Dems seek answers
With the race for President settled but for a few pending legal challenges by Donald Trump, Democrats have started to pause celebrating Joe Biden’s win and begin analyzing why that victory didn’t translate in the House. Indeed, Democrats will likely enter the next Congress with a smaller majority than controlled the chamber in decades.
Much of that conversation focuses squarely on South Florida. Biden won Miami-Dade County, but by just 7 percentage points four years after Hillary Clinton took the county by more than four times that margin. Meanwhile, delegation Democrats Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala lost reelection to incoming Republicans Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar, respectively.
“Miami Dade. No words” tweeted Florida Democratic consultant Kevin Cate on election night.
But no one could say they never saw it coming. Throughout the campaign cycle, Republicans made outward overtures they could change the shade of Miami-Dade on the election map and did just that. Much of it came by branding Biden and the Democratic Party as a whole as socialists. National figures like Bernie Sanders, whose campaign for President began to flounder after he seemed to defend Fidel Castro in a “60 Minutes” interview, didn’t help on that front.
The weight of the world in South Florida’s immigrant community, which includes many whose families fled socialist dictatorships in Cuba, the Caribbean and South America, seemed heavier than in other parts of the nation. Many pointed to a democratic socialism movement in the U.S. that carried politicians like New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez into office as counterproductive with Hispanic communities who read more into the words than universal health care.
Indeed, Giménez and Salazar already started to associate with a “Freedom Squad” in response to AOC’s liberal “Squad” and plan to focus on the impact of socialist governments on people worldwide.
Of course, there are other views on what went wrong for Democrats in Miami-Dade and Mucarsel-Powell, for one, doesn’t believe it’s a matter of one word branding Democrats (more on that below.) Regardless, the results in Miami-Dade will continue to fuel conversations nationwide as Democrats try to regain a hold on Latino voters in future elections.
Controversial nominee thwarted
A controversial Trump nominee to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors appeared to have the support necessary to win Senate confirmation. This week, however, a procedural vote to move the nomination of Judy Shelton to the Senate floor failed by a final vote of 47-50.
Sen. Rick Scott was poised to vote for her but was at home in COVID quarantine while voting took place. He reported his exposure to an infected individual and self-isolated “in an abundance of caution.” On Friday, Scott announced he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Republican supporters also lost the vote of Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, who tested positive late last week. Also not voting was Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, who expressed his opposition to the nominee earlier. At the same time, GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah voted against moving forward. Marco Rubio supported the nomination.
“I believe Judy Shelton shares my belief that relying on the Federal Reserve to boost asset prices is no substitute for a strong American economy,” Rubio said in a statement following the vote. “I also believe she appreciates the risks to our financial system posed by China and is concerned about the financialization of our economy.
“And I believe the Board of Governors would benefit from having somebody who is aware of these issues and vocalizes them in their deliberations. For those reasons, I voted to advance her nomination.”
In the end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell switched his vote to “no,” thereby preserving his right to call up the nomination again.
Shelton has drawn universal Democratic opposition due to her stances on some key issues. She supports the gold standard and has some controversial views on insuring bank deposits and whether the Federal Reserve should be independent of political influences.
Republicans hold a 53-47 margin in the Senate, which allowed for the three defections if Scott and Grassley were there to vote. If McConnell cannot have another vote before the end of the month, Shelton’s outlook is bleak. Democratic Senator-elect Mark Kelly from Arizona will be sworn in by early Dec., replacing outgoing Sen. Martha McSally and reducing the GOP majority to 52-48, effectively killing the nomination.
Trump clearly has no plans to leave the White House quietly. He’s fired several members of his administration for a perceived lack of loyalty. He generated one of his lame-duck tenure’s biggest headlines by booting Christopher Krebs as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
He did so through a tweet criticizing the cybersecurity chief for saying there was “no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” That undermines challenges Trump has waged against results in several states.
The decision to dismiss Krebs drew criticism from across the aisle, though Rubio said administration members ultimately work at the President’s pleasure. “The President doesn’t get to pick who works in my office,” Rubio told POLITICO. “So we may have an opinion on our interactions with these individuals, but at the end of the day, the President gets to pick who serves in the executive branch.”
But Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat, said the reason for Krebs’ dismissal undermines the foundations of democracy the administration leaders were sworn to protect. “Director Krebs worked hard to keep our elections safe from interference and misinformation in order to safeguard our democracy,” she tweeted. “Trump fired him for telling the truth. This is not something that should happen in America.”
