President Donald Trump stirred the pot last week when he suggested Election Day may need to be postponed, especially if the alternative is a dramatic increase in mail-in ballots. As usual, a tweet started a firestorm of controversy.
“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump said. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
Reaction to the suggestion was bipartisan with Sen. Marco Rubio responding “I wish he hadn’t said that, but it’s not going to change.” Sen. Rick Scott added he does “not support postponing the election.”
Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando said in a tweet “Congress decides elections date, not Pres. Trump & we’re not changing it.” Soto’s Democratic colleague, Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, called the idea “ridiculous,” claiming the President was trying to distract from his “outright failure to control the coronavirus …”
Trump has repeatedly railed against the thought of broad or universal mail-in balloting in the states. Last week he again brought out the argument of fraud and a desire to know who wins on election night, something that is hard to predict in close elections as mail-in ballots can come in days after the election.
Some states conducted their elections that way long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but more are looking to move in that direction for the sake of safety. California is sending a mail-in ballot to every active voter and if postmarked by Election Day, they have 17 days to reach election supervisors to be counted.
Florida Republicans have had a successful operation in cultivating their voters to use mail ballots, helping them maintain dominance in the state for nearly a quarter-century. Perhaps that is why GOP leaders that include Rubio are not concerned with fraud.
Rubio did not expound on his comfort level with mail voting, but Rep. Michael Waltz said Floridians should feel the state can handle it, but perhaps not others.
“While states like Florida have the tested infrastructure for a successful mail voting program, most other states do not,” the St. Augustine Republican said on Fox and Friends. “States trying to expand vote-by-mail without tested infrastructure are completely unprepared. President @realDonaldTrump is right to be concerned.”
Trump points to instances such as recent primary elections relying on mail ballots in New Jersey and New York. A New Jersey local election found fraud involving one-in-five ballots, while in New York, the count from the June 23 primary involving incumbent Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney was just concluded after 12,000 mail ballots were disallowed, including ballots received without postmarks or signature by the voter.
The President was equally enraged by Nevada’s recent special session expanding mail voting on a partisan vote during times of emergency. The legislation calls for mailing a ballot to every active voter and also allows nonfamily members to collect ballots and return them to the supervisor, also known as “ballot harvesting,” which Republicans broadly oppose.
Trump responded via Twitter with a message seeming to write off the state, describing Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak as “Nevada’s clubhouse Governor” who has “made it impossible for Republicans to win the state.” He ended with “See you in Court!”
Whether it is aggressive work by Florida Democrats, or Trump souring Florida Republicans on mail voting, or both, the GOP is falling behind in an area they have long dominated. There is still time to reclaim some of their mail vote magic or get more people to the polls in November, but they will need every vote they can get if they hope to get the state’s 29 electoral votes in Trump’s column in November.
Poverty’s high costs
No agreement on a coronavirus aid package seems likely in the next few days. With the $600 unemployment boost above state benefits now expired, both sides are latching on to this to bash the other.
Publicly, Democrats are totally ignoring the Heals Act introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that directs $1 trillion toward small business loans, funds for safely reopening schools, another round of stimulus checks and a formula for calculating unemployment benefits beginning at $200 per week.
Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson says that can have dire consequences. In a video produced by her office, Wilson said the Republican proposal to cut the $600 benefit will lead to food insecurity and a greater reliance on EBT benefits and food banks. It also claims crime will likely rise among the most desperate.
“Poverty causes desperate people to take desperate measures to survive, INCLUDING COMMITTING CRIMES,” she said. “The GOP-led Senate’s refusal to pass the #HeroesAct will force already desperate people to sink even deeper into poverty and do what they must to survive.”
The House passed the $3 trillion Heroes Act in May which contains some of the provisions of the Senate bill, but also had hundreds of billions for state and local governments and the full $600 unemployment benefit, among other things.
A Republican proposal on July 31 to extend the unemployment benefit for one week was rejected by Democrats, who argue the Senate should take up the $3 Heroes Act. Senate Republicans are divided on the size of their bill, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said last week, “Look, it’s not $600 or bust …”
Meanwhile, real people are in their first week receiving nothing in unemployment from the federal government that told them they had to stop working.
