Delegation for 12.29.20: Mar-a-Lago — defense act — $2K — goodbyes — Rubio v. Fauci

American Captial Building.
Donald Trump very publicly made his Christmas break a working vacation.

All eyes on Mar-a-Lago

Florida provided the background to national drama this week, with a trio of massive funding bills publicly twisting in the Mar-a-Lago winds. President Donald Trump spent his Christmas in Florida, and perhaps in greater public fashion than ever made this a working vacation. He stayed in the Sunshine State as uncertainty swirled whether he would sign a COVID-19 relief and an omnibus spending bill.

Late Sunday night, the President signed both pieces of legislation from inside his Mar-a-Lago private club after a day at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. The action came in time to avert a government shutdown. It also came days after Trump vetoed a national defense spending bill, a move likely to draw a rare rebuke from the GOP Senate as his time in office draws to a close.

While COVID relief hangs in the balance and a government shutdown looms, Donald Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago for some Christmas golf. Image via AP.

Trump would still like to see more action take place in Washington on the relief package. His signing statement included a demand for Congress to increase Americans’ payments from the $600 budgeted now to $2,000. He also promised a redlined budget would head back to Congress demanding fiscal waste reduction.

“I will sign the Omnibus and COVID package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed,” Trump said in a statement released Sunday. It’s uncertain anything will come of that. While Governors in most states, including Florida, enjoy a line-item veto power, the President does not. The message sent from Mar-a-Lago from an outgoing President may ultimately serve as just a finger wag.

Some delegation members didn’t welcome the President into the Sunshine State for such a dramatic delay. A parade of Trump images and a convoy of black Chevrolet Suburbans running between Mar-a-Lago and Trump International Golf Club set the stage for pointed criticism about his absenteeism through the months of negotiations.

“Good news: after days golfing, the president signed our COVID legislation,” said Orlando Democrat Val Demings. “Unfortunately, because of his golf delay, millions of Americans will have their unemployment support lapse.”

Miami Democrat Donna Shalala lamented the President had kept the nation in suspense as he holidayed in South Florida. Hours before Trump signed the bill, she sounded off on MSNBC. “Not only aren’t we getting money out to those who need it — and by the way, it’s their money, taxpayers’ money — but we’re going to shut down the government,” the Congresswoman said. “This is a human tragedy and he’s playing golf.”

For the moment, the President remains in Palm Beach County, where some expect him to spend the final weeks of his presidency. But Trump has made clear he will make at least one sojourn back to Washington. “See you in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6. Don’t miss it,” he tweeted Sunday. “Information to follow.”

That date will be when Congress convenes to certify the Electoral College, where some of Trump’s allies in the House and Senate signaled they would challenge Democrat Joe Biden’s victory. But more than likely, Trump, as of noon on Jan. 20, will have no more pressing business in Washington, D.C. as his term comes to an end. At that point, Mar-a-Lago may see more of Trump than ever as he plots his next political move from his full-time home.

What about that two grand?

There’s still a question as to whether the COVID-19 relief increase to $2,000 has any hope of making it through Congress. The Democrat-controlled House immediately jumped on the Republican President’s call for larger payouts to Americans.

As with the defense reauthorization bill, all 13 Florida Democrats voted “Yes” while Republicans split on House Resolution 9051, the so-called “CASH Act.” Three voted “Yea”: Diaz-Balart, Rooney and Rutherford. But eight voted “Nay”: Buchanan, Gaetz, Mast, Posey, Spano, Steube, Waltz and Webster. Three who once again got out of voting: Bilirakis, Dunn and Yoho.

The final House tally on HR 9051: 275 yays, 134 nays and 21 not voting.

Marco Rubio is one of the first Republicans to come out in favor of Donald Trump’s $2,000 stimulus checks. Image via AP.

Demings said the House was happy at least to adhere to one of Trump’s demands. Democrats long-sought higher payouts in the relief package, and the Congresswoman predicted in advance the chamber would vote to increase the relief checks to $2,000. She also said more people would get that relief if the House version of the legislation ultimately makes it to the President’s desk.

