Delegation for 12.8.20: Relief? — Venezuela no-go — chiding China — Scott 2024 — weed

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Both sides are inching toward an agreement to keep the government open.

Relief on the way?

Monday was supposed to bring a deal between the House and Senate on another round of COVID-19 relief and passage of a spending bill. That hasn’t happened yet and instead, leaders seem ready to draw out talks another week with a stopgap deal to prevent a government shutdown Saturday.

But negotiations between the Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-led House at least have settled on a dollar amount. Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy, a Senator involved in the bipartisan talks, told The Associated Press that President Donald Trump committed to signing a $908-billion relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seems ready to settle there as well. “There’s only one $908 billion package out there and it’s ours,” he said.

Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy hinted that Donald Trump is ready to sign a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill. Image via AP.

Senate negotiators Monday night released details of the relief package by way of a section-by-section summary. It budgets $180 billion for additional unemployment benefits, with a weekly $300 supplement to benefits, half the prior $600 a week. There will also be extra aid budgeted for self-employed workers.

But finer legislative points, namely the degree of legal liability defending businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits and government bailouts for state and local governments, continued to gum up the process.

Delegation members made clear there are lines they don’t want crossed. Florida Sen. Rick Scott decried doling out too much to irresponsible jurisdictions. ”States have seen revenues rebound much quicker than anticipated. But Democrats (and some Republicans) still want to bail out poorly-managed states and politicians who refuse to make tough choices,” Scott tweeted. “I’ll do everything I can to stop it.”

But on the House side, Democrats in the majority feel there has been as much give on negotiations as possible. Before the elections, Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted a relief bill budgeted at no less than $2 trillion. Now she’s agreed to less than half that amount. There’s nowhere else to go, suggested Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat; it’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s move now.

“It’s time for Leader McConnell to sit down with Democrats for good-faith negotiations so we can finally meet the country’s needs in the midst of this crisis,” she tweeted to the Republican Senate leader.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, an Orlando Democrat, said the most critical matter would be passing any relief effort at all. Without that, no member of the House or Senate should return home from D.C.

“Congress cannot and should not adjourn until we pass another COVID relief bill, she tweeted. “Support for another package among the public — both Democrats and Republicans — is overwhelming. We simply must put partisan politics aside to help the American people — period.”

Invalidating Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro claimed victory in Sunday elections, but the questionable vote drew bipartisan condemnation among the Florida delegation members.

South Florida Democrats Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell issued a joint statement condemning the ‘sham’ elections, where Maduro’s United Socialist Party claimed victory in 67% of National Assembly seats.

“The Maduro regime continues to desperately cling to power by moving forward with illegitimate sham elections,” the Congresswomen said. “The elections and their predetermined outcomes represent yet another horrifying assault on democracy. We stand with the Venezuelan people experiencing a devastating humanitarian crisis and as they fight to have their voices heard. They must be able to choose their own future through free, fair, transparent and competitive elections. We also stand in solidarity with a real champion of democracy, Interim-President of Venezuela Juan Guaidó, and the legitimately elected members of the National Assembly who are demanding free, democratic processes.”

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro claimed electoral victory, but Florida Democrats remain suspicious. Image via AP.

The ramifications of Maduro claiming majority control of the Assembly includes stripping Assembly President Guaidó, who the U.S. since last year recognized as the nation’s true leader, of his chief claim to power.

Marco Rubio, Florida’s senior Senator, played an outsized role in shaping that Trump Administration policy. As the election unfolded, the Miami Republican retweeted a video message from Guaidó calling for Maduro opposition to boycott the vote. “This 2020 is a fraud that is evident in the streets, and that contrasts with the struggle to choose, as we did in 2015,” Guaidó tweeted in Spanish.

Rick Scott, Florida’s junior Senator, similarly dismissed the elections as invalid. “Nicolas Maduro cannot fool the people of Venezuela,” Scott said in a statement. “He is a murderous dictator that doesn’t respect human rights or the will of his people. The appearance of democracy is not democracy. The world knows that this election, coordinated by the Maduro regime, is nothing more than a sham.”

Meanwhile, Rubio voiced his strong support for continued economic sanctions against Venezuela, despite international consternation that a policy of disengagement hasn’t produced immediate results.

“Do the people who say the sanctions against the Maduro regime didn’t work believe we should lift sanctions on Russia because it hasn’t changed [Vladimir] Putin’s behavior,” he tweeted.

