Replacing an icon
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not unexpected, but most in the political world expected a full-blown political war to ensue if Ginsburg succumbed to cancer before the 2020 election. The furor, threats and rancor are fully meeting expectations.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden provided a vivid reminder that the justice who might replace Ginsburg, and who should make that choice, will dominate the remainder of the election cycle. Game on.
“Tonight and in the coming days, we should focus on the loss of the justice, and her enduring legacy,” Biden said in his first statement after stepping off an airplane. “But there is no doubt, let me be clear, that the voters should pick the president, and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider.”
Ginsburg was an icon among many, but especially women, who credited her with improving the lives and outlook for them. Delegation Democrats offered sincere messages of grief.
While reciting Ginsburg’s accomplishments, Rep. Donna Shalala said “She was special. She was one of a kind.” Rep. Al Lawson opined that she “was only 5’1 in stature, but moved mountains to propel our nation forward.”
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was among those in the GOP praising the late justice, who served on the high court for 27 years. In a statement, he said: “Her life story inspired millions of American women and girls to accept no limits to their dreams.”
But members of both parties mixed their messages with praise and their view about who should make the choice to replace her. GOP Rep. Michael Waltz said on social media that Ginsburg “inspired generations of women — including my daughter,” following that up with a tweet that said it is the duty of President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans to “move the Supreme Court nomination process forward.”
Sen. Rick Scott called her a “trailblazer,” but later added that voters elected a Republican President and Senate, and it was their “duty to fill the open seat.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said “Nothing is off the table,” including packing the court if Democrats control the federal government in 2021.
Democratic Rep. Val Demings was one of many who remembered 2016 when Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to take up the nomination by President Barack Obama of Merrick Garland 10 months before the election. She said: “Ramming a nominee through the Senate” is “an insult to our democracy” and quoted a handful of prominent Republicans who in 2016 said Garland’s appointment should wait until after the election.
Others are using it as a rallying cry under the mantra repeated by both sides: elections have consequences.
The President has promised a nominee by the end of the week. Reportedly at the top of the list are federal appeals court judges Barbara Lagoa and Amy Coney Barrett. Lagoa is a Cuban American from Miami and is thought to have the ability to somewhat neutralize the criticism of the nomination’s timing among the electorally important Latino community in the must-win (for Trump) state of Florida. Barrett is considered the slight favorite.
McConnell has promised a hearing and a vote, but Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is in a tough reelection fight, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have said the vote should wait until after Nov. 3. With Republicans holding a 53-47 advantage, they can only lose three votes to then enable Vice President Mike Pence to break any ties.
To help those in close elections, some Senators could vote “present” instead of “no” when any preelection confirmation vote might occur, giving the GOP a six-vote cushion. During the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation vote, Murkowski used that option.
The first Presidential debate comes next week and this issue will be front and center. Sadly, remembering the life and work of Ginsburg lasted only a few brief moments.
Don’t block ERs
Recently, two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies were shot in their vehicles during an ambush. The story took an ugly turn when protesters stood in front of the hospital’s emergency room entrance, shouting “We hope they die.”
Both events did not sit well with many Americans, prompting a group of Republican Senators to introduce legislation that would make obstructing emergency vehicles and personnel a federal crime. Rubio was among the bill’s six co-sponsors.
“Everyone should be praying for the two Los Angeles Sheriffs who were shot in an ambush, and everyone should be condemning the act of terror committed by protesters who chanted ‘we hope they die’ as they blocked emergency entrances to the hospital,” Rubio said in a news release.
“I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing legislation that would make it a federal crime to obstruct any ambulance, fire department vehicle, law enforcement vehicle, or other emergency vehicles or personnel from responding to an emergency.”
The bill would make it a federal offense to obstruct any ambulance, fire department vehicle, law enforcement vehicle, or emergency personnel from responding to an emergency. Penalties for such obstruction would include imprisonment of one to five years, a fine, or both.
Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy is the bill’s primary sponsor. Other co-sponsors include Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, and Kevin Kramer of North Dakota.
Book publishing is apparently an industry that is not slowing too much due to the COVID pandemic. Recent books from Michael Cohen and Bob Woodward have sought to further damage Trump, but Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz is introducing a book this week that goes after the “enemies of the MAGA revolution” and his views on “making America great.”