Proxy voting supported
COVID-19 affected the health of millions and the everyday operations of schools, businesses, churches and even Congress. Citing member safety, the House majority Democrats approved proxy voting, much to the chagrin of Republicans, who unsuccessfully took Democrats to court over the matter.
While Clermont Republican Dan Webster was among those joining the lawsuit, Naples Republican Francis Rooney stood alone in support, becoming the first Republican to vote on legislation remotely. Two weeks after the most expensive election in history, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz now thinks proxy voting may not be so bad after all.
In an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, Gaetz said that Republicans are getting it wrong on proxy voting. He now believes there is a great deal of merit to the concept of voting from home and far away from K Street lobbyists.
“To date, I’ve toed the party line, but no more: the Republicans are wrong,” Gaetz wrote. “I am now convinced that remote voting would be a devastating blow to the lobbyists and special interests who corrupt our politics and harm our nation.”
In February, Gaetz pledged to run his reelection campaign without accepting PAC money. In the end, he did not need it in his race for reelection against Democrat Phil Ehr but made it quite clear he was fasting from tens of thousands of available campaign dollars. With remote voting, access would be much more difficult to sell or achieve, Gaetz offered.
“But imagine instead if Beltway influence peddlers had to fly to Topeka, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, or Maine to swap campaign cash for corporate-driven desires,” he reasoned. “Lobbyists would hate it — but the nation would benefit greatly.”
Puerto Rican statehood
Statehood for Puerto Rico has been a subject of conversation for years, but perhaps it may be closer to reality. Puerto Ricans recently approved a referendum expressing their desire to become a state.
That prompted a speech on the House floor from Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy, who notes the commonwealth houses more than 3 million American citizens. Florida is home to 1.2 million people who either were born in or have roots in Puerto Rico. That is more than any other state.
“A majority of the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico have voted for the territory to become a state. Whether it’s the White House or Congress, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, we must respect and respond to this result,” Murphy said. “To do otherwise would be immoral and undemocratic.”
She points out that the referendum marked the first time Puerto Ricans were asked the “simple and direct question” about statehood. The referendum passed by a narrow 52% to 48% majority.
Murphy noted that while 48% prefer to remain a commonwealth or a separate nation, the views of the minority cannot trump or take precedence over the majority. While admitting to being a proponent of statehood, Murphy said she would have respected the voters’ decision had the results gone the other way.
“Finally, let me say this. I’m a Democrat, but my support for statehood has nothing to do with any prediction about whether Puerto Rico would be a ‘blue’ state or a ‘red’ state,” Murphy added. “History teaches us that such predictions tend to be wrong. I personally think Puerto Rico would be a swing state that elects both Democrats and Republicans.”
She was addressing a major concern of Republicans, who point to vows by some Senate Democrats to push through statehood. With both being reliable Democratic-leaning voting blocs, the thought of four more Democratic Senators has energized Republicans in Georgia to win the two runoff Senate races there, maintain a Senate majority and slow down the statehood push.
“I would support statehood if Puerto Rico were as Republican as Wyoming or as Democratic as Vermont,” Murphy added. “To oppose statehood because you fear the people will not vote the way you want them to vote violates the most basic principles of justice and democracy — and I have zero patience for it.”
Turkey causing trouble
This week, Rep. Gus Bilirakis and New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney, co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Hellenic Issues, led 21 colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeking condemnation of actions taken by Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
They called on the U.S. to hold Turkey and Erdoğan accountable for recent actions in Cyprus that include illegally reopening the beach in Varosha, part of an area forcibly taken by Turkey in a 1974 invasion.
The letter also calls on the State Department to condemn Erdoğan’s recent rhetoric supporting a two-state division in Cyprus.
“The United States must hold Turkey accountable for its illegal actions in Varosha and demand that the Turkish government immediately remove and prohibit anyone from occupying the area,” they wrote.
“Without tangible repercussions from the United States, President Erdoğan will continue to operate as if he can act with impunity. Cyprus is one of our most critical allies in the region and the United States is obligated to be engaged on the Varosha issue and actively oppose President Erdoğan’s desire to create a two-state solution in Cyprus.”
Specifically, the group is calling for the public to demand Erdoğan cease his efforts to change the status of Varosha and reaffirm the U.S.’ commitment to a comprehensive settlement to reunify Cyprus as a bizonal and bicommunal federation. They also call on the State Department to maintain pressure on Turkey to reverse its stance on a two-state solution and remain engaged and ready to defend the Republic of Cyprus’s security and sovereignty.
