SCOTUS, POTUS, COVID
If the polls are accurate, Republicans may have won their last political battle for a while. The Republican Party majority in the Senate voted Monday to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court by a 52-48 partisan vote. She was sworn in hours later by Justice Clarence Thomas.
The vote came 38 days after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died from cancer, lightning speed when describing events in Washington. Democrats have described the entire process as “illegitimate.”
Senate Republicans broke the Democratic filibuster against Barrett by a 51-48 vote held over the weekend. GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, who is in a tough reelection fight, voted with Democrats to block a final vote. Murkowski ultimately voted to confirm Barrett.
During the hearings, Democrats were first trying to bring attention to the unfairness of holding a confirmation vote so close to the election after Republicans denied a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, appointed 10 months before the 2016 elections. Republican Senators defended their actions by claiming a Senate controlled by the same party as the President has moved nominations forward during election years — but never one week before an election.
Sen. Marco Rubio has not been exceedingly vocal on Barrett’s prospects but is clearly a supporter. During her hearing, he tweeted her “composure & confidence is impressive. She is smarter & far more knowledgeable on the law than the senators trying to derail her.”
Last week, Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats boycotted the vote to forward the nomination to the Senate Floor, but it went forward on a 12-0 vote. Sen. Rick Scott called that a “tantrum.”
“It’s pathetic — but what we’ve come to expect,” he said in a statement. “Whether they come to the table or not, we will confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Some Republicans may not understand the anger and motivation on the Democratic side, at least by those who regularly follow the happenings in Washington. Whether it remains a significant issue remains to be seen. A Morning Consult poll found a slim majority backed her confirmation, including 32% of Democrats.
Other issues, such as the economy and coronavirus response, will likely have more impact on whether President Donald Trump wins a second term. The campaign of Joe Biden is hammering away on COVID-19 response, with 37 states seeing a spike in positive tests and some cases, a rise in hospitalizations.
During his rallies, the President teases the gross domestic product (GDP) report coming Nov. 1. Second quarter economic growth plummeted at a rate of 32% but is expected to grow by at least 30% in the third quarter. While that would be great news, perhaps nearly half of the voters will have already cast ballots by that time.
One week out from Election Day, more than 62 million have voted, including about 6.5 million in Florida. As of Oct. 27, Florida Democrats held a 300,000 ballot advantage over Republicans. More than 1.36 million ballots from independents or other parties have also been cast.
Biden holds a nearly eight-point advantage lead, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls. That includes an advantage of four points in the pivotal swing states and a lead of fewer than two points in Florida. Trump needs the kind of poll-defying miracle this year as he had in 2016.
Several endangered Republican Senators voted to confirm Barrett on Monday. For some, it could be their last significant vote, as well as one or two Democrats. Republicans are especially hoping to survive the strong headwinds they currently confront.
Free the 12!
In September, 12 Hong Kong youths attempted to flee to Taiwan in a boat but were detained at sea by Chinese authorities and incarcerated in China, not Hong Kong. A diplomatic effort to free the 12, led by British House of Commons leader Iain Duncan Smith, is gaining momentum worldwide, including the U.S.
Rubio is among those joining the effort and urges colleagues from both parties to join him in bringing awareness to the plight of the 12, who are the early victims of the new law that permits China to bring dissidents from Hong Kong to the mainland for incarceration and trial. The effort also highlights a new hashtag #Save12HKYouths.
“I stand with @MPlainDS and our friends around the world in demanding the immediate release of the 12 Hong Kongers arrested at sea while fleeing CCP persecution in #HongKong,” Rubio tweeted. “I nominate @SenatorCardin, @JohnCornyn, @CoryGardner, & @SenJeffMerkley to do the same.”
According to reports, the 12 have hired mainland China lawyers, but those attorneys are yet to see their clients. Those same reports said the lawyers have been followed, harassed, warned by security officials to drop the case, and told at the Shenzhen detention center that the 12 had separately hired their own attorneys from a government-provided list.”
Families of the 12 hotly disputed this. Smith, Rubio and family members count on the diplomatic effort to free the 12 grow into sufficient pressure to win their release.
