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- Rick Scott
- Stephanie Murphy
- Ted Deutch
- Vern Buchanan
Fronting for Trump
While much of the Florida delegation has begun to turn attention, positive or negative, toward the incoming Joe Biden administration, there remain plenty of hot takes on President Donald Trump’s ongoing legal challenges of election results.
That may be in part spurred by a 46-minute video, shot inside the White House, where Trump outlines a series of accusations of voter fraud in swing states, many of which debunked as false or immaterial to determining the outcome of the election.
Some members continue to stand by the President’s push for court remedies to an election he lost by a projected 74 electoral votes (Electoral College electors formally cast the deciding votes on Dec. 14).
St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz encouraged the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a GOP challenge of Pennsylvania’s election results. “There are some real meaty, difficult constitutional issues that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court completely overstepped its bounds, and I think that alone will put Pennsylvania back in the President’s column,” Waltz told Newsmax. If he’s right, that would cut the Biden winning margin by 20 votes, but not enough to change the outcome. But there are also lawsuits filed by Trump or on his behalf in Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada, coincidentally all states that went for Trump in 2016 but Biden in 2020.
Some members suggest the Electoral College may not even be the final score that matters, according to Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz. Also, on Newsmax, he suggested pro-Trump members of the House and Senate can team up to challenge entire slates of electors from states. “Nothing is off the table,” Gaetz told the outlet.
But several Democratic members of the Delegation said it’s crucial GOP leaders stop promoting, or even tolerating, the continued challenges to the election results.
“Republicans in the House and Senate are running out of time to steer their party away from its anti-democratic decline,” tweeted Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch. “Who will tell Trump to concede today? Anyone? Anyone?”
To watch Trump’s video, click on the image below:
Rubio defends Hong Kong protesters
The sentencing of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong spurred a new critique of China’s human rights abuses by Marco Rubio. Florida’s senior Senator slapped the eastern power for sending Joshua Wong to prison for 13 and a half months, Agnes Chow for 10 months and Ivan Lam for seven months.
“The sentencing of Joshua, Agnes, and Ivan reminds us of the courage and perseverance of Hong Kongers as well as the failure of Hong Kong’s government to uphold its commitments to its citizens,” he said. “If this is how Hong Kong treats prominent pro-democracy activists, then the international community must watch closely for how Hong Kong treats the thousands awaiting their day in court and those charged under the National Security Law. I stand in solidarity with all Hong Kongers who are watching as their long-cherished freedoms are robbed by a corrupt and cruel regime in Beijing.”
Wong, a 24-year-old, drew international attention since age 14 when he started rallying fellow schoolmates to oppose the Chinese Communist Party’s control of academic curricula. Rubio previously was part of a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators to nominate Wong and Umbrella Movement members for a Nobel Peace Prize. “Joshua Wong and his fellow pro-democracy advocates have been unflinching in their peaceful and principled commitment to a free and prosperous Hong Kong,” Rubio wrote in a letter at the time. “They are an inspiration, and their cause has reverberations far beyond their city.”
According to The New York Times, China sentenced the three Hong Kong activists for activities with the now-dismantled political group Demosisto. The imprisonment for the activists came after months of anti-government demonstrations roiled China in 2019.
It’s a tension Rubio followed closely as co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Human Rights.
We are with you Agnes!
Stay strong & don’t lose hope. pic.twitter.com/91LMJF3IHo
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 3, 2020
Toppling tuition hikes
Sen. Rick Scott hasn’t been Florida’s Governor for nearly two years. But he’s still keeping an eye on state business, and frustrated universities may move away from the hard-line Scott held on tuition hikes during his time in the Governor’s mansion.
Florida’s junior Senator issued a missive this week blasting the Florida Board of Governors for considering raising the cost of a college education.
“Raising tuition on families is a tax increase. And, it’s a tax increase that harms Floridians’ ability to achieve the American dream of earning a higher-education diploma,” Scott said in a lengthy statement. “As families are still struggling to recover from the coronavirus, leaders in Florida should absolutely not consider raising tuition.”
During the last six years of his time as Governor, Scott blocked any effort to increase tuition and even pressed to reduce it in some fields.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, state university leaders floated the notion of raising tuition costs as state leaders look at a $2.7 billion budget shortfall. Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson told the paper the move was a “viable option” as Florida aims to balance its budget.
But with universities awarding more credits through online instruction than ever and many Florida families struggling with employment, Scott said now is not the time to consider such a move. And he suggested no college trustee throughout the system that he put into chairs would have anything to do with this policy shift.
“I asked every person interviewing for appointments to our universities and colleges if they would support a tuition increase. If they said yes, I didn’t appoint them,” he said. “And if they went against their word, they were not reappointed. The federal government has spent almost $14 billion in the CARES Act to give higher education institutions the support they need during the coronavirus, and with more classes moving online, university operations costs should be lower.
