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Delegation for 10.30.20: Decisions, decisions — under fire — Big Tech — medal delay — drug bills

Pick a side; it’s go time!

Decision time

The frantic final weekend of a momentous election cycle is finally here. While the presidential election gets the overwhelming amount of attention, some states elect Senators, Governors and state legislatures, while all states are choosing their representatives in Congress.

In a typical year, the candidate with a seven-point lead in national polls is fully expected to win. The most fervent supporters of President Donald Trump proclaim this year will be 2016 all over again, while many Democrats and Joe Biden supporters are fretting that could be true, but the actual numbers from four years ago show the polls were not off by much at this point.

Four days before the 2016 election, Trump trailed in the Real Clear Politics average of polls by 2.3 points. He eventually lost the popular vote by 2.1%, representing nearly 3 million votes.

No more excuses. It’s time to decide.

Trump won the election by sweeping most of the battleground states, where he trailed by an average of 1.6 points at this point in 2016. Heading into the weekend, Trump is behind by between three and four points in those states, with many within the margin of error.

Republicans can hope, and Democrats can fret about the unknowns of holding elections during a pandemic. How many who did not vote by mail or early will actually turn out on Election Day?

In Florida, the biggest prize among the swing states, Republicans are slowly but steadily chipping into the enormous mail vote superiority held by Democrats. The 600,000-plus ballot advantage held by Democrats is now less than 200,000 thanks to the GOP’s significant advantage with in-person voting. Adding to the uncertainty are the more than 1 million ballots cast by independents.

There appear to be few genuine opportunities to flip seats within the Florida delegation, but there has to be some concern and extra hard work in the camps of Democratic Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami and Donna Shalala of Coral Gables. Trump lost Miami-Dade County by 300,000 votes in 2016, but Republicans trail by less than 90,000 ballots cast headed into the weekend.

A Mason-Dixon/Telemundo poll shows Biden trailing among Cuban Americans by 71-23 percent, while leading among Hispanics overall, but is polling 14 points less than Hillary Clinton in 2016. Mucarsel-Powell is challenged by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez, while Shalala faces a rematch with journalist Maria Elvira Salazar. Both challengers are Cuban Americans.

At the same time, Republicans could be “cannibalizing” the Election Day turnout as the 268,000 who have already cast ballots represent 80% of their vote total from four years ago. The Democrats’ total of 354,000 is slightly more than half the vote totals for Clinton. Early voting by Party does not indicate candidates’ actual votes, but Democrats are growing concerned because Democrat-heavy Broward County responds as expected.

In Florida’s 15th Congressional District, Republican Scott Franklin is favored over Democrat Alan Cohn, but it could be closer than expected. Much of the district is in Hillsborough County, where Democrats are doing quite well in early and mail voting, while Polk County is running even. Cohn has made a large ad buy carrying through Election Day.

In the end, turnout Nov. 3 may mean none of these seats flip, but they are ones to watch. The major political pundits list Shalala’s race as “Likely Democrat,” Mucarsel-Powell’s district as either “Leans Democrat” or “Tossup,” while Franklin runs in a “Leans Republican” district.

The closing days of the campaign give both presidential candidates more fodder for their overall message. COVID cases are on the rise, including in Florida, amplifying Biden’s message of Trump mishandling the crisis and his plan to contain it. Meanwhile, gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 33% in the third quarter, giving Trump room to talk about his greatest strength and saying Biden will lock down the country again.

Trump’s voters are motivated, while Biden’s voters are motivated by Trump, keeping to the Biden camp’s goal of making the election a referendum on Trump. Americans will know Tuesday just whose voters were the most motivated.

Or perhaps by the end of next week?

Coming under fire

As Election Day approaches, Sen. Marco Rubio is the target of some public criticism from delegation Democrats. The two-term Republican offered his support the morning after the Senate confirmed Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court by mocking Democrats’ description of the process as “illegitimate.”

“Last night 52 legitimately elected U.S. Senators cast 52 legitimate votes to confirm a legitimately elected President’s highly qualified nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States,” he tweeted.

Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch had an angry response.

“And four years ago you legitimately said you would not support moving forward with a Supreme Court nominee in the last year of a President’s term, even if the president was a Republican. You legitimately lied.”

Marco Rubio and Ted Deutch wrangle over Amy Coney Barrett.

Rubio also took incoming from Mucarsel-Powell for failing to support Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans taking refuge in the country, especially in Florida, as they flee from the failed Nicolás Maduro regime. In a news release, she said Rubio and Trump could have supported TPS for Venezuelans months ago.

“Hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans would be protected if the Republican-controlled Senate or Trump supported our legislation to grant TPS to Venezuelans,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a statement.“ If Sen. Rubio truly wants to stand with the Venezuelan people yearning for democracy, he will support TPS and ask the Trump administration to do the same.”

