High stakes debate
The long-awaited first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is finally here. Every four years, the political class says: “The stakes could not be higher.”
But in this case, that appears to be accurate.
Biden supporters hope, and Trump supporters fear, the President will tell a whopper or be mean enough to turn off persuadable voters. Trump supporters hope, and Biden supporters fear, the former Vice President will stumble and fit the GOP narrative as not being up to the job.
There are plenty of potential political sinkholes for both, based upon the release of subjects covered by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News. Those include the Trump and Biden records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election.
Biden should be well-prepared to pound away on the COVID 19 response and chip away at Trump’s slight advantage on the economy by tying the virus response to the economic damage done. The President’s mishandling of whether he would “peacefully transfer” power is another opening.
Trump is anxious to talk about violence in the cities, in which Democrats and liberals are unhappy about being on the topic list. Trump will likely tout his recent foreign policy successes in the Middle East.
Wallace will likely find a way to include Trump’s taxes into the mix following a New York Times story that said, among other things, the President paid only $750 in taxes in both 2016 and 2017 — none in other years — and has sustained massive losses over the past 15 years.
“This is why he didn’t release his returns,” tweeted Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto. “He’s a tax cheat. What an embarrassment!”
Trump countered the story by calling it “Fake News,” and tweeted the information was “illegally obtained” and he “paid many millions of dollars in taxes but was entitled, like everyone else, to depreciation & tax credits … ”
The President will likely try to go on offense during the debate when the subject comes to the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court with calls for Biden to release a list of judges from which he would pick a nominee if elected. The former Vice President again refused to take the bait, saying in a brief media availability two days before the debate that he is “not gonna play the Trump game.”
The last two presidents to serve only a single term had moments during a debate that might have helped seal their fate, fairly or unfairly. President Jimmy Carter is remembered for saying the most important issue for his 13-year-old daughter, Amy Carter, was nuclear weapons, a response that earned a Saturday Night Live sketch. Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in a landslide for a number of reasons.
In 1992, President George H.W. Bush was on stage with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot in a town hall format. Following a question about how the candidates would respond to economic challenges facing Americans, the President was caught looking down at his watch thinking, he later admitted, “only 10 more minutes of this crap.” He lost a close election to Clinton.
Perhaps the debates will play a role in determining whether Trump is a one-term president. One thing is certain: many expect to see record viewership, topping the 84 million who watched the first debate in 2016 between Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Tens of millions will witness an unforced error from either candidate, which could be politically fatal.
Disaster mitigation proposed
Natural disasters affect not only individuals and homes, but large and small businesses can also be forced to shut down for extended periods. New legislation introduced in the Senate would help small businesses take steps to mitigate damage before disaster strikes.
Sen. Marco Rubio, who chairs the Senate Small Business Committee, has joined with Independent Sen. Angus King from Maine to introduce the Providing Resources for Emergency Preparedness and Resilient Enterprises (PREPARE) Act.
The legislation would reauthorize the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Pre-Disaster Mitigation Pilot Program to give small businesses the opportunity to take out low-interest loans for the purpose of proactively implementing mitigation measures to protect their property from future disaster-related damage.
“The PREPARE Act would allow small businesses the opportunity to invest in mitigation before a disaster strikes,” Rubio said in a news release. “Investing in disaster mitigation on the front end saves business’, as well as taxpayers’ dollars while reducing potential risks to property.”
The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season has been so active that the National Hurricane Center has already exhausted the list of storm names. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) statistics, approximately 50% of small businesses close indefinitely following a disaster and a dollar spent on mitigation saves taxpayers six dollars.
“I am proud to introduce this bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would improve the SBA’s previous program and allow businesses to be more prepared and more resilient in the future,” Rubio added.
Other bill co-sponsors include Small Business Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin of Maryland, along with Republican Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and John Kennedy of Louisiana.
New York Democrat Joseph Morelle is sponsoring the House companion with 10 co-sponsors, including Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy and Palm City Republican Brian Mast.
Universal voting standards
It is clear Republicans fear large-scale usage of mail-in voting. Despite their success in recent elections, including Florida, using the practice, they repeatedly caution against fraud and voter error if mail-ins are substantially used.
Sen. Rick Scott has proposed legislation that establishes what he describes as “uniform standards for vote-by-mail systems across the country and ensure the timely and efficient counting of ballots, with important safeguards to prevent fraud.”