Chiding China

Rubio also continued a bipartisan press for hard-line policies challenging a communist power, China. As acting Senate Intelligence Committee Chair, Rubio joined with Vice-Chair Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, calling the Eastern nation the most significant national security threat globally. Both endorsed recent presentations by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe that painted China as an aggressor on the world stage.

“Our intelligence is clear: the Chinese Communist Party will stop at nothing to exert its global dominance,” the Rubio-Warner statement read. “Beijing’s infiltration of U.S. society has been deliberate and insidious as they use every instrument of influence available to accelerate their rise at America’s expense.”

Marco Rubio joined Virginia Democrat Mark Warner to call for more hard-line policies against China. Image via AP.

China’s control and ownership of so much of the communication technology originating in the nation and deployed worldwide give the Senators particular pause.

“Our democratic values are threatened by China’s attempts to supplant American leadership and remake the international community in their image. The Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian leaders seek to threaten our free speech, politics, technology, economy, military, and even our drive to counter the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement continued.

“Unfortunately, the United States’ challenge with China is not unique as Beijing seeks to infiltrate and subvert other nations around the world, including our allies. This is our watershed moment and we must stand our ground. The United States must not and cannot accept Beijing’s quest to exert dominance while dismissing international legal norms and committing egregious human rights abuses to further their goals.”

The partisan interpretations of intelligence about Russia during the Trump administration made it particularly notable to see a Democrat and Republican speak with one voice on the matter. With the control of the Senate, and thus the leadership of the Intelligence committee, hinging on the outcome of two Georgia runoffs, the message from the Senate Intelligence Committee made clear the stance of the body regardless of the results of January votes in the Peach State.

And it signals that neither side of the aisle wants the incoming Joe Biden administration to turn its gaze from the Rising Sun. “We have made considerable progress in rebalancing the U.S.-China relationship and laying a clear marker for U.S. policy going forward, and we will not stand idly by as the Chinese Communist Party attempts to undermine our economic and national security. The message to Beijing and the world is that China’s behavior will not be tolerated and will be contested by democratic values, in close partnership with our allies and partners.”

2024 not Scott’s shot?

It’s long been presumed in Florida political circles that three of its favorite sons might pursue the presidency in 2024: Sens. Rubio and Scott, as well as Gov. Ron DeSantis. But Scott, a former Florida Governor with two years of experience now on the hill, seemed to pull himself from the running this week, at least if Trump seeks a return to the White House in four years.

Scott told Fox Business he’s not anticipating a national campaign right now. “I’m not planning to run,” Scott said. “I’m a new Senator. I’m working on my job as a U.S. Senator, trying to make sure I’m taking care of everybody in Florida.”

Rick Scott may be stepping aside if Donald Trump runs in 2024. Image via AP.

While short of a Sherman statement, the remarks seemed to diffuse the belief he felt anxious to run for President. He previously told CNN he was focused on his job as a U.S. Senator. He will boost his national profile, presumably, as chair of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm during a midterm cycle under a Democratic President.

But Scott also sounded encouraged as more people around Trump stoked discussion of a comeback for the outgoing GOP President. Notably, after he leaves the White House, Trump is expected to live in Mar-a-Lago and could keep much of his Florida support and campaign infrastructure in place in the Sunshine State more easily than anywhere else.

“We’re going to have four years, it looks like, of Joe Biden, where he’s going to raise taxes, he’s going to ruin this economy,” Scott told Fox host Stuart Varney. Those remarks were telling, as Scott’s most explicit acknowledgment the Democrat, in fact, won the November election. But it also predicted an electoral atmosphere ripe for another Trump run, one where Scott could play an instrumental role.

Right on weed

As the House approved legislation to decriminalize marijuana, Republicans, for the most part, questioned Democrats’ decision to take up the issue before an omnibus spending bill or COVID-19 relief package could be passed.

But the legislation also put one Republican member, Fort Walton Beach Rep. Matt Gaetz, in the spotlight as the only Republican co-sponsor for the legislation. He ended up being one of just five Republicans to vote in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act (HR 3884), a list that also included Stuart Republican Brian Mast.

“The federal government has lied to the people of this country about marijuana for a generation,” Gaetz said. “We have seen a generation, particularly of Black and Brown youth, locked up for offenses that should have not resulted in any incarceration whatsoever.”