Rubio trolls Bass
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden was reportedly ready to name his running mate on August 1 but instead delayed the announcement for at least another week. That word came on a day one of the reported finalists, Rep. Karen Bass of California, generated significant blowback from Republicans for being “a (Fidel) Castro sympathizer.”
Among those unhappy with the thought of Bass at the top of the Democratic ticket was Rubio, who described Bass as an ally of the late Cuban dictator.
“If, God forbid, Joe Biden is elected President and Congresswoman Bass is elected Vice President, she will be the highest-ranking Castro sympathizer in the history of the United States government,” Rubio said on a conference call organized by the Trump campaign.
Bass lamented the death of Castro in 2016 describing the dictator as “Comandante en Jefe” (Commander in Chief) calling his death “a great loss for the Cuban people.” In recent days, Bass has said “it’s certainly something I would not say again.”
Cuban-American exiles and many of their descendants revile Castro and his memory, causing them to likely shun a Biden/Bass ticket and provide fertile ground for campaign attack ads. Miami-area Democrats Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala, who both have competitive opponents in November, have disagreed with Bass, but not criticized her directly. Rubio showed no such reluctance.
“You have people that disagree about the best way to bring (liberation) about, but we don’t have, especially here in South Florida, a large section of our population of voting Americans who believe that what is happening in Cuba is good and we should embrace the Castro regime,” Rubio added. That’s what Congresswoman Bass believes,” Rubio said.
Some speculate the delay in revealing Biden’s choice may have given away the secret that Bass might have been the choice, but last week many thought there were sufficient signs it would be California Sen. Kamala Harris, but she has a downside as well.
Perhaps Orlando Democratic Rep. Val Demings will reappear on Biden’s list. HIs original pledge was to name a Black woman as a running mate.
Dunking the NBA
Last week ESPN unveiled the results of an investigation into the NBA’s business arrangements with China. Among the revelations brought to light were abuses at an NBA academy located in Xinjiang, site of numerous reported abuses of academy players.
Sen. Rick Scott, among the most critical voices against the government-run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), weighed in.
“The link between the NBA’s operations in China and the human rights abuses of the Chinese Communist Party are even stronger than we previously knew,” Scott said. “Reports of abuse at NBA academies in Communist China are absolutely disgusting, and the fact that the NBA turned a blind eye for so long is horrific.”
The timing was poor from the perspective of the league. As they resumed their season in Orlando with a strong focus on social justice, the ESPN investigation caused critics to accuse the NBA of a double standard by ignoring not only the conduct at the academy but the treatment of ethnic minorities in China and suppressing freedom in Hong Kong.
“You can’t have it both ways,” a former NBA employee said. ” … You can’t be over here in February promoting Black History Month and be over in China, where they’re in re-education camps and all the people that you’re partnering with are hitting kids.”
Rubio said that for the NBA, or any American corporation doing business in China, “They have to look the other way on some pretty atrocious actions on the part of the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.
The NBA came under intense criticism in 2019 when they apologized to China after a tweet from Houston Rockets’ General Manager Darryl Morey sided with Hong Kong protesters when he said, “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” China stopped showing NBA games in that country and despite the apology, still does not permit them.
“The NBA continues to appease Communist China and refuses to stand up for the people of Hong Kong because they care more about profits than human rights,” Scott said. “When do we, as freedom-loving Americans, say enough is enough?
“The NBA must answer for this and immediately tell us when they first knew about the abuse and how they responded. And they need to stop playing games in Communist China. Anything less is unacceptable.”
An encounter with New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho on the minds of millions recently, but last week he continued a GOP trend of introducing legislation centered around China. Yoho introduced the Taiwan Invasion Protection Act in reaction to aggressive actions by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) following their recent actions suppressing freedoms in Hong Kong.
