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Delegation for 10.20.20: Enthusiasm — loan fraud — forced labor — lung cancer — PTSD

Is it enthusiasm for Joe Biden? Or excitement to vote Donald Trump out?

Defining enthusiasm

If one believes the polls, Democrats are expected to win the White House, possibly the Senate and perhaps even a few more House seats. To counter the narrative, those following President Donald Trump and other down-ballot Republicans say the enthusiasm for Trump will make 2020 look like 2016 when counting all the votes.

Democrats point to enthusiasm on their side. While there are few outward signs of pure adoration for former Vice President Joe Biden (Trump is serenaded with “we love you” at his rallies), there are numerous Democratic candidates, incumbents, party committees and the Biden campaign, who are raising insane amounts of money across the country.

Is there enthusiasm for Joe Biden? Or is it an excitement to vote Donald Trump out of office? Image via AP.

Team Biden raised a staggering $383 million just in September. The Trump campaign brought a highly respectable $248 million, but was dwarfed by the Biden numbers. Does the excitement to vote Trump out of office match or exceed Republicans seeking to keep him in Washington for four more years?

On the bright side for Republicans, the Republican National Committee (RNC) had $30 million more cash on hand than the Democratic National Committee (DNC) heading into September. However, the Democratic Senate and House election committees had huge advantages over Republicans.

As of October 1, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) had $40 million in cash on hand to assist several challengers seeking to unseat Republicans, a more than three-to-one edge over the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had $105 million available while the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) had $69 million.

Florida has a handful of potentially competitive districts hoping to capitalize on enthusiasm. Republican Scott Franklin, who upset Rep. Ross Spano in the August primary in District 15, has been slightly outraised by Democrat Alan Cohn, who holds a $130,000 cash on hand advantage through September 30 in the Republican-leaning district.

In South Florida, Democratic Reps Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala are seeking second terms. Mucarsel-Powell has raised $5.8 to help stave off a strong challenge from Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, while Shalala is facing a strong challenge in the rematch with Maria Elvira Salazar, who had more than $1 million cash on hand, slightly less than Shalala’s $1.3 million

Democrats also see mail ballot requests and returns as signs of enthusiasm, especially in Florida, where 800,000 more Democrats requested ballots than Republicans. Figures show a nearly 500,000-vote advantage for Democrats in ballots returned.

With early on-site voting opening in Florida this week, Republicans hope to cut into that advantage by Election Day. The GOP had an early vote advantage of 75,000 ballots during the primary as Democrats dominated the mail vote.

While Democrats are pleased with the statewide response to mail balloting, they will be trying to get a better response from Miami-Dade, who has returned slightly more than 30% of the requested ballots, near the bottom of the state in rate of return.

The major political pundits predict a likely win for Shalala, while Mucarsel-Powell is rated as a tossup or tilting Democratic. Franklin is slightly favored in the GOP-leaning district.

In two weeks, the questions of whether money, rallies, returned mail ballots, or precinct voting define enthusiasm will be answered. As many as 140 million voters are expected to take part in what will be the campaign season’s final poll.

Federal loan fraud

With the federal government lending or granting hundreds of billions of dollars as part of the response to the coronavirus, fraud can be a byproduct of distributing such sums. The Economic Injury Disaster Loan program (EIDL) for small businesses may be a major source of such fraud.

Responding to reports Wells Fargo fired more than 100 employees who may have fraudulently applied for EIDL loans, Sen. Marco Rubio sought answers from Charles Scharf, the president and CEO of Wells Fargo. In a letter to Scharf, Rubio sought the results of any internal investigation into fraud, actions taken to mitigate the alleged fraud, and internal controls provided to employees.

“Both the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and expanded EIDL programs were intended to provide critical economic assistance to small businesses during this time of enormous need,” Rubio wrote. “Financial institutions, like yours, are on the front lines of providing PPP assistance. Allegations that employees of financial institutions have exploited either the PPP or EIDL programs for their own gain must be investigated fully.”

Marco Rubio wants answers on potential fraud in the PPP loan program. Image via AP.

Last month, Rubio, the chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee, also sent a letter to James “Jamie” Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, regarding similar accusations of fraud.