Florida Politics was given exclusive excerpts from Firebrand: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the MAGA Revolution. Chapter 5 is titled “Enemy of the People,” a phrase in which Gaetz believes, offering several instances that lead him to that conclusion. He also believes Trump is masterfully playing the national press.
“President Trump called the media the ’enemy of the people’ one month after taking the oath of office. He set off four years of the media pretending to be afraid that Trump would gut the First Amendment and censor any news he didn’t like.” Gaetz wrote. “Trump didn’t have to censor the press to expose their stupidity. He prefers jousting with them to show just how dumb they can be.”
He believes Trump is getting the upper hand in his clashes with the media.
“As the media get played, while Trump throws the stick and they chase it, their resentment builds,” he writes. “Most media work hand in hand with NeverTrump operatives. They share a common objective: destroy, defame and de-platform powerful ‘America First’ messages and messengers.”
Taiwan bill introduced
As the People’s Republic of China PRC continues to flex its muscles in the Asian Pacific region, concern over the future of Taiwan continues to grow. In July, Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho introduced the Taiwan Invasion Protection Act designed to offer support for the island republic.
Late last week, Scott introduced the companion Senate bill under the same name. The legislation reinforces the U.S.-Taiwan relationship and enhances Taiwan’s ability to resist aggressive actions from the PRC.
“For months, I’ve called on Communist China to stop abusing human rights, live up to its commitment to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy, and end its efforts to crack down on Taiwan,” Scott said in a news release. “Communist China continues to threaten our important ally — a threat not only to the people of Taiwan but to the United States and our allies around the globe.”
Included among the bill’s provisions is a limited authorization for the President to use military force to protect Taiwan from armed attack, demands China renounce the use of military force, and seeks a plan for coordinated action should China launch an attack. It also urges the President or Secretary of State to visit Taiwan, which would be unprecedented and encourages an invitation for the president of Taiwan to address a joint session of Congress.
“We must do everything we can to discourage Communist China from using military force against a peaceful democratic power, and the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act demonstrates our commitment to Taiwan and to the importance of freedom and democracy.”
Puerto Rico aid
Three years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island commonwealth is still rebuilding its severely damaged infrastructure. Puerto Ricans are getting a big boost from the federal government following a pledge from Trump for nearly $13 billion in aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“Today’s grant announcements represent some of the largest awards in FEMA’s history for any single disaster recovery event and demonstrate the federal government’s continuing commitment to help rebuild the territory and support the citizens of Puerto Rico and their recovery goals,” read a White House statement.
While most everyone is pleased such a robust commitment of assistance is coming, the reaction was different depending on one’s political party.
“I’m glad the Trump Administration is continuing to provide critical funding for Puerto Rico to help the island recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria and other natural disasters,” Scott said in a news release. He added it was his goal “to make sure that families in Puerto Rico get the help they need following the devastation of Hurricane Maria and that U.S. taxpayer money is spent wisely.”
Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto, one of Puerto Rico’s leading advocates in Congress, was grateful for the assistance, but highly skeptical about the timing, coming just seven weeks before the election.
“For three years, we have seen the Trump Administration drag its feet in providing Puerto Rico with the aid it desperately needed,” Soto tweeted. “This latest political tactic is an insult to the Island and everyone who died as a result of President Trump’s failure. We see right through him.”
Once the aid is delivered, about $9.6 billion will help the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority complete repairs on thousands of miles of lines, as well as rebuilding power stations and make other improvements to the grid. Another $2 billion is dedicated to the Department of Education to rebuild schools and other educational facilities.
State of Puerto Rico?
For more than a month, some Democrats have floated the possibility of ending the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. That, say Republicans and Democrats alike, could lead to possible statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico if Democrats take control of the Senate in November.
Last week, Soto introduced a resolution that would support the result of Puerto Rico’s upcoming plebiscite and call Congress to action if the Puerto Rican people vote to seek statehood. The nonbinding referendum is scheduled for November 3.