Notably, plenty of libertarian-minded Republicans have favored decriminalization but voted against the MORE Act based on taxation and regulation that would favor corporate growers. Gaetz acknowledged that in his remarks in the House last week, saying the GOP makes a mistake by appearing intransigent on marijuana laws as more states vote to legalize cannabis as medicine or for responsible adult use.

Still, passage by the House last week served primarily as a symbolic gesture. Even under hemp industry champion Mitch McConnell, the Republican-controlled Senate has shown no eagerness to take up the House bill.

Honored at last?

On Friday, Army Sgt. First Class Alwyn Cashe, a Sanford soldier killed in battle in 2005, was preliminarily bestowed the U.S. military’s highest recognition. Trump signed legislation introduced by St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz and Orlando Democrat Stephanie Murphy, along with Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw, that recognizes the soldier for heroism in Iraq.

Cashe dragged six fellow soldiers out of a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Samara in October 2005 after an IED explosion, as reported by But the blast left Cashe covered in fuel, which mortally burned him as he pulled colleagues from danger.

Alwyn Cashe may be finally getting his due recognition.

Typically, there’s a five-year window for recognizing such a sacrifice with a Medal of Honor, but the legislation signed by the President waives that rule to pay Cashe his due. Technically, the law still leaves it up to the President to award the medal, but that’s expected since Trump signed the bill. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper concluded in advance of the legislation’s passage that Cashe deserved the recognition.

“Now that we have enacted bipartisan legislation to remove the only obstacle standing in the way of Alwyn receiving the Medal of Honor, which the Department of Defense has already concluded he earned, I hope the President will move swiftly to announce the award,” Murphy said. “The story of Alwyn’s heroism has inspired so many people, and I cannot wait for the day that his family will receive the nation’s highest award for combat valor on his behalf.”

Waltz expressed confidence that will happen soon. “America can never fully repay the ultimate debt paid by our heroes like Alwyn Cashe — but what we can do is honor them for their sacrifices. This is a monumental accomplishment for Alwyn’s family, who have waited 15 years for this moment,” Waltz said. “I’m very optimistic the Department of Defense will recommend this award. I’m very grateful and proud to have been part of this bipartisan effort — and I’m looking forward to the ceremony at the White House to bestow this great honor to Alwyn and show our nation’s profound gratitude to his family for his selfless act of courage.”

Castor shuffle

Kathy Castor shuffled some of her key staff, she announced Monday.

Clay Phillips, Castor’s longtime chief of staff, will take on a senior advisory role at the start of the 117th Congress, based in Castor’s Tampa Bay district. Castor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Lara Hopkins, will be elevated to chief of staff.

Since before Castor’s election, Phillips worked with the Tampa Democrat, first on her campaign and then after being appointed Castor’s first and, until now, only chief of staff since her election to Florida’s 14th Congressional District in 2006.

Kathy Castor is shaking up her office staff.

He has served in Florida his entire career in public service, including as District Director for former Congressman Jim Davis in Florida’s 11th Congressional District. In January, Phillips will serve in a dual role as senior counsel in an official capacity and senior campaign adviser for Castor’s reelection efforts.

“There are few people in the Tampa area who haven’t worked with Clay, and I am grateful for the work he has done to strengthen our community and shore up federal aid through his long tenure as my chief of staff,” Castor said. “From the economic downturn and housing crisis to the fights for affordable health care and social justice, he has used his deep Florida roots to tirelessly serve our neighbors, and I know that he will continue to be a valuable member of my team in his new positions.”

Hopkins is a Florida native and University of Florida graduate who also served Castor since her first Congressional campaign. She served Castor in multiple roles, including finance director for her campaign, scheduler and office manager, administrative director, and her current role as deputy chief of staff. She’s been part of the management team since 2012. In this position, she advises the Congresswoman on all critical issues and specifically on Cuba, foreign affairs, travel and tourism issues.

“Lara has been an invaluable member of my team from the very first day of my very first campaign, and I look forward to her seamless transition into her role as chief of staff,” Castor said. “As a native Floridian and trusted adviser on the issues that matter to our Tampa neighbors, she is the ideal person to serve in this position. I look forward to local partners and our neighbors getting to know her even better in the days ahead.”

OD? There’s an app for that

Teenagers may be infamous for texting and gaming on their phones, but Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan just spotlighted a group of Florida students saving lives with the devices.

The Congressman’s annual “16th Congressional District App Challenge” this year heralded a group of Braden River High students for creating Valitudo, a medical dosage calculator. The software, inspired by a fellow student’s near-fatal overdose from a prescription drug, helps individuals track their chemical intake to reduce the risk of taking too much.