In addition to the steps taken toward Hong Kong, the legislation also seeks to respond to other aggressive actions in the South China Sea as well as border clashes between Chinese forces and those from India. The bill calls for a military response if China invaded Taiwan.
“The U.S. policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan, initially implemented to avoid provoking Beijing to attack Taiwan and encourage peaceful relations, has clearly failed,” said Yoho, the ranking member of the subcommittee overseeing policy in Asia and the Pacific. “The PLA’s dramatic military buildup and increased provocations in the Taiwan Strait, along with blatant threats from the CCP, make their intentions toward Taiwan abundantly clear.”
The legislation gives the President “limited defensive authorization” to secure and protect Taiwan, requires China to renounce the use or threat of military action, calls for joint training exercises between the U.S. and other allies, among other items.
“The United States must act immediately to establish a clear red line over Taiwan that must not be crossed by China, he added. “As a vibrant democracy with nearly 24 million people, the U.S. is obligated to stand strong in support of Taiwan and encourage a return to peaceful relations between Taiwan and China.”
Among the bill’s 16 co-sponsors are Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart of Hialeah and Waltz of St. Augustine.
Targeting shooter drills
School shooter drills are on notice.
Winter Park Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy and Colorado Democrat Ed Perlmutter championed legislation to provide $1 million for independent experts to publish a study on the mental effects of active shooter drills in elementary and secondary schools, and the House of Representatives passed that provision last week.
The measure, which will give school administrators and state legislators information about the efficacy of drills and how they emotionally impact students, was approved as part of a broader bill to fund the Department of Education. Murphy and Perlmutter will now work to ensure it’s retained when the House and Senate reconcile their bills.
“Once this pandemic subsides and students are able to safely return to the classroom, schools should have clear and accurate information about the best way to conduct active shooter drills,” said Murphy. “The reality is that these are traumatic experiences, especially for our younger students. As a mom, I know they require us to have difficult conversations with our kids to explain why they’re needed in the first place.”
If the initiative passes the final reconciliation process, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine will use the funding to examine emotional and behavioral effects on students and staff of active shooter drills and lockdown drills. The ensuing report would identify best practices to minimize negative impact.
Advocates of gun safety such as Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, have said that unannounced shooter drills do more to scare American students than prepare them for the worst-case scenario.
“Making our schools safe sanctuaries involves investments in preparedness, but active shooter drills can be traumatic for students and educators alike, and we must study their impact and find other ways to invest in school safety,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
“Thanks to Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Rep. Stephanie Murphy for taking on this important issue.”
Earlier this year, some Florida lawmakers expressed concern that the entity responsible for the pension funds of federal employees and members of the military were investing in Chinese companies. Trump stepped in and replaced investment board members, thereby canceling the pending investments, but a related issue is now being addressed.
The U.S. Department of Labor is revising rules on investments designed to provide more transparency. In a letter led by Rep Daniel Webster to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, the department is urged to ensure that international firms receiving investment funds meet the same transparency requirements U.S. law places on American firms.
“Currently, Chinese companies receive a waiver of these requirements under a Memorandum of Understanding from the Obama Administration,” the letter reads. “This arrangement has allowed U.S. retirement investment in Chinese companies engaging in human rights abuses and child and slave labor.
“Unfortunately, this situation causes American 401(k) owners and pensioners to unknowingly profit from these unjust and appalling practices,” the letter continues. “Growing Chinese influence on American investment portfolios is also a national security concern.”
Among those joining the Clermont Republican in signing the letter were Florida Republicans Francis Rooney of Naples and Bill Posey of Rockledge.
Massive bill passes
Late last week the House passed what is known as a “minibus” package which would spread $1.3 trillion to fund several agencies and policies over the next fiscal year. According to a committee release, the package provides “strong funding for priorities like public health, education and job training, housing, infrastructure, police reform, service members, and climate change.
The minibus consists of six bills that fund federal departments including Defense, Commerce, Justice, Energy, Treasury, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development from October 1, 2020, to September 30, 2021.
St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, praised the House action, which passed by a 217-197 vote, with all Republicans voting no along with 12 mostly progressive Democrats. Crist touted several priorities he had inserted, including $30 million for Veteran Treatment Courts which deal with mental health treatment.
