COVID-19 & lame-ducks
With the election settled (well, mostly) and the Thanksgiving holiday over, a lame-duck session will keep delegation members busy on The Hill, where several challenges remain for lawmakers.
Chief among those remains a COVID-19 relief package. The Republican-led Senate and Democrat-held House remained locked in negotiations for weeks ahead of the election and largely remained apart, disagreeing over the level of spending.
Notably, Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged there needed to be at least $2 trillion in the COVID-19 package while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remained boorish on that number. But many now think Pelosi overplayed her hand, anticipating Democrats would expand their majority in November when, in fact, the caucus will shrink come January. Meanwhile, McConnell’s standing remains shaky with two outstanding Senate runoffs in Georgia set to determine control of the Senate; neither of the two incumbent Republican senators broke 50% in November, forcing the race to January in a state where Joe Biden won the electoral votes for President. Should both those races flip blue, New York Democrat Chuck Schumer will take over McConnell’s office.
Delegation members in Florida have pressed hard for some package to come out, but the Senate-House standoff remains in effect at the moment with partisan finger-pointing the posture of the day.
When Vice President-elect and California Sen. Kamala Harris called for a bill that provided relief to Black and minority-owned businesses, Florida’s senior Sen. Marco Rubio responded, “Great. Please ask Sen. Schumer & Speaker Pelosi to stop blocking the new round of PPP [Paycheck Protection Program funding] we are trying to pass.”
But House Democrats suggest it’s McConnell’s Senate dragging its feet on relief, prioritizing confirmation of outgoing President Donald Trump’s judicial picks instead. “26 million Americans go hungry, and all the Senate will do is buck precedent and cram through Trump’s lame-duck judges,” tweeted Sunrise Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
But there are also members of the delegation done waiting for the other side to buckle and call for action immediately.
“We need COVID relief now,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy, an Orlando Democrat. “Republicans fail to grasp the severity of the crisis, and their proposals are inadequate. It’s time for Democrats to accept this reality instead of complaining about it. Let’s make hard compromises that help people now and fight for more next year.”
Rubio zings Ivy Leagues
Not long after Rubio said a post-Trump party needed to continue its rebrand as the party of the working class, the University of Florida graduate slammed Biden for his “highfalutin” appointments so far.
“Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences, and will be polite and orderly caretakers of America’s decline,” Rubio tweeted. “I support American greatness. And I have no interest in returning to the ‘normal’ that left us dependent on China.”
That came after a series of high-profile picks for the incoming administration, including Harvard graduate Anthony Blinken for Secretary of State and Yale and Brown alum Janet Yellen for Treasury Secretary. There’s also Harvard Law graduate Ron Klain, not a Cabinet appointment but the President-elect’s incoming Chief of Staff.
Many others indeed noted Biden’s reliance on the ivory tower set, even as the incoming chief executive himself prepares to come in as the first President since Ronald Reagan without an Ivy League degree to hang on the Oval Office wall.
Biden stressed his working-class background on the trail, something he shares with Rubio, who went to a state school and then relied on student loans as he earned his law degree from the University of Miami a few decades after Biden picked up his J.D. at Syracuse University.
Still, it’s noteworthy Rubio’s disdain for elite education institutions appears newfound. He did not object to the significant number of fancy degrees that adorned Cabinet offices during the Trump years, including Trump’s own. The departing Republican President appointed a substantial number of fellow Harvard grads (Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, former Labor Secretary Alex Acosta) and Yalies (Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Ross), not to mention Attorney General Bill Barr, a Columbia alum.
Stalking a vaccine
As Sen. Rick Scott remained in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, he also pressed Health and Human Services for a plan to make sure as few Americans as possible become infected in 2021.
In a letter to HHS Secretary Azar, the former health executive called for a plan to effectively and equitably distribute vaccines to the public. That came after three different companies revealed promising results regarding trials for vaccines.
“I appreciate any information you can provide as we continue to work to end the coronavirus,” Scott wrote. “Americans deserve transparency and as much information as possible from every level of government so they can make the best decisions to keep their families safe. It is vital that we get the vaccine to Americans safely and efficiently without unnecessary delays.”
The Senator suggested several moves to improve transparency, including posting detailed reports on distribution from the Centers for Disease Control instead of limited executive summaries and releasing more details on federal contracts with pharmacies to distribute vaccines. He also pressed the agency on what happens for states that don’t have a vaccine registry and distribution plan in place.
