Good Thursday morning.
Even though it has been an incredibly busy, historic news cycle, we begin by wishing House Speaker Chris Sprowls a happy birthday. And to do that, we asked two people in The Process close to Chris to do that.
Rep. Chris Latvala writes: “Happy Birthday to an amazing father, husband, friend, and Speaker. Chris Sprowls is the right leader at the right moment. Enjoy your day, my friend, and have a happy birthday.”
Senate President Wilton Simpson adds: “Wishing the happiest of birthdays to my good friend and partner in the process, Speaker Sprowls. During these unprecedented times in our state and nation, I’m honored to serve alongside a person of great faith, steadfast conviction, tremendous intelligence, and unquestionable integrity. Happy Birthday Mr. Speaker!”
On behalf of everyone here at Florida Politics, as well as Michelle and Ella Joyce, happy birthday Mr. Speaker.
Now, before we dive into #Impeachment, legislative committee meetings, etc., I want to make sure you’ve read two stories that first popped on the FP’s text messaging service (subscribe here):
Here are some other quick hits that stood out:
🥊 — Poll finds Americans think democracy is under attack, Donald Trump should be out: A Quinnipiac University poll found 74% of voters think U.S. democracy is under attack and a majority, 52%, believe Trump should be removed from power. The same poll found similar approval ratings as POLITICO for Trump, with only 33% of respondents indicating a favorable opinion of the current President.
— Trump’s approval rating craters; 2024 election prospects, too: Trump is closing out the final week of his presidency with approval ratings at an all-time low following last week’s insurrection by a mob of rioters he called to action. A POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found Trump’s approval rating at just 34%, with a whopping 63% of voters disapproving of his job performance. Likewise, those who support a Trump 2024 campaign have also fallen off, with 40% of Republicans polled still supporting another presidential bid in four years compared to 53% in November.
— Fewer Americans think Trump should be arrested than don’t: In a Deseret News column, author Scott Rasmussen, a prominent pollster, noted his own polling that found 43% of Americans believe Trump should be arrested when he leaves office. A statistically insignificant number more, 44%, believe he shouldn’t. Rasmussen uses the data to make a case for healing a divided nation, using the words of the only U.S. President to serve at a time of even greater national division, Abraham Lincoln.
— A must-read on how Trump’s rise to power foreshadowed his fall from it: Trump’s early days were fraught with drama, from questions about Russian interference in his election to his continued insistence that dirt be dug up on his defeated opponent, Hillary Clinton, Trump’s inauguration and the days and weeks that followed were in many ways similar to how he is now leaving office. The Washington Post takes an in-depth dive into how “the last handoff” was a prelude to the upcoming transition to a Joe Biden White House.
🏻 — A power couple in O-town: Samantha Pollara and Shayne Cheshire have moved from St. Petersburg to Orlando, taking their Democratic power coupledom to Central Florida. Pollara served as one of the top sought after finance directors for Democratic campaigns in the Tampa Bay area, managing finance for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s winning campaign in 2019 before moving on to manage finance in the state for then-presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. She’s also a Sean Shaw campaign veteran, where she served with Cheshire. Cheshire also served as finance director for Margaret Good’s (expensive) congressional campaign, where he helped raise among the largest hauls of any Democratic challenger in the state. We don’t know yet what they’ll be up to in Orlando, but we do know there are a lot of potential statewide candidates in Central Florida. Look out, 2022.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, the new chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, announced on Wednesday more picks for senior staff positions at the GOP campaign arm.
Jenny Drucker will serve as finance director, and Stu Sandler will serve as political director for the 2022 cycle.
Drucker comes to NRSC from political fundraising and consulting firm Drucker Lawhon. She was also finance director at the National Republican Congressional Committee during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles.
Sandler most recently worked as the general consultant for John James’ unsuccessful Senate campaign in Michigan. In 2016, Sandler was a strategist for then-Michigan GOP Chair Ronna McDaniel and helped her secure the state for Trump.
Florida’s junior Senator said Drucker and Sandler “bring decades of political experience, in Washington and around the country, to their new roles and are committed to working with me to win back the Senate majority.
“We have a tough road ahead to win back the majority, but I’m confident that this team will work hard and be successful in raising the money we need to compete, building a successful grassroots organization and defining Democrat candidates across the country.”
The staff announcements come as donor backlash mounts against Scott and other Republican politicians who voted against certifying Biden’s win in the presidential election. The 2022 cycle will be a consequential one for Republicans, with 20 seats up in the chamber.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
Inside the Capitol this morning where Speaker Pelosi usually walks to her office. pic.twitter.com/BQIEf5b2s4
— Erin Schaff (@erinschaff) January 13, 2021
—@Tina_Nguyen: My chief observation about Trump’s recent statements, and the response inside MAGA extremist internet, is that there is one crucial thing he hasn’t done that’s guaranteed to blunt their energy: He has not said that he lost the election and concedes to Biden.
—@GeraldoRivera: A loyal friend, hounded without mercy by Democrats intent on destroying him from Day 1. Then he lost the election. It made him crazy or revealed a dysfunction I had refused to see. He then unleashed a mob to make war on their own government. 5 to their doom. @LizCheney is right democracy in order to further their own political careers. She stood up to President Trump. He even denounced her by name from the stage at yesterday’s rally — something that should definitely be considered a badge of honor. Good job, Big Sister.
—@Mccheney: Liz and I have definitely had our differences over the years, but I am incredibly proud of how she handled herself during the fight over the Electoral College. She defended our constitution, our country, and our people while many of her colleagues were willing to risk our
—@MichaelSSmithII: There are members of the United States Congress who are afraid to vote to impeach Trump due to concerns about their families’ safety. This is how terrorism works, folks! This is a textbook example of terrorists succeeding with efforts to coerce decision-makers in a government.
I lost two legs for @jaketapper's right to say whatever the hell he wants, but that free speech also protects the Republicans he is so eager to condemn for asking Constitutional questions about the election. https://t.co/ViNrwz9cbU
— Rep. Brian Mast (@RepBrianMast) January 13, 2021
—@JenGriffinFNC: There are more US troops deployed on Capitol Hill now than in Iraq or Afghanistan. The 15,000 mobilized for Inauguration equals 3 times the number of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
— Erik Wasson (@elwasson) January 13, 2021
—@SContorno: You tell people Democrats are evil, that they’re the enemy, that they’re going to enact [Fidel] Castro-style socialism, take your guns & indoctrinate your children. Then you tell them the election was stolen, and this is their last chance to “fight like hell.” Just hyperbole …
—@SamSanders: One of the worst outcomes of this political moment is that it’s led a lot of us to mistake decency for bravery.
—@FlaCathBps: Thank you @and @ for sponsoring legislation to repeal FL’s death penalty. State-sanctioned killing diminishes all citizens & perpetuates the cycle of violence. We are hopeful FL will join the growing number of states that have ended its use.
— DAYS UNTIL —
WandaVision premieres on Disney+ — 1; the 2021 Inauguration — 6; Florida Chamber Economic Outlook and Job Solution Summit begins — 14; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 24; Daytona 500 — 31; “Nomadland” with Frances McDormand — 37; 2021 Legislative Session begins — 47; “Coming 2 America” premieres on Amazon Prime — 51; “The Many Saints of Newark” premieres — 57; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 78; Children’s Gasparilla — 86; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 93; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 98; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 113; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 169; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 177; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 190; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 197; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 223; “Dune” premieres — 261; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 293; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 295; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 337; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 330; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 435; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 477; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 631.
— THE FOURTH CRISIS —
“The House impeaches Trump for ‘incitement of insurrection,’ setting up a Senate trial.” via Nicholas Fandos of The New York Times — The House impeached Trump for inciting a violent insurrection against the United States government, as 10 members of the President’s party joined Democrats to charge him with high crimes and misdemeanors for an unprecedented second time. Reconvening under the threat of continued violence and the protection of thousands of National Guard troops, the House was determined to hold Trump to account just one week before he was to leave office. At issue was his role in encouraging a mob that attacked the Capitol one week ago while Congress met to affirm Biden’s victory, forcing lawmakers to flee for their lives in a deadly rampage.