“The United States government must make clear to President Erdogan that rhetoric promoting a two-state solution in Cyprus, or any action advancing such an agenda, is unacceptable,” the letter adds.
Among those signing the letter was Hialeah Republican Mario Diaz-Balart and Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch.
Turkey’s actions are personal for St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist, the only member of Congress of Cypriot ancestry. The Varosha area was the birthplace of Crist’s immigrant grandfather, who was visiting the island in 1974 when the invasion came. An emergency rescue by the U.S. Navy was required after he was trapped by the invading Turks while on a visit to his homeland.
DOJ credits task force
The Department of Justice issued a report crediting Crist’s Spam Calls Task Force as instrumental in the crackdown of millions of spam calls targeting vulnerable Americans, especially seniors.
The task force has led to hundreds of millions fewer robocalls per month, according to the report. The new legislation helped diminish these spam calls by coordinating resources, legal action, regulatory efforts and industry input.
Crist initially introduced legislation to create the Spam Calls Task Force Act in January 2019. The congressman’s bill was included in a larger package of legislation called the TRACED Act, which was signed into law by Trump in January of this year.
The task force works with several agencies, including the DOJ, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Communications Commission. The agencies work together to identify, investigate, prevent and prosecute criminal robocall schemes.
The Spam Calls Task Force has been so successful at the federal level that State Attorneys General have formed a Robocall Technologies Working Group as a multistate coalition to locally investigate the issue.
“The onslaught of spam calls has been both an annoyance and a threat to Americans’ personal information and security,” Crist said in a news release. “The Spam Calls Task Force is a simple, common-sense solution that says your government works best when it works together. We should use every tool at our disposal to hold bad actors accountable and keep Pinellas families and seniors safe.”
Buchanan sounds opioid alarms
The opioid crisis has crashed onto Southwest Florida shores in waves through the years, and Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan fears it may be cresting again. The delegation co-chair issued a warning this week as data showed a quadrupling of opioid deaths in Sarasota County, with 52 so far this year compared to 13 in all of 2019. He fears the shut-in population in the pandemic has turned to addictive narcotics.
He celebrated passage Tuesday of legislation devoting more federal resources to combating the drug trade and authorizing $9 billion in funding over six years to be directed to states to fight widespread opioid abuse through prevention, treatment and recovery methods. But he said more must be done.
“As we continue to combat coronavirus, we also need to make sure we don’t ignore the spiraling drug epidemic,” Buchanan said. “These funds will help address a devastating problem in our region and throughout Florida.”
Manatee County, also in his district, has seen 77 deaths, matching last year’s total. On top of that, there have been 646 non-fatal overdoses. For years, the Bradenton area was considered one of the major centers in Florida for the epidemic. Florida has been among the most impacted states, with the nation’s third-highest number of fatal overdoses.
Lowering Libya’s temperature
More than a year of instability in Libya has Congress looking to limit conflict, with Rep. Deutch setting the tone. The House this week passed his Libya Stabilization Act, which sanctions those entities engaged in the region with mercenaries or support for the militia, as well as those violating a United Nations arms embargo or committing human rights violations in Libya.
“Congress has not lifted its attention from Libya,” Deutch said. “In fact, with this bill’s passage, a bipartisan House is notifying all parties to the conflict, including outside actors, of our support for diplomacy and our willingness to use sanctions against obstructive actors that undermine ongoing political talks and refuse to withdraw military arms and forces from Libya. We are committed to work with our partners in Europe, the U.N., regional states, and the Libyan people to achieve a comprehensive political solution to finally end the conflict and help rebuild Libya. I call on my colleagues in the Senate to pass this bill and send it to the President’s desk.”
Deutch introduced his bill with South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson, the ranking member on his Subcommittee, along with California Democrat Ted Lieu and New Jersey Democrat Tom Malinowski.
“For nearly a decade now, Libya has been beset by Civil War fueled by toxic foreign interference at the expense of the lives and future of the Libyan people,” Wilson said. “With the passage of the Libya Stabilization Act by the House of Representatives, Congress is sending a clear message in support of a sovereign Libya free of foreign intervention.”
The legislation came when Russia has established a foothold in North Africa through the energy industry amid the violent conflict there, Deutch said. The legislation coming from the House, its supporters say, will lead the U.S. to lead to the region again through the support of humanitarian aid, elections and civil society. Critically, it shows a commitment to support the public sector Central Bank and National Oil Corporations, described by Deutch’s office as “flashpoints among warring parties.”
Cuba policy shift?
