Dems play hardball
An issue sure to grow in importance during this year’s lame-duck session is the status of the next round of coronavirus relief. Negotiations between the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi broke off before the election with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin offering nearly $2 trillion and Pelosi sticking with the House-passed bill totaling $2.2 trillion.
Pelosi seemed to have the upper hand as Democrats expected to pick up anywhere between 10 to 20 seats. Republicans shocked the pundits by picking up a double-digit number of seats, presumably changing the dynamic.
Pelosi, who may face an intraparty challenge for Speaker, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, are acting as if Democrats expanded their House majority and captured the Senate’s control. This week, they said that the first HEROES Act, passed in May and totaling $3.4 trillion in spending, would serve as “a starting point” for future negotiations.
“The HEROES Act should be the starting point, not an emaciated bill that prioritizes protections for corporations and considers the needs of American families as an afterthought,” Schumer told reporters at a joint news conference with Pelosi.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has taken over the negotiations from Mnuchin, was not sold on the $2.2 trillion, let alone $3.4 trillion. It took him less than an hour to reject the concept proposed by the Democratic leaders.
“That’s not a place I think we’re willing to go,” McConnell said. “But I do think there needs to be another package. Hopefully, we can get past the impasse we’ve had now for four or five months and get serious.”
Senate Republicans argue that an improving economy is making big spending bills unnecessary. Sen. Rick Scott is among a group who are against billions for the states, accusing some Democratic-led states of looking for bailouts on billions in non-COVID related debt that includes public employee pensions.
Sen. Marco Rubio has focused on aid for small businesses through the Paycheck Protection Program, which both sides agree. In October, Senate Democrats blocked a GOP bill that focused on the PPP, arguing for a larger package that included more aid for cities and states, checks for individuals, and funding for more coronavirus testing and supplies for health care workers.
Schumer and Pelosi argue that President-elect Joe Biden’s apparent victory is a mandate for Democrats in Congress to pursue their agenda.
“What Joe Biden got in this election was a mandate; a mandate to address the challenges that our country faces as well as to have a positive initiative on how to grow the economy in a fair way and in order to do that we must address the pandemic,” said Pelosi.
One of the unknowns is the role of moderate Democrats. In September, some of those Democrats called on Pelosi to be flexible and deal with Republicans. Some of them lost their seats last week, giving Democrats the smallest majority in two decades.
Going the opposite direction in negotiations is no strategy to get a deal, raising questions whether senior Democrats want an agreement before the January 5 Senate runoffs in Georgia, which will determine who controls that chamber (see “Scott” below), or whether they believe they can force Senate Republicans to add another trillion or so.
“Leadership tried to really paint a very rosy picture of what happened on Tuesday, and that undermines the faith that rank and file have in how we are going to hold our majority in the midterms if you can’t even get leadership to acknowledge that something’s wrong, that something happened,” Murphy told POLITICO.
Scott heads NRSC
The Senate has chosen its leadership team for the 117th Congress with mostly familiar faces. Republicans unanimously chose Mitch McConnell from Kentucky as their leader, while Democrats again unanimously picked New York’s Chuck Schumer to lead their party. Two Georgia Senate runoffs on January 5 will determine who will serve as majority leader.
The GOP did bring a new face into their leadership team with the election of Sen. Rick Scott as the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). The first-term Senator will focus on 21 GOP seats up for reelection in 2022 by recruiting Republican candidates to win seats of retiring members and take on 12 Democrats seeking to hold their seats.
“I’m honored my colleagues entrusted me with this responsibility, and I look forward to the challenge,” Scott said in a statement. “Keeping a Senate majority is vitally important to the future of this country and to preserving the American dream.”
Scott quickly named two trusted aides to critical positions at the NRSC. Jackie Schutz Zeckman, his current chief of staff, will assume the role of executive director. Simultaneously, Chris Hartline will move from Scott’s Senate communications director to become the group’s chief spokesperson.
The NRSC chair and his counterpart at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) would typically have time to catch their breath before preparing for the next election.
Not in 2020.
Scott and fellow Republicans are trying to keep their majority by winning the two Georgia races featuring Sen. David Perdue and Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff, and the special election with GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler pitted against the Rev. Raphael Warnock.
Both Florida Senators were in Georgia this week. Rubio was featured at a Save Our Majority rally while Scott was raising funds for both candidates. Scott’s Let’s Get to Work PAC released an ad in Georgia slamming Schumer and Democrats.
GOP future envisioned
While President Donald Trump is falling short in the Electoral College and trailing in the popular vote count by more than five million votes, he did make some inroads among African American and Latino voters. Sen. Marco Rubio said this week that if the Republican Party is to have a chance at future success, those numbers will need to grow.
