Delegation for 12.22.20: Deal, finally — first shots — drones — anarchy

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Despite the weeks of give-and-take, not every member of the delegation could vote ‘yea’ on the COVID-19 relief bill.

A deal, at last

At long last, negotiators in Congress on Sunday unveiled a COVID-19 relief package priced at just under $1 trillion. The final version won approval in both chambers of Congress Monday evening, with bipartisan support from Florida’s federal officials sending it on its way to President Donald Trump’s desk.

“Another round of help for small biz jobs including restaurants, live venues and local chambers should finally be on the way,” tweeted Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida’s senior Senator.

At long last, Democrats and Republicans came together for a COVID-19 relief bill. Image via AP.

Orlando Democrat Stephanie Murphy, who co-chairs the Blue Dog Caucus in the House, expressed a sense of relief that a deal came together. “This deal took too long and is far from perfect,” she tweeted. “But it sends immediate help to families and businesses who cannot wait any longer. We should continue to work with each other, despite our differences, to deliver more aid for Americans who are still struggling.”

In particular, Murphy praised the inclusion of an expansion to the employee retention tax credit to ensure businesses can retain employees through ongoing economic turbulence.

Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan similarly applauded the continuation of the Paycheck Protection Program to help businesses. “Although it took longer than it should have, Congress finally has a targeted COVID relief bill to help struggling Americans,” he said. “The bill provides most Americans with a $600 stimulus check, extends unemployment benefits, extends the Paycheck Protection Program, and helps schools reopen. The bill does NOT include bailout money to states that mismanaged their budgets.”

But perhaps unsurprisingly, given the weeks of give-and-take, not every member of the delegation could vote ‘yea’ at the end of the day.

Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz was among 53 members of the House to vote against the COVID relief bill. ”I voted ‘yes’ on the half of the bill which funds our military and provides a pay raise for the brave men and women who serve America. I voted ‘no’ on the second half of the spending bill, which provides windfalls to corporate special interests, while simultaneously shortchanging American citizens,” Gaetz said.

He also signaled support for a letter sent last week by conservative Representatives, including Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho, opposing the state of the bill mostly because of a litany of non-COVID-related spending in education, elections and support for controversial Planned Parenthood.

In the end, Florida Republicans Gaetz, Greg Steube and Bill Posey all voted no on the bill. Yoho, Neal Dunn, Dan Webster and Ross Spano did not vote at all.

And Sen. Rick Scott, a Republican freshman, deemed it ridiculous how much of the negotiations happened mostly out of view with only a handful of senior negotiators in each chamber. “It’s crazy that Congress is supposed to vote on a bill that’s almost 5,600 pages long that we received the same day,” he said, offering rare backup to a complaint by New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But while Ocasio-Cortez heavily criticized the process, she joined with most Democrats in passing the bill.

Scott ultimately cast one of six votes in the Senate against the deal. “This crisis has devastated American small businesses and American workers, and I support many of the COVID-related provisions to boost small businesses, prevent further layoffs and enhance unemployment assistance — provisions that are necessary because of the recklessness of the Chinese Communist Party and the overzealous shutdowns by politicians here in America who do not know what it is like to struggle for money or work,” he said. “I’m also glad this package does not include state bailouts, which I’ve been fighting for months, and makes reforms of the Federal Reserve, which provides further protections to ensure taxpayer dollars are not wasted.

“But, in classic Washington style, vital programs are being attached to an omnibus spending bill that mortgages our children and grandchildren’s futures without even giving members a chance to read it. We are not spending money we have in the bank or anticipate we will collect in taxes. Washington doesn’t seem to understand that new spending today will be paid for by increased federal debt and result in a tax increase on families down the road. We have to stop operating this way.”

For the most part, Florida members seemed simply satisfied that something made it across the finish line. “While this compromise could certainly do more to help struggling families and small businesses, it remains one of the largest relief packages in American history — second only to the CARES Act. I will continue to do whatever it takes to lift our community and nation out of this pandemic, and I will never stop fighting for you,” said Pinellas Democrat Charlie Crist.

First shot?

A COVID-19 vaccine has arrived on Capitol Hill, but with it came inevitable questions of who gets the first round of shots. While members of the delegation have amplified the message to trust the vaccine — the most promising development yet for returning the world to pre-pandemic conditions — there’s a clear divide in whether congressional members should cut in line for vaccinations.

