Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 1.21.21

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Your morning review of the issues and players behind Florida politics.

Breaking overnight — Florida’s Capitol is closed to employees until 9 a.m. today after a bomb threat was made overnight.

This information is according to an alert from the Florida Capitol Complex Communication Network.

The Capitol Complex has been swept by law enforcement and explosive-detecting K-9s and no explosive devices were found and nothing suspicious was identified. However, “out of an abundance of caution” the Capitol is shut down for a couple more hours.

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Good Thursday morning. I was so caught up with Inaugural festivities that I did not have time to write a topper for today’s ‘burn, so I turned it over to Joe Henderson, who offers a non-Inaugural take:

Gov. Ron DeSantis wasted no time. He rejected President Joe Biden’s idea to use the Federal Emergency Management Agency and National Guard to distribute COVID-19 vaccines faster in Florida.

“FEMA camps,” DeSantis said, would add more bureaucracy and, that’s generally not a good thing. It would raise legitimate questions.

Who would be in charge?

FEMA? A National Guard commander?

The Governor of Florida?

The deli manager at Publix?

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, if we can find him? He has been about as visible in this crisis as someone in witness protection.

But no, the Governor said the problem is that demand for the vaccine has outstripped supply. As someone who has repeatedly tried (and failed) to get an appointment through Hillsborough County’s vaccination registration site, I can say the Governor seems to have a point.

Who the heck is responsible for vaccines in Florida? Your guess is as good as ours. Image via AP.

As of Tuesday, the 10-county Tampa Bay area had no unfilled appointments for the vaccine. I’ve heard many tales from fellow travelers eligible for the drug who can’t get a place in line.

DeSantis said federal help is “not necessary in Florida. All we need is more vaccine.”

Let’s think this through, though.

The problem seems to center on inept federal vaccine distribution to the states. Counties look to the state for answers, and the state looks to the feds. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the person who WAS in charge of the federal government until noon Wednesday just moved back to Florida.

I mean, that guy might have considered taking personal charge of the federal response. Instead, he spent most of the last several weeks on the golf course and rambling about a stolen election. I heard he and DeSantis are friends, but I don’t know if that’s still good information.

Anyway, that guy is out of the picture now (YAY!). I heard Biden wants to be the President of everyone in America, not just the people who voted for him. Records show that more Floridians voted for the other guy instead of Biden, so this might be a good time to put that promise to the test.

Before flatly offering up a GOP sound bite about “FEMA camps,” a better approach would be to call Washington and get some details about this idea. If FEMA and the National Guard are a quicker delivery service, what would be wrong with that?

It couldn’t be much worse than what we have.

If it turns out that some FEMA person tells DeSantis that Wawa will take over for Publix as a vaccination site, OK, that would be a problem. But if the Guard trucks roll in with cases and cases of vaccines, would the Governor complain that those are “blue” trucks?

Of course not.

This thing is an unholy mess, and not just in Florida. So we’re clear, I completely blame the previous administration for an unfathomably dismal response.

However, I also understand that the nation hasn’t been through anything like this in our lifetimes. Mistakes were going to be made.

This isn’t about who gets the credit or even who is in charge.

DeSantis wants to focus first on Florida’s large population of seniors, of which I am one. So, focus already. Find out the details of Biden’s plan — if they exist beyond an idea at this point. Then move ahead accordingly.

By the way, Hillsborough announced Wednesday a partnership with the state to set up a drive-through site at the University Mall. There was a number to call for registration, which my wife and I quickly did.

The automated voice took our information and said we’d get a call when the site was ready and had room for us.

A few hours later, I did get that call. My wife and I have an appointment.

Things are looking up, and it didn’t take FEMA!

However, find out the details anyway. It couldn’t hurt.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

@JonathanChait: “Have a good life” was Sam’s line to Diane when Shelly Long left “Cheers.” It worked really well in the sitcom format. Not so sure about the presidential farewell format.

@Poniewozik: Flying down on Air Force One like someone trying to empty out the tank on the rental car before it’s due at noon

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@MeridithMcgraw: “It was uncertain if he would leave one after bucking other transition traditions, but [Donald] Trump was personally encouraged to by people around him like Leader [KEVIN] MCCARTHY, I was told.

@VoiceofD: I know he has a few more hours, but it feels like Donald Trump’s presidency ended when his Twitter account was taken away.

@HamiltonMusical: Welcome to the sequel.

@MegKinnardAP: On a call with reporters just now, @WhipClyburn says ex-President Bush told him he’s ‘the savior’ because of his role in helping Biden win the Democratic nomination. [Jim] Clyburn says Bush went on to call Biden ‘the only one who could have defeated the incumbent President.