He introduced the Verifiable, Orderly and Timely Election Results (VOTER) Act designed to sew together a “patchwork of state laws” that govern deadlines and the process for requesting, returning, and receiving of mailed ballots. The biggest concern surrounds states using universal mail-in ballots, some for the first time.
“Florida has absentee voting and it works well,” Scott said in a news release announcing the bill. “But the standards for mail-in voting vary widely across the country, causing confusion and a distrust in the system. We need standards nationwide to ensure voters decide the outcomes of elections — not the courts.”
Critics point to a provision that calls for all ballots to be counted within 24 hours after the polls close and another that says counting of mail ballots could not begin until the morning of Election Day. That, critics say, would harm members of the military serving overseas — whose ballots are counted if they arrive within 10 days — and would hamper elections supervisors that are allowed to begin counting 22 days before the election.
With voting already underway, the bill will not get a hearing this year, and even if it did, a polarized Senate and a Democrat-controlled House would not allow it to advance.
Confirmation process begins
Trump made it official and nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. According to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, confirmation hearings will begin October 12 over the loud objection of Democrats.
While Democrats strongly believe a hearing should not be held at all following the refusal to take up the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016, some on the Republican side are wishing the process would begin sooner. Instead of following the normal practice of visiting Senators in their offices, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz favors a much shorter timetable.
“Senate Republicans need to pick up the pace,” Gaetz said on Fox and Friends. “It is not acceptable to delay hearings until October 12; we should be having hearings next week.”
Democrats continually point to hypocrisy when comparing Barrett to Garland, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and others calling the nomination “illegitimate.” Orlando Democrat Val Demings expressed the frustration of her caucus and indirectly called on citizens to get involved.
“Voting in the 2020 election has already started. Filling a SCOTUS seat now would be a travesty,” she tweeted. “It’s up to the American people to stop it.”
A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found 37% of respondents favoring confirmation with 34% opposed. Among the parties, 71% of Republicans favor moving forward while seven% are opposed, compared to 14% of Democrats in support and 59% opposed. Democrats represented 48% of respondents with Republicans comprising 40%.
Florida Republicans who hoped Judge Barbara Lagoa of Miami would be the choice believe Coney Barrett is a worthy substitute. Scott said the nominee “respect(s) the separation of powers and the proper role of the judiciary in our democratic system.”
Rubio described her as a “well-qualified, highly respected nominee, and that’s why the Senate previously confirmed her (to the court of appeals).” Panama City Republican Neal Dunn added Barrett has “a strong record in protecting the right to life and our Constitution.”
Democrats will focus on what Coney Barrett’s confirmation will mean for abortion rights, health care, and religious freedom. The court will hear the case seeking to invalidate the Affordable Care Act on November 10.
Colonel Michael Waltz
Even though he is still in his first term as a congressman, Rep. Michael Waltz is well known for his previous service in the Army, becoming the first Green Beret to be elected to Congress. Somewhat less known is his continuing service in the U.S. Army National Guard.
Last week Waltz was promoted to Colonel after nearly 25 years of service and was pinned with the new rank during a Washington ceremony led by Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and attended by members of his family. Earlier in the year, Waltz and his unit were called to assist with setting up coronavirus test sites in the South Florida and Washington areas.
“Truly honored and humbled to be promoted to @USNationalGuard Colonel this morning. Thank you @SecArmy for officiating today’s ceremony & thanks to my family, friends, staff & my fallen Green Berets for inspiring & supporting me throughout my service in the military & Congress,” Waltz tweeted.
McCarthy and Waltz have known each other since their freshman year at Virginia Military Institute. Colorado Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, a former U.S. Army Ranger, also attended the service. Waltz appreciated his colleague’s support.
“He and I disagree, obviously, on many, many things because of political differences, but because of our service, we both can come together and work on things,” Waltz said. “We are on Armed Services (Committee) together.”
Waltz also spoke about the guard’s mission and the many circumstances in which those serving have been called upon.
“Given this last year, if you look at what the guard has been doing, from wildfires to hurricanes to COVID … to social unrest and there’s still rotations for overseas deployments,” Waltz told the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “These guardsmen are being pulled from their homes and their civilian careers for duty and anytime I can shed a spotlight on them … I definitely think the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth.”