It’s not party lines driving the choices. Rubio shared a picture of himself receiving a shot on his social media channels. He made clear his top priority is increasing confidence in the vaccine. “I know I looked away from the needle. And yes, I know I need a tan,” he wrote. “But I am so confident that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective that I decided to take it myself.”

That puts him in the company of Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Within the delegation, Democrats Crist, Darren Soto and Donna Shalala were among the first to receive the Pfizer shot.

Mike Pence is among the first on Capitol Hill to get the COVID-19 vaccination. Image via AP.

“As the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine begins across the country, I am grateful to be able to do my part to stop the spread of this terrible disease by receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine today,” Crist said. “This vaccine is a true medical miracle that signals the light at the end of the tunnel we have all been desperately praying for since March.”

“Getting vaccinated helps me perform this essential government duty,” said Soto. “I am eternally grateful to our front-line doctors, nurses and scientists who made this possible, and I remain as optimistic as ever as vaccine doses get rolled out across America.”

But some members took umbrage at the notion shots should be administered by the Office of the Attending Physician when they could be going to hospitals and nursing homes for front-line workers and at-risk Americans. Stuart Republican Brian Mast called Pelosi out by name for getting a shot and stated that cast aspersions at all members prioritizing their health.

“Leaders eat last; it’s one of the first lessons a soldier learns as early as basic training. Speaker Pelosi apparently never learned this lesson — asking Americans to wait to get vaccinated while Congress cuts the line is the opposite of leadership,” he said. “Congress needs to stop treating itself as a special political class, and the mere suggestion that members of Congress are in any way more important than the very people who gave us the privilege of serving in Congress is appalling. Being for the people must always mean putting the people before ourselves, which is why every single American should be able to access the coronavirus vaccine before any member of Congress.”

Meanwhile, Murphy, an Orlando Democrat, suggested House members may be at exceptionally high risk — from other members acting carelessly about the pandemic. “I also took this vaccine, frankly, because some of my colleagues have become super spreaders. And I’m required to get on a flight on a weekly basis, traveling to and from Washington,” she said.

“And these colleagues who refuse to follow the advice of public health officials, who won’t wear masks in the Capitol, who attend crowded holiday parties at the White House, and downplay the virus, they are putting us at risk.”

Several delegation members have been infected with the coronavirus already. Presumably, they have antibodies, though there is a dispute on how long any related immunity lasts, and health officials recommend a vaccine if it has been more than 90 days since the last positive test. Sen. Rick Scott and Reps. Dunn, Mario Diaz-Balart and Michael Waltz all previously have tested positive for COVID-19, and Matt Gaetz has tested positive for antibodies.

Down with drones

What constitutes a private company in China has long caused consternation in Washington, particularly with hawks alarmed by the Eastern nation’s growing influence. Scott certainly falls in that group. Florida’s junior Senator applauded a decision by the Commerce Department to add a Chinese drone company to its list of entities operating contrary to U.S. interests. The designation makes it so American governments won’t purchase drones made by DJI.

The manufacturer was among 77 businesses now on an Entity list, many of those businesses suspected to be working in concert with the Chinese Communist Party.

The U.S. is banned from purchasing Chinese-linked drones from DJI. Image via DJI.

“China actively promotes the reprehensible practices of forced labor, DNA collection, and ubiquitous surveillance to repress its citizens in Xinjiang and elsewhere,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “Over the last two years, this administration has added nearly 50 entities to the Entity List for their support for the Chinese Communist Party’s despicable offensive against vulnerable ethnic minorities. With these new additions, we are applying those principles to the rest of China, including in Tibet, and to the authoritarian regimes to which these practices are being exported.”

That’s good news to Scott.

“For more than a year, I’ve fought to prevent the U.S. Government from purchasing technology, like drones, with American tax dollars from Chinese companies backed by their government,” Scott said. “I’ve had countless discussions with the administration and my colleagues on the risks of buying drones from DJI and other Chinese-backed companies, and the threat these drones pose to our national security. I’m glad the Commerce Department made the decision today to include DJI in its Entity List. We can no longer turn a blind eye to Communist China and allow their technology into some of the most critical operations of the U.S. Government.”

Scott also took the opportunity to call for passage of the American Security Drone Act, legislation that would also prohibit the purchase of such tech from Iran.

Free Hong Kong

For Rubio, Florida’s senior Senator, the subject of Hong Kong keeps arising when it comes to China’s current crackdown on protests. He took the Friday anniversary of an international agreement on the former British colony’s treatment as a chance to hammer the Chinese Communist Party.