Her response was to Rubio’s request to Trump the day before that the President grant Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED) status to eligible Venezuelans in place of TPS. The Trump administration expressed reluctance to grant TPS, citing court decisions they claim make the refugees’ status permanent. Simultaneously, Rubio pointed to his cosponsorship of 2019 legislation asking for the TPS designation, the only Republican to do so.

Big Tech grilled

This week, the Senate Commerce Committee brought the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Google before them to answer questions surrounding accusations of bias toward Republicans and conservatives. The issue came to a head when Twitter locked the New York Post account, who was trying to tweet a front-page story on information found on a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden.

Sen. Rick Scott was among those questioning the executives during the four hourlong hearing to discuss whether the tech giants should keep their liability protection as content platforms rather than classified as publishers. Scott said the companies, especially Twitter, are playing favorites.

Scott pointed to tweets from Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei, Venezuela’s Maduro, and the Chinese government commenting on violence as examples of tweets not blocked. Still, others from Republicans and conservatives are sometimes flagged. Khamenei’s tweet about Holocaust denial was mentioned.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey gets grilled by Congress over censorship of conservative voices.

“You block Mitch McConnell and Trump’s tweets … here’s what I don’t get, you guys set up policies you don’t enforce consistently and [there’s] no recourse for the user,” Scott said.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responded that “a global leader policy” exists, adding, “We think it’s important so that people see what those leaders are saying.”

Scott concluded by calling for “consistency” in suppressing or allowing content.

The most widely reported exchange from the hearing came between Dorsey and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who asked Dorsey: “Who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear..”

Cruz referred to the New York Post controversy, which Twitter cited as a story involving hacked material as the reason for blocking its dissemination.

Helping the Republicans’ cause was the decision by Twitter the following day to lockout U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Mark Morgan for tweeting about the border wall keeping drugs and criminals out of the country. Twitter described the tweet as “hateful content” but later restored Morgan’s account after a national uproar.

Medal delayed again

Next week marks the 15th anniversary of the combat death of Sgt. First Class Alwyn Cashe of Sanford. He was awarded the Silver Star for his heroic action, but Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy joined with St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz to have the medal upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

Such awards must be sought within five years, but legislation can waive that requirement, which the House accomplished. A bill sponsored by Murphy and co-sponsored by Waltz and Texas Democrat Dan Crenshaw passed in September.

The bill rests in the Senate, but Senators have left Washington and will not return until November.

Another roadblock in the medal upgrade for Sgt. First Class Alwyn Cashe. Image via U.S. Army.

“Because of Senate gridlock, passage of my bipartisan bill to enable #AlwynCashe to receive the Medal of Honor will have to wait until Nov. Justice may have been delayed, but it will not be denied,” Murphy tweeted. “To those (who) have fought so hard for this, fight on. We will get it done.”

The Senate has been almost singularly focused on getting Barrett confirmed, which occurred this week. Senators began to leave town almost immediately after the vote.

“I can’t, for the life of me, get an answer why the Senate won’t pass this thing,” Waltz told Fox News’ Steve Doocy. “The family has been waiting for 15 years. They shouldn’t have to wait another day, and I hope we can get this thing done, get it on the President’s desk, and get this award to the Cashe family.

Election meddling briefing

There was news this week on another issue on which Murphy and Waltz have taken the lead. After Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe initially denied their request to brief the delegation on the recent revelations surrounding election mischief from Iran and Russia, Ratcliffe did an about-face and agreed to provide the briefing, but only to Waltz and Murphy.

The DNI’s office initially declined due to a “lack of bandwidth prior to the election.” The incident involved emails to Democratic voters, including Waltz’s constituents, purportedly from the Proud Boys White nationalist group demanding they vote for Trump. Iran was found to be the culprit.

Michael Waltz and Stephanie Murphy get their wish, a briefing on spoofed emails.

Waltz said that “It’s a bipartisan issue to protect our elections, and we are working on scheduling this with multiple agencies, as early as (possible),” but Murphy’s office confirmed the meeting time for October 30.

Ft. Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz, who also had constituents receiving the emails, said he spoke with Ratcliffe’s office Monday regarding election interference, to which he said, “I cannot comment on the substance.”

Florida voters in at least six counties received the threatening emails. The sender claimed to have voters’ personal information and ordered them to vote for Trump or “we will come after you.” Intelligence authorities quickly determined that both Iran and Russia had obtained American voter registration data.

In Florida, voter registration data, including names, addresses, emails, dates of birth and party affiliations, are public records, but votes are not. Florida is also the country’s most populous swing state and among at least four states targeted by these emails. Alachua, Collier, Brevard, Flagler, Escambia, and Citrus counties reported threatening emails.