No funds to China
With the trillions of dollars committed through the CARES Act, several Republicans expressed concern with how the money is being spent. Rep. Bill Posey, alongside fellow Florida Republicans Gaetz and Ross Spano, has introduced legislation that would ensure more accountability for appropriated funds from the $2.2 trillion legislation.
According to Posey, the Accountability for CARES Act of 2020 protects national security and supports American businesses by ensuring that taxpayer funds spent through the CARES Act do not go to companies that are under the influence or control of the People’s Republic of China.
“Some media reports indicate that perhaps several hundred million dollars of CARES Act funding may have gone to companies that Chinese entities own or invest in,” Posey said in a news release. “Our legislation will ensure that American small businesses benefit from economic assistance during the pandemic while also strengthening our national security.”
Specifically, in addition to disallowing funds to be allocated to businesses affiliated with China, it also contains a provision to allow for past funds to be taken back from companies with ties to China. Also joining as co-sponsors are Texas Republican Reps. Randy Weber and Michael Cloud.
Those seeking more time to continue canvassing for the 20202 Census were rewarded when a federal judge in California ordered the Trump administration to keep seeking responses through October 31. The administration had previously sought to end the counting this week due to COVID-19.
This was good news to Rep. Charlie Crist, who is among several urging their constituents to be counted and described the downside of not responding. Last week, the St. Petersburg Democrat released a new report prepared by the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties staff. The report details the significant costs of an undercount for Florida’s 13th Congressional District.
“This new report makes clear — a complete Census count is essential for the people of Florida’s 13th District. Even a small undercount of one% could cost our district nearly $7 million in federal funding for our schools, foster care system, and health insurance programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program,” Crist said in a news release.
Data collected by the Census is used to determine the amount of funding a district receives for critical services such as education, medical care, foster care, roads, public transit and job programs. Additionally, it assists local government in enhancing public safety and emergency preparedness.
“The COVID-19 crisis has posed unprecedented challenges to the 2020 Census, and current response rates provided by Census.gov show over 35% of households in FL-13 have yet to respond” Crist added. “It is critical that we close this gap, so that each and every Pinellas resident is counted and receives full representation in our federal government.”
While census advocates around the country are welcoming the reprieve and touting the same message as Crist, the controversy is not over. On September 28, Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, despite the judge’s order, said the census operations will end on October 5.
Ross and the department say they must do this in order to have sufficient time to compile information in time to meet a mandated December 31 deadline. U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh is demanding documents to explain why her order is not being followed.
Internet safety bill
Children are the target of those marketing a wide range of products, whether on television or online. While there are toys and favorite cereals seeking buyers, the internet has many dangers pushed by unscrupulous individuals.
Rep. Kathy Castor has introduced legislation to help protect children from harmful and damaging content pushed by manipulative marketers and Big Tech. The Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act seeks to empower parents to help protect their children from these threats.
“It’s clear that Congress is playing catch-up when it comes to implementing laws to keep our kids safe and curtail the actions of Big Tech,” Castor said in a news release announcing the legislation. “My bill will take concrete action to protect the well-being of our children and provide parents peace of mind — it’s past time Congress takes a stand to keep our kids safe online.”
The legislation addresses dangerous trends and creates protections for online users under 16 in three specific areas. New restrictions would be directed toward damaging design features, amplification of harmful content, and manipulative marketing.
The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Reps. Jennifer Wexton of Virginia. Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts is sponsoring the companion bill in the Senate.
“As more and more children find themselves with access to smart devices, especially while many are learning virtually this fall, it is critical we take steps to protect them from harmful and damaging content online,” Castor said.
Pushing PPP extension
With the partisan stalemate on a new coronavirus relief bill continuing, some movement and threats of bipartisanship are leading to a somewhat different dialogue. One of the key components of the CARES Act, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), has expired, but a discharge petition to bring legislation that would expand the PPP is gaining attention.
Washington Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler has filed a discharge petition to bring a bill introduced by Ohio Republican Steve Chabot to renew the program. All Republicans would back the move to bring the bill to the floor, but some moderate Democrats are considering joining the effort if House leadership cannot make a comprehensive deal with the GOP.
Sarasota Republican Greg Steube announced his support for Chabot’s bill and the discharge for reasons that include adding nonprofits to entities eligible for PPP funds. More than $130 billion in PPP funds remain unused.
“After Speaker Pelosi has spent months refusing to negotiate with Republicans on additional relief, I was honored to support today’s discharge petition that permits already-appropriated funds to support our 501(c)(6) organizations like local chambers of commerce,” Steube said.