@MarcoRubio: May God bless @JoeBiden with health, strength & wisdom as he leads our nation at this moment of great & unprecedented challenges.

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@POTUS: Folks — This will be the account for my official duties as President. At 12:01 p.m. on January 20th, it will become @POTUS. Until then, I’ll be using @JoeBiden. And while you’re here, follow @FLOTUSBiden @SenKamalaHarris @SecondGentleman and @Transition46.

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@KyleGriffin1: The White House press secretary did not attack a single reporter during her first briefing.

@DavidEBiddle: Now that that’s over, it’s time to lay the groundwork to reelect Marco Rubio, Ron DeSantis, Ashley Moody, Jimmy Patronis, Chuck Clemons, Jennifer Bradley and our GOP legislators, and find a competent person to lead the Dept of Ag. 2022 starts now

@Aronberg: Let us never take our democracy for granted ever again.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Florida Chamber Economic Outlook and Job Solution Summit begins — 7; Super Bowl LV in Tampa — 17; Daytona 500 — 24; “Nomadland” with Frances McDormand — 30; 2021 Legislative Session begins — 40; “Coming 2 America” premieres on Amazon Prime — 44; “The Many Saints of Newark” premieres — 50; 2021 Grammys — 52; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 64; “No Time to Die” premieres (rescheduled) — 71; Children’s Gasparilla — 79; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 86; “A Quiet Place Part II” rescheduled premiere — 91; “Black Widow” rescheduled premiere — 106; “Top Gun: Maverick” rescheduled premiere — 162; Disney’s “Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings” premieres — 170; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 183; “Jungle Cruise” premieres — 190; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 216; “Dune” premieres — 254; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 286; Disney’s “Eternals” premieres — 288; “Spider-Man Far From Home” sequel premieres — 330; Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” premieres — 323; “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” premieres — 428; “Thor: Love and Thunder” premieres — 470; “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” sequel premieres — 624.

— 46 —

Joe Biden takes the helm, appeals for unity to take on crises” via Jonathan Lemire, Zeke Miller and Alexandra Jaffe of The Associated Press — Denouncing a national “uncivil war,” Biden took the oath at a U.S. Capitol that had been battered by an insurrectionist siege just two weeks earlier. Then, taking his place in the White House Oval Office, he plunged into a stack of executive actions that began to undo the heart of his polarizing predecessor’s agenda on matters from the deadly pandemic to climate change. Biden never mentioned his predecessor, who defied tradition and left town ahead of the ceremony, but his speech was an implicit rebuke of Trump. The new president denounced “lies told for power and for profit” and was blunt about the challenges ahead.

Joe Biden is in; now there is work to do. Image via AP.

Biden calls on nation to ‘start afresh’ at inauguration as 46th President” via Catherine Lucey and Ken Thomas of The Wall Street Journal — Declaring “democracy has prevailed,” Biden implored the public to stand together in the face of division and crisis. Before a crowd that included family and former presidents, but not former President Trump, he said: “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue. Or rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts.” Kamala Harris was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, making history as the first female vice president. The first Black woman and first of Indian descent nominated on a major party’s ticket, she becomes the highest-ranking woman ever in the presidential line of succession.

Now, here are a few notes from the Inaugural:

📝Read the whole thing: Now-President Biden delivered an approximately 20-minute speech Wednesday after taking his oath as the 46th President of the United States. It called for unity while promising forward progress, all without directly mentioning his predecessor or specifically criticizing the policies of the previous four years. Read his speech in its entirety here.

🤵 — Check out Biden’s Oval Office digs: Biden’s new office now includes images of American leaders and icons, including a massive portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt across from his Resolute Desk. Its inclusion is appropriate considering FDR also served at a time with significant crises. Take a look here.

🧤 — Bernie’s mittens: You know that iconic photo of Bernie Sanders at the inauguration looking less than enthused, well it has a story. His mittens, which he often wore on the campaign trail, are made in Vermont, Sanders’ home state. A teacher made them using repurposed wool from sweaters and then lined them with fleece. Meanwhile, there’s now an inauguration Bernie bobblehead, because, why not?

GOP Senators praise Biden’s inauguration speech” via Jordain Carney of The Hill — Biden “struck the right themes of unity, a call for us to come together to stop viewing one another as adversaries but rather as fellow Americans,” said Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who previously served with Biden when he was a Senator. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the inauguration ceremony was “very well done.” Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney called Biden’s remarks “very strong.” Biden used his inauguration speech to urge unity after a tumultuous four years capped off by the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol when a mob of Trump supporters breached security as now-former Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress were ratifying Biden’s electoral victory.