“The future of the party is based on a multiethnic, multiracial, working-class coalition,” Rubio said in an interview with Alayna Treene of Axios.
While not claiming Trump is the best messenger for building that coalition, he said the outgoing President forwarded policies that led to advancements among multiple demographics. He pointed out that Trump gained more than 72 million votes, and Republicans were flipping House seats in diverse states such as New York and California.
The bottom line message was to focus on the working class going forward and stop bowing to big business, who has shipped jobs overseas as a way to increase their bottom lines. A return to pre-Trump trade policies will mean Republicans will “lose the [Trump] base as quickly as we got it. … We can’t just go back to being that.”
The two-term Republican did not rule out a second run for the White House in 2024. His path and those of other possible candidates such as Scott or Gov. Ron DeSantis, could be blocked if rumors that Trump may run again are true.
Rubio is undoubtedly increasing his national profile. He became the first Senator to come to Georgia and campaign for Loeffler and Perdue. Scott was in the state the following day.
Barrett on ACA
The predominant Democratic argument against confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court centered around stoking the fear she could be the deciding vote in striking down the Affordable Care Act (ACA). California vs. Texas, brought by a group of GOP attorneys general (including Florida) and the Trump administration’s support, had another day in court this week.
Prompted by legislative removal in 2017 of the provision requiring the purchase of health care insurance in 2017, the suit called for declaring the ACA unconstitutional on that basis. Democrats expressed dire warnings should the court strike down the law in its entirety.
“What is Trump & FL AG (Ashley) Moody trying to take away in the ACA argument at the Supreme Court today?” tweeted Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch. “Coverage for 1.8M Floridians; preexisting condition protections; Medicare Rx benefits; no-cost preventive care; coverage for kids to age 26.”
Even before Barrett’s confirmation, most legal analysts predicted the court would declare the purchase requirement unconstitutional while keeping the rest of the law on the books. Barrett’s questioning was similar to that of Chief Justice John Roberts and conservative justices Brett Kavanaugh and Samuel Alito, which focused on the possibility the law could stand if the court stripped the “individual mandate” away.
A final ruling is months away.
Agriculture supporters honored
Several bipartisan members of the Florida delegation were recently honored by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) with one of the organization’s top awards. AFBF selected several Floridians for the award for their support of the state’s farming and ranching communities.
They chose those honored for their commitment to agricultural issues based on policy positions and voting records. The Florida Farm Bureau nominated those honored, who the AFBF ultimately selected.
“Since arriving to Congress, I’ve worked hard to protect the livelihoods of those in our district, including our ranchers and farmers,” said Republican Rep. Ross Spano of Dover, one of 13 selected from within the delegation. “For our area, agriculture is more than just an industry — it’s our history and our passion.”
Others chosen for the award include Rubio and Republican Reps. Neal Dunn, Ted Yoho, John Rutherford, Bill Posey, Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Greg Steube and Mario Diaz-Balart. Democratic winners included Reps. Murphy, Al Lawson, and Darren Soto.
Gaetz blames Governor
With Trump narrowly behind Biden in a close Georgia race, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz said the state’s election process failed, and he has someone to blame. According to Gaetz, Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp cared more about GOP Senate candidates Loeffler and Perdue than winning the top of the ticket.
“I think that for Brian Kemp,” Gaetz told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “it was more important that Kelly Loeffler beat Doug Collins than that Donald Trump beat Joe Biden. He could’ve set that Collins-Loeffler primary earlier.”
Loeffler and Collins, a sitting House member, were battling in a “jungle primary” where Warnock gained the most votes with Loeffler second, knocking out Collins. Loeffler was initially picked by Kemp to take the Senate seat vacated by former Sen. Johnny Isakson, a move criticized by Gaetz and Trump. Gaetz hinted at a 2020 primary opponent for Kemp for not choosing Collins.
Gaetz also charged Kemp with not acting decisively enough to ensure the state’s election ran more smoothly. He offered Florida as an example, pointing to the state’s ability to begin counting mail ballots weeks before Election Day and preventing a “4 a.m. dump of ballots into the back of the room in the middle of the night.” Such an accusation involving the count in Michigan.
Kemp oversaw Georgia’s elections mechanism as Secretary of State before being elected Governor in 2018 after a close race with Democrat Stacey Abrams. Loeffler and Perdue blamed the Georgia delays on Kemp’s successor, Brad Raffensperger, to resign.
Raffensperger, also a Republican, has called for a statewide manual recount.