“With passage of this appropriations package, the People’s House continues its work to protect service members and veterans, safeguard American families, improve local communities, and protect our environment,” Crist said in a news release.
Shalala touted the insertion of an amendment creating uniform standards for reporting vital statistics and fatalities, pertinent during the era of COVID-19. On the other hand, Dover Republican Ross Spano voted “no” because, among other reasons, the bill would undo the Trump rule that no Title X family planning funds would go to entities that perform abortions.
The bill also contained $250 million for Everglades restoration, something the entire Florida delegation is happy about, but Palm City Republican Brian Mast is accusing Democrats of playing political games. In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and bill sponsor Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, Mast said the bill’s language puts the funding in jeopardy with “unrelated provisions” certain to make the bill “dead on arrival in the Senate.”
Mast joined his fellow Republicans to vote against the minibus but urged a stand-alone bill for restoration funding to be placed on the agenda.
Treating Agent Orange
A bill designed to provide greater access to health care for those exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War has picked up Rep. Vern Buchanan as a co-sponsor. Buchanan has joined several colleagues in support of the Keeping Our Promises Act sponsored by Arkansas Republican Bruce Westerman.
The bill would add nine more diseases to the list of conditions presumed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange. The conditions joining the list include prostate cancer, bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, stroke, early-onset peripheral neuropathy, AL amyloidosis, ischemic heart disease and Parkinson-like syndromes.
Recent research by the National Academy of Medicine has connected these nine diseases to Agent Orange.
“It’s time we recognize these diseases in law and make sure our veterans have the health coverage they need and deserve,” Buchanan in a news release. “We cannot afford to wait any longer to help our nation’s veterans who have fallen ill to the exposure of the toxic chemical Agent Orange.”
Buchanan revealed statistics stating the U.S. Air Force sprayed nearly 11 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to defoliate jungles and remove cover used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers.
According to the National Academy of Medicine, their findings revealed “suggestive” evidence that eight of the diseases covered by the bill could have resulted from being exposed to Agent Orange. Researchers also say they found “sufficient” evidence for high blood pressure.
The bill enjoys the support of 54 bipartisan co-sponsors. In addition to Buchanan, those from among the Florida delegation include Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford and Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch.
Taking a stand
Buchanan is making a one-man appeal to the leaders of the House and Senate. The Longboat Key Republican sent a letter this week to Pelosi and McConnell urging them to include his legislation — Securing America’s Medicine Cabinet Act — in the next coronavirus relief bill.
The bill — introduced in May — would create a new federal office responsible for stockpiling supplies of critical medicine in the event of a pandemic, and it would encourage companies to ramp up production of those drugs.
Companion legislation has been introduced to the Senate by Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn and New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez. Buchanan urged the leaders to take up the baton. The letter emphasizes that the current medical supply chain is over-reliant on China and other countries and urges the USA to be independent.
“America has become too dependent on the global supply chain of key medicines, including active pharmaceutical ingredients,” the letter said. “These raw materials, the basic chemical component in drugs that produces the intended effects, are then used in antibiotics and pills to treat many common chronic conditions such as heart disease. … Americans rely on these medications, with nearly 70 percent taking at least one drug daily.
“Bringing back drug manufacturing to the United States would not only help secure this critical supply chain but would also help create new jobs to stimulate the American economy.”
Voices from both sides of the aisle had reason to cheer last week’s passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020, which will expedite restoration of the Everglades.
Mast wrote several provisions of the bill, including measures designed to reduce toxic discharges from Lake Okeechobee and expedite construction of the EAA Southern Storage Reservoir.
Mast has said that the discharges from Lake Okeechobee are poisoning communities and forcing businesses to close, and last year he worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to set a new public health standard for microcystin.
Now, the legislation works to prevent the discharges from ever happening.