Cuba normalization plans during the Barack Obama administration stopped following Trump’s election. But will Biden’s return to the White House mean a shift in relations with the island nation? Miami Republican Diaz-Balart, the senior Cuban American in the delegation, thinks he knows the answer but will fight to stop a return to pre-2016 posture.
He appeared on Fox and Friends and told host Brian Kilmeade in no uncertain terms the U.S. should not embrace the “dictatorship” 103 miles south of Florida’s shore. He anticipated Biden trying to do just that.
“It’s what he has wanted to do for almost five decades, which is to betray the best allies to the United States, as he and Obama did in front of the U.N. with Israel and then help our enemies, help the enemies of freedom, and help legitimize the dictatorships in the Western Hemisphere,” Diaz-Balart said.
Kilmeade noted the ties between Cuba and the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela, which Diaz-Balart said had been propped up by the Cuban government, which he feels remains under the influence of Raúl Castro and relics of the late Fidel Castro’s regime.
The Congressman also said Cuba allows China, Russia and Iran to maintain a presence in this region of the world.
For the record, Biden on Cuba policy appears to be leaning on Frank Mora, a former Obama administration figure who led Florida International University’s Latin American and Caribbean Center for the past few years. The Miami native favors normalization. He worked on the policy within the Obama administration.
“Some of the policies President Donald Trump has taken with respect to remittances and travel have been very harmful to the Cuban people. And I think those things Biden will reverse,” Mora previously told WLRN. “But he’s also been very clear he is going to be expecting more from the relationship with the Cuban government on the issue of human rights and democracy,”
But that leaves Diaz-Balart nonplussed.
“The response is to normalize and help the dictatorships?” he said. “Hey, how about standing with the people and how about standing with the national security interests of the United States, and not with the enemies of the United States and the enemies of the people?”
Reaching a diverse South Florida
Mucarsel-Powell knows her defeat this month sparked a broader conversation about whether Democrats are losing Hispanic voters. But two years after defeating Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo in an election widely seen as a sign Cuban Republicans no longer called all the shots in Miami; there’s reason to believe her electoral fortunes are more complicated than the skin-deep analysis thus far. A day after her race results were certified this week, the Miami Democrat jumped on social media to offer her take. Spoiler alert, it’s not all about socialism.
“My district voted for Clinton +16% and Trump +6%,” Mucarsel Powell wrote in a Twitter thread. “That’s a DRAMATIC 22-point swing at the top of the ticket not easily explained by this false narrative of progressives versus moderates. I won by 2% in 2018 and lost by 3% in 2020.”
The Ecuadorian American, and the first South American immigrant elected to the House, noted that most House Democrats, successful or not, underperformed the President-elect, but she did not. That alone suggests there’s more to the story. The immigrant population of South Florida hails from several nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, and no monolithic outreach will appeal to all voters.
“Yes, the fear of socialism is real and ingrained for those of us who fled dangerous places in search of the American dream,” she said. “My own father was murdered by a criminal with a gun in Ecuador. But it’s not why I lost, and it’s not the only reason South Florida went red. There were many factors: a targeted disinformation campaign to Latinos; an electorate desperate to reopen, wracked with fear over the economic consequences; a national party that thinks racial identity is how we vote.
“Florida & National Dems: Our brightest days are ahead,” she concluded. “To get there, we must step back and deeply analyze how we’re talking to Latinos and every voter.”
On this day
November 20, 1962 — Nearly four weeks after the U.S. and the Soviet Union were on the brink of war, the final steps toward de-escalation were nearly complete. With Soviet pledges to remove remaining bombers from Cuba, President John F. Kennedy agreed to remove the Communist island nation’s blockade.
Kennedy and the U.S. agreed in October that year not to invade Cuba in exchange for the removal of Soviet missiles on the island. Expounding on the American pledge, Kennedy said: “We shall neither initiate nor permit aggression in the hemisphere.” The blockade was set up to permit further weapons from entering Cuba, triggering previously unseen tensions between the two superpowers.
November 20, 2014 — President Obama took dramatic action in immigration by issuing an executive order protecting around 5 million foreign nationals from deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) order grants a reprieve to those children of undocumented immigrants who were brought illegally to the U.S. through no fault of their own.
Congressional Republicans firmly maintain immigration is a role of Congress and the President lacks authority to grant legal status unilaterally. GOP Rep. Tom Rooney of Okeechobee promised a rapid Republican response, adding “(Obama) has admitted himself on more than 20 occasions that this decision exceeds his authority.”
The Delegation will take a week off to join the rest of the nation to celebrate Thanksgiving and return on Dec. 1. Stay safe while celebrating with your families.