Florida hero honored
The wait is over for the family of the late Army Sgt. First Class (SFC) Alwyn Cashe and two Florida politicians are seeking to honor his memory. This week, the Senate passed a House bill pushed by Murphy and St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz that would elevate Cashe’s Silver Star award to the Medal of Honor for his actions on the battlefield in 2005.
House Resolution 8276 was sponsored by Murphy and co-sponsored by Waltz and Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw. It passed the House in October, but much to the sponsors’ chagrin, consideration in the Senate was delayed until after the election.
“I am so grateful the Senate passed our bill to pave the way for the President to award Alwyn Cashe the Medal of Honor,” Murphy said in a news release. “We are now very close to recognizing this unbelievably heroic soldier, who died saving his men, with our nation’s highest award for combat valor — which he earned beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
Two steps now remain before Cashe is appropriately honored. Trump must now sign the legislation and then officially award the medal to him posthumously.
“It’s not every day you read an extraordinary story like Alwyn Cashe’s,” Waltz said. “His bravery in the face of danger has inspired so many already — and this is a significant step forward to properly recognize him for his heroism. I’m incredibly proud to see both sides of the aisle, in the House and the Senate, come together to honor Cashe’s legacy and award him the Medal of Honor.”
On October 17, 2005, while deployed to Iraq, SFC Cashe saved multiple soldiers’ lives after their fighting vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED) and caught fire. SFC Cashe repeatedly returned to the burning vehicle to pull his soldiers out of the flames while he was on fire and exposed to enemy gunfire. He later passed away from his wounds.
“He is deserving of the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award for bravery on the battlefield, and we urge Trump to quickly sign our bill into law to make sure that happens,” said Crenshaw.
Crist gives thanks
Millions of Americans look forward to Election Day if for no other reason than the assurance that the onslaught of political ads will end. Tampa Bay area residents are waiting a little longer as St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist was still running commercials after the election, but not to ask for votes or money.
Crist is running “thank-you” advertisements, offering gratitude for not only reelecting him to a third term over Republican challenger Anna Paulina Luna but merely for voting, no matter for whom they voted. The unusual step fits the Crist persona but is rare in today’s political climate.
“Because my mother always taught us to say please AND thank you for voting, even if it’s not for me,” Crist says in the ad.
To watch the ad, click on the image below:
Speculation from political analysts centers on whether there is more than just a friendly sentiment behind it.
“That’s someone that, in my mind, is campaigning for something. Don’t know quite yet what it is,” said Dr. J. Edwin Benton, a political-science professor at the University of South Florida.
Other speculation centers around Rubio leaving the Senate to run for President again, leaving open the seat Crist sought in 2010 against Rubio. A challenge to Gov. Ron DeSantis is another possible move, but Crist says his ads are about none of that.
“I know there’s skeptics in this business, and some people see what they want to see,” he told FOX 13 in Tampa. “What I’m trying to do is let the people know that I’m grateful to them, and I believe our government should be of the people by the people and for the people.”
“Practice the golden rule every day,” he added. “If we did that, these problems would be gone forever.”
Defense chief sacked
In what appears to be the waning days of his administration, Trump took the controversial step of firing Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. The President named National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller as interim secretary.
“Chris will do a GREAT job!” Trump tweeted. “Mark Esper has been terminated. I would like to thank him for his service.”
After disagreements, the Trump-Esper relationship turned sour after Esper described the events where Trump visited a damaged Washington church after clearing the area of protesters as “a photo op.” While Esper would have been told to leave even if Trump won and with Biden certain to name his own secretary, Democrats called Esper’s sacking as dangerous.
“Trump’s firing of Secretary Esper with just 72 days left in office is a dangerous move that represents yet another failure to lead,” tweeted Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings. “It appears Trump has chosen to put our national security & military readiness at risk just to protect his bruised ego. We deserve better!”
Trump may not be finished making changes. Rumors are circulating he is considering terminating FBI Director Christopher Wray, and CIA Director Gina Haspel may also be on the way out sooner rather than later.
Covering airborne hazards
Following the death of a Sarasota County Sheriff’s Deputy from lung cancer, Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan has jumped on an effort to expand the number of health conditions covered with no questions by the Veterans Affairs Administration.
The interest comes on the news of Deputy Stephen Shull’s death. The veteran of the Coast Guard and Army served in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was exposed to toxins from military burn pits used to dispose of a host of toxic materials from medical waste to petroleum products.
But the VA won’t automatically cover lung conditions like Shull’s. Instead, veterans can self-report their condition in a dedicated registry, but the VA rejects the claims 75% of the time for those seeking coverage that way. Buchanan wants that changed.
