Check’s in the mail
Not even the national conventions of both parties can knock the hysteria surrounding the status of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) out of the spotlight. A week ago, the focus was on disappearing mailboxes, removing mail sorting machines, and purported steps taken by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to slow down the mail to thwart widespread voting by mail.
Those criticisms still exist, especially sorting machine-gate, but Democrats firmly maintain that emergency funding is needed to not only fund operations involving the fall elections but to keep the USPS running. Last week, House Democrats revealed they would vote on a $25 billion funding bill to accomplish that goal August 22, two days before DeJoy was scheduled to appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Seeking to preempt House Democrats, Senate Republicans hastily called a meeting of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, where DeJoy blamed part of any mail delays on the COVID-19 crisis as well as some of the changes he proposed. He also revealed he would put his institutional changes on hold until after the election.
“To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” he said in a statement, but also said he would not restore mailboxes and sorting machines that were taken offline.
The House passed the Delivering for America Act by a vote of 257-150, with 26 Republicans joining with 231 Democrats to provide $25 billion and forbid the USPS from removing any mailboxes and sorting machines (and other items) until after the COVID-19 pandemic was over. Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan was among the 26 (see “Buchanan backs” below).
President Donald Trump echoed those who said the $25 billion was not needed, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who called it a “so-called crisis.” DeJoy has said, “we have plenty of operating capital to get through November.”
Trump has pledged a veto if it gets that far, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would not take up the bill.
Two Floridians had their chance to question DeJoy during the House hearing, but the tone was markedly different. Sarasota Republican Greg Steube called the Postal Service frenzy a “concocted narrative” and led DeJoy to say that states, unlike Florida, that allow “last minute” requests for ballots are susceptible to delays in receiving and returning ballots on time.
The questioning from Wasserman Schultz resembled the highly-contentious nature seen during the Judiciary Committee hearing featuring Attorney General William Barr. Mixed in with accusations DeJoy was not honest, which he disputed, she focused on DeJoy’s contention he was not directing the removal of sorting machines, while rejecting calls to bring machines back online, leading to slower delivery of mail.
Meanwhile, negotiations for a coronavirus relief bill remain at a standstill. Democrats have demanded $25 billion for weeks as part of a broader agreement, while the White House has offered $10 billion.
With the increasingly bitter divide enveloping Capitol Hill, saying “the check is in the mail” is not likely to come anytime soon.
Republicans take spotlight
Last week, Democrats played the role of guinea pig in hosting the first-ever virtual convention. Their technically-efficient effort that took no real chances paved the way for Republicans to try to be more flashy during the Republican National Convention (RNC).
In a change from convention tradition, Republicans called the roll and nominated Trump on the first day, prompting him to speak to the 300-plus assembled delegates in Charlotte, North Carolina. Florida Democrats did not play a major role in their convention, but several Floridians are getting some face time during the GOP’s four days in the spotlight.
Rep. Matt Gaetz from Fort Walton Beach was on the opening night list of speakers and while others were there to project the hope that America holds, Gaetz’s job was to throw the political red meat the base craves, which he did in offering a description of Democratic policies.
“It’s a horror film really. They’ll disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS13 to live next door,” Gaetz said during his five-minute prime-time speech. “The police aren’t coming when you call … they’ve already been defunded.”
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was among the victims of the Parkland tragedy in 2018, was also part of the first night lineup. Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi were scheduled for the second day, along with First Lady Melania Trump, son Eric Trump, and seldom-seen daughter Tiffany Trump on the list.
Wednesday features Vice President Mike Pence, who will be offering remarks from Ft. McHenry in Baltimore, the site of the battle that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner. It will also feature a farewell address from top-adviser Kellyanne Conway, who announced she will leave the White House next week.
In addition to Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday, those preceding him include the parents of Kayla Mueller, who was taken hostage and murdered in Syria. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Ivanka Trump are also on the schedule.
While a swing state such as Florida was not on the menu for Democrats, Rep. Val Demings is engaged during the RNC. On Monday she was part of a counterprogramming event, where she took the opportunity to blast the GOP platform for “making law enforcement political.” Republicans have pledged to make “law and order” a key issue for the week.
The party promises a “surprise” each night, perhaps in addition to Trump breaking new ground by being part of the festivities all four days.
Rubio chides Barr
In late 2019, reports concerning “rampant sexual abuse” at the Coleman Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) located in Sumter County surfaced via the Miami Herald. Lawsuits soon followed, putting the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) on the hot seat.