“For decades, Florida’s coastal communities have been on the receiving end of toxic discharges, including recent discharges that have tested more than 60 times more toxic than the [EPA] considers safe for human contact,” said Mast. “These discharges put public health at risk, damage the economy, and destroy the environment. We have worked tirelessly to fight these discharges, and passing this legislation is a critical step in the right direction.”
Mucarsel-Powell, who also voted for the legislation, said her top priorities include expediting Everglades restoration and improving the Florida Bay ecosystem. Mucarsel-Powell said her constituents want the reservoir built without delay and that her district needs solutions now as opposed to in a decade.
“I would like to express my support for this bill. It includes one of my top priorities, which will speed up construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir — a crucial part of Everglades Restoration,” she said.
“With today’s bill, we make it very clear to the Corps that they must begin construction of the reservoir at its earliest opportunity, and they are not to wait for a “new start” designation.”
Rooney breaks barrier
A lawsuit challenging remote voting brought by Republican members of the House recently had its day in court while one GOP member used the controversial method for the first time to vote on legislation. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras told both sides to “Give me your best pitch.”
While the issue was playing out in court, Rooney became the first member of the GOP caucus to cast a vote remotely, giving his proxy to Virginia Democrat Don Beyer. Rooney voted with his Republican colleagues on the bills that came before the House last week, but contrary to those cast by Beyer.
“As I have said before, Congress should utilize modern technology to permit remote voting,” Rooney said in a series of tweets. “While I wanted to proxy vote as soon as the Speaker set it up, I agreed to wait until the lawsuit challenging its legality had been heard, which has now happened.
Rooney had previously sought to vote remotely through Beyer’s proxy but backed away at the request of Republican leadership. The votes marked his first on record since February, the last time he was in Washington.
The move took on greater significance when Texas Republican Louie Gohmert tested positive for COVID-19 followed by Arizona Democrat Raúl Grijalva. He defended the use of proxy voting as the safest way to fulfill the mission of Congress.
“Remote voting effectuates social distancing and follows proper health procedures,” Rooney said in another tweet. “The work of Congress must continue, but it need not put people at risk unnecessarily.”
There was no indication when Contreras might rule on the case before him.
CD 26 a tossup?
The 2018 elections saw Democrats gain 41 seats in the House and return them to the majority. While there were open seats that they won, such as Shalala winning the seat vacated by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Democrats were able to defeat 30 Republican incumbents.
Among those unseating an incumbent was Mucarsel-Powell, who edged out Republican Carlos Curbelo in a Democratic-trending District 26. The Miami Democrat won by 4,000 votes and is expected to face Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez in November. Recent movement from a “Lean Democratic” seat to tossup by the Cook Political Report triggered a plea for funds.
“BREAKING: The Cook Political Report has just rated my reelection a TOSS UP,” she tweeted. “No one ever thought a South American immigrant could go from working in a donut shop to Congress — but I did. Let’s do this. I need you to chip in now.”
Mucarsel-Powell is likely to see a burst of fundraising in the near term following her highly contentious encounter with Attorney General William Barr last week during a Judiciary Committee oversight hearing. In these polarizing times, Gimenez may see a boost as well for the same reason.
As of June 30, Mucarsel-Powell had $2.75 million cash on hand with Gimenez reporting $860,000.
On this day
August 4, 1977 — President Jimmy Carter signed into law a bill establishing a new Department of Energy. James Schlesinger was confirmed by the Senate on a voice vote to serve as the agency’s first secretary.
On the same day, Department of Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano, Jr. ordered an end to federal funding of abortions. The move came after the Supreme Court ordered a federal judge to lift his injunction on the enforcement of the Hyde amendment enacted by Congress.
August 4, 2009 — Two former prisoners left North Korea after former President Bill Clinton traveled to the secretive Communist state to escort them home. Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were freed, but not before Clinton met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and attended a lavish banquet in his honor.
Clinton was not the first choice to represent the United States on the mission. Among those suggested was former Vice President Al Gore, but he was rejected because both Ling and Lee worked for the media organization co-owned by Gore. The former president was an acceptable choice despite comments against the regime by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who described the North Korean government as “an unruly child.”