“Businesses and families around the country are having to navigate this difficult time — our universities have to do the same and live within their means instead of taking the easy way out and passing the costs on to students. The opportunities and dreams of future graduates are at stake, and we owe it to them to continue our fight against the tax increase of rising tuition.”
Flaming Big Tech
Panhandle Republican Gaetz hasn’t been shy about criticizing his own party’s leadership, slamming the decision to name Cathy McMorris Rodgers as the Republican Leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
After Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced the pick, Gaetz immediately trashed McMorris Rogers as a Silicon Valley puppet.
“She is the loudest advocate in the House to keep Section 230, which Donald Trump rightly wants repealed,” Gaetz tweeted. “Big Win for Big Tech. They own our Congress.”
Gaetz, on his podcast in May, announced his plans to craft legislation within the House Judiciary Committee to repeal the controversial section of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The provision provides legal immunity to online platforms for potentially libelous statements distributed through those channels.
For the record, McMorris Rodgers has criticized social media companies and said federal agencies should clarify the application of Section 230, even while falling short of supporting Trump’s call for a full repeal.
“I have a lot of concerns about the federal government expanding its job in a way that they would be deciding what’s OK or what’s true,” she told The Spokesman-Review, her hometown paper.
Sandy Hook Promise
Before there was Parkland, tragedy struck Newtown. Sandy Hook Promise, formed in the wake of a school shooting that left 20 six- and seven-year-olds dead, has worked with Congress in the eight years since the Connecticut attack to protect children from gun violence and protect school campuses from invaders. On Wednesday, the group honored two members of the Delegation, Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford and Boca Raton Democrat Deutch, as Promise Champions.
In a virtual ceremony, the organization presented awards to the Florida Representatives and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat.
“Whether students are learning from home or going to school, this unprecedented time calls for extra care and concern for the safety of our children. Sen. Shaheen, Rep. Deutch, and Rep. Rutherford have consistently come together across the aisle to prioritize violence prevention and save lives,” said Mark Barden, co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, and father of Daniel, who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. “Their shared and steadfast commitment to protecting our kids gives me hope.”
Rutherford said it was an honor to attend the virtual ceremony and posted a picture of himself accepting the award on his social media. “I am thankful for great bipartisan partners like Rep. Ted Deutch and Sandy Hook Promise who are committed to keeping kids safe in school,” he said.
The organization spotlighted Rutherford and Deutch for their role in the passage of the STOP School Violence Act, which funds training for educators on school safety protocols, mental health intervention and communication infrastructure for reporting threats and coordinating response between school districts and law enforcement.
Democrat Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park has been appointed chief deputy whip for the House Majority. The appointment, made by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, adds another few pounds to Murphy’s clout as one of the leaders of the moderate Democrats in the House.
Murphy is already co-chair of the Blue Dogs Coalition. As chief deputy whip, Murphy also holds a seat in the influential House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which recommends committee assignments to the Democratic Caucus and helps shape the House policy agenda.
“My focus since taking office has been on bringing people together to pass legislation that can be signed into law and help my constituents. Whip Clyburn is one of the most respected leaders in Congress, and I’m grateful for this elevated role within the House to help deliver bipartisan results for the American people,” Murphy said in a news release. “In this role, I will be ensuring legislation we pass in the House reflects all viewpoints from within our increasingly diverse Democratic caucus, including Democrats who helped deliver the majority in recent elections. I look forward to building stronger relationships that result in consensus and progress we can all be proud of.”
“During the 116th Congress, I worked closely with Stephanie in her capacity as co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition and a member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus member. She will bring valuable experiences and insights to the Chief Deputy Whip team. I look forward to working closely with her as we continue our efforts to advance the priorities of the American people next Congress,” Clyburn said.
Posey Space Command?
Rockledge Republican Bill Posey is leading a bipartisan effort involving 21 of Florida’s House members urging military brass to pick Patrick Air Force Base in Brevard County for the new U.S. Space Command headquarters.
Posey, the Florida dean of members of the House Space & Aeronautics Subcommittee, was joined by fellow Space Subcommittee members Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Waltz, along with 18 other members from Florida. Along with Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, Patrick Air Force Base is in Posey’s district.
Last month, the Air Force announced that Patrick AFB made the cut in a revised list of six candidate locations under consideration to house the headquarters for the new U.S. Space Command established last year.
Posey sent the letter to Acting Defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller and Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett.