For history, the @AP FLASH:
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Donald Trump impeached by US House for incitement of insurrection at Capitol; 1st US president impeached twice
— Julie Pace (@jpaceDC) January 13, 2021
“Nancy Pelosi signs article of impeachment” via Benjamin Din of POLITICO — Pelosi signed an article of impeachment against Trump on Wednesday evening, a ceremonial step that precedes the article being sent to the Senate. The engrossment ceremony to make the article official occurred shortly after it passed the House, with 10 Republican members of Congress joining the Democrats to impeach the President on a count of willful incitement of insurrection. Pelosi spoke from the same lectern that a rioter had dragged through the halls of the Capitol during last week‘s insurrection. A staffer wheeled it back to the speaker‘s office on Wednesday for the signing event.
—”How Florida members of Congress voted on impeaching Trump” via Steve Contorno of The Tampa Bay Times
—”Emotional moments from the House debate on Trump’s second impeachment” via Allie Caren of The Washington Post
“Trump condemns violence without mentioning his second impeachment” via Colby Itkowitz, Amy B Wang, Felicia Sonmez and John Wagner of The Washington Post — The House voted 232 to 197 on Wednesday to impeach President Trump an unprecedented second time, on a charge of “inciting violence” against the U.S. government. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell left open the possibility of voting to convict at a trial, which would occur after Trump leaves office next week. During debate on the House floor, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Trump “bears responsibility” for last week’s violent takeover of the Capitol but argued against impeachment so close to the end of his term. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump “a clear and present danger” and said “he must go.”
“Mitch McConnell breaks with Trump, says he’ll consider convicting him in Senate trial” via Seung Min Kim and Paul Kane of The Washington Post — The bipartisan impeachment vote in the House against Trump on Wednesday set up a politically explosive reckoning for Senate Republicans, who spent four years enabling Trump’s behavior but in the wake of last week’s Capitol riot are grappling with how to punish him with just seven days left in office. The most striking position came from McConnell, who said Wednesday that he will consider convicting Trump on inciting the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, a remarkable break between the two men who worked in lockstep for four years, even as the majority leader continually deflected questions about Trump’s untoward conduct and rhetoric.
“Finally, these Republicans can stomach Trump no more” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — It may be too little too late, but in the end, a few brave Republicans found their voices and spoke up to protect American democracy from Trump’s depredations. Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House and scion of a revered Republican family, changed the debate overnight when she said she would vote to impeach the man who “lit the flame” of last week’s deadly attack on Congress. Lesser-known but no less brave was Rep. Dan Newhouse, who at 1:42 p.m. Wednesday stood on the floor and announced: “There is no excuse for President Trump’s actions … With a heavy heart and clear resolve, I will vote yes on these articles of impeachment.”
“Republicans eager to subvert the 2020 election last week now insist the time has come for unity” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — More than 140 Republicans in the House and Senate chose to object to the results of the vote in Arizona and Pennsylvania in a futile effort to accomplish precisely what the mob wanted: slowing or halting Biden’s inauguration. In the days that followed, both Democrats and some Republicans realized that the mob’s actions stemmed almost entirely from the rhetoric of Trump himself. As a new effort to impeach the President for his role in fomenting the violence began, it was countered with calls for comity and bipartisanship from people who, one week ago, voted to throw out democratic election results that favored the Democratic presidential candidate.
“National Guardsmen protecting Capitol now armed with lethal weapons” via Lara Seligman of POLITICO — The Pentagon has approved National Guardsmen protecting the U.S. Capitol to carry lethal weapons in the days leading up to the inauguration, as law enforcement continues to receive information about credible threats of violence from armed militia groups, two Guard spokespeople confirmed. As of 6 p.m. on Tuesday, the Guardsmen responsible for security around the Capitol building complex were armed with lethal weapons, U.S. Air National Guard Capt. Chelsi Johnson told POLITICO. The New York Times was the first to report the news. Johnson declined to say specifically what weapons the Guardsmen would carry but noted that typically they deploy with the M-9 handgun. Previously, they were only carrying protective gear.
“National Guardsmen briefed on IED threat to Capitol” via Natasha Bertrand and Lara Seligman of POLITICO — National Guard units are being told to prepare for the possibility that improvised explosive devices will be used by individuals plotting to attack the Capitol in the days surrounding the Inauguration, according to two Guardsmen briefed this week. The briefings indicate that Washington, D.C.-area law enforcement believe the IEDs planted last week at the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee headquarters were not an isolated incident. The individual who planted those bombs has yet to be apprehended, and FBI agents have been going door to door in D.C. this week asking residents for any photos or video they might have that could help identify the suspect. Guardsmen are also being briefed that protesters could be heavily armed.
“Federal authorities warn that the Capitol breach will be a ‘significant driver of violence.’” via Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times — The deadly breach at the Capitol last week will be a “significant driver of violence” for armed militia groups and racist extremists who are targeting the presidential inauguration next week, according to a joint intelligence bulletin issued by federal authorities. The “boogaloo,” a movement that seeks to start a second Civil War, and extremists aiming to trigger a race war “may exploit the aftermath of the Capitol breach by conducting attacks to destabilize and force a climactic conflict in the United States,” according to the bulletin issued by the National Counterterrorism Center and the Justice and Homeland Security Departments, which was disseminated widely to law enforcement agencies across the country.
“Many Republicans sympathize with those who stormed the Capitol” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — The storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters last week has been met with overwhelming condemnation by political leaders and the broader American public. They might not agree on remedies for the situation, but they agree that what happened was bad. Trump’s allies have mostly reverted to arguing these were simply the acts of some rotten apples. Lurking beneath the surface in the Republican Party, though, is something else: significant sympathy for the cause and even the actions of those who attempted an insurrection. Multiple polls have shown that the vast majority of Americans and Republicans rebuke those who forced their way into the Capitol.
“Democrats demand investigation of whether Republicans in Congress aided Capitol rioters” via Michael Kranish, Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post — Even as Democrats on Wednesday impeached Trump, they turned their attention to allegations that Republican members of Congress encouraged last week’s attempted insurrection, possibly providing help that enabled the mob who stormed the Capitol. “Their accomplices in this House will be held responsible,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler said in a speech. In the days since the Jan. 6 attack, immediately preceded by Trump’s remarks at a rally, a number of Democrats have pointed to speeches, tweets and videos that they have said raised questions about whether the attackers may have been inspired or helped by Republican members of Congress.
“FBI tells police chiefs nationwide to be on high alert” via Jordan Williams of The Hill — The FBI is warning police chiefs nationwide to be on high alert and to continue sharing intelligence leading up to President-elect Biden’s inauguration. The warning comes from a 45-minute phone call that acting FBI Director Christopher Wray and acting United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli held with police chiefs. The officials reportedly expressed concerns about the potential for extremist violence and called on law enforcement across the country to watch for any sign of trouble. Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said that Wray told them to “overshare intelligence,” adding “they don’t want for us to assume anything that they already know — anything that we come across to please forward it.”
“A ‘Stop the Steal’ organizer, now banned by Twitter, said three GOP lawmakers helped plan his D.C. rally” via Teo Armus of The Washington Post — Weeks before a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, right-wing activist Ali Alexander told his followers he was planning something big for Jan. 6. Alexander, who organized the “Stop the Steal” movement, said he hatched the plan alongside three GOP lawmakers: Reps. Andy Biggs, Mo Brooks and Paul Gosar, all hard-line Trump supporters. “We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting,” Alexander said in a since-deleted video on Periscope highlighted by the Project on Government Oversight, an investigative nonprofit.