China media bill blocked
Scott went to the Senate floor on October 24 to slam the regime under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and General Secretary Xi Jinping. He also sought to get a vote on his bill introduced earlier in the month that would limit Chinese journalists in the U.S.
“For years, the communist government of China has tried to push its propaganda in America through state-owned media outlets while refusing to treat American journalists in China fairly,” he said.
“We saw this firsthand earlier this year. Chinese-backed propaganda outlets peddled Chinese lies about the coronavirus and endangered the lives of Americans. In March, the Chinese Communist Party expelled more than a dozen U.S. journalists. It required other outlets to submit written reports of their staff, finances, operations and real estate in China.”
The Chinese-Backed Media Accountability Act would forbid Chinese journalists from obtaining visas longer than 90 days, limit the number of state-backed journalists to the same number as American journalists in China, and require the State Department to submit a report within 45 days on the monitoring of those Chinese journalists.
With the bill still in committee and the session winding down, Scott asked for unanimous consent to approve the measure. Stopping further consideration required only one Senator to object, which is what happened, effectively killing the bill for this session.
“Today, I introduced my Chinese-Backed Media Accountability Act to hold Communist China accountable for censoring free speech & treating US journalists unfairly,” he tweeted. “This is a common-sense bill & yet the Dems blocked it. These political games are getting old.”
Veteran counseling increased
With a growing number of military veterans turning to suicide, advocates are pointing to proper mental health counseling as part of the solution. Trump has now signed legislation co-sponsored by Panama City Republican Neal Dunn to assist others who served on missions during their military service that did not include combat.
Previously, active-duty members eligible for the counseling were those who served in any combat theater or area of hostility, experienced military sexual trauma, provided direct emergency medical care or mortuary services to casualties of war, or served as a member of an unarmed aerial view crew that provided direct support to operations in a combat zone or area of hostility.
The Vet Center Eligibility Expansion Act, sponsored by Tennessee Republican Phil Roe and co-sponsored by California Democrat Mike Levin and Dunn, extends Veterans Affairs counseling and related mental health services to these troops who did not deploy to combat areas but instead participated in drug interdiction or assisting in national disasters or emergencies.
Dunn and Rowe argued those types of operations “can have serious mental health consequences.”
Out of the approximately 20 veterans who take their own lives on any given day, only six looked to the Veterans Affairs for help in the two years that preceded their death. Of the 14, analysis indicates as many as four of those suicides occur among members who served in the National Guard or Reserve but never deployed.
According to the VA, more than 6,100 veterans died by suicide in 2017, which is the most recent data available. Veterans’ suicide rates have remained at 18-22 per day over the last two decades despite increased resources directed at VA mental health care.
Hacking brief requested
Last week came the disturbing revelations that Russia and Iran are working to interfere in American elections. A briefing by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray indicated voter data was compromised, which allowed threatening emails to go out to voters, including several in Florida.
“This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy,” said Ratcliffe at a news conference.
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park and Republican Rep. Michael Waltz of St. Augustine seek more answers. In a letter to Ratcliffe, Wray and Attorney General William Barr, the lawmakers asked for a formal briefing for the Florida delegation on what the intelligence shows.
“We have long argued that our government should err on the side of telling citizens more, not less, when foreign powers interfere with our democracy,” the letter reads. “Our citizens can then counter the threat by scrutinizing the information they view online, checking their voter registration data to confirm it wasn’t tampered with, and holding accountable state and local officials who fail to protect election infrastructure.”
Emails purported to be from the Proud Boys White nationalist group were sent to Democratic voters, urging a vote for Trump “or else.” The group denied involvement in the emails, some of which went to constituents of Waltz.
“In 2016, Russia hacked two Florida counties’ voter data. This year, our adversaries are targeting Florida once more,” Waltz tweeted. “Voters deserve to know the extent of this new election interference. This is why @RepStephMurphy and I are requesting a briefing with the @FBI for answers.”
Murphy and Waltz previously teamed up on elections security issues after Russian hackers accessed two Florida counties’ voter information in 2016. Their bipartisan ALERTS Act would require public notification when voters’ information is hacked.
“Just like in 2016, foreign actors are targeting Florida in an effort to undermine our democracy. @RepMichaelWaltz & I have requested a briefing from federal authorities on the threat,” Murphy tweeted. “We will push for greater transparency for voters — the true victims of election interference.”
