Biden pick imminent
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is due to announce his running mate at any time. Rep. Val Demings has been among those within a small circle of candidates under consideration, but former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice and California Sen. Kamala Harris seem to be picking up steam.
Demings should not be considered out of it, despite the rumors. Harris is still remembered for the attacks on Biden during the Democratic debates and Rice could be a key figure in the investigation conducted by U.S. Attorney John Durham into the role played by the FBI and the Justice Department in the Trump/Russia probe.
California Rep. Karen Bass was rising and may still be high on the list, but Republicans made it a point to remind Cuban Americans of Bass’s conciliatory comments toward Fidel Castro. The risk of alienating enough Hispanic votes to tilt Florida toward Trump, along with Bass representing a state certain to go Biden’s way, may have sunk her chances.
On the other hand, Demings would seem to have the ability to help Biden win a swing state like Florida and its 29 electoral votes, a result that would likely guarantee the defeat of President Donald Trump. Her role as a House impeachment manager could be the subject of numerous get-out-the-vote ads to generate more enthusiasm toward a Democratic base that polls show seems less than excited about Biden while still overwhelmingly favoring him over Trump.
This week Demings received an important endorsement. South Carolina Democratic Rep. James Clyburn revealed that he has spoken to Biden about Demings, noting she “is under serious consideration and ought to be.”
In the era when police are held in lower regard, especially in African American communities, Demings’ career in law enforcement and serving as chief of police is now considered a negative among some. Critics say she did not do enough to reform the police. Clyburn is having none of that.
“I get very upset when people tell me that because of her law enforcement background, as a police chief, that should be disqualifying,” he said. “I think that’s a shame. If you ask people to go into law enforcement and they excel at what they do, working all the way up to become the chief of police, that’s what we want, more people of color as chiefs of police. So why would we hold that against her?”
While she is gaining the attention of more columnists and analysts, there is something special about the nod she received this week from Clyburn. There can be little argument that Biden would not be where he is today with Clyburn, who serves as House Majority Whip.
After miserable performances in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Clyburn threw his support behind Biden only days before the South Carolina primary. Biden went on to swamp the field and went on to cruise through most of the remaining contests. Biden may not forget that and is likely to give Demings strong consideration. It probably comes down to who is in his ear last.
Some of her Democratic colleagues say she understands the core of the nation. St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist recently said “I don’t know if you could find a better qualification for someone for this moment in time.”
If polls are accurate, Biden could not do any better than Demings. A recent POLITICO/Morning Consult survey of 2,000 registered voters found that Biden, when paired with each of 12 prominently named prospective running mates, beats the Trump-Pence ticket by between five to seven points. A Biden/Demings ticket would defeat Trump/Pence by 46 to 40%.
The time to finalize the Democratic ticket is at hand. Biden may well go with a more well-known name, but we should not be shocked if Clyburn again plays a leading role in the end.
COVID money laundering
As the partisan-wracked Congress continues to fail in coming up with an agreement on new coronavirus relief aid, the unemployed have spent a week not receiving federal help and new stimulus checks are not going out to everyone. Competing proposals range from $1 trillion by the divided Republican-led Senate and $3 trillion from the unified Democratic-controlled House.
Sen. Rick Scott, who is among those leading the charge to reduce the $600 unemployment bonus, has an idea that might seem palatable to individuals, but not politicians. In an op-ed for Fox Business Network, the first-term Republican suggests giving money directly to individuals through a series of tax cuts instead of “laundering” it through the government.
Scott wrote that the federal government has spent $57,000 combined on all services for every unemployed American.
“Now, do you believe that every unemployed American — or any unemployed American — has received anything close to $57,000?” he said. “Of course not, because the money Congress spent has been laundered through myriad federal agencies, state and local governments, and new entitlement programs with bureaucracies to go along with them.”
Scott wrote of the trillions committed to combating the coronavirus and said “Some of that money has been spent well,” citing the Paycheck Protection Program and spending to support state efforts to fight the disease. At the same time, he mentioned “waste, abuse and liberal pet projects” in previous spending bills as a reason to send relief directly to those who need it.