The high school team includes Ava Biasini, Jordan Sheehan, Kolby Wade and Nolwen Bachtle.

“I can’t commend them enough for inventing such an important and potentially lifesaving tool,” Buchanan said. “I’m proud to name them this year’s winners of the 16th Congressional District App Challenge, part of a national competition to encourage interest in science, technology, engineering and math.”

The application itself compares directions from a prescription administrator against a user’s personal info like height and weight and cross-references to a database on proper dosages and side effects. From there, the tech goes on to the national Congressional App Challenge, which launched in 2015, and will be eligible for display in the Capitol.

Buchanan said the competition highlights the potential of youth in the district, which stresses the importance of science, technology, engineering and math programs.

“STEM education gives students the knowledge they need to succeed and helps the U.S. compete in a global economy,” Buchanan said. “Children are 25% of the population, but 100% of the future; the future is in good hands with students like these.”

To watch a video about Valitudo, click on the image below:

No motor voter?

Could Florida’s “motor voter” law, in fact, enable fraud? Sarasota Republican Greg Steube joined a group of Representatives pushing a federal law that would invalidate state statutes in Florida and elsewhere.

“Loopholes in the voter registration process increases the risk of voter fraud and threatens the integrity of our democracy,” Steube wrote on Facebook. “I joined my colleagues in co-sponsoring legislation to promote a free and fair election process for the American people.”

Florida’s law passed in the 1990s and aimed to ease voter registration in a state where many residents first learned to drive living elsewhere. Anyone who obtains or renews a driver’s license, or interacts in any way with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, may opt to register to vote at the same time.

Greg Steube wants to put the brakes on Florida’s ‘motor voter’ laws.

Notably, the federal proposal could impact Florida, a state some voting rights groups argue hasn’t opened access enough, and that even those who just interact with the state online should be afforded the chance to register.

But the fear for Steube and other members isn’t the opportunity, but accountability. There’s nothing to verify U.S. citizenship, as just one example, in many instances when Floridians get afforded the chance to register as voters. Since Florida only awards driver’s licenses to citizens, that may be less of a concern here than other states that allow undocumented individuals a permit to take the wheel. But then, Florida’s law also allows someone simply registering ownership of a vehicle to register.

The lawmakers’ concern revolves around whether everyone who can obtain a driver’s license in any state with such laws in place can legally register to vote. With Trump claiming fraud gave the election to Biden — with no evidence of anything widespread enough to impact the outcome — there’s heightened awareness of the issue.

Reforming justice from the right

As a state representative, Naples Republican Byron Donalds developed a strong relationship with Right on Crime and other conservative advocates of criminal justice reform. The Congressman-elect plans to bring the same attention to the issue to Washington when he’s sworn into Congress in January and stressed that commitment during a recent podcast interview with Right on Crime’s David Gornoski.

Byron referenced his history dealing with police, including two marijuana arrests and a felony theft charge. “I was just stupid,” he said. “I just made a lot of dumb decisions. (There) was really no one to blame for that, you know. That’s on me.”

But he’s grateful those bad choices didn’t derail his life, and his story of redemption now includes preparing to join the U.S. House of Representatives. Other friends and family members ended up paying a much higher debt to society. That’s why he pushed for years in the Florida Legislature to change the thresholds on punishment for property theft. When Donalds first went to Tallahassee, Florida’s threshold for felony theft charges was around $300, the lowest in the Southeast U.S. He filed legislation to move the threshold up and index it with inflation, noting the low dollar amount in Florida went untouched since 1984.

Byron Donalds gets personal on the ‘Right on Crime’ podcast.

He also put together the proposed Florida First Step Act, a reform that didn’t pass but would provide a model for the federal First Step Act championed and signed by Trump.

Now he’s joining a Republican caucus where many members ran on a Law and Order message and arriving as a Democratic administration takes over. Donalds feels prepared for the challenges to reform, but said as someone with firsthand knowledge of the justice system; he can offer insight to colleagues in the GOP. He also hopes strides made under Trump awakened a new perspective on the subject among Republican officials. “It has Republican members actually start taking a look at the policy,” he said.

As for specific agenda items, Donalds referenced expansion of house arrest and revisiting mandatory minimum sentencing.

Finally free

Outgoing Democratic Rep. Mucarsel-Powell is celebrating after Silverio Portal Contreras was released from a Cuban prison.