Funding the police
“Defund the police” may be the cry of some activists in major cities, but three Central Florida Democrats are not among those. Reps. Murphy, Darren Soto, and Val Demings are applauding the announcement of nearly $4 million to law enforcement agencies in the region.
“I’m particularly proud to have backed this successful grant application so that Central Florida can hire and train 30 new police officers who will be focused on building stronger ties to groups within our community and prioritize de-escalation techniques,” Murphy said in a joint news release. “I’ll continue to support the brave men and women whose job it is to protect and serve all Central Floridians.”
The funding is provided through the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant program, which assists local and state law enforcement agencies reduce crime by supporting community policing strategies. The Orange County Sheriff’s office has been awarded $2.5 million to hire 20 deputy sheriffs, and the city of Orlando will receive $1.5 million to hire 10 officers.
“As public servants, we have an obligation to provide safe neighborhoods for all persons,” said Demings, the former chief of police in Orlando. “As a former OPD chief, I saw a simple equation: to have safe communities, we need to devote resources to protect them.”
Earlier this year, Murphy joined the call to provide sufficient funding for the COPS grant program. In addition, she wrote a letter in March to the Justice Department to support the Orlando Police Department’s grant application.
CD 15 turmoil
Things are happening in the race for Florida’s 15th Congressional District between Republican Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin and his Democratic opponent, investigative journalist Alan Cohn. The latest involves a call for Cohn to return a $235,000 contribution from the House Victory Project 2020, calling the contribution illegal by claiming the committee was not authorized when it forwarded the funds.
A complaint to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) said the contribution was accepted by Cohn’s campaign on September 30, while the House Victory Project 2020 was not authorized until Oct. 4. With the funding boost, Cohn had $125,000 more to spend in the campaign’s closing days than Franklin.
Republicans could be seeing trouble in the normally reliable GOP district. Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to visit Jacksonville, then Tallahassee on Saturday, but the campaign instead sent Pence to Lakeland for a rally. Rep. Ross Spano won the seat in 2018 over Democrat Kristen Carlson by six points, with most of his margin of victory from Lakeland and Polk County.
District 15 voters are becoming accustomed to election controversy. Campaign finance violations from 2018 led to Spano losing his reelection bid to Franklin in the August primary.
Spano admitted to mistakes in the general election and is now under a Department of Justice investigation. At the same time, his 2018 primary opponent, then-state Rep. Neil Combee, pointed to questionable fundraising during the primary. It was Combee who filed the recent complaint against Cohn and the House Victory Project.
“The people of Congressional District 15 know this story all too well,” said Christina Johnson, spokeswoman for Wingman PAC, a single candidate group backing Franklin. “The old saying, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me’ aptly applies.”
Cohn’s campaign manager, Kevin Lata, called Combee’s complaint “a right-wing attack from a disgruntled failed congressional candidate and ultimately amounts to a minor clerical error.”
The Cook Political Report, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections all have the race as “Leans Republican,” while Real Clear Politics lists the race as a tossup. A recent Democratic poll showed Cohn trailing by only two points.
Time change blues
Daylight Saving Time (DST) ends on Sunday, which means two things. First, Americans will need to adjust their regular and biological clocks. Second, some Congress members will repeat the call to end the practice and stay at the same time all year.
Rep. Vern Buchanan is one of those urging a halt to adjust the time each year. He pointed to his legislation designed to make DST universal.
“There are enormous health and economic benefits to making daylight saving time permanent,” the Longboat Key Republican said in a news release. “Florida lawmakers have already voted to make daylight saving time permanent in my home state and Congress should pass the Sunshine Protection Act to move Florida and the rest of the country to year-round daylight saving time.”
The Florida Legislature passed the switch in 2018, but Congressional approval is required. Trump has indicated he would sign the bill.
Rubio is sponsoring the Senate’s companion bill, with Scott serving as the legislation’s original co-sponsor.