Scott asked for details on how priority groups will be defined for the vaccine’s early distribution, including what defines an essential worker and what outreach will occur for minority populations reporting significant outbreaks. Notably, migrant farmer communities near Scott’s home community in Naples suffered wide transmission of the coronavirus over the summer.
As the CDC requests $6 billion for state, territorial, and local jurisdictions for vaccine preparedness, Scott said it’s imperative the federal government be transparent how the money will be spent on rapid deployment to ensure Americans are adequately vaccinated and with appropriate haste, but limited waste.
Alvin Brown to HUD?
Biden has yet to announce his pick to replace Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Still, the inclusion of former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has plenty speculating in Northeast Florida. Participants on the PredictIt platform are putting serious money behind the proposition, with Brown trailing only Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (betting closes today). Several media sites have included Brown among the top contenders, including The Washington Post, which says Rep. Karen Bass, National Low Income Housing Coalition CEO Diane Yentel, and Local Initiative Support Corporation CEO Maurice Jones are also in the mix.
But among Jacksonville’s Democratic leaders, there’s not much confidence. If the former Mayor ends up in the Biden administration, it will complete a phoenixlike rise from a tough reelection defeat half a decade prior. Brown, who narrowly lost his 2015 reelection to Republican Lenny Curry, was popular even when he left office, with one internal poll showing him at 55% approval when he lost the election.
As Mayor, Brown dealt with many HUD issues, but the expertise comes with one central controversy. His office worked to bypass the local housing board in 2012 to help finance the Global Ministries Foundation’s ill-fated purchase of six troubled low-income apartment complexes in Jacksonville.
At the same time, Brown served as a loyal surrogate for Biden on the campaign trail, so it remains possible the Florida Mayor could find his way into the administration, whether with the title of Secretary or in a midlevel administrative post.
While the 2020 election has barely passed, some candidates already have eyes on 2022. The first serious Democratic challenger against Rubio surfaced this week when former Democratic Congressional candidate Allen Ellison filed for Senate.
“We have watched career politicians stand by and do absolutely nothing for our people,” Ellison, founder of the Center for Economic & Policy Development, said in a statement. “We have watched them fill this nation with hate through their divisive rhetoric, and we have watched them line their pockets at the expense of the American people while our fellow citizens struggle to make ends meet. I say enough is enough. We are in desperate need for visionary leaders with fresh ideas who care about the issues that matter to all of us.”
Indeed, the Wauchula Democrat faces an uphill battle. But he does boast some experience running for federal office. He stepped in as a replacement Democratic candidate in Florida’s 17th Congressional District in 2018, ultimately losing the then-open seat to Republican Greg Steube. Ellison rechallenged him this year. He couldn’t reach Steube either cycle in the ruby-red district but closed the last race with $8,943 in cash on hand. That may pale to Rubio’s $2 million-plus, but it’s a start. Besides, he knows the platform that comes with running statewide.
“Running for U.S. Senate would provide a greater opportunity to raise awareness on the reforms that are needed like Veteran suicides in this country, the disability issues, immigration, and criminal justice reform,” Ellison said.
“Since making the announcement, the support has been pouring in from across the nation. We have seen a major spike in support. The process humbles me. I will never stop using my voice to bring about positive change for the people.”
Posey pushes election fraud
After the 2000 election put Florida’s election system in the spotlight, then-state Sen. Bill Posey spearheaded reforms to standardize Florida’s methods for securing ballots and counting votes. Now, the Rockledge Republican has become a chief voice casting doubt on the results of the just-concluded race for President.
From sending a letter on Election Day demanding the Justice Department investigate fraud to a more recent demand for intelligence agencies to scrutinize voting machine software, Posey stoked uncertainty about the election result, supporting Trump’s claims that massive fraud existed even as courts reject such assertions.
In a recent letter, Posey voiced support for theories espoused by Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell that the Dominion Voting Systems technology couldn’t be trusted because the Smartmatic system previously elected both the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez and the nation’s current leader Nicolás Maduro.
“In each of those elections, opposition parties claimed that fraud occurred,” Posey wrote.
More recently, he posted pictures on Twitter of bags of allegedly discarded ballots in Michigan and published assertions that some Michigan jurisdictions had a turnout that exceeded voter registration. Those statistics have been debunked, as it became clear that Trump’s attorneys, who originated the numbers, mistakenly compared data from Minnesota instead of Michigan, as reported by The Washington Post.