“Our legislation also extends eligibility (and retroactive eligibility) to adult dependents and teens/students aged 17-24. These individuals never should have been excluded in the first place, and fixing this loophole is extremely important,” she tweeted.

Such an increase will have a harder go in the Senate. But it will get some help from Florida’s senior Sen. Marco Rubio. The Miami Republican on Monday announced his support for larger payments.

“I share many of my colleagues’ concern about the long-term effects of additional spending, but we cannot ignore the fact that millions of working-class families across the nation are still in dire need of relief,” Rubio said. “Congress should quickly pass legislation to increase direct payments to Americans to $2,000.”

But Florida’s other senator, Rick Scott, has shown far more reluctance to increase a bailout bill beyond its already nearly trillion-dollar price tag. He cast one of a half dozen votes against the COVID-19 relief bill Trump just signed.

“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; there is no excuse for the way Washington treats the American taxpayers. I’ve repeatedly voted against enormous and wasteful spending bills. The easy route is simply to go along as Congress continues to do harm to future generations of Americans, but I will not be a part of it.”

Rubio swings for Fauci

Rubio trashed Dr. Anthony Fauci’s evolving advice on face masks and herd immunity. Then he withered criticism online for taking the advice of a Senate physician and receiving a vaccine.

Rubio on Sunday leveled criticism against the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Dr. Fauci lied about masks in March,” Rubio tweeted. “Dr. Fauci has been distorting the level of vaccination needed for herd immunity. It isn’t just him. Many in elite bubbles believe the American public doesn’t know ‘what’s good for them’ so they need to be tricked into ‘doing the right thing.’”

Marco Rubio went so far as to call Dr. Anthony Fauci a ‘liar.’. Image via AP.

That’s a major shift in tone from Rubio’s public comments at the start of the pandemic. In March, the Senator posted on Medium about the need to follow the scientists’ advice regarding quarantines and social distancing. But the newest tweet seems to take the lead from those who argue the broader spread of the coronavirus will bring herd immunity more quickly, a strategy promoted within the White House by controversial former COVID-19 adviser Dr. Scott Atlas.

Notably, Fauci’s advice on mask-wearing shifted substantially. In February, he advised against the general public buying masks, even suggesting a possible unintended risk of exposure as “people keep fiddling with the mask, and they keep touching their face.” He’s since become an advocate of mask-wearing, saying the situation has changed because there’s no longer a shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, and the disease is more widespread. It’s also more clear how the airborne coronavirus spreads now than scientists knew originally.

Rubio’s tweet came as Fauci acknowledged to The New York Times that he had changed his herd immunity estimates. Fauci’s comments suggest he changed a projection from 75% to 90% public immunity after seeing polling that confidence has shifted among Americans regarding approved vaccines.

But the comments from the Senator exacerbated criticism he’s weathered since posting a photo of himself receiving a Pfizer shot. As a member of the Senate, he was allowed to take a vaccine and showed pictures of himself doing so to increase public confidence in the treatment. Still, many say the 49-year-old center did not need to cut in line ahead of health care workers or at-risk seniors.

Scott: buy American

Even as budget issues severely divide Congress, Scott found one issue the Senate could agree upon: the need to buy American.

The Naples Republican introduced a resolution (SR 625) in the upper chamber that passed by voice vote two days before Christmas. The short piece of legislation resolved a policy for the United States government to buy American products and materials from U.S. manufacturers. The body also encouraged Americans in their everyday purchases to buy American when they can.

“I’m glad my colleagues joined together to pass this resolution, which encourages all Americans to buy products made in the U.S. whenever possible,” Scott said.

Rick Scott found an issue almost everyone agrees with: Buy American. Image via AP.

Scott cited the COVID-19 crisis as all the more reason to go all-in on U.S. business, and here there was no vocal dissent.

“This outbreak has shown that we cannot continue to rely on our adversaries, like Communist China, who lied about the coronavirus and refused to be a partner in solving the crisis, for our critical supplies. I know it’s not always easy, but buying American is an important step we can all take at home to support American jobs, American producers, and American manufacturers while helping build up the U.S. supply chain. I’m committed to supporting American businesses and jobs and ensuring America remains strong as the undisputed leader of the global economy.”