“‘I am not a terrorist’: Retired Navy SEAL speaks after Capitol siege” via James Gordon Meek and Catherine Sanz of ABC News — A retired U.S. Navy SEAL is facing questions from the FBI after boasting in a Facebook video about “breaching the Capitol” last Wednesday after traveling to Washington to join a rally for Trump, an assault he said in the video that he hoped would ignite a “positive revolution.” The video shows Adam Newbold from Lisbon, Ohio, who the Navy confirmed is a retired reserve SEAL special warfare operator, in a car on his return home from Washington, telling his Facebook followers that he was “proud” of the assault on the U.S. Capitol building earlier that day. In the video, Newbold seeks to defend the actions of those who broke into the Capitol by falsely insisting that the only destruction occurred as the rioters tried to enter the building and incorrectly says that nothing was vandalized.
“Man accused of wearing ‘Camp Auschwitz’ shirt at Capitol riot arrested in Newport News” via Peter Dujardin of The Virginian-Pilot — At the U.S. Capitol riot last week, video footage captured a Newport News man wearing a sweatshirt referring to a Nazi concentration camp. “Camp Auschwitz,” read the shirt, just above a skull and the concentration camp’s slogan, “Work Brings Freedom.” The sweatshirt was widely discussed on social media, CNN and other outlets in the days after the riot. According to federal court documents, the man wearing it, 56-year-old Newport News resident Robert Keith Packer, was arrested by the FBI on Wednesday on charges of violent entry of the Capitol without authority.
“QAnon reshaped Trump’s party and radicalized believers. The Capitol siege may just be the start.” via Drew Harwell, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Razzan Nakhlawi and Craig Timberg of The Washington Post — The siege on the U.S. Capitol played out as a QAnon fantasy made real: The faithful rose up in their thousands, summoned to Washington by their leader, Trump. QAnon played an unmistakable role in energizing rioters during the real-world attack on Jan. 6. A man in a “Q” T-shirt led the breach of the Senate, while a shirtless, fur-clad believer known as the “Q Shaman” posed for photographers in the Senate chamber. Twitter later purged more than 70,000 accounts associated with the conspiracy theory, in an acknowledgment of the online potency of QAnon.
“Capitol rioters’ passion for Trump may do little to help other Republicans” via Joshua Green of Bloomberg Businessweek — As authorities begin arresting members of the mob that overran the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, leaving four of them and one police officer dead, we’re beginning to get a clearer picture of exactly who they are. Their alleged actions, of course, mark them as committed Trump supporters, who summoned them to Washington for the “Save American Rally” and then directed them to the Capitol.
“Koch network pledges to shun lawmakers tied to Capitol riots” via Maggie Severns of POLITICO — The powerful Koch political network, funders of the Tea Party, will “weigh heavy” the actions of members of Congress in the days leading up to and after last week’s siege of the Capitol when considering future donations, in a sign that the GOP’s megadonor class is uncomfortable with the party’s recent actions. The announcement follows months of the network working to operate more independently of the Republican Party, as billionaire Charles Koch has become increasingly dissatisfied with Trump’s tactics and policies. It also comes after numerous corporate PACs began suspending their donations to Republicans who challenged Biden’s victory last week.
“Airbnb cancels all inauguration week reservations in D.C.” via Evan Semones of POLITICO — Airbnb announced Wednesday that it would cancel all reservations in the Washington, D.C., area during the week of Biden’s inauguration to discourage guests from traveling to the nation’s capital. The popular home rental company said in a statement that it would also take action to block any new reservations from being made in the area. Guests who made reservations before the new decision will have their stays refunded, and the company will compensate hosts for money they would have earned from the canceled reservations. The move follows pleas from local authorities, including Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, strongly discouraging travel to the city after last week’s deadly riots at the U.S. Capitol.
“A preordained coda to a presidency” via Peter Baker of The New York Times — Not since the dark days of the Civil War and its aftermath has Washington seen a day quite like Wednesday. In a Capitol bristling with heavily armed soldiers and newly installed metal detectors, with the emotional and political wreckage still on display, the President of the United States was impeached for trying to topple American democracy. Somehow, it felt like the preordained coda of a presidency that repeatedly pressed all limits and frayed the bonds of the body politic. With less than a week to go, Trump’s term is climaxing in violence and recrimination at a time when the country has fractured deeply and lost a sense of itself. Notions of truth and reality have been atomized. Faith in the system has eroded.
— FLORIDA ANGLE —
“Marco Rubio argues Trump could emerge a ‘martyr,’ Stronger From Impeachment” via Tony Pipitone of NBC 6 South Florida —Rubio said the President, who a bipartisan majority of the House found incited a mob to insurrection leading to five deaths on the Capitol grounds, should not have been impeached. “I don’t believe the House should move forward with impeachment,” Rubio said, “not because the president doesn’t bear some responsibility — because I believe he does — but because I think it will further inflame an already divided country at an already difficult moment.”
“Greg Steube cites KKK case in defending Trump” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Republican Rep. Steube cited a case involving a KKK leader in his impeachment defense of Trump, contending Trump said nothing that qualifies as inciting violence under the law established by that case. Speaking Wednesday during the debate for a second Trump impeachment, Steube insisted the President never said anything to incite or provoke people to violence, and so was not legally responsible when a mob left his speech, went to the U.S. Capitol, seized and sacked it, and killed a police officer. “The legal elements of incitement are based on the Supreme Court case of Brandenburg v. Ohio,” Steube said, referring to the 1969 case involving an Ohio Ku Klux Klan leader charged with inciting violence.
“Kathy Castor got it right by saying Trump defiled the Capitol” via Joe Henderson of Florida Politics — Many words have been used to describe President Trump‘s actions lately, but I thought Castor, a Tampa Democrat, came up with the best one. Defilement means to make something filthy or polluted. “Donald Trump’s defilement of this Capitol will not stand! It demands impeachment now,” Castor said on the floor of the U.S. House where lawmakers prepared for the second (!!) impeachment of Trump. That’s exactly what it was, you know. The reckless, truth-challenged, and dangerously unhinged President’s lie about a stolen election culminated in a horrific spectacle we’re still trying to process.
Not helpful — “Maxine Waters encourages supporters to harass Trump administration officials” via Jamie Ehrlich of CNN Politics — Waters called on her supporters to publicly confront and harass members of the Trump administration in response to the “zero tolerance” policy that led to the separation of families at the border. The California Democrat and vehement critic of Trump made the comments on Saturday, first at a rally in Los Angeles and later in a television interview. The comments, which come after several Trump administration officials have been recently protested at restaurants, have raised fresh questions about the state of American political discourse and were seized on by Trump for political gain.
“FBI hosts security call with Florida law enforcement over concerns of pro-Trump rallies” via Jay Weaver, Charles Rabin and Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald — On the alert for potential pro-Trump rallies in Florida, the FBI hosted a conference call Wednesday with dozens of law enforcement agencies from Miami to Tallahassee to prepare for possible right-wing protests in the capital and other parts of the state on Sunday before the President leaves the White House next week. The FBI indicated in the call that it had not received any specific intelligence about actual demonstrations targeting the state capital or other areas, according to sources familiar with the discussion, but it shared security information with local, state and federal authorities on preparedness for possible unrest.
Spotted — Anthony Sabatini, an unsuccessful lawyer and possibly the least popular state lawmaker in Florida, in POLITICO’s “Capitol riot fueled by deep network of GOP statehouse support.” The Lake County firebrand assisted The Capitol rioters by tweeting lists of Republicans “without courage” and calling Republican Rep. Cheney, who approved Trump’s second impeachment, a “national security threat.”
“Central Florida, state brace for inauguration unrest. Experts say extremism won’t stop there” via Desiree Stennett, Grace Toohey, Monivette Cordeiro, and Jeff Weiner of The Orlando Sentinel — After a pro-Trump mob overran the U.S. Capitol last week, experts who study hate speech and political extremism say law enforcement should be prepared for the possibility of more violence in the coming days, with demonstrations rumored at state capitols in Florida and across the country. Central Florida law enforcement agencies say they’re not aware of any planned demonstrations but stand ready to respond should the need arise. State leaders have said they’re ready for potential unrest this weekend and in the lead-up to Inauguration Day.