“Patrick Air Force Base, and its associated Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, has earned a global reputation as the world’s premier gateway to space for government and commercial customers,” the Florida Delegation wrote. “It is also home to the 45th Space Wing, which delivers assured access to space for warfighters. In addition to its renowned launch reputation, the quantity and quality of assets and expertise the community that USSPACECOM offers extend well beyond battlefield access to rocket and spacecraft manufacturing, payload and electronics, and ground support.
“Brevard County, the epicenter of Florida’s Space Coast, is one of the most military-friendly communities in a military-friendly state,” they added.
Still, Patrick AFB has a liability that some cite because it was not initially a finalist on the Air Force list, which had narrowed candidate locations to California, Colorado and Alabama.
Located on a barrier island, most of Patrick AFB is just a few feet higher than sea level, at high risk from sea-level rise caused by climate change in the coming decades.
The letter did not address that concern.
“I’m proud of our delegation’s efforts working together to make the case for Space Command Headquarters to locate in Brevard County, Florida,” Posey declared in a news release. “Brevard’s strategic location and quality of life make it the ideal place for this important national mission to be centered.”
St. Petersburg Democrat Crist sent a letter calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work with Pinellas County to keep its Shore Protection Project.
The project, which serves to renourish nearly 13 miles of Pinellas beaches periodically, hit a major roadblock after the Army Corps informed the county it has only until the end of the year to secure hundreds of easements from property owners to continue the project. The original deadline was spring 2021.
The shortened time frame is made more difficult by the ongoing pandemic, Crist said in his letter, as it is even more challenging for the county to conduct outreach and engage with property owners.
The situation has been further exacerbated by Tropical Storm Eta, which made landfall just north of Tampa Bay in mid-November. Early reports from the County indicate that the beach project suffered considerable damage, resulting in a loss of over 370,000 cubic yards of sand from the storm and may need emergency repairs.
Crist said those repairs would also be in jeopardy without the required easements, making an already dire situation even worse.
In his letter, Crist is asking the Army Corps to provide flexibility to the county to preserve the coast. Crist urges the Corps to meet the county halfway by not requiring easements for areas where sand will not be placed.
“The County’s Shore Protection Project will not only safeguard our beaches, local environment, and economy — but our way of life,” Crist said.
“The future of our coastal communities is on the line. We must work together to find a common-sense solution that will allow us to see this project through for the well-being of our beaches and Pinellas families and businesses.”
Nursing home PPE
Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan has pressed for seniors to receive COVID-19 vaccines for free. Now, he wants funding to get the at-risk demographic proper personal protection equipment. The delegation co-chair this week urged Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to dedicate COVID-19 relief funding to nursing homes and assisted living facilities to purchase PPE and ramp up testing.
“Everyone knows by now that the elderly are most at risk,” Buchanan told Azar, the Congressman’s office said. “I hope you will consider my request and prioritize the remaining funds where they are urgently needed.”
Specifically, Buchanan pointed to $32 billion in still unspent dollars from the Provider Relief Fund, part of the CARES Act passed by Congress in March. The fund, part of a larger $175-billion package, allows HHS to provide direct assistance to health care providers to cope with the pandemic. The bulk of spending so far has gone to hospitals, with only about $10 billion going to nursing homes and assisted living. But as institutions in Florida’s 16th Congressional District know too well, it’s those populations of older Americans with preexisting conditions that often suffer the deadliest outcomes from outbreaks.
Buchanan, who represents 225,000 senior citizens and a district with the seventh oldest population of any in the country, noted 80% of COVID-19-related deaths were patients age 65 and older.
Notably, Manatee County, the heart of Buchanan’s jurisdiction, reported 148 long-term care facility deaths as of Wednesday, about 2% of such deaths in Florida. He also represents portions of Sarasota, which reported 223 deaths at such institutions, and Hillsborough, which reported 416.
It means more than 1 in 10 nursing home and assisted living deaths in Florida for those infected with the coronavirus died in a county Buchanan represents.
Cats & cargo
It’s been a busy week for Stuart Republican Brian Mast, who took over leadership of a caucus dealing with logistics while also becoming a key supporter of anti-animal-abuse legislation.
The COVID-19 crisis exposed the importance of supply lines to international commerce, and approval of vaccines will further exacerbate the need for reliable distribution channels. As Mast takes on the co-chair’s role for the congressional Air Cargo Caucus, he’s conscious of logistics’ critical role in public health.
“There’s no doubt that the air cargo industry is a critical component of our local, state, and global economies,” Mast said. “In Florida alone, the industry supports more than 625,000 jobs and creates over $4 billion in revenue. These numbers are only going to grow larger as our national and global economies expand, which is what makes the Air Cargo Caucus so important.”
The bipartisan caucus launched in March last year, headed initially by Michigan Republican Paul Mitchell and Illinois Democrat Cheri Bustos. Mitchell did not seek reelection this year but said the caucus would be in “good hands” with Mast taking his place.