“If $1 trillion is the number we’ve decided on that needs to be injected into our economy to save jobs and get the country back to work, then let’s make sure the vast majority of that gets back to the American people through reduced taxes, and ensure the remainder is efficiently spent on its intended purpose.”
Among the tax cuts he favors is the payroll tax cut long touted by Trump, who said he may take executive action as early as this weekend if an agreement is not reached.
McConnell’s social distancing
No deal appears in sight as negotiators for additional coronavirus relief remain far apart. A major sticking point is the $600 unemployment bonus championed by Democrats, whose leaders said they will not budge from that figure, while Republicans call for a formula that would provide 70% of workers’ last wage.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is distancing himself from the negotiations, letting members and the White House interact with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Sen. Marco Rubio said McConnell is doing the right thing.
“He’s also frankly said that he wants it to be negotiated by members, like the last [relief bill] was,” Rubio said. “He doesn’t want it to be a top-down bill. What he wants to do is sort of agree on areas to work on and then empower the members to do different task forces, the chairmen and ranking members to meet and work out the details.”
McConnell told Senators they could go home until an agreement is reached. That would likely slow work in other areas of the relief package, including some changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Rubio and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine filed two amendments to ensure funding is extended and underserved small businesses have the capital they need to survive.
“Congress has acted unanimously on PPP three separate times, which is a testament to the program’s success at saving tens of millions of jobs and preventing widespread small business bankruptcies,” said Rubio, chair of the Senate Small Business Committee.
“With a deadline quickly approaching, I am proud to once again partner with Sen. Collins to file these amendments to provide a second round of PPP funds to the hardest-hit businesses and long-term working capital needed for a sustainable recovery. I hope my Democratic colleagues can once again join Republicans, put politics aside, and act decisively to help our nation’s small businesses and the tens of millions of American workers they employ.”
Dunn calls VA
Rep. Neal Dunn recently became involved in the case of a constituent mistakenly declared deceased by doctors at Ascension Sacred Heart Bay hospital in Panama City. Hours after Kristen Chapman received a phone call telling her that her husband Jake Chapman had died, she received another call saying instead that he was on life support and fighting for his life.
With that shocking news, Dunn stepped in to help and at his request, Jake Chapman was transferred to the VA hospital in Gainesville. Dunn is a medical doctor and a former Army medic.
“It’s such a heartbreaking story for a young family, young guy,” the Panama City Republican said in an interview, noting that kind of “confusion and miscommunication” doesn’t happen a lot in the medical industry. “I was pleased to help the family get him to a center where they’re comfortable. He’s certainly going to get the help he needs.”
The incident was brought to light by local news after friends and family of 39-year-old Chapman began protesting outside the hospital upon learning of the mistake. The group consisted mostly of the Chapmans’ faith family from Lighthouse Church, where he once served as the worship leader.
Due to COVID rules, Kristen Chapman was not able to visit with her husband while hospitalized in Panama City but has had brief visits with him at the VA hospital. Her husband is currently on a ventilator and receiving medications to regulate blood pressure.
The exact diagnosis is still undetermined but is believed that he suffered a stroke. The new environment for medical care has given Chapman’s family confidence and time to focus on his recovery.
Taxing virtual dollars
Rep. Darren Soto joined a group of Congressional representatives this week in penning a letter to the Internal Revenue Service in defense of blockchain and cryptocurrency.
The Kissimmee Democrat and his peers are concerned that tax policy could deter Americans from participating in promising new technology.
The letter explains how Bitcoin is operated and expresses concern about block rewards and taxation of cryptocurrency that could result in “a reporting and compliance nightmare for taxpayers and the Service alike.”
But more importantly, the letter states that unfairly taxing cryptocurrency could keep Americans from investing in it and push the innovation in future forms of cryptocurrency into other countries and other financial markets.
“As Americans become more interconnected in the world of blockchain and cryptocurrency, proper tax guidance is needed to ensure transformation continues to take place in this ecosystem,” said Soto.
“The evolution of innovation is redefining the future of mainstream finance and it’s our role, as co-chairs of the Congressional Blockchain Caucus, to help more Americans take part in the benefits that will come from this progression in the utility of these technologies.”