According to Rubio, the small business loans have saved an estimated 50 million jobs and provided more than $500 billion in aid to those businesses keeping employees on the payroll during this year’s economic shutdown.

Forced labor products?

A shipment of gloves halted at the port of Long Beach, California, provided a rallying point for calling out the use of forced labor in China. U.S. Customs and Border Protection stopped a shipment of 1,900 pairs of gloves from Xinjiang in China and destined for Overland, a retailer based in Fairfield, Iowa.

Authorities are requiring the company to provide evidence the gloves were not made by forced labor. China has built 380 internment camps in Xinjiang and is reported to hold as many as 1 million Muslim Uyghurs, raising suspicion of the source of materials from the region.

Rick Scott is applauding the administration’s crackdown on China. Image via AP.

“I applaud the administration for cracking down on the forced labor and mistreatment of Uyghurs in Communist China,” said Sen. Rick Scott on social media. “American companies should reevaluate where their products are being made. We should not be supporting these human rights violations.”

Overland claims it has provided proof that forced labor did not make the gloves. Last month, the Trump administration officially halted imports from the Xinjiang region.

Lung cancer awareness

Millions of Americans wear pink during October, signifying Breast Cancer Awareness month. Rep. John Rutherford and Pennsylvania Democrat Brendan Boyle, the co-chairs of the Congressional Lung Cancer Caucus, have introduced a resolution furthering the goal of similarly raising awareness for lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Awareness Month has traditionally taken place in November, but House Resolution 1192 would formally recognize its observance during that month each year.

“As co-chair of the Lung Cancer Caucus and a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I am committed to supporting investments in lung cancer research and development,” the Jacksonville Republican said in a news release. “While we have made significant progress, lung cancer continues to account for more deaths than colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.”

John Rutherford is seeking to raise awareness of lung cancer. Image via CQ Roll Call.

The Lung Cancer Caucus helps educate and inform members on issues specifically related to eliminating the stigma, reducing mortality, improving survivorship, furthering research and ensuring equitable access to preventive screening, treatments, diagnostics and testing.

“This resolution designating November as Lung Cancer Awareness Month seeks to increase detection and diagnosis of lung cancer by promoting the awareness, availability and importance of early screening,” Rutherford added.

Along with Rutherford, Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor is among the 32 bipartisan members of the caucus.

PTSD research

In this era of Americans fighting terrorists worldwide, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has become a way of life for too many veterans and a commonly used description for mental problems the veterans face. Rep. Michael Waltz is doubling down on his call to work with Israel to research PTSD.

At the beginning of the year, he introduced the United States-Israel PTSD Collaborative Research Act to develop best practices in research, diagnosis and treatment of PTSD, establishing a grant program for universities and nonprofits.

Michael Waltz doubles down on his call to research PTSD. Image via Twitter.

Waltz is now looking to include this legislation in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Recently, Waltz and Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria, the bill’s original co-sponsor, led a letter to the leadership of both armed services committees, urging them to “help our veterans and service members, along with their friends, that suffer from these invisible scars of war.”

“Israel, under constant attack from terrorist groups, has experienced similar issues with their veterans and civilian populations facing the symptoms of PTSD. Several leading Israeli hospitals, universities and nonprofits have dedicated their efforts to researching and treating PTSD,” the letter reads. “A better understanding of this disorder, along with treatment options, can help us better recognize, diagnose and treat those suffering from traumatic incidents.”

Language from the bill was initially included in the U.S. House version of the NDAA, but the final conference report is still under negotiation. The legislation currently enjoys more than 100 co-sponsors, including Florida Reps. Castor, Crist, Mucarsel-Powell, Shalala, Mario Diaz-Balart, Lois Frankel, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Ross Spano and Ted Yoho.

“If we want to thank our veterans for putting their lives on the line or our freedoms, we should ensure they lead happy, healthy lives when they return home,” Waltz said.

Another Twitter complaint

Twitter has been the target of ire from Republicans lately (see “Interrogating the FBI” below). In Florida, the Republican running against St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist for Florida’s 13th Congressional District has her own beef with the social media platform.