Poet Amanda Gorman has star turn reading ‘The Hill We Climb’ at Biden inauguration” via Julie Bykowicz of The Wall Street Journal — Gorman brought former Presidents, lawmakers and dignitaries to their feet as she read a poem that aimed to inspire after the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol. She delivered it standing outside that very building. “We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy,” she read. “And this effort very nearly succeeded. But while democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated.” The 22-year-old from Los Angeles is the first National Youth Poet Laureate and the youngest poet to read at a presidential inauguration. Her mother watched from the socially distant, masked audience. She said she approached the task very deliberately, first reviewing speeches given by abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln and others who have spoken at divisive times.

Poet Amanda Gorman takes a star turn at the 59th Presidential Inauguration. Image via AP.

Subdued Inauguration Day lacks usual crowds due to COVID-19 pandemic” via Julie Bykowicz and Sabrina Siddiqui of The Wall Street Journal — Inauguration Day unfolded like no other before it as tens of thousands of troops guarded the nation’s capital and Americans watched the scaled-down events on computers and televisions. The twin emergencies of a coronavirus pandemic and security concerns about civil unrest after the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol held the usual crowds at bay. The day featured a mix of traditional ceremony and distinctly 2021 adaptations. Military bands played, and entertainers Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks sang American classics. Biden gave his inaugural address while looking out at a National Mall crowded not with cheering throngs, but with flags memorializing the 400,000 Americans who have died of COVID-19.

—“3 oldest Supreme Court justices skip inauguration due to pandemic” via Ben Leonard of POLITICO

—“Bill Clinton appears to fall asleep during Biden’s inauguration speech” via Bruce Golding of the New York Post

Michelle Obama attends Inauguration Day in a take on the monochrome trend” via Claudia Miller of Footwear News — Obama wore a standout monochromatic look for the occasion. Her streamlined ensemble from Black designer Sergio Hudson layered a fuchsia top with coordinating wide-leg trousers and a cut-hem coat. As for footwear, Michelle tapped Stuart Weitzman for its signature Vernell stretch suede boots; similar designs retail for $595 on the American designer’s website. You can’t forget about her memorable looks from both of Barack Obama’s inaugurations. For her husband’s first swearing-in, Michelle layered an Isabel Toledo dress and coat with a Nina Ricci cardigan, and J. Crew leather gloves, topped off with Jimmy Choo heels. In 2013 the then-First Lady stunned in a Thome Brown jacket dress with Reed Krakoff leather suede boots.

Florida leaders praise ‘new day in America,’ but some offer criticism of Joe Biden” via Steven Lemongello and Steven Walker of the Orlando Sentinel — Florida Democrats uniformly praised President Biden’s inaugural speech and his rise to power, while the few Florida Republicans who commented offered caveats to Biden’s bipartisan message. “It has been a long, hard year and we aren’t done fighting yet,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, on Twitter. “But today is a new day in America.” Republican leaders, meanwhile, mixed polite acknowledgment of Biden’s presidency with criticism. Sen. Marco Rubio wrote “Biden is now our president … and the most serious challenge he will face is leading a bitterly divided country.”

— NEW ADMIN —

 — Biden’s commitment to respect: Shortly after taking the oath of office, Biden had a clear message for his staff: be nice or lose your job. “If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treated another colleague with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot,” Biden said when swearing in his White House staff Wednesday night. “Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity.” Biden’s words are a stark contrast to his predecessor whose time in office was punctuated with myriad insults.

Joe Biden tells staff: ‘Be nice or be gone.’

Biden team fears rocky transition may have revealed only ‘tip of the iceberg’” via Tyler Pager, Alice Miranda Ollstein, Caitlin Emma and Eric Geller of POLITICO — Biden’s transition team had no illusions about the chaos they were inheriting from Trump. They expected a disorganized government and mismanaged agencies, many of them hollowed out and ignored over the past four years. Hours before they assume office, however, there is a fear among Biden’s team that the roadblocks they encountered during the chaotic transition shielded them from understanding the full scope of the problems at various agencies, and that the state of the executive branch is far worse than they understood, “the tip of the iceberg” as one senior transition aide put it.

‘Really quite shocking’: Inside the ugly transition at the Pentagon” via Lara Seligman and Bryan Bender of POLITICO — The Pentagon blocked members of Biden’s incoming administration from gaining access to critical information about current operations, including the troop drawdown in Afghanistan, upcoming special operations missions in Africa and the COVID-19 vaccine distribution program, according to new details provided by transition and defense officials. The effort to obstruct the Biden team, led by senior White House appointees at the Pentagon, is unprecedented in modern presidential transitions and will hobble the new administration on key national security matters as it takes over positions in the Defense Department, the officials said.