Soto, the first member of Puerto Rican descent elected to Congress from Florida, notes the plebiscite will give Puerto Rico an opportunity to vote for statehood or independence, adding the vote is critical as it would correct concerns over past plebiscites. The most recent vote, held in 2017, saw only 23% turn out to vote on it.
“Come November, Puerto Rico has a new opportunity to take a step forward in addressing its status,” Soto said in a news release. “On the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, the introduction of our resolution is about respecting democracy and the will of the people of Puerto Rico. If Puerto Ricans vote for statehood, we must take action to admit the 51st state of our Union!”
Other backers include Florida Democrats Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Stephanie Murphy, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.
“U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico will soon hold a simple, fair, yes-or-no vote on statehood,” Murphy added. “This is a moral issue for me. Puerto Ricans deserve to have the same rights and responsibilities as their fellow citizens in Florida and every other state. No more second-class treatment.”
Soto has been one of Puerto Rico’s strongest proponents for its statehood. Last year he introduced the Puerto Rico Admission Act, the first legislation to directly make Puerto Rico the 51st state.
Bill gains momentum
A proposal from two members of the Florida delegation to come down on criminals that target law enforcement officers is getting some notoriety on Capitol Hill, with the help of a Senate companion bill and the Florida Attorney General.
The Protect and Serve Act, sponsored by Orlando Democrat Val Demings, serving as the original co-sponsor, and Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford has been languishing in the House Judiciary Committee after its introduction 19 months ago.
The legislation introduces a new criminal offense for knowingly assaulting a law enforcement officer causing, or attempting to cause, serious bodily injury. It passed the House in 2018, but the Senate took no action, prompting Rutherford and Demings to reintroduce the bill in February 2019.
“As a career law enforcement officer and former sheriff, I know what officers go through every day when they put on their uniform, say goodbye to their families, and go out on the streets doing the important work of protecting our communities,” Rutherford said upon launching the proposal.
Demings added “Law enforcement officers have a tough job and it’s an extremely dangerous one. I know, I did it for 27 years.” She is a former Orlando Chief of Police while Rutherford is a former Jacksonville Sheriff.
Last week, North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis introduced a similar bill in the Senate co-sponsored by Scott.
“It is disgusting to see our law enforcement officers become targets of violence, harassment and abuse,” Scott said. “Law enforcement officers are not the enemy — these selfless individuals are true heroes who put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities.”
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody showed her support by writing to committee leadership, urging action on the bill. Demings is a member of the committee while Rutherford served through 2018. It has gained 45 additional co-sponsors including Florida Republicans Yoho, Brian Mast, Bill Posey, Greg Steube.
Multiple law enforcement organizations are supporting the legislation. Despite this, no movement is expected during the waning days of the 2019-20 term under the current climate.
Extend tax holiday
Over 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed a letter to House leadership and four committee chairs calling for the extension of the aviation tax holiday. The holiday from collecting federal excise taxes was included in the CARES Act and is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
The letter was led by Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Texas Democrats Veronica Escobar and Vin Taylor, and Republican Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico. The group seeks to extend the current moratorium on collecting the tax until the end of 2021 or until airline passenger traffic returns to 75% of its 2019 levels, citing current airline passenger levels of only 25% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“This price hike will further erode consumer demand for air travel and hinder the economic recovery at precisely the wrong time,” they wrote. “Industry estimates find that prematurely ending the tax holiday would reduce 2021 demand by 35 million passengers. In turn, this will mean fewer jobs — not only in the aviation industry but in any type of business that relies on domestic travel and tourism.
According to statistics provided by Crist, if the tax holiday is allowed to expire on schedule at the end of the year, the cost of a flight for consumers could increase by 11%, which could reduce demand by an estimated 35 million passengers. In turn, it could endanger millions of jobs for flight attendants, pilots, mechanics and other airline industry positions.
“Tourists, who visit our world-class beaches, coastal communities, museums, and galleries, keep thousands of Pinellas workers employed and able to provide for their families,” Crist said in a news release. “Florida has suffered enough in the pandemic. Let’s give the recovery a boost.”
Also signing the letter were Florida Democrats Demings and Soto, along with Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart and Neal Dunn.