Fracking must go
Like nearly everything else, COVID-19 is causing the oil and gas industry to have a catastrophic year. Soto has no doubt the industry will bounce back but calls for changes as part of a new dynamic that addresses climate change.
In an op-ed published in The Hill newspaper, Soto and co-author Wenonah Hauter call for a new energy strategy that seeks to ban the practice that generates substantial amounts of fossil fuels, as well as jobs,
“We must create a more livable alternative,” they wrote. “We can start by banning fracking.”
They claim “the fracking industry misled investors at every step of the way” and claimed the economy-wrecking coronavirus meant the industry’s “day of reckoning hit with sudden fury.”
The calls for the fracking ban by Soto and Hauter, who is the director of Food and Water Action, are confronted with the economic benefits of the practice. Industry supporters point to hundreds of thousands of jobs that would be lost, including in swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. But the future demands action, the writers say.
“We must emerge from the COVID crisis with a bold strategy to head off the global climate catastrophe,” they wrote. “That means stopping new sources of carbon pollution, and launching a concerted clean energy program that will create the kind of world we want to live in right now while leaving an admirable legacy for future generations.”
Trolleys on time
Crist recently celebrated a grant from the federal government to the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority that will keep the public transit system running despite the pandemic.
The $40.3 million award comes from funding provided in the CARES Act, and Crist tweeted that it will include new funding to assist commuters with disabilities. The PSTA manages a system with over 40 bus routes, three neighborhood connectors, and a pair of trolleys, and it serves more than 12 million riders on an annual basis.
The PTSA website indicates that it serves more than 362,000 individuals with disabilities per year, which works out to an average of 1,216 on the average weekday. Funding for the PTSA comes from 20% grants, 13% passenger fares, 5% advertising, and 62% from Ad Valorem taxes.
“Keeping our public transit system up and running during the pandemic is critical to our economy, getting people who rely on these services where they need to go,” said Crist. “This grant will keep PSTA workers on the job and provide special aid for our neighbors with disabilities who cannot use fixed-route services.”
Helping small business
Dover Republican Ross Spano is crossing party lines to help small businesses.
Spano, the only Florida Republican on the House Small Business Committee, introduced a bill with California Democrat Judy Chu to establish the Community Advantage Loan Program.
The bill would take the Community Advantage Loan Program — which has been in the pilot stage since 2015 — and reauthorize it though 2025. That program would make available low-interest loans to small businesses that have been underserved by loan providers such as veteran-owned businesses.
The Small Business Administration has found that there are over 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses in America, and 99.9 of them are classified as small businesses. Those companies employ over 5 million Americans.
“The Paycheck Protection Program has successfully provided immediate relief to millions of small businesses and saved over 51+ million jobs, including over 68,000 jobs in FL-15,” said Spano. “Now it is time for Congress to turn its attention to providing longer-term liquidity to small businesses in need.
“As a former small-business owner, I know this bill will help veteran-owned small businesses and create more jobs — something I have been laser-focused on in Congress.”
Thank you, Senator
While Congress tries to come to an agreement on a coronavirus relief package, some important provisions that include extended unemployment compensation benefits and continuing Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) remain in limbo. At the urging of several members of the delegation, Rubio, the program’s co-author, added a large number of nonprofit organizations to the list of eligible beneficiaries.
This week, Sarasota Republican Greg Steube led some of his colleagues in a letter thanking Rubio for including nonprofits in the program. More than 62,000 entities would qualify.
“We commend your proposal to provide relief to 501(c) (6) nonprofit organizations, such as trade and professional organizations, chambers of commerce, and destination marketing organizations ….by giving them eligibility in the Paycheck Protection Program …”
The members pointed to legislation they are co-sponsoring in the House, the Local Chamber, Tourism, and 501(c) (6) Protection Act, which would provide the same benefits as those added by Rubio in the Senate legislation. Steube is an original co-sponsor of the bill sponsored by New Hampshire Democrat Chris Pappas.
“I was proud to help lead these efforts in the House with H.R. 6697,” Steube tweeted. “We must do everything possible to help nonprofits as they guide our communities through COVID-19.”
Other co-sponsors signing the letter included Soto, Spano, Dunn, and Brian Mast of Palm City.