In 2016, Russian operatives penetrated two Florida counties’ voting systems, but officials determined no votes were altered.

Say what?

The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a news release this week highlighting the President’s accomplishments in science and technology during his term. It placed an item that caught the attention of Democrats and several in the media. Among the listed accomplishments was “ending the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As Europe is now into a second wave and an increasing number of Americans are testing positive, health officials warn that things may get worse as winter approaches and people are forced to spend more time indoors. Orlando Democrat Val Demings blasted the White House in a mocking tweet.

“Today (Oct. 27) the White House sent out a news release of their ‘accomplishments.’ It included “Ending the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Saturday was the new single-day record for confirmed infections,” she said.

Val Demings calls out the White House for allegedly ‘ending’ the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID Tracking Project corroborated Demings’ statement, reporting that the country set a record of cases in a single day at 83,000 on October 24. Additionally, more than 42,000 are hospitalized, which is up from about 30,000 one month ago.

According to a White House spokesperson, the news release report does not claim that ending the pandemic was an accomplishment. The intent was to highlight the administration’s progress on confronting the pandemic.

Statistics say that the U.S. has had 8.7 million coronavirus cases and roughly 226,000 deaths, more than any other country.

Accessible housing

Florida is home to a large senior population, most of whom wish to age in their own homes. To do so safely, modifications to their homes might be necessary.

St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist has introduced the Senior Accessible Housing Act, which would provide seniors with a $30,000-lifetime refundable tax credit covering 100% of the costs of any modifications they make to their homes. This would include safety items such as grab bars, wheelchair ramps and walk-in tubs, among others, to assist with living independently and safely.

The legislation comes as a response to the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on nursing homes, which led to limits and restrictions on family visits.

Charlie Crist wants to make it safer for seniors to stay in their homes.

“It’s no secret that this virus is hitting vulnerable, high-risk communities the hardest. As seniors across America and in Pinellas look to the future, too many cannot afford to make age-related home modifications that keep them safe, comfortable and independent,” Crist said in a news release.

The bill calls for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to work with senior groups to publish a list of approved home modifications. Additionally, it would require builder certification in modification, codes and construction standards.

The AARP reports that roughly 90% of people aged 65 and older would prefer to age in their homes rather than moving to an assisted facility or nursing home. They also claim that aging at home is actually more cost-effective than an assisted living facility, where average costs can be between $6,000 to $8000 per month.

“Too often, lower-income seniors cannot afford the dream of spending their sunset years in the safety, comfort and familiarity of their home, as steps and bathtubs become an increasing challenge,” Crist added. “That’s why I’m once again introducing the Senior Accessible Housing Act because everyone deserves to be safe at home.”

Democratic Reps. Brenda Lawrence of Michigan and Antonio Delgado of New York are serving as original co-sponsors.

Florida is home to nearly 4.5 million seniors, who comprise 20.9% of its 21.48 million total population. Only Maine has a higher percentage of residents over 65 at 21.2%.

Dueling drug bills

Both the Trump and Biden campaigns talk about lowering prescription drug prices in their pitches to voters. Trump speaks of his confrontations with pharmaceutical companies to reduce costs. In contrast, Biden talked of legislation known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, among other things.

In an op-ed published in The Hill, Sarasota Republican Greg Steube touted the merits of GOP-backed legislation known as the Lower Cost, More Cures Act. and why it is preferable to the House Democrats’ bill. The House legislation passed on a partisan 230-192 vote on Dec. 12, 2019, three days after introducing the Republican bill.

Steube describes the Democratic bill as going beyond lowering drug prices and punishing the pharmaceutical industry to the point of harming research and development. He claims the Democratic bill would likely prevent 38 fewer cures over the next two decades and harm seniors.

Greg Steube touts the merits of a GOP-backed bill to lower prescription costs.

“Unfortunately, the so-called ‘solutions’ my Democrat colleagues have presented are inadequate and misguided,” Steube wrote. “Their primary proposal, H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, is not only an egregious government overreach but would negatively affect seniors by expanding entitlements and disregarding the Medicare trust fund. This could risk the ultimate failure of the entire program and almost certainly increase out-of-pocket costs for our seniors.”

Democrats point to the bill’s provisions of lowering prices, price transparency, addressing out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries, rebates for Medicare drug price inflation and others. Among the bill’s 106 co-sponsors were 11 of the 13 delegation Democrats. The Senate took no action on the legislation.

Steube claimed the Republican bill contained several ideas championed by Democrats and could have been enacted. He joined with eight other delegation Republicans to co-sponsor the measure.

“Specifically, this legislation contained more than 40 bipartisan provisions that would have been able to go to the president’s desk immediately to be signed into law and help our families,” Steube added.