Sen. Marco Rubio wrote to Attorney General William Barr on December 9, calling for “a thorough review of all Bureau of Prisons (BOP) inmate and staff protocols, processes, reporting systems, and employee reviews” surrounding the reports.
“The Herald’s investigation reveals that the environment at FCC Coleman has enabled systemic and pervasive sexual abuse and misuse of authority by BOP employees over a number of years,” Rubio wrote. “These allegations are simply abhorrent, and I urge you to take immediate action to ensure such behavior is neither happening, nor tolerated, at FCC Coleman or any other BOP facility.”
No further action was taken on Rubio’s request. After a subsequent request in April calling for an inquiry into “systemic misconduct by BOP personnel,” Rubio wrote to Barr again on August 20 asking why his office has yet to receive “a substantive response.”
“The delay in meaningfully responding to congressional oversight has eroded trust in the BOP, and has potentially endangered its staff, and the inmates in their care,” Rubio wrote.
“FCI Coleman is BOP’s largest facility, with over 7,000 inmates and 1,300 staff. I request an update on the status of the prison task force and further request to expand my previous request to include FCI Coleman’s implementation and observance of the CDC’s COVID-19 guidance to correctional facilities.”
Rubio expressed his “dissatisfaction” with the Department of Justice for the slow pace of the review.
Mail vote worries
As the Postal Service controversy continues, the actual business of receiving, returning, and processing of mail-in ballots continues. In Florida, Sen. Rick Scott is hoping what he and leaders from both parties saw during the primaries is not a harbinger for Trump and Republicans in November.
The mail vote has been a Republican strong point in Florida for years, but Democrats won the day during last week’s primary. Trump has railed against the practice of universal mail-in voting, but Scott hopes the President’s confused messaging does not have a negative impact on what has helped him and other Republicans win elections over the last two decades.
“I hope not, because we have mail-in ballots in Florida. It works,” Scott told ABC News this week. “It’s worked and we’ve done it a long time. I’ve had three elections, and we’ve clearly focused on it.”
For weeks, the President has held that absentee voting is fine, but blasted mail voting without making the distinction between what Florida does and the practices of states like Oregon and Washington, which conduct universal mail ballot elections. Seeing Republicans fall behind in Florida has prompted Trump to be more clear, now describing Florida’s efforts as “tried and true.”
State Republicans have begun an effort via mail and in person, where possible, to close the mail vote gap with Democrats. Scott and his GOP colleagues hope two months is long enough to catch up.
After months of looking into a complaint regarding a tweet from Gaetz to Michael Cohen, the House Ethics Committee has admonished the Fort Walton Beach Republican. Just before Cohen’s 2019 testimony on Capitol Hill, a Gaetz tweet suggested the former Trump personal attorney had “girlfriends,” and Cohen’s wife was “about to learn a lot …”
Gaetz apologized for the tweet, but a member of Congress complained to the ethics committee prompting the inquiry. He said it was appropriate to “test the truthfulness of a witness,” but it was inappropriate to “invoke someone’s family, and I shouldn’t have done it.”
The committee report cleared Gaetz of any criminal wrongdoing, but said his actions reflected poorly on the House. The complaint alleged that Gaetz was attempting to intimidate Cohen before his testimony.
“The (committee) found that Rep. Gaetz’s tweet to Mr. Cohen did not violate witness tampering and obstruction of Congress laws, but Rep. Gaetz’s actions did not reflect creditably upon the House of Representatives, in violation of House Rule XXIII, clause 1 of the Code of Official Conduct,” the report reads.
After the report’s release, Gaetz indicated he was humbled by the committee’s action as well as by those voting in last week’s primary election.
“The Ethics Committee has given me an admonishment,” Gaetz told Fox News. “My fellow Northwest Florida Republicans gave me 81% of the vote on Tuesday. I accept both with humility.”
The report was issued under the authority of committee Chair Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, and ranking member Kenny Marchant, a Texas Republican.
Bipartisan solutions urged
Several members of moderate Democrats in the Blue Dog Coalition are taking a public position that partisan politics are causing needless harm to the country. Rep. Stephanie Murphy led a coalition letter to House and Senate leadership seeking to break a logjam on COVID-19 negotiations.