He introduced the resolution with Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. The conservative and progressive lawmakers voiced similar sentiments when it came to using U.S. goods. “I strongly believe that when we’re using U.S. taxpayer dollars, we should be supporting American workers and American-made products,” Baldwin said. “As our nation addresses supply chain shortages and works to keep our economy moving forward during this pandemic, we must boost our Made in America economy by prioritizing American manufacturers, workers, and products over foreign workers and foreign-made goods.”

Defending Defense Act

More House Republicans from Florida voted to join the veto override of the National Defense Authorization Act than voted against it. By a vote of 322 to 87 on Monday, the House approved passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, overriding Trump’s Dec. 23 veto.

From Florida, all 13 Democrats voted yes for House Resolution 6395 Monday.

Among Florida Republicans, six voted yes and five voted no.

Matt Gaetz was one of a handful of Florida Republicans who voted ‘no’ on the defense reauthorization bill.

The GOP “Yea” votes came from Reps. Vern Buchanan, Francis Rooney, John Rutherford, Ross Spano, Michael Waltz and Dan Webster.

GOP “Nay” votes include Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Bill Posey and Greg Steube.

Three members managed to avoid casting a vote on this one and were among 21 members not voting. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Neal Dunn and Ted Yoho were GOP no-shows on HR 6395.

There wasn’t a lot of commentary from the delegation about why members were making (or not making) the votes they delivered.

Gaetz went to the House floor to explain his vote, essentially his opposition to war. “The NDAA was hijacked by the forever war lobby and their bought and paid for allies in the United States Congress,” he tweeted, capturing the essence of his floor speech.

In an email to constituents Monday night, Webster offered this explanation for his yes vote: “While this bill is not perfect, it is a good bill and passing it fulfills my constitutional duty by ensuring our military has … the tools and resources needed to keep our country safe. It also invests in our military men and women and their families by authorizing another 3% pay raise and improving oversight and accountability of government-owned family military housing and making improvements to military child care centers.”

Adieu

The beginning of 2021 may be a welcome change of the calendar for the pandemic-exhausted everywhere. But it also marks the end of an era for several members of the delegation whose time in office now comes to an end. Five Florida Congress members will close out their time on the Hill, with successors taking office on Jan. 3.

The Representatives’ achievements vary, as do their tenures.

Naples Republican Francis Rooney feels after just four years, he achieved a great deal of what he set out to do. “I had two main reasons in running for Congress,” he recalled in an exclusive for The Delegation. “First was to build bipartisan commitment to Everglades restoration and water quality. I immediately began work on getting the funds to complete repairs of the Herbert Hoover Dike and to expedite completion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), especially the A-2 Reservoir. We have been successful in getting $1.5 billion (more than the previous 10 years combined) to complete repairs to the dike ahead of schedule and commence construction of the A-2 Reservoir.

Democrats Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala are two of five Floridians who say goodbye to Congress in 2021. Image via AP.

“Second was ensuring that offshore drilling in the Gulf continues to be banned. I introduced H.R. 205, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act. The bill made the moratorium on drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, which expires in 2022, permanent — It passed the House on Sept. 11, 2019.”

The other outgoing members, Democrats Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Shalala and Republican Ross Spano, lost bids for second terms this year. Time holds the secret of their political futures.

Shalala indeed came to office with a respectable resume already as former President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. She stressed her record on health care as she leaves.

“From working to end surprise medical billing, to developing green infrastructure, to supporting democracy programs in Venezuela, the substantive legislative accomplishments certainly matter,” she told The Delegation.

“But what I am most proud of is the work we did to directly help constituents. Every day, we fought for the people of South Florida so that they could navigate unemployment insurance, receive their hard-earned Social Security benefits, obtain expedited passports to visit sick relatives and more. We hosted over 40 town halls in just two years and responded to more than 100,000 constituent letters. I am honored to have had the opportunity to serve my community.”