“With strong support for expanding eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program to local chambers of commerce and nonprofits, it is sad that Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats are refusing to help these organizations that play critical roles in our small business communities.”
House Democrats are reportedly set to introduce a new stimulus bill that could have a price tag of $2.4 trillion, still more than $2 trillion higher than the current offer from Senate Republicans. The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of moderate legislators, recently offered a $1.5 trillion proposal.
Some Democratic caucus members are said to be considering signing the discharge petition if no progress is made toward a deal that would at least approach their proposal, but such open defiance of the leadership is unlikely. Among those not yet taking a position are Democratic Reps. Soto and Stephanie Murphy, the delegation’s two Problem Solvers Caucus members.
Feminist foreign policy
American foreign policy is normally highlighted by the successes or failures of the administration conducting it. Foreign policy is often gender-neutral, but a group of House Democrats believe women should be a greater focus.
Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, co-chair of the House Democratic Women’s Caucus, joined with 22 colleagues to introduce a resolution calling for a “feminist foreign policy.” The goal of the resolution, sponsored by California Democrat Jackie Speier, is to increase women’s input across all areas of foreign policymaking, including foreign assistance and humanitarian response, trade, diplomacy, defense, immigration, funding, and oversight mechanisms.
“When girls and women are educated, healthy and safe, their communities are more secure and more prosperous,” Frankel said in a joint news release. “To make this a global reality it will take the commitment and efforts of all United States agencies and departments.”
The sponsors point to statistics that said women are significantly underrepresented in policymaking and security sector roles, stating that last year, women held only 25.2% of parliamentary seats and 21.2% of ministerial positions around the world.
The group claims that despite evidence showing that women’s inclusion in peace processes makes the resulting agreement 35% more likely to last 15 years or longer, between 1992 and 2018 women made up only 13% of major peace agreement negotiators.
“ … (W)omen’s rights are human rights and foreign policy in the United States should be representative, inclusive, responsive, and accountable to stakeholders, and should take an intersectional approach, utilizing a power-based analysis that reveals, acknowledges, and seeks to correct for inequalities, “ the resolution reads.
In addition, it said a “feminist foreign policy includes a focus on key thematic priorities of bodily autonomy, peace, environmental integrity and justice, which are often left behind in foreign policy development and discourse.”
Obama offers endorsements
Former President Barack Obama has announced his second, and final, list of endorsements for the November elections. The list includes two South Florida incumbents and two Central Florida challengers. No Floridians were on his first list released on August 3.
Reps. Donna Shalala from Coral Gables and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, both making their first defense of seats won in 2018, received the Obama seal of approval. Both are favored, but are thought to be in competitive races.
Shalala was “proud and humbled” to gain Obama’s endorsement, while Mucarsel-Powell said: “I’m so proud he’s with me in this fight for good health care, jobs, clean air and water, and an economy that works for everyone.” Him and
The former President also gave his blessing to District 15 challenger Alan Cohn and District 16 candidate, state Rep. Margaret Good. Cohn is seeking to defeat Republican Scott Franklin, who knocked off Rep. Spano in the primary, while Good is trying to take down veteran Republican Vern Buchanan.
Not included, to the surprise of some, was the candidacy of Pam Keith, who is challenging Mast, a two-term Republican. Keith is an African American former Navy JAG officer who is in a race where some pundits say it is competitive, while others say it is not. Mast won by nine points in 2018 against Lauren Baer.
The House delegation currently stands at 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats.
On this day
September 29, 2004 — The first debate between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry is set for Miami. Bush is holding a slight lead in the polls and Kerry is hoping to make up some ground by taking on Bush face-to-face.
Political analyst Larry Sabato said: “Without a breakthrough in the debates, Kerry will probably lose.” The Kerry campaign says Bush has misstated facts in the past and has “an appointment with his own record.”
September 29, 2016 — Democrats are fretting that the Clinton campaign in Florida struggles to meet its goals for voter registration and grassroots organizing. Rep. Alcee Hastings said, “If you spend $20 million in advertising and don’t move the needle, then you need to recalibrate.”
The good news for team Clinton is they have narrowed the mail-in ballot gap to only a 5% deficit. Democrats are making inroads from 2008 when Republicans held a 51 to 23% edge in voting by mail, but Obama went on to carry the state.