“TPD Chief Lawrence Revell: No ‘specific’ threat against Tallahassee amid warnings of violence” via Jeff Burlew and Karl Etters of The Tallahassee Democrat — But law enforcement is girding for the possibility of violence given recent FBI warnings. Revell, during the Tallahassee City Commission’s retreat, said the Tallahassee Police Department is collaborating with all of its law enforcement partners. He said they would meet later in the day to “make sure we have the resources that may be required.” “We do not have any specific intelligence,” Revell said. “But the national narrative is going around, and we are preparing and planning for that as well. We have no specifics for Tallahassee.”
“From friends to frenemies: Biden supporter sues Trump loyalist after failing to settle election bet” via Florida Politics — Two friends are at odds and now facing a potential court battle after the 2020 presidential election caused a rift in their relationship. St. Petersburg resident Sean Hynes, a Trump supporter, sent a message to his Biden-supporting friend, Jeffrey Costa, also of St. Petersburg, suggesting a friendly $100 wager on the presidential election outcome. Costa accepted the bet. But after Biden was declared the winner late that week, Hynes refused to pay up, arguing the election results would be challenged and overturned in court. Costa attempted to reason with Hynes, saying: “Trump is mathematically eliminated,” according to a small claims suit filed in Pinellas County on Dec. 28.
— CORONA FLORIDA —
“State records nearly 14,000 new infections as latest surge continues” via Jane Musgrave of The Palm Beach Post — The deadly coronavirus continued its relentless march through the state Wednesday with 13,990 additional people diagnosed and another 174 reported dead, according to the daily update from the Florida Department of Health. To date, 1,517,472 Floridians have been diagnosed since the pandemic began. That’s about 6.6% of the nearly 23 million people who have tested positive nationwide. COVID-19 has killed 23,759 in Florida. The state’s positivity rate now sits at 10.14%, more than double the 5.0% level health officials say must be met before meaningful steps can be taken to curb the spread of the virus. The state rate hasn’t dropped below 10% for the past two weeks.
“White House Task Force warns Florida of ‘significant’ COVID-19 deaths” via Kate Santich of The Orlando Sentinel — As new COVID-19 vaccination sites open across the region — including at nearly two dozen Volusia County Publix locations, the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force report warns that Florida faces “significant fatalities” in the coming weeks from the rapidly spreading infection. The state continues to be in the most dangerous “red zone” for its number of new infections, the report notes, citing an acceleration that began shortly before Thanksgiving. The report, dated Jan. 10 but not immediately released, found more than 10,000 Floridians were newly hospitalized for COVID the first week of 2021, a 14% rise from the previous week, and that nearly 1,000 people died from COVID across the state.
“Florida’s Surgeon General provides few answers on vaccine rollout” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — For weeks, Florida’s vaccine rollout has been plagued by confusion, with Gov. Ron DeSantis struggling to explain to seniors and health care workers when and where they’ll be able to get their shots. On Wednesday, the Governor’s hand-picked surgeon general — Florida’s top public health official — made a rare public appearance to answer state lawmakers’ questions. But Scott Rivkees was unable to clarify key issues. “There is great frustration throughout the entire state over this vaccine distribution,” Sen. Aaron Bean told Rivkees. “I know there’s a shortage. But I think we can handle a shortage if we understand it and it’s communicated. The frustrating thing is, there hasn’t been any communication.”
“Memorial Healthcare fills 5,000 vaccine appointments within minutes” via Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — The Memorial Healthcare System opened its phone lines Wednesday morning to fill up its next round of COVID-19 vaccines for seniors, but the spots were filled almost instantly. The hospital district spokeswoman said 5,000 doses were available, but operators told callers they were full after 45 minutes. The date appointments would begin was not immediately available.
“COVID-19 pushes Orlando area ICU beds to near capacity” via Kate Santich of The Orlando Sentinel — During the first week in January, Central Florida’s two main hospitals filled 96% of their intensive care unit beds and at least two smaller hospitals reached 100% of ICU capacity as COVID-19 hospitalizations surged, according to newly released data. AdventHealth Orlando, which includes the company’s hospitals in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, reported an average of 434 COVID patients a day for the week, including 97 in the ICU, the largest number by far of any hospital division in the state. Hospital executives said their facilities still have considerable flexibility to convert other beds for use with ICU patients and that ICU capacity typically runs high, even as high as 90%.
“I’m not trying to be dramatic’: Sarasota County officials warn of unprecedented COVID spike” via Timothy Fanning of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune — As vaccinations for COVID-19 are underway, virus cases continue to surge locally — reaching a level not seen since the beginning of the pandemic and causing Sarasota County’s top health official to raise the alarm. “There is a lot of virus circulating in our community right now, probably more than we’ve seen throughout this pandemic,” Chuck Henry, a health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County, told the Sarasota County Commission Wednesday. “I’m not trying to be dramatic, but this is what the data says is happening in our community,” Henry said.
“Bayfront Health St. Petersburg opens coronavirus vaccines to seniors” via Natalie Weber of The Tampa Bay Times — Bayfront Health St. Petersburg is expanding its coronavirus vaccination program to include patients 65 and older and opening another vaccination site, the hospital announced. Eligible patients of the hospital will be notified in phases and from there, vaccinations will be scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis, according to a Bayfront Health news release. With the opening of a second vaccination site, patients can schedule appointments at Bayfront Health’s main location. Appointments will be based on the availability of the vaccine. Bayfront Health’s parent company, Orlando Health, has administered 30,000 vaccines since mid-December, said its president and CEO David Strong.
“Tampa Chief Brian Dugan on coronavirus diagnosis: ‘It’s been a rollercoaster’” via Tony Marrero of The Tampa Bay Times — Tampa’s police chief woke up Sunday morning with what he figured was a sinus infection. Dugan had a headache, stuffy nose and a fever of just over 100 degrees. He didn’t think it could be COVID-19. He’d been so careful, and he got the first shot of the vaccine the previous Monday. Dugan followed department protocol by reporting his symptoms to an occupational health nurse with Tampa Fire Rescue, who told Dugan to go to an Advent Health clinic for a rapid COVID-19 test. “I about fell out of my chair when they said, ‘You tested positive for COVID-19.’ ” And with that, Tampa’s top law enforcement officer joined the ranks of public officials whose job duties have been subsumed by the pandemic and then find themselves diagnosed with the virus.
— CORONA NATION —
“The Trump administration finally did something right in the fight against COVID-19” via Leana S. Wen with The Washington Post — After nearly a year of failing to contain COVID-19, the outgoing Trump administration is finally taking steps that are likely to improve our national pandemic response. Leaders of Operation Warp Speed announced four actions to expedite vaccine rollout: expanding eligibility, increasing distribution sites, releasing all available vaccines while guaranteeing second doses, and reallocating vaccines to states based on the efficiency of their efforts. Tuesday’s Operation Warp Speed news conference began with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar acknowledging that vaccine administration has not proceeded with the necessary speed and urgency, a remarkable admission for an administration that has long refused to recognize its botched leadership on the coronavirus pandemic.
“J&J sees decision on vaccine clearance coming by March” via Riley Griffin and John Tozzi of Bloomberg — Johnson & Johnson’s highly anticipated single-dose COVID-19 vaccine may not be authorized for use until March, weeks later than the U.S. officials have suggested. Operation Warp Speed officials have said they believe that the shot could receive emergency clearance from U.S. regulators as soon as the middle of next month. But that timeline may be aggressive, based on the drugmaker’s expectations for when it will have reliable data in hand demonstrating the one-shot vaccine’s efficacy. J&J will first have its chance to analyze late-stage data in the last week of January or the first week of February, Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels said.