For Posey’s part, he still has pushed for further investigation of Georgia and Michigan’s results. But even if both those states flipped to Trump, Biden would remain the winner, having otherwise secured 274 electoral votes.
Castor’s academy noms
Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor nominated two dozen Tampa Bay graduating seniors for spots in U.S. military academies. “Every year, I am proud to nominate a diverse group of high school seniors from the Tampa Bay area to attend our nation’s prestigious service academies,” she said. “These impressive students are tomorrow’s leaders, and I’m encouraged that our best and the brightest want to serve America.”
Considering Tampa remains home to MacDill Air Force Base, students in the region have considerable interest in uniformed service. A digital video released by Castor’s office over social media showcased many of the students, a number garbed in ROTC uniforms.
Nominees included: Cambridge Christian Academy’s Cooper Jackson, Hillsborough High’s Zachary Cottongim, Middleton High’s Gabrielle Hernandez and Lauren Piacitelli, Plant High’s Ian McGary, Evans Taylor and Vance Dimmick, Robinson High’s Margaret Courtney and Tampa Catholic’s David Hoyt for the U.S. Military Academy; Hillsborough High’s Olivia Kasper, King High’s Ian Aguilar, Mitchell High’s Michael Hodgson, Robinson High’s Sara Arroyave, Sickles High’s Maxwell Mondo, Luke Barrow and Shreyas Kallimath, Singapore American School’s Kinaree Adkins, South County High’s Conner Aeschbach, and McGary, Taylor and Cottongim for the U.S. Naval Academy; Gaither High’s Leo Sterns, Jefferson High’s Nicole Garcia, Plant High’s Thomas Nagle, Steinbrenner High’s Sohan Khanvilkar, and Mondo, Arroyave, Courtney, Aguilar and Piacitelli for the U.S. Air Force Academy; and Jesuit High’s Jonas Jonsson, Plant High’s Aidan Lindsey and Arroyave for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
“Tampa Bay is a patriotic community, and our committee is proud of our role in developing the bright young leaders that will shape the future of America’s armed forces and our nation,” Castor said.
🇺🇸Every year I'm proud to nominate a diverse group of HS seniors from the Tampa Bay area to attend our nation’s prestigious service academies.
Congratulations to 2020's nominees!
They are tomorrow’s leaders & I’m encouraged that our best and the brightest want to serve America! pic.twitter.com/vu9ylzUUrJ
— US Rep Kathy Castor (@USRepKCastor) November 30, 2020
Masks for all
Since last July, Hollywood Democrat Frederica Wilson lobbied for a national mask mandate and universal access to masks for all Americans. She’s especially excited to see Biden emerge victorious from the presidential race because he made several suggestions from the campaign trail for a face-covering requirement in place should he win the election.
“I hope it will be one of the first orders of business for him,” she told WPLG Local 10. “I am praying that it will be one of the first executive orders in his administration.”
Wilson still has her own legislation awaiting a hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But she said there are concerns on the Hill about whether the measure has any chance at winning enough bipartisan support. “Every single person in the United States going out in public should wear a mask,” she said. “I’m getting pushback because there are people in Congress who do not feel the coronavirus is even real. They feel it is a hoax.”
That’s not a delusion Wilson can afford to adopt. As the Representative of a predominantly Black district in Miami, she’s seen a disproportionate number of constituents not only contract COVID-19 but succumb to it. She suggested her community has been hit especially hard for two reasons. First, the jobs many Black residents in South Florida hold cannot be conducted remotely, so the population remains exposed to contamination. But poor health care access also means those who do get the disease fall into high-risk categories.
China and Maduro
U.S.-Cuba relations long mingled closely with Florida politics, and now Venezuela’s policy has started to reach similar status. That proved evident as Florida leaders including Sen. Scott and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart championed new sanctions intended to weaken Venezuela’s Maduro.
The Trump administration on Monday sanctioned China National Electronics Import & Export Corp., a manufacturing company owned by the Chinese government, for selling goods to the Maduro regime, The Wall Street Journal reported. That’s an essential step in isolating the Venezuelan government further from the world, Diaz-Balart said.