In October, Mucarsel-Powell led a bipartisan resolution demanding Portal Contreras be released from a Cuban prison. Mucarsel-Powell celebrated his freedom in a statement Monday.

“This is a hard-fought win for liberty,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “I thank all the activists and bipartisan members who joined me in pushing for Silverio Portal Contreras’ release.”

Debbie Murcarsel-Powell is celebrating the freedom of Cuban dissident Silverio Portal Contreras.

Portal Contreras secured his release last week and spoke out about the abuse he endured while in captivity. Portal Contreras said he had suffered physical abuse, which resulted in strokes, high blood pressure, difficulty moving his limbs and other ailments. He argued Cuban officials released him for fear he may die in captivity, thereby dodging a potential international firestorm.

Portal Contreras was prosecuted in 2018 for protesting and sentenced to four years in prison. Amnesty International dubbed Portal Contreras a “prisoner of conscience,” while the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights highlighted Portal Contreras’ mistreatment by the Cuban government.

Republican Reps. Mast and Ted Yoho joined Mucarsel-Powell to co-sponsor the October resolution. Democratic Reps. Charlie Crist, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Murphy, Shalala, Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson also co-sponsored the measure.

“Once and for all, the Cuban regime must end its cruel, politically-motivated arrests of citizens who advocate for human rights and democracy,” Mucarsel-Powell said.

Dr. Miami

President-elect Biden’s transition team announced Vivek Murthy would return to the White House as Surgeon General. He’s best known for filling the same capacity under President Barack Obama. But before he went big-time, Murthy’s claim to fame (at least in the greater Pinecrest area) was graduating as valedictorian of Palmetto Senior High’s Class of 1994.

Somewhere in between the feats of finishing high school at the head of the class and being nominated for Surgeon General of the United States for a second time, Murthy also co-founded international HIV/AIDS education group Visions, India-based community health partnership the Swasthya Project and the medical tech company TrialNetworks, which assists in the sharing of collaborative research. It could be that work is what caught the eye of Biden and Obama.

Vivek Murthy is returning to the White House as Joe Biden’s Surgeon General.

But teachers at his high school noticed his potential sooner than either Democratic politician. Educators in 2014 told the Miami Herald that Murthy showed exceptional drive, graduating at age 16 with a 6.09 grade-point average. “Even then, he aspired to greatness,” Palmetto teacher Lynn Evans said at the time.

He left Miami to study at Harvard University, then progressed to Yale Medical School. Murthy serves today on Biden’s COVID-19 Advisory Board. He won confirmation to the Surgeon General Job first in 2014 and stayed on through the transition to a Trump administration before being asked to step aside. During his time, the nation faced such public health challenges as the Ebola and Zika viruses.

Presuming he takes over his old office again, that means Murthy will have served as Surgeon General under three Presidents.

“I never dreamed I’d have the honor to once again serve as Surgeon General,” Murthy tweeted. “In this moment of crisis, I’m grateful for the opportunity to help end this pandemic, be a voice for science, and support our nation on its path to rebuilding and healing.”

On this Day

Dec. 8, 1941 —FDR’s ‘Day of Infamy’ speech: Crafting a call to arms” via the National Archives — In the early afternoon of Dec. 7, Franklin D. Roosevelt was just finishing lunch in his oval study on the second floor of the White House, preparing to work on his stamp album, when his telephone rang. The White House operator announced that Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox was on the line and insisted on talking with him. Roosevelt took the call. Roosevelt decided to go before Congress the next day to report on the attack and ask for a war declaration. In the early evening, he called in his secretary, Grace Tully. “Sit down, Grace,” he said. “I’d like to dictate my message. It will be short.”

Dec. 8, 1987 —Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev sign missile treaty and vow to work for greater reductions” via David Shipler for The New York Times — With fervent calls for a new era of peaceful understanding, President Reagan and Gorbachev signed the first treaty reducing the size of their nations’ nuclear arsenals. The President and the Soviet leader, beginning three days of talks aimed at even broader reductions, pledged to build on the accord by striving toward what Gorbachev called ”the more important goal,” reducing long-range nuclear weapons. In their White House conversations, the leaders were said to have reviewed their previous proposals to further those negotiations and they established an arms-control working group of ranking officials to hold parallel sessions.

Ed. Note — There will be no issue of Delegation Friday, Dec. 11. The next issue will publish Dec. 15.

Staff Reports


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