Fewer funeral restrictions
Mast believes those mourning the loss of a veteran are not receiving equal treatment when it comes to attending funerals. He recently wrote to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to protest limiting funerals conducted at facilities managed by the VA to no more than 10 individuals.
Mast objected to the policy just a few days after the funeral of former Georgia Congressman John Lewis saw more than four dozen members of Congress in attendance. He told Wilkie the policy is not fair to those who have served.
“This policy does a great disservice to those in uniform who put their lives at stake to serve our great nation and deprives our fallen heroes, as well as their families, of the service that they deserve,” he wrote. “I am, therefore, strongly urging you to reconsider this policy: all fallen veterans’ family and friends should be able to attend committal services so that they can come together to honor the lives of their fallen loved ones.”
He said the veterans deserve at least as much consideration as members of Congress.
“If our country’s politicians can gather in large numbers to pay their respects, certainly our veterans deserve at least as much, if not more,” he wrote.
Criminal justice commission
A bill seeking to effect changes in the criminal justice system was recently reintroduced in Congress by Rep. Ted Deutch. The National Criminal Justice Commission Act would assemble experts from several areas to review all facets of the criminal justice system.
Deutch joined with Democratic Rep. David Trone of Maryland to launch the bill he first sponsored in the previous Congress. The bill would create a bipartisan National Criminal Justice Commission composed of 14 members, including presidential and Congressional appointees, experts on law enforcement, criminal justice, civil liberties, and social services.
“Our nation’s criminal justice system is badly in need of repair, and we are long overdue for a thorough examination,” the Boca Raton Democrat said in a news release. “Particularly in this moment when the country has come together to confront the systemic racism found in too many aspects of our policing and criminal justice systems, Congress must listen to our constituents and consider necessary changes to make our system more just and fair for all.”
The sponsors point to statistics indicating Black Americans comprise 40% of the prison population while representing only 13% of the population. They said it has been more than 50 years since a commission conducted a similar review.
The commission would be tasked with completing an 18-month review of the criminal justice system from federal, state, local, and tribal lenses, and provide recommendations for reforms to increase transparency and accountability in the system.
Rep. Francis Rooney is helping to write a check for restaurants and restaurant workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Naples Republican co-sponsored the RESTAURANTS Act and the FEED Act to issue relief funding and to cover the costs associated with providing meals to nonprofit organizations. The RESTAURANTS Act, sponsored by Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, would provide funding to revitalize food and beverage purveyors with annual revenues of less than $1.5 million, and Rooney said it would sorely help some of his constituents.
“This bill would provide funding in the form of grants to restaurants who are not publicly traded,” said Rooney. “This will allow our small local businesses and restaurants to obtain the financial support they need without the possibility of losing out to large chain companies. It is essential that this legislation be passed quickly.”
“Additionally, I co-sponsored the FEED Act to alleviate costs that state and local governments incur when working with restaurants to provide meals to nonprofit organizations. Not only will this increase the availability of meals to those in need, but also will subsequently benefit restaurants and farmers during this economic downturn.”
Foodservice and restaurant jobs are believed to constitute about 12% of Florida’s workers, and the National Restaurant Association predicted in April that the industry would lose $225 billion due to the pandemic.
Safe, accurate elections
Mail voting is set to increase dramatically in 2020 as some states, including California and Nevada, seek to limit the number of voters physically going to the polls. Trump has repeatedly said going to universal mail voting is ripe for fraud and this week he joined with the Republican National Committee to sue the state of Nevada for passing legislation to authorize it.
Seeking to promote in-person voting, a group of House Republicans, including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, introduced legislation to ensure safety for in-person voting and installing safeguards for an accurate accounting of mail votes.
The Emergency Assistance for Safe Elections (EASE) Act calls for $400 million to ensure clean polling places, increased numbers of poll workers, cleaning voter rolls, and securing existing technology. In a nod to mail-in voting, the bill would prohibit nonfamily members from bringing ballots to election supervisors, otherwise known as “ballot harvesting.”
In remarks to Local 10 in Miami, Diaz-Balart focused on the need to outlaw ballot harvesting as Florida did three decades ago following a fraudulent election in Miami.