“Moderna CEO says the world will have to live with COVID ‘forever’” via Berkeley Lovelace, Jr. Of CNBC — The CEO of COVID-19 vaccine maker Moderna warned Wednesday that the coronavirus that has brought world economies to a standstill and overwhelmed hospitals will be around “forever.” Public health officials and infectious disease experts have said there is a high likelihood that COVID-19 will become an endemic disease, meaning it will become present in communities at all times, though likely at lower levels than it is now. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel appeared to agree Wednesday that COVID-19 will become endemic, saying “SARS-CoV-2 is not going away.”
“Random people are lining up to get vaccinated in D.C. grocery stores” via Jacob Stern of The Atlantic — For more than a week, lines have quietly been forming at certain D.C. supermarket pharmacies, which have started giving away leftover vaccine doses each day just before closing time, usually to between one and three people. Vaccine lines for eligible recipients have already become a common sight in some places, but these shots are available to anyone, not just the health care and front-line emergency workers who qualified weeks ago in most states, or even those 65 and older, who became eligible in D.C. on Monday. And the lucky few who get a shot also get scheduled for a second dose.
— CORONA ECONOMICS —
“Joe Biden team briefs Congress on emerging stimulus plan, aims for bipartisan deal” via Erica Werner and Jeff Stein of The Washington Post — Biden is finalizing his coronavirus relief plan, with aides briefing congressional staffers Tuesday and indicating that the measure will be tailored to get bipartisan support. The proposal, which Biden intends to unveil on Thursday, is expected to include $2,000 stimulus payments, an extension of enhanced unemployment insurance, money for vaccine distribution and delivery, funding for cities, states, schools, child care and more. Transition officials indicated in meetings with Democratic staffers that Biden will try to get bipartisan support for the measure. That’s led to speculation that the package price tag could be below $2 trillion, although Biden said last week that it could cost in the multiple trillions of dollars.
“Biden expected to include new child benefit in major new stimulus proposal” via Jeff Stein and Erica Werner of The Washington Post — Biden is expected to include a significant new benefit for children in poor and middle-class households in the coronavirus relief package he will release this week, according to three people speaking on the condition of anonymity to share details of internal deliberations. Biden officials are likely to include the expansion of an existing tax credit for children as part of a relief package that will also include $2,000 stimulus payments, unemployment benefits and other assistance for the ailing economy, as well as money to fight the coronavirus pandemic and increase vaccine distribution. Biden transition officials have not disclosed the overall price tag of the package, but it is expected to be more than $1 trillion.
“‘Shocked, disheartened, devastated’: Restaurant and hotel workers reel as layoffs soar again” via Abha Bhattarai and Laura Reiley of The Washington Post — The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the hospitality, travel and retail industries since its outset in March when shutdowns and restrictions meant to contain the virus cost more than 520,000 U.S. service workers their jobs. This workforce is under renewed pressure amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases: 498,000 leisure and hospitality jobs disappeared last month, the Labor Department reported Friday. Restaurant and bar workers comprised the bulk of those losses, roughly 3 in 4, an onslaught that disproportionately affected women and workers of color. Overall employment in the sector has fallen 23% during the pandemic, outpacing every other industry, federal data shows.
“Forgivable COVID-19 loans for Florida businesses are available again. Here’s how to get one” via Michelle Marchante of The Miami Herald — Is your business still struggling because of COVID-19? Applications are live for a fresh round of Paycheck Protection Program loans worth more than $284 billion for businesses that need help paying their bills. Those who received funds in the first-go-around last year can reapply starting Wednesday if they meet select criteria. The forgivable loans are backed by the U.S. government and are meant to be an incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. The loans are part of the $900 pandemic relief bill Congress passed last month.
“$1.4B in emergency federal rental assistance headed to Florida” via Jason Schaumburg of The Center Square — Florida is in line to receive $1.4 billion in federal COVID-19 emergency rental assistance, DeSantis said Tuesday. The state has confirmed its participation in the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, DeSantis said. The federal funds were made possible by the COVID-19 stimulus passed by Congress and signed by Trump late last month. The assistance is meant to help pay rent and utility bills. DeSantis said the $1.4 billion expected to benefit Florida and $850 million of it will be disbursed by the state. Cities and counties with a population of 200,000 or more will receive the rental assistance funds directly from the federal government.
— MORE CORONA —
“Ohio researchers say they’ve identified two new COVID-19 strains likely originating in the U.S.” via Will Feuer of CNBC — Researchers in Ohio said they’ve discovered two new variants of the coronavirus that likely originated in the U.S., one of which quickly became the dominant strain in Columbus, Ohio, over a three-week period in late December and early January. Like the strain first detected in the U.K., the U.S. mutations appear to make COVID-19 more contagious but do not seem like they will diminish the effectiveness of the vaccines, researchers said. The Ohio State University researchers have not yet published their full findings but said a non-peer-reviewed study is forthcoming. Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the CDC, said to CNBC that the agency is looking at the new research.
“Shadow hangs over Olympics once more with Japan virus surge” via Max Zimmerman, Ayai Tomisawa, and Yuki Hagiwara of Bloomberg — The fate of Tokyo’s postponed Olympics is once again mired in doubt after Japan declared a second state of emergency for metropolitan areas as COVID-19 cases soar to new levels. Japan is one of several countries where the virus has made a comeback in winter months, with Tokyo finding a record 2,447 cases last Thursday. The discovery of new — and possibly more infectious — strains in the U.K. and South Africa has also alarmed governments worldwide. With less than 200 days left until the opening ceremony, the situation has revived questions about the feasibility of safely holding even a limited version of the quadrennial games.
“Dollar General will pay workers to get vaccine in retail first” via Jonathan Roeder of Bloomberg — Dollar General Corp. is offering workers extra pay to encourage them to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as quickly as possible. Hourly employees will get the equivalent of four hours of pay after getting the vaccine, while salaried workers will receive “additional store labor hours to accommodate their time away from the store,” the discount retailer said in a statement. It also will assist its distribution and transportation teams. The announcement offers an early look at how retailers will deal with getting millions of front-line workers the vaccine, an urgent issue from both a safety and operational standpoint, as well as an unprecedented logistical undertaking.
“Why aren’t we wearing better masks?” via Zeynep Tufekci and Jeremy Howard of The Atlantic — If you’re like most Americans, there’s a good chance you’re going to wear a cloth mask today. Doing so makes sense. It remains the official recommendation in the United States, and it is something we’ve both advocated since the beginning of the pandemic. Cloth masks, especially homemade ones, were supposed to be a stopgap measure. Some official mask-testing methods are inappropriate, including the use of far higher pressure than normal breathing exerts. No reasonable certification is available for the most useful masks generally available to the public. All of this means that everyone has to somehow figure out for themselves which masks are effective.
“Razer has created a concept N95 mask with RGB and voice projection” via Cameron Faulkner of The Verge — Razer claims to have made the world’s smartest mask: its new reusable N95 respirator called Project Hazel. It’s a concept design with a glossy outside shell made of waterproof and scratch-resistant recycled plastic, transparent to allow for lip-reading and seeing facial cues when you chat with people. Currently, there isn’t a price or release date attached. Razer refers to Project Hazel as a surgical N95, but it hasn’t yet earned any of the necessary approvals and certifications from the FDA, the CDC, or Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In a statement to The Verge, Razer said it is working with a team of medical experts and scientists who are helping to develop the mask.
He’s gonna stiff Rudy — “Trump is isolated and angry at aides for failing to defend him as he is impeached again” via Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Ashley Parker of The Washington Post — When Trump on Wednesday became the first President ever impeached twice, he did so as a leader increasingly isolated, sullen and vengeful. With less than seven days remaining in his presidency, Trump’s inner circle is shrinking, offices in his White House are emptying, and the President is lashing out at some of those who remain. He is angry that his allies have not mounted a more forceful defense of his incitement of the mob that stormed the Capitol last week, advisers and associates said. Though Trump has been exceptionally furious with Vice President Mike Pence, his relationship with lawyer Rudy Giuliani, one of his most steadfast defenders, is also fracturing, according to people with knowledge of the dynamics between the men.