Expedited visas urged
The plight of Muslim Uyghurs was the subject of a bipartisan effort from Congress to protect them from China’s persecution. Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch and South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the subcommittee overseeing the Middle East and terrorism, wrote to the Trump administration seeking action.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, Deutch and Wilson called on the administration to facilitate entry for refugees and protect those already in the country. This would include expedited visa applications, consideration of refugee referrals, and raise overall refugee limits.
“There is a backlog of approximately 3.6 million visa applicants waiting to enter the United States. Wait times for certain visas are between five and 18 years,” they wrote.
“In response, and in light of the ongoing state persecution of the Uyghurs, we urge you to consider expedited consideration of applications for both family, educational, and employment-based visas for those deemed at risk of coercive population control, forced labor, arbitrary detention in internment camps, torture, physical and sexual abuse, mass surveillance, family separation, and repression of cultural and religious expression around the world.”
The lawmakers also asked them to encourage other countries to assist in the effort.
Included among the 31 signers of the letter were Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings and Donna Shalala.
National mask mandate
With positive COVID-19 tests on the rise, including top aides to Pence, medical experts that include Dr. Anthony Fauci believe it may be time to mandate wearing masks as a precautionary measure. Members of Congress, mostly Democrats, agree.
Among those include Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens. She has introduced the Masks for All Act that would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to require every state, territory, local government and tribal government to require masks to be worn in public and inside businesses.
“We all have a part to play to get the pandemic under control,” Wilson said on social media. “My #MasksForAllAct calls for everyone to wear a mask when they are in public and can’t maintain six feet of distance from someone who is not a member of their household.”
Those able to maintain social distancing would be exempt. States failing to enact mask mandates would be subject to the loss of federal funding.
Sham elections condemned
Opposition activist Leopoldo López has fled Venezuela, taking his efforts to oust dictator Nicolás Maduro to another country. The move comes just six weeks before elections for the Venezuelan National Assembly take place.
Most in the United States consider the upcoming elections as illegitimate as they are expected to install Maduro’s supporters. Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Naples Republican Francis Rooney co-introduced a bipartisan resolution condemning the elections.
“Maduro has made it clear that under his cruel, narco-regime, no election will be free or fair, and this bipartisan resolution is a forceful and direct message that Congress denounces his desperate and unjust power grabs,” said Mucarsel-Powell. “The international community has and continues to condemn these sham elections that are merely a front to further silence the voice of the Venezuelan people yearning for democracy and suffering in a deteriorating humanitarian disaster.”
The resolution states, among other things, that the currently elected legislature is the only one the U.S. will recognize. Maduro is not recognized by the Americans as the legitimate President, falling behind Juan Guaidó, leader of the current assembly.
“Maduro’s continued usurpation of Venezuela’s electoral council, democratically-elected National Assembly, and institutions for the purpose of holding fraudulent elections must come to an end,” said Rooney. “The Venezuelan people continue to suffer at the hands of the illegitimate Maduro regime, and they deserve the freedom to choose their leaders in a free and transparent process,”
Other resolution co-sponsors include Democratic Reps. Shalala, Soto, Hastings, Deutch, Murphy, Demings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Charlie Crist, and Lois Frankel. Republican Reps Waltz and. Mario Diaz-Balart also joined as co-sponsors.
Rubio and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez introduced a similar resolution in the Senate.
On this day
October 27, 2000 — No one believes Green Party candidate Ralph Nader has a chance to win a state, let alone the presidency, but Republicans think he might be useful in siphoning some votes away from Vice President Al Gore. Republicans are buying ads featuring Nader clips attacking Gore in states where he may win enough votes to tip the election to George W. Bush.
Democrats believe the Republican Leadership Council’s ads will backfire when voters find out who is behind them. They also claim Democratic voters will realize that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.
October 27, 2012 — Tradition says that the candidate who wins the I-4 corridor wins Florida, and by that measure, Mitt Romney may be on his way to capturing the state’s 29 electoral votes. A Mason-Dixon Polling and Research poll shows the former Massachusetts Governor with a 51-45 percent lead over President Barack Obama in that region.
The Romney camp believes their candidate is in great shape to take the must-win state. Mason-Dixon’s Brad Coker said: “Unless something dramatically changes — an October surprise, a major gaffe — Romney’s going to win Florida.”
(NOTE: Obama won Florida by 74,000 votes)