Anna Paulina Luna recently filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) against Twitter for their alleged refusal to “verify” her account. The complaint says that Twitter has broken finance rules by withholding the elusive blue checkmark that comes with the verification from her Twitter profile while giving it to Crist.

Anna Luna is one of the GOP opponents who are backing term limits.

Anna Paulina Luna has a beef with Twitter.

The complaint argues that this equates to a contribution to Crist even though corporations are barred from contributing to political candidates. Additionally, she argues that Twitter violated the Federal Communications Commission’s (Federal Communications Commission)’s “equal time rule” by doing so. Blue check accounts typically mean more followers and a higher social media profile.

“The @Twitter corporation is providing a free service to Charlie Crist that helps him promote his message and increases his fundraising while refusing to provide the same service to me,” she tweeted. “That is illegal corporate support of a federal candidate. See you in court @Twitter.” Luna tweeted.

Luna’s campaign asks the FEC to force Twitter to verify her account and sanction the company. This marks the second time Luna has publicly expressed grievances over Twitter’s verification policy.

According to Luna, Twitter assured her she would be verified if she won the primary, while her primary opponents, George Buck and Amanda Makki, already had the blue checkmarks attached to their accounts. In September, she threatened to sue the company.

Twitter representative Nick Pacilio said, according to the complaint, “a significant factor in expanding verification to these races was to ensure a level playing field.”

It is unlikely that the complaint will lead to any action before the election. The FEC seats six Commissioners but now has only three, one short of a quorum to take any action on any issue. The U.S. Senate is unlikely to confirm any more commissioners before the election.

The major political prognosticators rate the race as either “Likely Democratic” or “Solid Democratic.”

Interrogating the FBI

Last week’s New York Post story reporting a laptop’s contents said to belong to Hunter Biden created two parallel stories. One was the story itself, while the other concerned the actions of Twitter and Facebook, blocking those trying to use the platforms to spread it.

The report indicated the laptop was provided to the FBI last December, prompting several Republican lawmakers to write to Director Christopher Wray. Those signing the letter included Reps. Yoho of Gainesville and Bill Posey of Rockledge joined the others to seek confirmation the bureau had the laptop and what was done once it was received.

Republicans are asking FBI head Christopher Wray to confirm whether the agency has Hunter Biden’s laptop.

If it was in the FBI’s possession, they said it would constitute a “breach of trust” because much of Trump’s defense against impeachment after asking Ukraine to look into the business dealings of the former Vice President’s son involving a Ukrainian energy company.

“The FBI must offer the public an explanation for concealing its existence from Congressional investigators and those responsible must be held accountable,” Posey said in a news release.

Twitter’s actions have outraged Republicans, with several calling to remove protections the platform enjoys through Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Posey is among those co-sponsoring new legislation that would strip Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms of those protections.

Sarasota Republican Greg Stuebe is also among those co-sponsoring the bill, accusing social media of “clearly suppressing conservative speech.”

Veterans and firearms

Tragic incidents involving guns in the hands of troubled individuals are frequent topics of discussion. Some of these incidents involve veterans, prompting the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to place gun restrictions on those deemed a danger to themselves and others.

Several conservative Republicans are criticizing the policy. In a letter to Trump led by Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs and Steube, the members thanked the President for mental health care received by veterans, but insisted the right to bear arms must be respected.

Greg Steube wants the VA to relax gun restrictions on some of the veterans in its care.

“The VA’s fiduciary rule has led to many veterans being wrongly deprived of constitutional rights,” the letter reads. “Receiving help to manage your VA benefits is not the same as ‘being adjudicated as a mental defective’ or as being ‘committed to a mental institution.’ Veterans should not have to worry about being disarmed when they seek assistance with benefits or health care from the VA.”

They point out the practice accelerated under the administration of former President Bill Clinton, but those signing the letter urge Trump to take executive action with the understanding the VA does not have statutory authority to take the firearms away.

“We urge you to take this long-overdue action to respect the right of veterans to keep and bear arms,” the letter concludes.

Among the 22 signing the letter included Florida Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor.