“Trump calls on Americans, Big Tech to help ensure peaceful transition: ‘NO violence’” via Brooke Singman of Fox News — Trump is calling for “all Americans” to help “ease tensions and calm tempers,” saying he does “not” stand for violence “of any kind” and he’s asking Big Tech to join the effort. “In light of reports of more demonstrations, I urge that there must be NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind,” the President said. “That is not what I stand for, and it is not what America stands for. I call on ALL Americans to help ease tensions and calm tempers. Thank You.” The White House press office later sent out the statement while attempting to post it to all of Trump’s official social media accounts.
To watch Trump’s statement, click on the image below:
“‘Exile-in-chief’? Trump a ‘flight risk’ if criminal charges are filed, experts say” via Jeff Murdock of The Washington Times — Trump potentially faces a torrent of criminal charges when he leaves office, including charges linked to the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, making prosecutors worry that he is a flight risk. Trump’s real estate empire extends to multiple luxury properties in countries that don’t have extradition treaties with the United States. And Trump himself publicly mused in October that he’d leave the country if he lost to Biden. Douglas McNabb, a private attorney with expertise in international extradition defense, said that if criminal charges are brought, Trump fits the bill for becoming a fugitive from justice. “He’s got money. He’s got property. He’s got access,” Mr. McNabb said. “The government would argue that he’s a flight risk.”
“Snapchat will permanently ban Trump’s account” via Sara Fischer of Axios — Snapchat will permanently ban Trump‘s account on Jan. 20 after locking it indefinitely last week following the Capitol siege. The Trump campaign and digital team relied on Snapchat as a key platform to reach younger audiences before the company started limiting its reach in June. The majority of Snapchat’s users are under 30. “Last week we announced an indefinite suspension of Trump’s Snapchat account, and have been assessing what long term action is in the best interest of our Snapchat community,” a spokesperson said.
— TRANSITION —
“Biden’s economic plan to focus on immediate rescue from COVID-19 crisis — adviser” via Trevor Hunnicutt of Reuters — Biden will press Congress to deliver immediate pandemic “rescue” efforts before turning to broader “recovery” measures like health care and infrastructure, the incoming administration’s top economic adviser said on Wednesday. Brian Deese, who will head the National Economic Council in the new Democratic administration, said Biden would lay out a two-track economic plan. The first will be a “rescue bucket,” including rounding out the $2,000 payments he wanted to help weather the COVID-19 downturn and a longer-term recovery effort that aims to deliver on the Build Back Better plan he laid out during the presidential campaign.
“Biden’s defense secretary pick likely to obtain waiver despite bipartisan concerns” via Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post — The Senate Armed Services Committee appears poised to approve a waiver allowing retired Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III to serve as the next defense secretary, despite serious concerns on both sides of the aisle that lawmakers risk dismantling the tradition of civilian leadership of the Pentagon in the process. “We now have a clearly qualified candidate and a declaration by the President-elect that he needs General Austin for the safety and security of the nation,” said Sen. Jack Reed, the committee’s top Democrat, who will soon take over as its chairman. Austin is the second defense secretary nominee in four years, and only the third in modern history, to require a waiver to the law requiring the Pentagon chief to have been out of uniform for at least seven years.
“Biden to appoint acting agency heads due to transition delays” via Sabrina Siddiqui and Ken Thomas of The Wall Street Journal — Biden intends to appoint acting agency heads across the federal government once he takes office because of delays to his transition and Senate consideration of his nominees. Biden’s transition team said career officials would be put in place at most cabinet departments and in some subcabinet agencies following his inauguration next week. The move will enable Biden to prevent any of Trump’s political appointees from staying at the helm of cabinet agencies past Jan. 20, as Senate committees have yet to hold hearings on the President-elect’s nominees, which precede a confirmation vote by the full Senate.
“Biden looks to Barack Obama alums for help selecting temporary Cabinet secretaries” via Natasha Korecki of POLITICO — Biden’s transition team is working with its agency review staff and Obama administration alumni to pinpoint federal officials who could be elevated to key administration positions until the President-elect’s nominees are confirmed. Biden is unlikely to have critical Cabinet secretaries or other senior officials in place by the time he’s sworn in on Jan. 20. So, as a workaround, the President is trying to “identify people of integrity; people who can be solid leaders” who could lead federal agencies between the time Biden is sworn in and Cabinet nominees are confirmed, transition spokesperson T.J. Ducklo said.
“Biden to restore Homeland Security and cybersecurity aides to senior White House posts” via David E. Sanger of The New York Times — Biden, facing the rise of domestic terrorism and a crippling cyberattack from Russia, is elevating two White House posts that all but disappeared in the Trump administration: a homeland security adviser to manage matters as varied as extremism, pandemics and natural disasters, and the first deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology. The White House homeland security adviser will be Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, according to transition officials. She is a longtime aide to Biden, who served under Obama as senior director for Europe and then deputy secretary of energy, where she oversaw the modernization of the nuclear arsenal. And for the complex task of bolstering cyber-offense and defense, Biden has carved out a role for Anne Neuberger, a rising official at the National Security Agency.
“Movers seen at White House week ahead of Biden arrival” via Ebony Bowden of the New York Post — A moving truck loaded with packing boxes was photographed arriving at the White House on Wednesday afternoon ahead of the House vote to impeach Trump for a second time. Four movers were seen unloading pallets of flatpack cardboard boxes outside the Executive Office Building on the White House grounds as the Trump family prepares to leave the executive residence and decamp to Florida. Furious preparations are underway with just one week until President-elect Biden takes the oath of office and moves into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. on Jan. 20.
“Biden has accepted invitation to stay at Blair House the night before inauguration, State Department says” via Matt Viser of The Washington Post — The Trump administration has offered Biden the use of Blair House, the official residence for guests of the President, on the eve of his inauguration. Biden has accepted the offer to stay at the historic home, according to a spokesperson for the State Department, which oversees the use of the property, which sits across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Biden’s inauguration committee declined several requests for comment, making it unclear whether he has made firm plans to stay there or simply accepted the invitation to keep the option open.
“Biden no longer taking Amtrak to inauguration amid security concerns” via CNN — President-elect Biden will no longer take the Amtrak to Washington next week to be sworn in as President, two officials familiar with the planning tell CNN, a sudden change that comes amid dramatically heightened security surrounding the inauguration. A decision was made this week for Biden not to take the 90-minute ride from his namesake station in Wilmington, Delaware, officials said, with at least some of the concerns hinging on his arrival at Union Station in Washington, which is only blocks from the now heavily fortified US Capitol.
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Alabama lands Space Force HQ over Florida” via News Service of Florida — U.S. Space Force’s permanent command headquarters will touch down in Alabama’s Huntsville Redstone Arsenal area rather than Florida’s Space Coast. U.S. Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett’s decision to locate the headquarters in Alabama was made official Wednesday after Patrick Space Force Base near Cape Canaveral was one of six finalists. Space Florida, the state’s aerospace arm, and DeSantis had fought to land SPACECOM since Trump directed the Department of Defense to establish the U.S. Space Force. Despite losing out to Alabama, Space Florida praised the process. “The efforts have demonstrated and revealed Florida’s true capabilities and commitment to the aerospace industry and national defense,” Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello said in a statement.
— DATELINE TALLY —
“State Sen. Manny Díaz accused of inappropriate behavior as Hialeah-Miami Lakes teacher” via Colleen Wright and Ana Ceballos of the Miami Herald — Prominent Miami state Sen. Díaz is facing allegations of inappropriate behavior with former students — accusations he denies and is threatening legal action against — following social media posts and a broadcast by his accuser on Miami Spanish-language radio. JennyLee Molina, a 2000 graduate of Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High when Díaz was a teacher there, accused Díaz of making inappropriate comments about drugs and clubbing to students, as well as on girls’ appearances, allegations that two other former students largely corroborated to the Miami Herald.
