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Delaying the inevitable?
Former Vice President Joe Biden has claimed victory over President Donald Trump, which anyone in his position would do under the circumstances. Calls for Trump to concede have increased since most of the networks and The Associated Press has projected Biden as the winner in enough states to put him over the 270 electoral vote mark needed for victory.
Trump has refused to concede, citing a lack of certification of any state’s results and claims of either fraud or irregularities in states where the count is not yet complete. He and his supporters say the Trump campaign’s legal challenges are pressing say the President is right to wait until the legal process plays out.
“Democrats have contested & gone to court after many elections,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio. “Like any candidate, President Trump is well within his legal rights to request recounts, contest unlawful votes, and if he has clear evidence of widespread misconduct or irregularities, take them to court.”
In another tweet, Trump described “big city machines” as “corrupt” and claimed the election was “stolen.” A few prominent Republicans have congratulated Biden and running mate Sen. Kamala Harris.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, a 2016 opponent of Trump, told Biden he would “be praying for you and your success.” His brother, former President George W. Bush, offered Biden and Harris his congratulations and consoling words for Trump and his supporters.
Delegation Democrats were giddy with Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee repeating his earlier endorsement line saying, “They don’t make ‘em like Joe anymore.” Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park tweeted, “I love this incredible country!” In a statement, Rep. Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach said he looks forward to working with Biden and Harris on “a transformative legislative agenda to get our nation back on track.”
Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples became the first Republican in the Delegation to issue congratulations to Biden. “All Americans need to come together to support Pres-elect Biden. Our nation will only be successful if the new admin is,” Rooney tweeted.
“We must work together to enact bipartisan legislation and solve the problems our country faces that is how our system of government works. We have more that unite us than divide us, and now that the heat of battle has drawn to a close, we must come together for the betterment of all our citizens.”
As lawsuits from the Trump campaign come forward this week, the calls to concede will still increase. Those calls will likely point to actions taken by Hillary Clinton in 2016 when she called Trump and conceded the day after he was projected as the winner after winning close elections in some of the same states his campaign is now contesting.
Attorney General William Barr has instructed the Department of Justice to probe instances of election fraud “if they exist.”
Several world leaders have offered their congratulations to Biden, but others are waiting until the legal machinations play out. Among those are Russian President Vladimir Putin, General Secretary Xi Jinping of China, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez-Obrador.
Scott wins leadership post
As two Senate races in Georgia loom in Jan., Senate Republicans will choose their leadership this week for the 117th Congress that begins in Jan. … Senators will also decide who will lead the campaign arm, the National National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
Sen. Rick Scott has been named chair of the NRSC, responsible for recruiting candidates and raising millions for them and incumbents seeking reelection in 2022. Sen. Todd Young of Indiana served as chair during the 2020 cycle, which has seen the Republican Party maintain their majority pending Georgia results.
With Scott at the lead, Republicans will still have a tricky terrain in two years as in 2020. If Sen. Kelly Loeffler wins her Jan. 5 special election runoff, the GOP will be defending 22 seats in two years while Democrats will have 12.
Scott is thought to be considering a run for the White House in 2024. Many consider chairing the NRSC as a way to build relationships and a donor Rolodex by helping raise hundreds of millions of dollars for Senate candidates.
The group raised more than $225 million during the 2020 cycle but were outraised by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). The NRSC frequently outraises its Democratic counterpart, but Senate Democrats benefited from an onslaught of money pouring into party candidates across the country.
The two Georgia races to be contested Jan. 5 provide a rare moment, as did last week’s election when both Senators from the same state are simultaneously on the ballot. Control of the U.S. Senate is at stake.
Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler is in a runoff against the Rev. Raphael Warnock in a special election to complete the term of GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, who resigned in 2019 for health reasons. Warnock is the senior pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once served in a similar role.
GOP Sen. David Perdue fell short of gaining the required majority to win reelection, forcing a runoff against Jon Ossoff. Perdue finished less than two points higher than Ossoff.