“Here in the state of Florida, it was outlawed and what the President is saying, we should follow the example of the state of Florida, where there is absentee ballots, a process that works, and let’s not follow the process of California, which was made legal, and outlawed in the state of “Florida,” the Hialeah Republican said.
“Why? Because it was shown to be fraudulent.”
The bill sponsor is Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois with Diaz-Balart joining nine other GOP colleagues as co-sponsors.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is coming out swinging in her bid for reelection.
The Miami Democrat released a new political ad in which she castigated the federal response to COVID-19 and projected her campaign as a protective shield for people who are hurting.
Mucarsel-Powell, the first Ecuadorian-born member of Congress, spoke about her humble beginnings and path to prominence, and she said America must be a land of opportunity.
“When you come to the U.S. from Ecuador at 14 with nothing, no one expects that you’ll go from working in a doughnut shop to Congress,” she said in the advertisement.
“I did because that is what is possible in America. But the truth is right now there’s a group of corrupt people in power trying to make that harder for all of us.”
Mucarsel-Powell went on to list the disparate groups of people she’s fighting for; she says she’s working for single mothers and for immigrant children, and she’s fighting for businesses and workers harmed by the pandemic.
The ad, which runs in both English and Spanish, ends with a particularly combative flourish.
“My name is Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and you call me DMP,” she says at the end of the 90-second clip. “Which as long as I’m in Congress stands for, ‘Don’t mess with my people.’ ”
To watch the ad, click on the image below:
Bipartisanship for kids
When a progressive Democrat introduces legislation, conservative Republicans are not usually the first to step forward to co-sponsor the bill. However, that is what happened when Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro introduced the Strengthening America’s Families Act and was joined by three Florida Republicans and Soto as original co-sponsors.
The bill is designed to use research and the science of child development to transform the child welfare system. The sponsors point to a link between abuse of a child and the negative impact on that child’s physical and emotional development.
“As a former sheriff, I’ve seen far too many children affected by abuse and neglect,” said Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford in a joint release. “That is why I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Strengthening America’s Families Act, which would improve the child welfare system by better coordinating support services and enhancing Infant-Toddler Court Teams (ITCTs).
The ITCTs, led by judges, work collaboratively to prevent child abuse and address the physical and emotional needs of young children who have experienced trauma. The teams also endeavor to strengthen family support and prevent future abuse.
Sarasota Republican Greg Steube said: “We have an obligation to ensure that our state and local child welfare workers have every resource necessary to fulfill their roles.” Soto added, “Now more than ever, it is imperative that we redouble our efforts to support and protect the most vulnerable among us.”
Currently, ITCTs operate 101 sites in 30 states but only serve a fraction of children and families in need. SAFA would address that shortfall and expand capacity throughout the country. DeLauro points to the negative effects the lockdowns due to COVID-19 are having on children.
“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to add stress and pressure on families and keep infants and young children in their homes, abuse and neglect intensify in both severity and number of cases,” she said.
Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis said: “The need for SAFA has been amplified during the pandemic.” New York Democrat Thomas Suozzi is the other original co-sponsor.
On this day
August 7, 2009 — Republican Sen. Mel Martinez announced he was vacating his Senate seat after months of saying he would not leave early. Martinez said he would depart as soon as his successor is chosen.
Gov. Crist will make that choice but has already indicated it would not be him. He is running for the seat in 2020, announcing his candidacy soon after Martinez, the nation’s first Cuban American elected to the Senate, revealed in December he would not seek reelection.
August 7, 2014 — While pledging the U.S. would not be slipping into another war, President Barack Obama indicated airstrikes were likely in Northern Iraq where refugees spread along a mountain were under attack from Sunni militants. In addition to airstrikes, U.S. cargo planes were dropping supplies and food to those fleeing the violence in their towns and villages.
“As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” Obama said. “But, when we face a situation like we do on that mountain,” the country cannot ‘turn a blind eye’ to the suffering.”
Creative mask making
As a way of promoting the need to wear masks in public, Crist developed a contest for constituents to make their own. More than 50 submitted entries with more than 2,000 constituents voting to choose the best.
The winner, in an “incredibly close” vote, was Janna Kennedy Hyten of St. Petersburg.