“I’m deeply saddened by the death of Stephen Shull, who served our country overseas and later protected our community here at home,” Buchanan said. “He is one of the many veterans who suffered from critical health problems after being exposed to toxic burn pits. Our country needs to learn from the tragic mistakes in long denying health coverage to Vietnam veterans and do the right thing.”
The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act (HR 8261), introduced this session by California Democrat Raul Ruiz, would expand a list of covered conditions to include chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lymphoma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, granulomatous disease, constrictive bronchiolitis, pulmonary fibrosis, pleuritis, sarcoidosis, interstitial lung disease, and any type of cancer or asthma diagnosed after exposure.
Anti-Semitism task force meets
Concern over the increase of anti-Semitism, especially online, led to the formation of the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force on Online anti-Semitism. The task force, made up of representatives from the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel, held their first virtual briefing this week.
Among those representing the U.S. were Deutch, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Hialeah. The briefing covered the state of online anti-Semitism, how community groups responded, and provided recommendations for what actions legislators should take to address the issue.
“The strength of this historic task force comes from our geographic and political diversity,” said Deutch. “Together, we will build a global coalition to bring awareness to and combat the spread of anti-Semitism online.”
Among the task force goals is to establish consistent messaging and policy from Parliaments and legislatures worldwide to hold social media platforms accountable and adopt policies related to hate speech. Also, the emphasis is that if one minority cannot be protected, none can be, as well as underscoring the fact the fight against anti-Semitism is nonpartisan.
“Amid this global pandemic, when more people are online, the urgency to act is even greater,” said Wasserman Schultz. “We must expose online anti-Semitism and racism that goes unaddressed or inadequately addressed on social media platforms, especially as disinformation continues to rise.”
The organizations encouraged social media platforms to adopt a standard defining anti-Semitism; called for reforming Section 230 in the United States; demanded accountability of their local executives’ platforms and personal accountability, and highlighted the need to address anti-Semitism in encrypted networks and alt-tech social networking platforms.
“I was honored to join with so many colleagues and renowned organizations from around the world in uniting against online anti-Semitism,” said Diaz-Balart. “We are committed to working together to fight this insidious hatred and to ensure a safer, brighter future for generations to come.”
Another briefing that will include community organizations from Israel and the United Kingdom was set for the end of November.
Breaking (erasing?) racial barriers
It looks clear Byron Donalds will be the only Black member of the House GOP Caucus when the body swears in this fall. The Naples Republican, who won a difficult primary in August and a landslide general election victory, has already earned national attention for his victory.
Donalds hasn’t shied from the significance of race in his personal history. He shared how he upset his mother when he voted for John McCain over America’s first Black President Barack Obama in 2008. He’s since been an ardently conservative, pro-Trump voice intent on erasing racial identity politics.
“The divisive racist rhetoric from the Left is the very thing, so many voters are beginning to reject,” he tweeted last week. “Whether you’re White, Black, Hispanic — voters care about principles, policies, and what you’re going to push forward for the American people — not the rhetoric.”
Certainly, he’s not the first Black Republican to win election to the House. Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, serves in the House now but didn’t seek reelection, so will retire as Donalds assumes the office.
Beyond the number of Republicans appointed (and five later elected) during Reconstruction, civil rights advocate Oscar Stanton De Priest of Illinois served in the 1930s. The 1990s brought Gary Franks of Connecticut and J.C. Watts of Oklahoma. Florida’s own Allen West won election in 2010, alongside now-Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina. Mia Love of Utah also won election alongside Hurd in 2014.
On this day
November 13, 1956 — The United States Supreme Court issued a ruling declaring state and local laws segregating public buses as unconstitutional. The unanimous ruling upholds a district-court ruling in Montgomery, Alabama, where Rosa Parks gained notoriety for refusing to move to the back of the bus less than one year ago.
Despite the entire court backing the opinion, some Southern states expressed reluctance at complying. Florida Attorney General Richard Ervin said Florida’s segregation laws “remain in effect and must be enforced.” The 1896 case known as “Plessy vs. Ferguson” that created the “separate but equal” doctrine is now largely wiped out.
November 13, 2019 — For just the fourth time in history, an impeachment inquiry began when the House of Representatives began looking into whether Trump’s actions involving Ukraine constituted an impeachable offense. Two Floridians are playing prominent roles with polar opposite approaches.
Orlando Democrat Val Demings, who serves on both the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee, has called for Trump’s impeachment and was further convinced by the testimony delivered during the hearing from William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine. Republican Rep. Gaetz previously led a group of fellow Republicans seeking access to a secure room where depositions were underway before being evicted by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.