Warnock topped 20 candidates with 32.9% of the vote, while Loeffler qualified for the runoff with 25.9%. GOP candidates accounted for 2.42 million votes combined while Democrats combined for 2.37 million. Independents and other party candidates attracted nearly 110,000 votes.
The races will be expensive and will draw top surrogates from both parties. Rubio is headed to Marietta this week to be featured at a “Save Our Majority” rally.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ad spending on the two races topped $150 million. Even in a smaller two-month campaign window, tens of millions will pour into both races.
Playing to their base, Republicans, including Rubio, are spreading a video of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying, “Now we take Georgia, then we change America.” Democrats need to win both races to make Schumer the majority leader.
Assuming North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis holds on to his seat as expected, Republicans have a 50-48 advantage. A tie goes to the party that holds the White House with the Vice President serving as President of the Senate.
House Democrats’ unrest
While Biden is claiming victory, a 2000-style challenge to media projections calling him the winner will keep Americans on edge for days, if not weeks. Republicans will likely be forced to take comfort in apparently holding on to the Senate and flipping several House seats.
As of Nov. 10, the GOP had flipped eight Democratic seats, including those of Reps. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami and Donna Shalala of Miami. Republicans had lost three but appeared poised to show a net gain of 10 or more seats when finishing the counting in New York, California, and two or three districts scattered around the country.
A much narrower majority has fueled speculation Speaker Nancy Pelosi may have difficulty winning another term leading the House. She has officially launched her quest for another two years.
This follows a highly-contentious Democratic caucus meeting last week where moderate members made their feelings clear that progressive messages of socialism and, to some extent, “defund police,” led to Democratic losses. Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a moderate Blue Dog Coalition member, called the party’s campaign strategy “a failure.”
Neither Floridian losing their seat blamed the efforts of Pelosi or her lieutenants. During the call, an emotional Mucarsel-Powell urged Democrats to remain united and not use Twitter to attack each other. At the same time, Shalala said: “Leadership has been excellent and I have no complaints.”
During Pelosi’s last election for speaker in 2018, 15 Democrats failed to vote for her, with most of those coming from the Blue Dogs. Murphy, the organization’s co-chair and Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Florida’s other member, voted for Pelosi. Utah’s Ben McAdams voted for Murphy.
There will be fewer Blue Dogs to vote against Pelosi in Jan., as a handful were defeated, or are about to be defeated, last week, including co-chair Anthony Brindisi of New York. Brindisi’s New York colleague, Max Rose, is on the verge of losing, while Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico lost their seats. McAdams is in a razor-thin reelection race not yet called.
Pelosi has come under criticism before after poor election showings but has always found a way to survive. Being a prodigious fundraiser has helped. She is counting on that and is reluctant for members to take on a powerful leader, to carry the day.
Rural aid proposed
In the closing days of the 116th Congress, Reps. Neal Dunn and Darren Soto have joined in introducing bipartisan legislation to assist more affected Floridians immediately following a natural disaster. The legislation focuses on residents of rural communities.
The FEMA Loan Interest Payment Relief Act would reimburse local governments and electric cooperatives for interest incurred on loans used to restore essential functions after natural disasters. The costs usually are passed on to taxpayers and ratepayers.
“In Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, our local governments and electric cooperatives have waited years for full reimbursement of Hurricane Michael-related costs from FEMA,” said Dunn, a Panama City Republican and the bill’s lead sponsor.
“Local governments and electric co-ops take out loans to restore services; however, while they are waiting for the funding, they incur interest. These interest payments are costing them millions of dollars. We can’t have them on the hook for that,” Dunn added.
He further pointed out instances where two Panhandle electric cooperatives sustained nearly 100% destruction. Dunn said emergency funding was essential in helping the co-ops get back to serving their members.
“States and municipalities rely on FEMA to rebuild and recover after a disaster strikes,” said Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat and the bill’s original co-sponsor. “As Central Floridians continue to struggle to get back on their feet from recent hurricanes, we simply cannot expect local governments and electric cooperatives to pay millions of dollars in loan interest they incurred while waiting for federal assistance. “It must be reimbursed by FEMA.”
