognize the need for additional funding for navigators as millions of Americans seek fair, accurate, and impartial coverage information during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seven delegation Democrats signed on to the letter including Soto, Murphy, Ted Deutch, Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel and Alcee Hastings.
Oil drilling revisited
When it comes to oil and gas drilling, Florida is never really out of the picture despite assurances to the contrary. Reports are surfacing that indicate a push to include the eastern Gulf of Mexico will come if Trump is reelected.
With the entire Florida delegation on record opposing the concept, many were quick to express their opposition. The Deepwater Horizon disaster is now a decade in the past, but the memories are vivid to Floridians.
“America’s future is clean and renewable energy, not dirty and dangerous oil drilling off our beautiful coast,” tweeted Democratic Rep. Castor of Tampa, complete with the red siren graphic.
Despite marching with lockstep with Democrats on the issue, Republicans are not as concerned with the thought drilling is around the corner, citing Trump’s understanding of the bipartisan opposition to the practice. They point to the POLITICO story that started the controversy anew, saying it contained information from anonymous sources.
“I know the [Interior] secretary and certain parts of the oil industry would love to drill that up,” said Naples Republican Francis Rooney. “I’ve talked to the President, Matt Gaetz has talked to the president, Marco Rubio, Rick Scott have talked to the president. I do think the President understands how important this issue is and how bipartisan this issue is in Florida.
“People in Florida do not want offshore drilling. It scares everybody because of the risks to our tourist economy,” Rooney added. “We can’t just have that threat hanging over our head.”
A bipartisan group within the delegation again banded together to reaffirm their opposition in a letter to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell made her opposition clear in a new digital ad.
To view the ad, click on the image below:
Award winners announced
The United States Chamber of Commerce initiated a new award this year called the Abraham Lincoln Leadership for America Award. The award recognizes members of Congress who demonstrate the leadership needed to advance policies that support American business.
The top 20 scoring members of the House and the Top 10 Senators within both parties were the first recipients of the award. In the House, Dover Republican Ross Spano was honored, while Scott was also a recipient.
“I am proud to accept this recognition on behalf of businesses in Florida’s 15th District and across the country that are the drivers of our economy,” Spano said in a statement. “As a former small-business owner, I have devoted my service in Congress to help these businesses thrive.”
The award is based on the number of times a member took the Chamber’s recommended actions. Members are ranked relative to the performance of all other members of their party, with the top-ranked in both parties earning 100%. The 10 top scoring senators and 20 top scoring House representatives (apportioned by party) earn this award.
Spano earned a score of 99, while Scott achieved a 96. The winners were evenly split among the parties.
“I recognize the special challenges (small businesses) have faced this year, but I have also seen firsthand their determination to come out stronger than ever before,” Spano added. “The Great American Comeback is around the corner, and I have no doubt the best is yet to come!”
The Chamber of Commerce also introduced the Jefferson-Hamilton award for bipartisanship, but no Floridian was honored this year.
Buchanan seeking leftovers
Manatee and Sarasota County, which are in the district of Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan, have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 virus. The fatality rate equals that of the more highly-populated counties of nearby Hillsborough and Pinellas while the economic impacts have been particularly devastating.
With that in mind, Buchanan sent a letter to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis applauding the announcement that his administration will soon begin disbursing unused coronavirus relief funds to Florida counties and requested a significant portion to be directed to Manatee and Sarasota.
“These two counties are still trying to cope with high COVID-19 caseloads, rising costs and significant revenue losses,” Buchanan wrote. “Manatee and Sarasota are under the population threshold of 500,000 and were not eligible for direct coronavirus relief funds, even though they have two of the highest rates of coronavirus deaths of any Florida county.”
Buchanan further pointed out the counties that have the first and second-highest number of deaths among counties yet to receive federal assistance. He further pointed to a survey projecting a possible $2.3 billion economic slump for the area over the next 90 days.
DeSantis announced last week that the Florida Division of Emergency Management will begin distributing more than $1.2 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding to smaller counties across Florida. Under the CARES Act passed by Congress in March, a county or city must have at least 500,000 people to be eligible for direct financial assistance related to coronavirus.
In April, Buchanan asked Congressional leaders to have the population level lowered to 400,000 residents, noting counties with far fewer coronavirus impacts receiving funds when smaller, heavily-affected counties were receiving nothing. After that was unsuccessful, appealing for leftover funds to be distributed at the Governor’s discretion was the next logical step.
“We need to do everything we can to help Floridians and our state recover as soon as possible,” Buchanan said in closing. “Again, I urge you to prioritize coronavirus relief funding for Manatee and Sarasota counties and look forward to your prompt response on this very important issue.”
Wilson bill moving
Last week, House Democrats introduced the Justice in Policing Act designed to set federal standards for police training, conduct, and accountability. Among items expected to be rolled into the bill was a proposal from Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson to launch a commission on the status of black men and boys.
Wilson’s legislation was not included in the 134-page bill, but instead is moving as a stand-alone bill. The Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys Act was introduced by Wilson 14 months ago, but the current push for reform now has it on the fast track for a vote and ultimate passage.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men,” Wilson told CQ Roll Call. She said disparities must be addressed so that black boys have “equal opportunities to develop the skills required to become successful men.”
The bill would establish the Commission on the Social Status of Black Men and Boys under the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The mission would be to study systematic conditions impacting black males, including “homicide rates, arrest and incarceration rates, poverty, violence, fatherhood, mentorship, drug abuse, death rates, disparate income and wealth levels, school performance in all grade levels including postsecondary levels and college, and health issues.”
Wilson’s bill is co-sponsored by 183 members, including all delegation Democrats and three Republicans who include Bill Posey, Daniel Webster, and Greg Steube. The number of co-sponsors exploded following the death of George Floyd.
Rubio is sponsoring the Senate companion bill, joined by Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey. Rubio and the two Democrats introduced the bill nearly a year ago and now has 13 GOP co-sponsors, including Scott. Since Floyd’s killing, 11 have signed on but no additional Democrats.
On this Day
June 16, 2001 — President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin held their first summit meeting in Slovenia. The two emerged pledging to deepen the bonds between the two nations and explore the possibility of a compromise on U.S. missile defense plans, which the Russians strongly oppose.
“This was a very good meeting,” Bush said at the closing news conference. “I looked the man in the eye. I found him very straightforward and trustworthy — I was able to get a sense of his soul.”
June 16, 2015 — Real estate mogul and reality television star Donald Trump made it official as he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President. Trump, accompanied by his wife Melania, stepped off a Trump Tower escalator and officially joined the GOP field that already contained 11 candidates, including Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. Trump is polling ninth among the Republicans
“I will be the greatest jobs President God ever created,” Trump said during his 45-minute speech. “The American dream is dead, but if I win, I will bring it back bigger, better, and stronger than ever before.”