“In 1984, Beijing promised that the social, economic, and political conditions that made Hong Kong far freer than mainland China would remain unchanged for 50 years, but after only 23 years, the Chinese Communist Party has crushed Hong Kong’s long-cherished freedom and autonomy,” Rubio said.

Hong Kong freedom is just one of the active issues for the United States.

“On the anniversary of the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, we should remember the long trail of Beijing’s broken promises. The CCP will continue to violate any agreement, treaty, or law necessary to maintain or expand its power. Any future administration should be clear-eyed about the futility of entering into future agreements with the CCP. The U.S. must continue to stand with Hong Kongers and advance policies that counter the CCP’s aggression and promote Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee, Rubio has long criticized the Chinese government’s anti-democratic actions and recently called for political protesters’ release.

AG Gaetz?

As Trump looks at the final weeks of his term without a permanent Attorney General in place, Gaetz raised his hand as an option to fill William Barr’s shoes. Suggesting Trump may, in fact, start another term next year (despite a distinct lack of interest on the part of most colleagues to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s election), Gaetz made clear he’s available.

“In the next term of Donald Trump, whether that’s in 2021 or 2025, maybe he ought to pick me to be the Attorney General,” Gaetz said according to Mediaite.

Matt Gaetz is throwing his hat in the ring for AG in a second Donald Trump term — whenever that may be. Image via AP.

“And for whatever reason he doesn’t run, maybe I ought to pick the Attorney General. I would go easy on marijuana, tough on Big Tech, and I would go after the ‘deep state.’”

The suggests either Gaetz plans to support Trump should the President try to reclaim the White House in 2024, or he might challenge Biden himself for the presidency.

But Gaetz first intends to fight for Trump next month when Congress convenes to certify Electoral College results. He made clear in the same speech he will challenge the election results, and Alabama Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville will do the same in the upper chamber. But again, there seems a decided lack of support for tossing the results of a legal and fair election to keep Trump in power. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged Tuberville and other members of the Republican caucus not to enable such a coup, and Democrats hold a majority in the House.

Boosting the booster

Dunn, one of the delegation members who contracted and survived the coronavirus, now wants the wider public to know the vaccines’ benefits coming to market. The Big Bend Republican introduced a House version of Sen. Rob Portman’s COVID-19 Vaccine Awareness Support Act of 2020.

“This legislation will help to promote awareness and encourage participation, and ensure local governments have the resources to do so,” Dunn said in an email to constituents. “Vaccines are most effective when a sufficient amount of Americans are vaccinated. I’ve said it from day one: if we’re going to overcome this pandemic, we must work together.”

Neal Dunn is looking to educate Americans about benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Portman, an Ohio Republican, announced last month that he participated in a Janssen-Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial. ”I look at it as a way I can play a small role in supporting our country’s health care response to this pandemic,” Portman said. “The more people Johnson & Johnson has in the trial, the sooner they can have the complete data they need to finalize this phase of the trial and move on to the FDA approval process.”

Dunn, a doctor himself, has also stressed the importance of developing an effective vaccine. He tested positive for COVID-19 in April.

Waltz’s response

When St. Augustine Republican Waltz jumped at the chance to join a Supreme Court brief siding with an attempt to overturn the Presidential election, the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board apologized for its endorsement of his reelection. But the newspaper this week also gave the Congressman space to refute that stance.

Waltz maintained that from his military service overseas, he values the importance of American democracy. “From Africa to Afghanistan, I’ve seen firsthand the absolute destruction when election disputes are fought in the streets and not the courts,” he wrote in a letter published last week. “Presumably, this service and a term in Congress working across the aisle on behalf of the American people is why the Orlando Sentinel has twice endorsed my candidacy.”

Michael Waltz fires back at the Orlando Sentinel, which apologized for their endorsement of him.

He detailed the more academic aspects of the legal effort to challenge election results in Pennsylvania and Georgia, namely election officials taking steps to accommodate voting in a pandemic without consulting their respective legislatures. But he also suggested the genuine problems threatening democracy weren’t arguments to the Supreme Court but a partisan divide in U.S. media.

“Far too many opinion editors have no interest in understanding the views of nearly half of America, much less give them a fair representation,” he wrote. “As a result, sources of news have increasingly fractured along ideological lines to the point where much of the country is no longer operating from the same basic set of facts or even the same understanding of reality. That is dangerous.”

The argument is similar to what he’s been saying on One America News Network, the largest outlet still refusing to identify Biden as President-elect.