Mucarsel-Powell reflected to The Delegation about her work spotlighting a national issue within her district.

“One of my greatest accomplishments is knowing that I helped to free children from the Homestead detention center and reunite them with their families and sponsors. No child should be forcibly separated from their families, and we must continue doing all we can to reunite separated children across the country,” she said.

“I’m also proud that as vice-chair of the Water Subcommittee, I led the effort to expedite the restoration of the Everglades and improve the ecosystem in Florida Bay — boosting ecotourism and our economy. I helped secure over $200 million for Everglades Restoration, one of the largest amounts ever. And to ensure our community had access to health care when it was needed the most, I introduced and passed legislation to cover COVID-19 treatment for all Medicare Advantage enrollees — 22 million people.”

Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho, who first won office in 2012 by defeating longtime incumbent Cliff Stearns in a GOP primary, closes the longest tenure. His official biography with the House focuses on holding to values, including “constitutional principles, limited government, fiscal conservatism, personal responsibility and free enterprise, above all else.”

Broadcast News

A problem with the cable company grew out of hand when Sarasota’s only broadcast network news disappeared from Southwest Florida TV sets, according to Longboat Key Republican Buchanan. The Congressman now hopes the Federal Communications Commission will step in and settle the dispute.

The channel went dark for many Southwest Florida viewers on Dec. 18, when Frontier Cable abruptly deleted WWSB ABC-7 from its channel lineup.

Vern Buchanan sends a stern letter to the FCC in hopes of keeping broadcast news on in Sarasota.

“Our community depends on access to local news for important information that impacts their daily lives,” Buchanan tweeted. “That’s why I just wrote to the chairman of the FCC expressing my concern at the sudden blackout of a local TV news station here in Sarasota.”

Broadcasts for ABC-7 can still be seen via antenna or through the use of an internet app. But more than half of the station’s viewers watch via the local cable provider. Buchanan said the infrastructure holder shouldn’t have the power to take a news source away from 50,000 households.

“According to WWSB, Frontier rejected their parent company’s offer to extend the terms of their previous agreement to protect my constituents from a blackout of local programming while the parties continued negotiating a new agreement,” Buchanan wrote. “As a result, my constituents are no longer able to view exclusive local news focusing on Sarasota and the surrounding area.

“I urge the FCC to take any appropriate action to help ensure that Frontier acts in the public interest.”

It’s unclear whether the FCC can step in and do much surrounding negotiations. The federal agency can only regulate content for broadcast, not cable providers. But rules established in 1965 do remain in place, requiring cable operators to provide equitable opportunities to traditional broadcasters to serve their regions.

EAA gets funding

Stuart Republican Mast found plenty to celebrate as Trump signed the omnibus into law. That included securing $250 million in funding for Everglades restoration, including full funding for the Everglades Agricultural Area Southern Storage Reservoir.

“This is a historic vote for Everglades restoration and stopping harmful discharges,” the Congressman 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.”

Brian Mast is celebrating the signage of a bill sending federal money for Everglades restoration. Image via News-Press.

The EAA funding has been a priority for Florida for years. It should curb discharges of blue-green algae-tainted water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, the latter of which flows through Mast’s district. Trump, in 2019, committed to supporting a $200 million appropriations package. This year, Mast pressed for another $250 million on top of that, setting a record for single-year funding for an Everglades project.

“Trump just signed into law the highest level of funding for Everglades restoration ever!” Mast noted on Twitter, where he issued calls to “#SendTheWaterSouth” along with hopes discharges could be brought to zero.

Freedom Force disrupting The Squad?

Will the Squad be any match for the Freedom Force? It’s the question that everybody is asking — or at least what the Fox & Friends team asked of Rep.-elect Byron Donalds.

The Naples Republican predicted that with the Democrats holding only a slim majority in the House as of January, the Squad’s power, a group of progressive Democrats elected in 2018, will diminish significantly.

Byron Donalds predicts ‘The Squad’ will lose much of its power in the House. Image via Twitter.