COVID hits delegation
After winning reelection, Reps. Michael Waltz and Matt Gaetz made news in another fashion. Waltz revealed he has tested positive for the coronavirus, and Gaetz informed that he has tested positive for antibodies.
Waltz reported November 6 that he had tested positive. His campaign spokeswoman said a lab result confirmed the infection and that he was cautious regarding the virus. No other staff or family members were infected.
“I’ve purposefully tested every week, have now isolated, and reached out to people for notifications,” the St. Augustine Republican said in a statement. “We are fortunate all of my staff or family are fine. I encourage everyone to take appropriate precautions, particularly those in higher-risk categories,” he said. “I will absolutely continue to serve my district and am so very honored with the trust Floridians placed in me Nov. 3rd.”
According to POLITICO, Gaetz had told multiple people on Capitol Hill that he had contracted the virus and reported it in its Playbook newsletter with a photo of the Fort Walton Beach Republican featured at the top. He went to Twitter to clarify that he was not infected but tested for COVID-19 antibodies.
“This story is false,” he tweeted. “I have the antibodies, not the virus. Politico DC is barely journalism.”
POLITICO indicated a request for comment from Gaetz did not receive a response.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while a coronavirus antibody test can detect if a person was infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 at some point in the past, a positive antibody test does not mean that person is currently infected.
Punching at pill mills
As Kathy Castor prepares for another term in the House, the Tampa Democrat announced fighting opioids would be a top priority. She and West Virginia Republican David McKinley introduced the Preventing Pill Mills Through Data Sharing Act to require pharmaceutical wholesalers to take greater responsibility for reporting suspicious quantities to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
“Far too many families in Florida and across the country continue to struggle with opioid addiction, and the COVID-19 pandemic only has exacerbated this ongoing public health crisis,” said Castor.
“I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Rep. McKinley to equip the DEA with necessary tools to require drug distributors, manufacturers and pharmacies to identify, report and halt suspicious orders of controlled substances. Our bipartisan, bicameral bill will take the necessary steps to increase transparency and hold all companies and pharmacies on the supply chain accountable. Most importantly, it will go a long way in keeping our communities informed and ensure our neighbors are safe.”
The legislation builds on 2018’s Using Data to Prevent Opioid Diversion Act, another Castor bill.
Florida — and West Virginia — both suffered their shares of consequences in the opioid addiction epidemic. Castor hopes improving reporting helps law enforcement identify problem pharmacies and doctors’ offices. As written, the legislation extends penalties for manufacturers and distributors who fail to report suspicious activity, directs the DEA to provide quarterly reports on orders and expands reporting rules by the DEA to include unusual volumes of controlled substances disposed of as opposed to being sold, something that could flag illegal trade.
Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan’s office has made 20 nominations this year for local students eyeing a military academy education. In total, he nominated seven Manatee County students, three Sarasota County students and 10 Hillsborough County students to the schools. That included eight Naval Academy nominations, nine Military Academy recommendations, eight Air Force Academy noms and one Merchant Marine Academy letter of support; some students received nominations to multiple academies.
“I am thrilled to see so many qualified and talented students interested in serving our country,” Buchanan said. “Each nominee is deserving of the privilege of attending one of our nation’s prestigious service academies, and I have no doubt they will make our country proud. I wish each of my nominees luck throughout the remainder of the selection process and look forward to their future success.”
Students receiving the nominations from the Congressman include Raven Brown and Mujahid Rosa of Sarasota Military Academy; Clark Literral of Braden River High; Cody Gross and Ryan Ives of the Air Force Academy Prep School; Kai Maclean of Southeast High School; Michael Shaklik of Out of Door Academy; Elise West of Lakewood Ranch High; Cooper Hatten of Sarasota High; Elizabeth Jendrysik of Riverview High (Sarasota); Garrett Bass, Zachory Clay and Andrew Fischer of Newsome High School; Jonathan Beck of Hillsborough Community College; Francis Dias of Strawberry Crest High; McKenna Hartigan, Evelyn Staubitz and Katherine Ward of Riverview High (Hillsborough); Savanah Holt of Naval Academy Preparatory School; and Samantha Vest of Stuttgard High School in Germany.