Dogging DeSantis

Two Democrats within the delegation turned their pandemic concerns to a former member of their ranks this week. In a letter, Reps. Soto and Debbie Wasserman Schultz called on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to investigate how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis handled the public reporting of deaths in the state.

Delegation Democrats are blasting Ron DeSantis for the state’s COVID-19 reporting woes.

The move came after a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation inferred potential underreporting on fatal cases. “It appears that the State of Florida Health Department excluded the long-backlogged deaths in daily death counts beginning Oct. 24, only to resume inclusion of these deaths on November 17, 2020,” the letter reads. “Typically, these deaths were a significant part of the daily reports because doctors do not have the ability to report deaths contemporaneously. For example, in the preceding 30-day period before the change, deaths occurring at least a month before accounted for 44% of the total daily tally.”

The letter saw co-signs from fellow Florida Democrats Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Al Lawson.

DeSantis, who served in the House before winning the Republican nomination for Governor in 2018, hasn’t responded to the accusations just yet. But his former colleagues say answers need to come soon. “To maintain the highest level of safety, the residents of Florida must have complete transparency concerning the methodology and calculation of the daily COVID death tally,” the letter reads. “As cases surge nationwide, Floridians must be assured of truthful reporting by their Department of Health.”

Anarchy in the UK?

A new strain of the coronavirus reportedly causing an outbreak alarmed Sarasota Republican Buchanan, who just called on a travel ban to and from Great Britain. “The Trump administration should consider travel restrictions on the United Kingdom after reports that a new and more contagious strain of COVID has surfaced there,” Buchanan tweeted.

He cited a statement from British Health Secretary Matt Hancock saying the new strain was “out of control” around London and Southeastern England.

A mutated form of COVID-19 is tearing through the U.K.. Image via USA Today.

“Some countries have halted air travel from Britain and banned British trucks from crossing the border,” Buchanan said.

Notably, Buchanan called for stricter travel restrictions early in the pandemic, citing the nation’s experience with past health threats like Ebola. But he also stresses that experts right now don’t necessarily believe the new coronavirus strain poses a greater risk than COVID-19, even if it is, in fact, more contagious.

“Health experts say it’s unclear whether this new strain is more lethal,” Buchanan said. “They also said there is no reason to believe that current vaccines would be less effective against it.”

In the fine print

With Congress tying so much spending together in Monday night’s vote on the omnibus spending bill and COVID-19 relief package, many Florida members are left with other achievements under their belt as the legislation hits the President’s desk.

Mast lauded the inclusion of many Florida priorities in the broader spending bill, including Everglades water restoration. “This is a historic vote for Everglades restoration and stopping harmful discharges,” he said. “This record-setting funding is exactly what we need to accelerate restoration projects and send more water south where Mother Nature intended it to go!”

Mario Diaz-Balart is one of the delegation members with some legislative wins for Florida. Image via CQ Roll Call.

Diaz-Balart also celebrated the Everglades and other provisions. “This bill prioritizes funding to enhance our infrastructure, support our military and law enforcement, and strengthen our national security,” he said. “In addition, school safety remains a top priority, Everglades Restoration received a significant influx of funding, and programs that our farmers and growers still rely on will continue. It also supports critical housing programs such as the Community Development Block Grant and Homeless Assistance grants.”

Some Florida-specific earmarks in South Florida include funding for the Everglades Agricultural Area Storage Reservoir Project and the Moore Haven Lock and Dam.

On this day

Dec. 22, 1807 — “The Embargo Act of 1807” via — A law passed by the United States Congress and signed by President Thomas Jefferson on December 22, 1807, prohibited American ships from trading in all foreign ports. Why would the U.S. government want to prohibit foreign trade? Wasn’t trade important for the country’s economy? Yes, trade was very important, but there was another serious problem plaguing the United States, and the government was willing to take desperate measures to solve it. Britain and France had been at war since 1803. Americans had tried hard to remain neutral in this conflict and keep up communication and trade with both countries. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working. In 1806, France passed a law that prohibited trade between neutral parties.

Dec. 22, 2010 — “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ repealed as Barack Obama signs landmark law” via The Guardian — President Obama signed a landmark law today that allows gay people to serve openly for the first time in America’s armed forces. Fulfilling a campaign pledge, Obama said he was proud to sign a law that “will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend.” He added: “No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie.” Today’s bill signing is the second of three expected victories in what has turned out to be — for the President — a surprisingly productive outgoing session of the current Congress.

Staff Reports


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