“The reason is because their policies have failed,” Donalds said. “If you were going to try socialism in America, you had your chance with COVID-19 and look at what we’ve seen. We’ve seen business owners not be able to operate. We’ve seen governors act with impunity. We’ve seen voters actually go against candidates who are trying to defund the police.”

Of note, those policies don’t quite accurately describe socialism. But to be fair, slogans like “defunding the police” were embraced by Squad leader Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat and a politician distinctly of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders’ ilk. Donalds’ case also aligns closely with the one Republicans made in November, when they flipped a net 10 seats red.

“We are in a situation where Republicans have won more seats in state legislatures and in Congress,” Donalds said. “Even though they might have more members of the Squad or Justice Democrats or whatever you want to call it, their power is going to be diminished because the American people don’t want what they are selling.”

Making the CASE

The nature of the omnibus bill is that it includes more than spending. Tucked within the legislation just signed by Trump, there are also essential protections for authors and artists engaged in copyright disputes over their work. The Copyright Alternative in Small-Claims Enforcement Act of 2019 — or CASE Act — ended up getting rolled into the larger bill, with parts crafted by lobbyists based in Florida.

Bruce Lehman previously served as President Clinton’s Commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. His Sarasota-based government affairs firm Lehman Nilon & Associates worked on sections of the legislation. The bill sets up a process outside the federal court where authors can settle small disputes, those worth less than $15,000. That’s important since federal law preempts any state or local action in the arena, and there’s traditionally been no other avenue to deal with issues outside the nation’s limited number of federal courthouses. A tribunal can now meet within the Copyright Office and deal with small-dollar matters at little cost to either party.

“It’s intended to deal with cases in which the damages would not be sufficient to justify full-scale federal litigation,” he said. “A lot of authors haven’t had, as a practical matter, an effective remedy because it costs more to sue than you would get.”

With some outside help from a Florida consultant, Jerry Nadler crafted artist protections, tucked inside the latest spending bill.

But the section Lehman worked on most closely also makes sure this alternative system won’t be used against artists. He and Susan Nilon advise the Artists Rights Society of the United States and for the Association of Medical Illustrators, both groups whose own members are primarily individuals who are most likely if they end up in copyright disputes to face deep-pocketed publishers. The fear for many, especially illustrators working with corporations who own several journals, is that publishers will force matters into the small claims process or even dupe artists to agree in original work-for-hire contracts to settle all disagreements in an arena where settlements will only be paid out for $15,000 or less.

Lehman helped craft language written into the CASE Act and the omnibus bill by New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Lehman said the hope is artists now have a cheaper way to settle small disputes but don’t relinquish the right to seek major damages when appropriate. Nilon said that’d been a course that won bipartisan support and didn’t face a serious threat even when Trump was considering a veto. But having the matter settled and signed into law gives artists involved reason to celebrate.

On This Day

Dec. 29, 1835 — “How the Treaty of New Echota led to the Trail of Tears” via National Public Radio — Before it came to symbolize representation in the U.S. Congress, the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, signed into law on this day, was better known for catalyzing a genocide. It provided the legal basis for the Cherokee people’s forced removal from their ancestral homeland in the South, their Trail of Tears. More than 4,000 people died during their forced death march over hundreds of miles from their homelands in the present-day South to Oklahoma in 1838. And the treaty’s signing led to a deep fissure within the nation: A minority party of Cherokee elites brokered the deal with the U.S. government, behind the back of the Principal Chief, John Ross.

Dec. 29, 1845 — Texas enters the Union” via History.com — After gaining independence from Spain in the 1820s, Mexico welcomed foreign settlers to sparsely populated Texas, and a large group of Americans (led by Stephen F. Austin) settled along the Brazos River. The Americans soon outnumbered the resident Mexicans, and by the 1830s, the Mexican government’s attempts to regulate these semi-autonomous American communities led to rebellion. The citizens of the independent Republic of Texas elected Sam Houston as President and endorsed Texas’s entrance into the Union. The likelihood of Texas joining the Union as a slave state delayed any formal action by the U.S. Congress for more than a decade.

Staff Reports



#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jason Delgado, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704