Momentum has grown quickly behind Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan’s proposal for a federal ban on childlike sex dolls. Now Fort Lauderdale Democrat Alcee Hastings, who co-chairs the Florida Delegation with Buchanan, has co-sponsored the CREEPER Act 2.0.
“These dolls not only violate children mentally and emotionally but also deny their privacy rights,” Hastings said. “We cannot permit these products to make their way into Americans’ homes, potentially enabling the first step to even more heinous crimes against our children.”
Buchanan said he took up the cause of banning the sex toys nationwide following reports one such doll has been modeled off an eight-year-old girl living in South Florida. The bill, an update on a House resolution passed in 2017 but never heard in the Senate, takes a ban on the sale and possession of sex dolls that look like children and applies it nationwide.
It’s based on a Florida law that went into effect last year. Florida is one of just three states with similar laws on the books.
Hastings isn’t the only Florida voice jumping on board with Buchanan’s ban. Victims from Florida’s most notorious sex ring in recent years also lined up behind legislation. Victims Refuse Silence, an advocacy group founded by victims of Jeffrey Epstein, endorsed the CREEPER Act 2.0.
“The enabling of childlike sex dolls perpetuates the supply and demand factor of sexual abuse and trafficking of minors,” said Teresa Helm, vice president of the organization. “Childlike sex dolls enable pedophiles to perform sexual acts and violations, including rape, with real “lifelike” and programmable dolls which potentially can be a steppingstone to abusing and trafficking a human child.”
Voice of veterans
Before serving in an elective office, Steube served in the military as a JAG officer. So it meant a great deal to the freshman Republican when the John P. Mayhugh Foundation honored him for work on behalf of America’s veterans.
“From day one, expanding access to care for veterans has been a top priority of mine in Congress,” Steube said.
In particular, the Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, who worked as chief of Detainee Operations for Multinational Division North in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, has focused on mental health for those returning to civilian life after deployment. He was among the co-sponsors for the Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act signed into law last year and now co-chairs the Mental Health Caucus.
This year, he introduced the Veterans True Choice Act, hoping to expand health care options for veterans with service-connected disabilities.
“Our veterans who have sacrificed for their country earned and deserve the best medical care this country can provide,” Steube said. “I am thankful for the progress we have made in bettering life for our veterans, and I look forward to more achievements in the future.”
Yemeni aid urged
A developing humanitarian crisis in the country of Yemen has world leaders and members of Congress calling on the U.S. to reverse cuts in aid to the beleaguered nation located on the Arabian peninsula. Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch led a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to restore the $73 million pulled by the United States in order to help alleviate a crisis exacerbated by a COVID fatality rate of 25%.
The U.S. previously pledged $225 million in May.
“Before the emergence of COVID-19, Yemen comprised the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” the letter reads. “Experts warned this environment might allow COVID-19 to ‘spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences than in many other countries. Tragically, this prediction has borne out.”
The letter refers to concurrent cuts in aid from countries within the regions that include the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. It also calls out a drop in funding from other Gulf states.
Over the last week, the Saudis announced more than $200 million in aid.
“The challenges of Yemen are multifaceted and complex,” the letter continued. “However, progress is impossible without sustained and vigorous U.S. diplomatic engagement.”
Among the 55 members also signing on were Democratic Reps. Hastings, Demings and Lois Frankel.
On this day
September 22, 1975 — For the second time in 17 days, President Gerald Ford survived an attempted assassination after a shot fired in his direction missed. After Sarah Jane Moore missed the President, a police officer knocked the gun out of Moore’s hand before she was taken into custody.
Moore had been detained two days before as she carried a handgun but was released after questioning by the Secret Service. The incident followed an attempt by Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme to shoot Ford in Sacramento, who was spared when Fromme was grabbed by a Secret Service agent after pointing a loaded pistol at the President.
September 22, 2015 — Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus apologized to Congress for sharing information with his biographer/mistress. In his first testimony since resigning as CIA director, he admitted to making a mistake four years ago, “one that brought discredit on me and pain to those closest to me.”
Petraeus was director of the CIA for 14 months, resigning after the affair with Paula Broadwell, a married U.S. Army reserve officer, who was conducting research for his biography. Along with his apology, Petraeus said “There is nothing I can do to undo what I did.”
Greetings to Rep. Lawson (September 23)