The 42-member caucus was formed to boost relationships within the cargo community and create policy specializations on carriers.
“We are thankful for Rep. Mitchell’s leadership that enabled the Air Cargo Caucus to thrive since its formation in 2019 and look forward to working with Rep. Mast as he assumes his new co-chair role,” said Gina Zuckerman, vice president of legislative policy for the Cargo Airline Association.
Bustos said she’s excited to work across the aisle on cargo issues. “As we prepare for the next Congress, I look forward to serving alongside Rep. Mast and welcome him to this new role,” she said. “I am excited for what the future of this caucus can accomplish together.”
Mast also co-introduced bipartisan legislation this week with New York Democrat Dina Titus to end the Veterans Affairs Administration’s reliance on testing on felines, including both kittens and full-grown cats. The federal agency has been increasingly embarrassed by exposes about $9 million in projects where researchers purchased healthy cats for experiments like implanting devices in their brains, severing their spines, or simply killing and dissecting them.
“The VA’s continued use of taxpayer dollars to conduct painful and wasteful experiments on cats and kittens is unacceptable,” Mast said. These tests are barbaric, unnecessary, and do nothing to actually help veterans. That’s why I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Rep. Titus to bring them to an end once and for all.”
Antony Bellotti, president of the White Coat Waste Project, agreed and praised the legislation, entitled Cat Abuse in Testing Stops (CATS) Act. “Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for the VA to buy healthy and friendly kittens, maim them, drill into their skulls and videotape their abuse in archaic experiments,” he said.
Wasserman Schultz loses
Sunrise Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz fell short in her bid to chair the powerful House Appropriations Committee following a vote by the House Democratic Caucus.
Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut will take over that prestigious position instead. DeLauro defeated Wasserman Schultz by a 148-79 margin in a vote held by their Democratic colleagues.
“We ran hard as underdogs and fell short this time to our new Chairwoman, Rosa DeLauro, whom I heartily congratulate,” Wasserman Schultz said in a Thursday statement following the vote.
“Throughout my whole career, I have heard, ‘Now is not your turn,’ but I pushed on anyway — because I knew we needed to give voice to real reform — and I’m glad we did this time. We listened and elevated critical issues — a more accessible process and an Appropriations Committee committed to confronting systemic racism and climate change — as the top priorities in this race.”
Wasserman Schultz announced her bid for the Appropriations Chair position in Nov. 2019. Outgoing Chair Nita Lowey of New York chose not to run for reelection this past cycle, leaving the job vacant.
Wasserman Schultz has spent 11 years on the Appropriations Committee, earning the distinction as the first woman to chair the House Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee. She’s also the former head of the Democratic National Committee.
“We have a lot of work to do for the American people, and I will still press for a more accessible Appropriations Committee that will yield major progress in making their lives better,” Wasserman Schultz added. “Going forward, I will work with our new Chairwoman, and all of my colleagues, to make the Committee stronger and the process more inclusive.”
Hastings draws challenge
Florida’s longest-serving Congressmen and Delegation Co-Chair may face a formidable challenge in 2022. Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief filed against Delray Beach Democrat Alcee Hastings, who just won his 15th term in the House.
Sharief, also a Democrat, would face the incumbent in an August primary in Florida’s 20th Congressional District, a deep blue jurisdiction where Hastings most recently beat a GOP opponent with 79% of the vote.
But a primary contest against Sharief, a former Broward County Mayor, could present a different type of challenge than Hastings has faced in years. It assumes Hastings files for reelection, and he announced in 2019 he was undergoing cancer treatment. But he starts this cycle with more than $175,000 in cash on hand.
Furthermore, Hastings issued an Election Day statement thanking voters and not signaling any desire to retire.
“I will continue to do all that I can to fight for my constituents, our state, and nation,” it said in part.
On this day
December 4, 1945 — “UNO Bill Approved By Senate, 65 to 7, With One Change” via The New York Times — The Senate passed by a 65-to-7 vote this evening the legislation to give the United States full, active participation in the United Nations Organization following the San Francisco Charter that it ratified, 89 to 2, last July.
December 4, 1992 — “President Bush orders U.S. troops to Somalia” via History.com — President George H.W. Bush orders 28,000 U.S. troops to Somalia, a war-torn East African nation where rival warlords were preventing the distribution of humanitarian aid to thousands of starving Somalis. In a military mission he described as “God’s work,” Bush said that America must act to save more than a million Somali lives, but reassured Americans that “this operation is not open-ended” and that “we will not stay one day longer than is absolutely necessary.”
Best wishes to Rep. Francis Rooney, who turns 67 today (Dec. 4).