The Miami Republican, in Spanish, tweeted that the Communist Party in China had continued to prop up Maduro, effectively supporting the regime’s ability to monitor, censor, and police the public in the South American nation. “I am pleased with the new Trump administration sanctions on CEIEC,” he wrote.
Scott chimed in as well to applaud the economic punishment leveled against the Chinese company. “Communist China and their puppets know what Maduro is doing to his people,” Scott tweeted. “It’s a genocide, and anyone supporting them is a willing participant. I’m glad the administration is placing sanctions on those fighting against freedom and democracy in our hemisphere.”
Rep.-elect Carlos Giménez and his wife Lourdes both announced they tested positive for COVID-19, experiencing minor symptoms. The former Miami-Dade Mayor remains in self-isolation following CDC guidelines.
The Miami-Dade Republican, who defeated Debbie Mucarsel-Powell last month, had already started a new member orientation in Washington, D.C. but will have to continue that process virtually. “I am extremely grateful for all of the incredible health care workers who are tirelessly dedicated to their patients,” he said in a statement.
For those keeping score, Giménez joins fellow incoming Delegation member Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, in contracting the coronavirus. Several other members also tested positive since the start of the pandemic. Miami Republican Diaz-Balart became the first House member to suffer from COVID-19 way back in March. Not long after, Panhandle Republican Neal Dunn reported the same diagnosis. More recently, St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz suffered a nasty bout of COVID-19. Additionally, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz has tested positive for antibodies.
While Miami Democrat Mucarsel-Powell’s time in Congress is winding down, she’s making a push for the release of an activist arrested in Cuba.
“I stand firmly with the Cuban community in their fight for justice and democracy. I’m calling for the release of Denis Solís and those peacefully protesting his unjust arrest in Cuba,” Mucarsel-Powell tweeted.
Solís, a Cuban rapper-activist, was arrested Nov. 9 during a hunger strike for human rights in Havana, with the Cuban Government saying obstruction of doctors during the pandemic necessitated breaking up the protest. However, Solís was arrested in his home. Solís, sentenced to eight months in jail for contempt of authorities, was among 14 individuals thrown in prison, an act Mucarsel-Powell considered indefensible.
“Cuba’s obstruction of universal human rights must stop,” she said.
Newly-elected Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava also weighed in on the international matter, tweeting, “Our community stands with the Cuban people in their long struggle for liberty, and with those standing up to demand their sacred right to freedom of speech. I support calls to release Denis Solís and all who are peacefully protesting his unjust arrest.”
The elected officials’ calls sounded as human rights groups demanded the government free the artist and his peers. But as of Monday morning, Solís remained in custody.
Jabil lobbies up
According to public filings, Tampa defense contractor Jabil brought on Squire Patton Boggs to lobby Congress regarding the National Defense Authorization Bill. Specifically, the company wants to weigh in on legislation about the manufacturing legislation regarding printed circuit boards, a company specialty.
Lobbyist Pablo Carrillo, a former staffer for the late Sen. John McCain, heads up Jabil’s efforts in Congress and will work alongside Austin Harrison and Jack Deschauer on the issue. Jabil brought the lobbying firm to tackle the issue as of Nov. 6.
Squire Patton Boggs has several lobbying contracts out right now regarding legislation seeking to require the government to use American manufacturers for goods, which would benefit a Florida firm like Jabil.
On this day
December. 1, 1955 — “Negro jailed here for ‘overlooking’ bus segregation” via The Montgomery Advertiser — City police arrested a Montgomery woman for ignoring a bus driver who directed her to sit in the rear of the bus. The woman, Rosa Parks, was later released under a $100 bond. In notifying police, bus operator J.F. Blake said a Negro woman sitting in the section reserved for Whites refused to move to the Negro section. When Officers F.B. Day and D.W. Mixon arrived on Montgomery street, where the bus stopped, they confirmed the driver’s report.
December 1, 1824 — “Presidential election decided in the House” via History.com — As no presidential candidate received a majority of electoral votes in the election of 1824, the U.S. House of Representatives votes to elect John Quincy Adams, who won fewer votes than Andrew Jackson in the popular election, as President of the United States. Adams is the son of John Adams, the second President of the United States. In the 1824 election, 131 electoral votes, just over half the 261 total, were necessary to elect a candidate president. Although it had no bearing on the outcome of the election, popular votes were counted for the first time.
Best wishes to Sen. Scott, who turns 68 on Dec. 1.