“Those who fight to protect the freedoms we hold sacred should not be wrongfully deprived of their rights,” Steube tweeted. “My colleagues and I are fighting to fix unfair federal rules preventing our nation’s veterans from exercising their Second Amendment rights.”

Expanding Congress

With the apparent confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court coming next week, some Democrats have spoken of increasing the number of justices on the court should they gain a Senate majority in November. A similar push to increase the number of members in the House of Representatives is a possibility should new legislation become law.

Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings has introduced legislation that would establish a commission to look at the current structure of 435 members in the House, among other things. The Congress Commission Act would also review how members are elected and the effect of gerrymandering on the political process.

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“As a Representative to almost 810,000 constituents, I value the importance of fostering a more representative body,” Hastings said in a news release. “It has been almost 110 years since the House of Representatives has increased its ranks even though the United States’ population has more than tripled in size. We must examine how this institution is constructed today so that we can make the necessary changes for a more equitable tomorrow.”

The commission would also explore alternatives to the current method of electing representatives. A report would be submitted to Congress and the President by the end of 2022, along with recommended legislative action to target any areas of concern discovered through the commission’s work.

“It is not only within the power of Congress to improve itself, but it is our responsibility to do so,” Hastings said. “Such an effort will result in a Congress that better reflects the constituencies, states and nation we serve.”

Secret deportations

Delegation Democrats representing South Florida districts have consistently criticized the Trump administration for its reluctance to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelan refugees in Florida. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez says that “stealth” deportations are occurring, prompting him and others to explain.

In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Menendez asks for information on “surreptitious” deportations to third countries well into March 2020. He noted an ongoing travel ban and brought up the admission from Trump that returning the refugees “would not be safe.”

Donna Shalala blasts the administration’s slow walk on granting TPS to Venezuelans.

“While Trump continues to refuse to grant #TPS for Venezuelans, his administration had been secretly deporting Venezuelans via third countries! Thank you @SenatorMenendez for uncovering this horrifying development,” Shalala tweeted.

Mucarsel-Powell also jumped on the news, tweeting, “This is a slap in the face to the Venezuelans yearning for democracy and liberty.” Wasserman Schultz said, “We need a President who cares about the suffering of the Venezuelan people and is committed to granting them TPS.”

Tougher standards needed

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed maintaining current air quality standards. Several Democratic members of Congress keep stricter standards must be adopted and enforced.

Mucarsel-Powell, joined by 36 colleagues, wrote to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler urging the agency to change course. The members say the result of doing nothing will have a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

Debbie Murcarsel-Powell is pushing for stricter air quality standards.

“Ignoring the harm caused by air pollution in the midst of a respiratory pandemic is especially egregious,” the letter reads. “If EPA moves forward with this proposal, these communities will continue to suffer the disproportionate consequences of unhealthy smog levels for years to come. EPA’s proposal to keep the current, inadequate smog pollution standard is unacceptable, and falls short of what is required by the Clean Air Act.”

Mucarsel-Powell initiated the letter as a representative of Miami-Dade County, which has the second-worst air quality in the state, according to the American Lung Association. Hillsborough County was judged to be the worst. She is the vice-chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment.

Among those signing the letter included Democratic Reps. Shalala, Wasserman Schultz, Castor, Soto and Val Demings.

On this day

October 20, 1992 — With just two weeks left before Election Day, President George Bush is becoming more aggressive as polls show him trailing Arkansas Gov. Clinton. Bush accuses Clinton of engaging in a “pattern of deception,” while derisively calling Tennessee Sen. Al Gore “Ozone Man” because of his warnings about air pollution.

Bush is looking at some polling that shows him trailing Clinton by double digits, while other surveys show the race much closer. According to those same polls, his reelection bid is hampered by the presence of Reform Party candidate Ross Perot, who is favored by between 15 and 20% of voters.

October 20, 2015 — One candidate is out while another one is in. In the race for President, Vice President Biden announced he would not mount a campaign to succeed President Barack Obama on the Democratic ticket. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a clear favorite.

Simultaneously, former Gov. Crist announced he would run for Congress in a redrawn district covering his hometown of St. Petersburg. The seat is currently held by Republican David Jolly, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat Rubio is vacating as he runs for President.

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