“House budget chief warns of cuts” via Jim Turner of News Service of Florida — With the coronavirus pandemic significantly reducing state tax revenues, the House Appropriations Chair Jay Trumbull told his committee Wednesday to expect budget cuts. And don’t anticipate that possible additional federal assistance will cover the projected shortfall. “We do not build our budget based on assumptions as to what Congress may or may not do,” he said as in his committee’s first meeting before the 2021 Legislative Session. Last month, a panel of state economists projected reductions in state general revenue of $3.3 billion over two years, an improvement from an August outlook projecting the hit at $5.4 billion. The committee meeting provided information that pointed to a projected $2.75 billion general-revenue deficit for the fiscal 2021-2022 budget.
“Business liability protections clear first hurdle” via Christine Sexton of News Service of Florida — The House Civil Justice & Property Rights Subcommittee on Wednesday night voted along party lines to back a proposal that would provide broad immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits to businesses that have “substantially” complied with public-health guidelines. Bill sponsor Rep. Lawrence McClure said “fewer than 10” lawsuits have been filed against business owners related to COVID-19. However, he said the fear of litigation associated with a 1-in-100-year pandemic is real. “I want to be clear, this bill is intended to give clarity to Florida businesses that if they are making a good-faith effort to comply with regulation, they will not have the cloud of frivolous litigation hanging over their head,” McClure said.
“Bobby Powell joins Anna Eskamani to ‘modernize and revamp’ unemployment system” via Kelly Hayes of Florida Politics — Sen. Powell and Rep. Eskamani introduced legislation (HB 207, SB 592) Wednesday that would update the state’s current unemployment system by expanding benefits and setting guidelines for the office, as well as create an oversight office for the department. The state’s current unemployment system allows for a maximum weekly payment of $275 for 12 weeks. The new legislation would set Florida’s weekly benefit amount to a maximum of $500. It would also increase the amount of time an individual can receive benefits to 26 weeks — the national average. The bill would also require the Department of Economic Opportunity to provide an eligibility determination to a Floridian seeking benefits within three weeks.
“Proposal would lift telehealth restrictions” via News Service of Florida — Amid expanded use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, a House Republican on Wednesday filed a bill that would eliminate restrictions on prescribing controlled substances through telehealth. Rep. Tom Fabricio, a Miramar Republican, filed the proposal (HB 247). Telehealth generally involves using the internet and other technology to provide medical services remotely. Under current law, telehealth can be used to prescribe controlled substances only in limited circumstances, such as treating psychiatric disorders, treating hospice patients, and treating nursing-home residents. But the bill would eliminate the restrictions.
Today’s legislative meetings:
The Senate Appropriations Committee will hear from Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, on the state’s long-term economic forecast, 9 a.m. Room 412, Knott Building.
The House Commerce Committee will receive an update on “cost drivers” in the property insurance system, including private insurers and the Citizens Property Insurance Corp., 9 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Health & Human Services Committee will workshop COVID-19 liability protections, 9 a.m., Morris Hall, House Office Building.
The House Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee will receive and update from the Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz on the COVID-19 vaccination efforts, 9 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
The House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee will discuss the importance of “literacy-rich home environments,” 11 a.m., Room 212, Knott Building.
The House Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee will discuss the U.S. Space Command and potential benefits if the agency is located in Florida, 11 a.m., Room 404, House Office Building.
State Surgeon General Scott Rivkees will give an update to the Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, 11:30 a.m., Room 110, Senate Office Building.
— STATEWIDE —
“Gov. DeSantis to speak in Texas as Florida’s vaccine rollout continues” via Kirby Wilson of the Tampa Bay Times — DeSantis will address the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Policy Orientation in Austin in what’s being billed as a “Keynote Luncheon.” After lunch, DeSantis will meet with the Foundation’s “Visionaries,” a distinction given to guests who contribute at least $2,500 annually to the foundation. When asked about the conference, a spokeswoman sent a statement that listed things DeSantis had done or is doing related to vaccine distribution, none of which answered the questions posed to his office by the Times/Herald. Those questions asked whether the Governor will be doing any fundraising, what his itinerary is, whether he’ll be attending the conference in person and whether it’s appropriate to travel out of state during the vaccine rollout.
“Some teachers still waiting for raises” via Ryan Dailey of News Service of Florida — The state has approved salary-distribution plans for 44 districts, clearing the way for teachers to get pay increases. But that leaves about a third of the state’s 67 districts unable to distribute their shares of the money. Jacob Oliva, chancellor of the Division of Public Schools at the Florida Department of Education, told the State Board of Education on Wednesday about 50% of teachers in the state have received pay increases. The Department of Education is still reviewing 12 districts’ plans, while funding for pay increases in 11 districts is tied up in local negotiations. Six of those 11 districts are at impasses with local teachers’ unions.
“Judge puts off decision on fired analyst’s property” via Dara Kam of News Service of Florida — A circuit judge said Wednesday he couldn’t decide whether Florida law enforcement officials should be forced to return equipment seized from former Department of Health COVID-19 data analyst Rebekah Jones until he learns whether authorities intend to charge her with a crime. Jones, who was fired from the health department position last year, garnered national attention after alleging that DeSantis’ administration manipulated data about COVID-19 cases and deaths. The spotlight on Jones was heightened after she posted a video of armed agents executing a search warrant at her home on Dec. 7.
— LOCAL NOTES —
“Who spray-painted swastikas around the Keys? Police are asking for help to find vandal” via Gwen Filosa of The Miami Herald — Someone spray-painted swastikas on public roads and private property this month in the Florida Keys, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said. Deputies are asking for the public’s help in finding the vandal. On Tuesday, they released photos, and a video of a man they say is the vandal. “I will not tolerate this symbol of hate and intolerance to be perpetuated by vandals in this community,” Sheriff Rick Ramsay said. Three of the cases happened on Stock Island between Jan. 6 and 7, when swastikas were painted on a street, a front door, and a Trump campaign sign in three separate locations.
“Microsoft exploring opening a new office in downtown Miami, sources say” via Rob Wile of the Miami Herald — According to multiple sources who declined to be named, Microsoft is reviewing at least two Class A options for a new Magic City footprint: one, at the still-under-construction 830 Brickell, and the other at 801 Brickell office tower. All sources cited the sensitive nature of ongoing discussions as the reason for reticence. Microsoft already has a physical presence and staff in South Florida, including a Latin America group in Fort Lauderdale. The purpose of a new office — or its size — were not clear. A Microsoft representative declined to comment.
“Miami Beach won’t pay $1 million to entertain spring breakers” via Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Even during a pandemic, crowds of spring breakers are expected to come to Miami Beach in March. The exact number of visitors or when they will come remains unknown, as COVID-19 has scrambled university schedules and upended tourism projections. City commissioners, who have long been at odds with the “hard-partying” tourists who visit South Beach, voted Wednesday to reject plans to fund a $1 million, 12-day spring break festival that the city had hoped would give visitors an organized way to channel their energies. Commissioners on Wednesday voted unanimously to scrap this year’s event and consider a similar proposal for 2022.
Appointed — Akhil Agrawal to the Broward College District Board of Trustees.
“County finds Mar-a-Lago New Year’s Eve bash violated mask law” via Christine Stapleton of The Palm Beach Post — After watching a viral video of maskless partygoers on the dance floor at the Mar-a-Lago Club on New Year’s Eve, Palm Beach County officials concluded Trump’s private club and future home had violated the county’s mask order. In a warning letter and notice of violation sent to the club on Tuesday, officials warned that further violations could result in a citation, hearing before a special magistrate, and a fine of up to $15,000 per violation. The warning came after Rep. Omari Hardy asked the assistant county administrator whether the county would take action against the club for violating the policy. On Wednesday, Hardy said he was disappointed that the county did not fine Mar-a-Lago despite what he called “ample evidence.”
“Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle to exit NYC, join family in Florida” via Jennifer Gould of The New York Post — Trump’s children are exiting New York just as the city and other businesses cancel contracts with the Trump Organization following the riot at the Capitol. The latest to leave the city is Trump Jr., who will be moving to Florida, following his little sister’s footsteps, with gal pal Guilfoyle in tow. “There is no way they can stay in New York. They’d be tortured in the streets,” said a source close to the family. For now, Trump Jr. and Guilfoyle are looking at homes in Jupiter, sources told Gimme exclusively, about an hour and a half away from Indian Creek Island, where Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump just bought a $30 million lot.
“UCF moves to fire professor accused of racist tweets for ‘misconduct’ in the classroom” via Annie Martin of The Orlando Sentinel — The University of Central Florida launched an investigation into Charles Negy, an associate professor in the psychology department, over the summer after receiving more than 500 messages about him, including some that said he subjected students to “discriminatory harassment” in the classroom. The probe’s findings led the university to notify Negy on Wednesday that it intends to fire him. Negy’s tweets drew intense scrutiny over the summer, with many students and alumni calling for his firing because they deemed the posts racist, sexist and transphobic.
— TOP OPINION —
“Forget insurrection — Florida GOP outraged because Trump can’t tweet” via The Orlando Sentinel editorial board — One week after Trump incited an insurrection, Florida Republicans are less worried about the near-collapse of the U.S. government than they are about the instigator losing his Twitter account. Chalk it up as another example of how increasingly radicalized the Florida Republican Party has become. At a moment in our nation’s history when GOP leaders should, in a loud, unified voice, say that Biden won in a fair election, they’re intent on stoking more grievances. Republican state Rep. Randy Fine of South Brevard County sent DeSantis a letter expressing his outrage that Trump had not only lost his Twitter account but that other tech companies, including Facebook, had taken steps to shut down Trump’s access to their platforms.
— OPINIONS —
“According to racists, when white mobs beat cops and kill them, it’s a patriotic act. Just ask Trump” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Do blue lives only matter when Black lives are perceived as a threat to them? Up until the weekend, when videos began to receive wide circulation, we had heard more about that idiot Adam Johnson — a Floridian of course — accused of stealing Pelosi’s lectern than we did about the law enforcement officers whom a frenzied mob of white extremists were allowed to bash, beat, slur and kill during their rampage through the U.S. Capitol. And, not so shockingly, some white police officers from across the country proudly stepped over that thin blue line and joined the lawless mobs. Why is that? We know why, and anyone who has been paying attention knows why, too.
“Florida’s botched COVID vaccine rollout signals need for better pandemic response” via The Palm Beach Post editorial board — Like almost everything else about the pandemic, the rollout of COVID vaccines — the very thing promising an end to the pandemic — has been messy, frustrating and divisive. In this state, the bulk of the blame rests with the Governor. As we start a new year, state leaders must offer much better performance. Too many elderly Floridians who have suffered through DeSantis’ mishandling of the pandemic while awaiting a lifesaving vaccine are now suffering through a botched rollout. One bright spot has come from Agriculture and Consumer Services Secretary Nikki Fried, who has challenged DeSantis to mobilize the National Guard. If only the state’s Republican leaders in the House and Senate would show the same guts.
“To Hispanics who voted for Trump: Biden will be good for immigration and the economy” via Al Cardenas for the Tampa Bay Times — This election cycle, Democrats made a grave miscalculation. They believed foreign-born and Hispanic voters would look at the Trump administration’s inhumane immigration policies and vote for Biden. The error cost them big. Biden took the presidency fair and square, but there was no Blue Wave. So why did so many Hispanics cast their ballots for such a vehemently anti-immigrant President? Trump’s immigration policies didn’t impact many Hispanics, so the issue took a back seat to the economic fallout of COVID-19 lockdowns. To win over these communities, Biden and the Dems must do more for the economy — and for Hispanics — than Trump did. I’m a long-standing member of the Republican Party and staunch conservative, but I’m personally encouraged by many of Biden’s Cabinet picks.
“The one thing Floridians agree on: Don’t mess with our manatees” via Dave Barry of The Washington Post — We Floridians do not agree on much. Our state is more like a dozen separate mini-states with little in common. For example, Miami, where I live, is directly across the Everglades from Naples, only about 100 miles as the crow flies, which the crow had better do because if it lands it will be eaten by a Burmese python. But despite their proximity, the two cities, because of unfortunate stereotypes, view each other negatively. Miami views Naples as a boring, retiree-infested backwater where the height of wild nightlife is ordering a second round of breadsticks at the Olive Garden. Naples views Miami as an insane urban hellscape whose residents celebrate every occasion, including Valentine’s Day, with gunfire.
— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —
Florida Surgeon General Rivkees makes a rare public appearance to answer questions about the state’s response to COVID-19 and defend the vaccine distribution effort. Sen. Bean says there’s been a communication breakdown.
Also, on today’s Sunrise:
— One tidbit to emerge from the grilling is that vaccine tourism is entirely legal. Gov. DeSantis may not like it, but state health officials say they cannot stop people from other states from being vaccinated here.
— DeSantis held news conferences in both Ponte Vedra and Naples to announce Publix supermarkets in four more counties will offer vaccinations … beginning today.
— Another thing we learned for sure during the COVID-19 crisis: Florida’s unemployment system is pretty much useless. Democrats in the Legislature have filed a bill to change that.
— Trump has been impeached. Again. It was a party-line vote in the Florida delegation, and Reps. Mast and Debbie Wasserman Schultz debate. (Just be glad the House limited comments to 30 seconds each.)
— And finally, stories of two Florida Men who went grave robbing for religious purposes.
To listen, click on the image below:
— ALOE —
“Ernest Hemingway look-alikes urge mask-wearing in Florida Keys” via The Associated Press — Hemingway look-alikes are being used by the Florida Keys tourism council to encourage visitors and residents to wear masks to protect against COVID-19. The men, a former winner and five regular contestants in Key West’s annual “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest appear in a short video that debuted Monday evening on Keys’ social media outlets, urging compliance with coronavirus health protocols. “We look at Key West as being our adopted town,” said longtime contest entrant Dusty Rhodes in the video. “Help keep it safe. Wear your mask, socially distance, wash your hands.” The piece was shot in front of Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a hangout for Hemingway, a Key West icon when he lived and wrote on the island for most of the 1930s. The look-alikes wear masks over their signature white beards.
“Samsung is making a robot that can pour wine and bring you a drink” via Jacob Kastrenakes of The Verge — Samsung is working on a robot that can pick up laundry, load the dishwasher, set the table, pour wine, and even bring you a drink. The robot is called Bot Handy, and Samsung says it’ll be able to recognize objects using a camera and AI. The bot is meant to be “an extension of you in the kitchen, living room, and anywhere else you may need an extra hand in your home,” Sebastian Seung, president of Samsung Research, said. For now, it’s not clear how close Bot Handy is to being a real, shipping product. The robot is described as being “in development.”
“ASUS ZenBeam Latte L1 is a portable projector dressed like a coffee cup” via Chris Smith of Trusted Reviews — True to the name, the battery-powered projector is the size of a coffee cup with a design inspired by a lack of latte but is capable of projecting a maximum 120-inch display onto the surface of your choosing. It has a short-throw lens that can project a 40-inch image from only one meter away. You’ll need three meters if you wish to max out the display size. There’s a max resolution of 720p, a max brightness of 300 LED lumens, and wireless mirroring from a host device like a smartphone, tablet or laptop. There’s also an HDMI out if you wish to physically connect, as well as an earphone output and Type-A USB out.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Celebrating today are Erin Ballas of Public Affairs Consultants, Mr. Gwen Graham, Steve Hurm, and Claire VanSusteren.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.