Make hiring easier
Cutting red tape is a frequent mantra from politicians ranging from city commissioners to members of Congress. Sarasota Republican Greg Steube has introduced legislation that seeks to make it easier to hire employees at federal agencies with existing openings.
Steube’s bill would provide greater flexibility to agencies to make appointments to positions with a “severe shortage” of candidates. The legislation would give direct-hire authority to all federal agencies.
“Federal agencies are victims of burdensome red tape that hold up the hiring process and waste time and taxpayer dollars,” Steube said in a news release. “Agencies should have the authority to hire their own employees and not be subjected to unnecessary regulations.”
Steube said the direct hire privilege is only applicable to certain positions and certain agencies such as the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) if they can prove there is an “urgent” need or “severe shortage of qualified candidates.”
He added that most jobs should fit this description because of requirements from the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Steube described the legislation as fulfilling a need to “deregulate the federal government’s hiring process to increase fiscal responsibility and government efficiency.”
Paris divorce finalized
The United States is now officially disengaged from the Paris climate agreement. The U.S. is the only country to have left the consortium of nations seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Trump announced his intention to leave the agreement last year, setting in motion a yearlong wait until it became official. The year ended on the day following Election Day.
“The U.S. is the only country to depart the Paris Climate Agreement in a historic move, as it is the country that pushes out more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other,” tweeted Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings. “We must bend to science and evolve toward a solution.”
The U.S. could rejoin the agreement and restore its commitment to resume reductions in emissions totaling 25% in 2025 compared to levels in 2005. Figures point to current reduction levels of 17%.
Biden has already stated he will return the U.S. to the Paris accords on his first day in office.
Improper benefits alleged
The Trump campaign used a portion of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building as the headquarters for a campaign night “war room,” where staffers kept track of results and directed surrogates. Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), charging the use of government buildings constituted a violation of the Hatch Act, which forbids political activities in government structures.
Pascrell received a prompt response from the OSC pledging to look into the action of the Trump campaign. The office said they were not consulted about the plans. Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said the campaign would be reimbursing the government for the facility use.
Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson thought taxpayer resources were used in other areas during the campaign. She tweeted a photo of Air Force One with the message of calling for an investigation into improper use of federal resources.
“I am demanding a thorough investigation by the Justice Department into the reckless use of government funding for the president’s reelection campaign,” Wilson said. “Totally illegal!”
Incumbent presidents are required to reimburse the government at a standard rate for the use of government resources. Other presidents have campaigned similarly.
On this day
November 10, 2000 — Three days after Election Day, Americans still do not know who will become the next President. All eyes are on Florida as only 327 votes separate Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush of 6 million cast. That margin was more than 1,000 votes the day before.
The Gore campaign is reportedly considering legal action, with a senior campaign source saying a delay as long as until Dec. 18 would not be catastrophic. Sen. Connie Mack said if the Gore campaign challenged results in Democratic-controlled counties, Republicans would do likewise in GOP-controlled counties.
November 10, 2018 — Harkening back to 2000, Florida is again drawing national attention for two razor-thin races headed to recounts. Gov. Scott is leading Sen. Bill Nelson by little more than 12,000 votes, while former Rep. Ron DeSantis has a 33,000-vote lead on Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Recounts are set to begin.
The Florida delegation welcomed five new members with Democrat Shalala winning the open seat in Congressional District 27, Republican Steube winning another open seat in CD 17, Ross Spano taking the open seat in CD 15, and Republican Waltz claiming DeSantis’s former seat in CD 6. Democrat Mucarsel-Powell flipped the CD 26 seat by defeating Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.