The letter takes on several policy positions. In addition to extending unemployment insurance benefits, enacting measures to keep workers “tethered” to their jobs, and providing support for state, local, and tribal governments, the signers seek help for schools and institutions of higher learning, another round of economic impact payments, and stronger oversight of pandemic response spending.
“Today I led a coalition urging Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi & Sen. McConnell to immediately resume negotiations on COVID relief,” Murphy tweeted. “Too many families and small businesses are suffering, and they shouldn’t suffer more because of partisan politics.”
The letter also responds to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that identifies significant issues with the federal government’s response to the pandemic, including the fact that the Treasury Department sent more than 1 million stimulus payments to deceased individuals that totaled over $1.4 billion.
“Our constituents sent us to Congress to find bipartisan solutions that move this country forward. The current stalemate is punishing families and destabilizing our economy,” the letter continues.
“Congress must do all that it can to keep workers tethered to their jobs, assist the unemployed, support our health care workers and our health care system, and ensure that businesses who do right by their workers are given the necessary resources and protections to survive. We must keep negotiating, no matter how difficult. Inaction is not an option.”
Fee hike blasted
Families rethinking the financing of their home is a common side effect from the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced that they will be charging a 0.5% loan level price adjustment (LLPA), which could complicate the process for some.
In response, Rep. Charlie Crist has co-authored a letter with New York Republican Lee Zeldin and Washington Democrat Danny Heck to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), urging the cancellation of this new fee on homeowners seeking to refinance. The fee is set to go into effect on September 1. The letter was addressed to FHFA Director Mark Calabria.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on American families’ incomes, livelihoods, and the economy at large, many families have taken advantage of historically low interest rates to refinance to tap into the equity of their home, lower their monthly payments, or both,” they wrote.
“This option has provided hundreds of thousands of homeowners with extra money in uncertain times, as well as saving them money in the long run. Adding a fee to refinancing, and making it effective in weeks, places additional costs and uncertainty on both the refinance market and on borrowers who choose to refinance their mortgage.”
The fee is officially called an “adverse market refinance fee,” prompting concerns surrounding how ambiguous it may be. In addition to raising costs on families without transparent justification, the group also has concerns that the fee runs the risk of hindering the economy’s recovery from the crisis. The letter concludes by asking Calabria to “reconsider this fee.”
“Fannie and Freddie’s new refinance fee will hit Florida homeowners squarely in the pocketbook,” Crist said in a news release. “For the average middle-class family who chooses to take advantage of historically low interest rates, this new Trump Refi Tax could cost an extra $1,400, making it harder and more expensive for Floridians to save on their mortgage.
“In the midst of a global pandemic and economic meltdown, we should be putting more money in families’ pockets — not raising new fees and taxes.”
The letter was signed by 41 members, including Coral Gables Democrat Donna Shalala.
DCCC attacks Franklin
Democrats were looking to flip the Congressional District 15 seat in November held by Ross Spano. It was a competitive race in 2018 and with Spano under investigation by the Department of Justice, the district represented a seat possibly ripe for an upset.
Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin likely made things more difficult for Democrats with his upset win in last week’s primary, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) seemed ready for that possibility. On the day following Franklin’s win, they were immediately attacking him with a missive called The Case Against Scott Franklin and pointing to his fall opponent, investigative journalist Alan Cohn.
DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos said Franklin is running “to pursue policies like repealing the Affordable Care Act and corporate tax handouts paid for by defunding Social Security and Medicare.” She added, “Alan Cohn is exactly the right person to take on Franklin and flip this seat this November.”
Franklin is an insurance executive and a former Navy pilot, a story he told often on the campaign trail. He brushed off the attack.
“I have not had a chance to read what they said, but I find that laughable and if that’s really their tack,” Franklin told the Lakeland Ledger. “I’ll say it’s just as pathetic as what my opponent was trying to paint me as in the (primary), as a liberal, Never-Trumper. And now these guys are trying to paint me as an ultrarich, big-pharma guy? That’s an absolute joke. There’s nothing to base that on.”
The major political pundits were scoring the race as “Leans Republican” with Spano as the candidate. Franklin invested $350,000 of his own money to keep up with Spano in the primary and may have to do it again in the fall.
The DCCC has been the national Democrats’ brightest star in terms of fundraising, holding an advantage of more than $30 million over their GOP counterparts in cash on hand through July. Also, former New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg has pledged $60 million from his fortune to help House Democrats.