Biden targets Donald Trump’s legacy with first-day executive actions” via Eric Bradner and Betsy Klein of CNN — Biden is finalizing 17 executive moves just hours after his inauguration Wednesday, moving faster and more aggressively to dismantle his predecessor’s legacy than any other modern president. Biden is signing a flurry of executive orders, memorandums and directives to agencies, his first steps to address the coronavirus pandemic and undo some of Trump‘s signature policies. “There’s no time to start like today,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office as he began signing a stack of orders and memorandums. With the stroke of a pen, Biden has halted funding for the construction of Trump’s border wall, reversed his travel ban targeting largely Muslim countries and embraced progressive policies on the environment and diversity that Trump spent four years blocking.

Biden rejoins the Paris climate accord in first move to tackle global warming” via Emma Newberger of CNBC — Biden signed an executive order to rejoin the U.S. into the Paris climate agreement, his first major action to tackle global warming as he brings the largest team of climate change experts ever into the White House. The Biden administration also intends to cancel the permit for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. and sign additional orders in the coming days to reverse several of Trump’s actions weakening environmental protections. Biden vows to move quickly on climate change action, and his inclusion of scientists throughout the government marks the beginning of a major policy reversal following four years of the Trump administration’s weakening of climate rules in favor of fossil fuel producers.

Work on Keystone XL pipeline halted as Biden revokes permit” via WFLA — Construction on the long-disputed Keystone XL oil pipeline halted Wednesday as Biden decided to revoke its permit. Biden’s Day One plans included moving to revoke a presidential permit for the pipeline. The premier of the oil-rich Canadian province of Alberta called it an “insult” and said the federal Canadian government should impose trade sanctions if it is not reversed. The 1,700-mile (2,735-kilometer) pipeline was planned to carry roughly 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Keystone XL President Richard Prior said over 1,000 jobs, the majority unionized, will be eliminated in the coming weeks.

Day One: Joe Biden issues a wave of executive orders undoing several from Donald Trump. Image via AP.

GOP research firm aims to hobble Joe Biden nominees” via Lachlan Markay of Axios — The Republican-aligned opposition research group America Rising is doing all it can to prevent President Biden from seating his top Cabinet picks. After former President Donald Trump inhibited the transition, Biden is hoping the Republican minority in Congress will cooperate with getting his team in place. Biden hadn’t even been sworn in when America Rising began blasting opposition research to reporters targetingJanet Yellen and Alejandro Mayorkas. Biden’s reliance on officials who have previously served in government, many in the Barack Obama administration, has provided a wealth of research material, according to America Rising’s leaders.

Avril Haines confirmed as Director of National Intelligence” via Ursula Perano of Axios — Avril Haines was quickly confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday as the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) in a vote of 84-10. Haines is the first of Biden’s nominees to receive a full Senate confirmation and will be the first woman to serve as DNI. She’s previously served as CIA deputy director from 2013 to 2015 and deputy national security adviser from 2015 to 2017. The confirmation came just hours after Democrats took back the majority in the Senate. Secretary of the Treasury nominee Janet Yellen is expected to be another priority for confirmations, with much of the responsibilities for COVID-19 economic stimulus falling on the Treasury.

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Controversial head of Voice of America resigns hours after President Joe Biden takes office” via Paul Farhi of The Washington Post — Michael Pack, a Trump appointee, resigned on Wednesday, bringing an end to a short and tumultuous tenure. Pack quit a few hours after Biden took office and less than eight months into his three-year term as chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media. The government agency oversees VOA, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and other networks that produce and distribute news to millions of people in countries whose governments suppress independent reporting. He said that his resignation came at Biden’s request. During the presidential campaign, Biden’s staff had signaled that he would replace Pack if Biden won election.

Florida Emergency Director Jared Moskowitz will not get FEMA post” via WLRN staff reports — After speculation that Florida emergency-management chief Moskowitz could be a candidate for the post, Biden tapped a New York official to serve as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Biden’s transition team announced Friday that Deanne Criswell, commissioner of the New York City Emergency Management Department, has been selected to lead FEMA. Moskowitz, a Democrat, was a state House member before DeSantis appointed him to lead the state Division of Emergency Management.