Donalds beats COVID

State Rep. Byron Donalds, the Republican nominee for Florida’s 19th Congressional District vacated by Naples Republican Francis Rooney, has more in common with Trump than sharing a party label. Donalds, like Trump, has tested positive for COVID 19, then recovered and is now back on the campaign trail.

“Great News! This morning I tested negative for COVID-19, and I tested positive for antibodies!” Donalds tweeted. “I want to thank you all for the prayers and supportive messages over the past 11 days. I am now officially back on the campaign trail.”

Byron Donalds beats COVID-19.

Ironically, Donalds tested positive for the coronavirus while preparing to attend a Trump event in Ft. Myers on October 18. Cindy Banyai, his Democratic opponent, wished Donalds and his family well but called him out for not wearing a mask and urged him to quarantine for 14 days.

In the end, Donalds was out for eight days while Trump was back campaigning one week after entering Walter Reed Military Hospital and receiving two negative tests for the virus.

Payroll tax refund

Rep. Alcee Hastings has introduced legislation that touts protecting the paychecks of members of the Armed Forces. Hastings claimed The Armed Forces Tax Relief Act would “protect service members’ paychecks from President Donald Trump’s politically motivated Social Security tax deferral.”

He refers to Trump’s August 8 executive order suspending the payroll tax to fund unemployment benefits after the $600 weekly enhancement provided by the CARES Act expired on July 31. Payroll taxes fund the Social Security Trust Fund, which will need replenishment in 2021 through higher taxes on workers. Hastings bill seeks to hold military members harmless from the higher payroll taxes.

Alcee Hastings is behind an effort to protect service members’ paychecks from over-taxation.

“Active Duty service members’ have selflessly put their lives on the line every day to protect our freedoms,” said Hastings. “This legislation will not only show our gratitude to them, but it will also correct a reckless endeavor by President Donald Trump to use these brave men and women as political pawns in his reelection bid.”

Specifically, the bill directs the Secretary of Defense to compensate members of the Armed Forces for the deferred taxes if they are withheld beginning in January.

Diaz-Balart honored

This week, a Florida delegation member received an award named after a former delegation member with whom he once served. Hialeah Republican Mario Diaz-Balart received the C. W. “Bill” Young Freedom Medal for a “distinguished career serving the needs of our U.S. fighting forces.”

The award’s sponsor, the Florida Defense Contractors Association (FDCA), presented the award. It defines winners as those who “demonstrate a selfless dedication and commitment to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces and truly embody the patriotic spirit of Rep C.W. “Bill” Young.”

“I’m committed to ensuring our men and women in uniform have the necessary resources to continue building a strong, robust national defense that serves as the cornerstone of America’s security,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement. “I thank the Florida Defense Contractors Association for this award and for the crucial role they play in upholding the national security interests of the United States.”

Mario Diaz-Balart was recognized with the C. W. “Bill” Young Freedom Medal from the Florida Defense Contractors Association (FDCA).

Diaz-Balart became the third person to be honored with the award. Michael Wilson of General Dynamics was selected in 2016, while then-Gov. Scott received the honor in 2018.

Young represented the St. Petersburg area in Congress from 1971-2013. He served as chair of the House Appropriations Committee for six years and was the longest-serving Republican member of the House upon his death.

“I am deeply honored to receive this notable recognition,” Diaz-Balart added. “Bill Young was a giant among legislators, whose effectiveness and love of our nation left an everlasting legacy and precedent to be followed.”

On this day

October 30, 2004 — Both President George W. Bush and challenger Sen. John Kerry are making the final pitches to Florida voters with both campaigning in the state today. Another closely-watched race is the Senate struggle to replace the retiring Bob Graham. Republican Mel Martinez and Democrat Betty Castor are known as likable individuals, but the campaign has been particularly nasty.

Castor has questioned the character of Martinez while he has openly questioned her judgment. Current polls show the race as tied. Graham lamented the tone of the campaign, saying: “I think it’s unfortunate that the campaign wasn’t focused on things that are important to Floridians.”

October 30, 2016 — A little more than one week before the election, congressional races are taking shape that suggests several Florida delegation changes. Veteran Rep. John Mica is in a tight race in Central Florida against a determined challenger in Murphy, while Rep. David Jolly’s seat in Pinellas County is in jeopardy from the challenge of former Gov. Crist.

Other delegation veterans are giving up their seats either through retirement or leaving to run for higher office. Those include Republican Reps. Jeff Miller of Chumuckla, Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville, Richard Nugent of Spring Hill and Curt Clawson of Bonita Springs. Democrats leaving Congress include Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Corrine Brown of Jacksonville (who lost the primary to Al Lawson), Alan Grayson of Orlando, and U.S. Senate nominee Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.

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