Buchanan backs USPS bill
The House vote to appropriate $25 billion for the Postal Service centers around politics, no matter which way members voted. At least for now, the USPS controversy has even relegated the politics surrounding the coronavirus response into second place.
“Millions of Americans, especially seniors, depend on a healthy and functioning Postal Service,” he tweeted. “I voted for the bill today to make sure the Postal Service has the resources to deliver the mail.”
An online poll invited constituents to weigh in on whether they favor “providing federal assistance to the U.S. Postal Service to make sure the mail is delivered on time.” Though unscientific, those favoring support outnumbered opponents by a two-to-one majority.
Buchanan’s lone “yes” vote came shortly after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) attacked him for “using his office to enrich himself and his family,” referring to his car dealerships receiving Paycheck Protection Program loans.
Buchanan is facing Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good in November.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) is not too concerned. An RNCC analysis said, “It is embarrassing the Democrats are even pretending this Republican district is competitive,” adding Good “is the DCCC’s chosen candidate and will own their socialist agenda, making her completely unelectable in this red district.”
You can’t be a political leader in Southwest Florida without a solid reputation among seniors. It’s no surprise that Buchanan has worked to advocate on behalf of the demographic as he represents one of the demographically oldest districts in the nation.
His office this week announced he had been awarded as a “Champion for Healthy Seniors” by the Partnership to Fight Chronic Diseases, a coalition of advocates that includes the AARP and American Cancer Society.
“Rep. Buchanan’s work toward protecting seniors and those with chronic conditions by ensuring access to affordable medications and in-home treatments is especially notable and valued in 2020 as our country has faced the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Partnership chair Ken Thorpe.
Buchanan celebrated the award, noting his cosponsorship of legislation lowering prescription drug costs and personal efforts lobbying the Department of Health and Human Services to protect in-home treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death in the United States and nearly every American has a loved one with a chronic disease or is suffering from one themselves,” Buchanan said. “I will continue my work to protect Medicare and to advance treatments and cures for those suffering from chronic diseases.”
Saudi Arabian nukes?
A purported U.S. ally is working with China allegedly to build a uranium facility. While not confirmed, the Chinese scientists are reportedly assisting Saudi Arabia to build a facility to create yellowcake, a refined uranium substance that is a component of nuclear weapons.
The chairs of three subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including Deutch, have written to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding information on recent revelations about Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program and the State Department’s response to it.
The letter, led by Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Joaquin Castro, points to these reports and recent revelations China built Saudi Arabia a factory to produce ballistic missiles.
“Nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East would be profoundly destabilizing and threaten U.S. interests and allies,” said Deutch, chairman of the subcommittee overseeing the Middle East and North Africa.
“The United States must ensure that any new nuclear programs are placed under strict, verifiable international monitoring and restrictions. We expect the administration to hold Saudi Arabia accountable and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.”
They also ask Pompeo whether Saudi Arabia has given assurances that it will place its nuclear facilities under widely accepted international safeguards and if the State Department is committed to preventing Saudi Arabia from acquiring additional facilities needed to produce nuclear fuel.
Finally, the letter requests a briefing for members of Congress to consider the issue further.
On this day
August 25, 2007 — The decision by the Republican-led Florida Legislature to move up the date of the 2008 presidential primary has led the Democratic National Committee to announce Florida delegates will not be seated at next year’s Democratic National Convention. Florida Republicans may face the same sanctions by their national party.
The dates were moved up in an effort to minimize the importance of New Hampshire and Iowa in the nominating process, but those states have long said they would move up their dates to thwart the move. In an effort to save the Florida delegation from the sanctions, Sen. Bill Nelson, the state’s highest-ranking Democrat said that is precisely what should happen and threatened to investigate the DNC for voting rights violations if the sanctions are imposed.
August 25, 2018 — Most of the country is mourning the passing of Arizona Sen. John McCain, who lost his battle with brain cancer. He was best known for surviving five and one-half years as a prisoner at the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” prison before eventually getting into politics and serving more than 30 years as a Republican Senator and becoming the party’s nominee for President in 2008.
McCain sided with his party on most occasions but was known as a “maverick,” which sometimes infuriated his GOP colleagues. He angered Republicans, especially Trump, while suffering from his illness, when he entered the Senate chamber on July 28, 2017, and gave a thumbs-down vote on the measure to repeal Obamacare, thereby killing the effort.