Interior Department names Everglades advocate, and Keys native, to top post” via Jenny Staletovich of WLRN — The U.S. Department of Interior named a longtime Everglades advocate and Florida Keys native to a top position Wednesday. Shannon Estenoz, who directed the department’s Everglades restoration work under the Obama administration, will become the principal deputy assistant secretary overseeing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. Estenoz had been a chief operating officer for the Everglades Foundation. Estenoz comes back to a dramatically different department after four years under Trump, run by secretaries with ties to the oil and gas industry and accused of conflicts of interest.

Keys native Shannon Estenoz gets a top post in the Interior Department. Image via Twitter. 

Biden spokeswoman promises ‘truth and transparency’ ” via Ledyard King, Joey Garrison, Maureen Groppe, Courtney Subramanian, Christal Hayes and Bart Jansen of USA TODAY — Biden’s press secretary began her first briefing on Thursday with a pledge of openness. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Biden asked her to “bring truth and transparency back to the briefing room.” … “Rebuilding trust with the American people will be central to our focus in the press office and in the White House every single day,” she said from the lectern in the White House briefing room. That doesn’t mean administration officials and the media will share the same views, she said. But, she said, they have the common goal of “sharing accurate information” with the public.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —

Trump departs vowing, ‘We will be back in some form’” via Maggie Haberman of The New York Times — Trump left Washington aboard Air Force One for a final time on Wednesday, the iconic plane creeping along the runway so the liftoff was timed to the closing strains of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” In many ways, Trump’s last hours as President were a bookend to the kickoff of his presidential campaign in June 2015. As he did then, he tossed aside prepared remarks that aides had helped draft and spoke off the cuff, having them take down teleprompters they had set up. As he did then, he spent hours focused on the visual aspects of the scene where he would speak at the end of a calamitous final three months that capped a tumultuous term. Before departing for Florida, Trump laid down a marker about his future, telling the roughly 300 supporters who greeted him on the windy tarmac that they had not seen the last of him.

Donald Trump promises to return ‘in some form.’ Image via AP.

Trump’s ‘unwell’ appearance sparks chatter among Americans” via Allison Schonter of Pop Culture — Americans across the country watching the morning’s events live from home expressed worry over the President’s health, claiming that he appeared “unwell” as he boarded Air Force One and later delivered his final address at a farewell ceremony at Joint Base Andrews. After arriving 35 minutes late, the President delivered a speech. While the President’s remarks sparked some controversy online, many people instead focused on Trump’s health. Many Americans watching Trump’s final morning as the President noted that he appeared to have lost weight in his final days in the office, others stating that he looked tired and stressed.

Trump leaves parting Oval Office letter Joe Biden” via Nick Niedzwiadek of POLITICO — After four years of shattering precedent inside the White House, Trump took part in one final presidential tradition on his way out of office Wednesday: leaving a letter for his successor inside the Oval Office. Trump spokesperson Judd Deere confirmed the President had written a letter to Biden and left it for him in the Oval Office’s Resolute Desk. The Trump White House did not divulge the contents of what Trump left for Biden to read. Biden said he, too, would keep the note under wraps until he had a moment to connect with Trump. “The President wrote a very generous letter,“ Biden said. “Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him, but it was generous.“

Trump ends where he began, fighting release of tax returns” via David Yaffe-Bellany of Bloomberg — Trump’s lawyers made a preemptive move to stop congressional Democrats from obtaining his tax returns as Biden takes power, asking a judge for an Inauguration Day hearing in a case that could threaten the secrecy of his closely guarded financial information. The Democrats in the last Congress ran out of time in their efforts to enforce a subpoena demanding that the Treasury Department turn over Trump’s tax information, but the new Congress could reissue the subpoena in the coming days. At noon on Wednesday, Biden took control of the White House, making it possible that the Justice Department could reverse its position in the case and simply hand over the records.

In Trump’s pardons, disdain for accountability” via Eric Lipton and Kenneth P. Vogel The New York Times — Randy “Duke” Cunningham maintained a “bribe menu” on his congressional office stationery that featured different levels of payments he required from military contractors if they wanted his help to win corresponding levels of federal contracts. As Mayor of Detroit, Kwame M. Kilpatrick turned City Hall into what prosecutors called “a private profit machine,” taking bribes, fixing municipal contracts and even using hundreds of thousands of dollars from a city civic fund to spend on friends and family, as well as campaign expenses. Robin Hayes, a former member of Congress serving as chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, pleaded guilty to lying to F.B.I. agents.

Can Trump really issue secret pardons for himself and his family?” via Tommy Christopher of Mediaite — Trump and his family were not among the 143 11th-hour pardons issued shortly after midnight on Trump’s last day in office, leading many to fret that he could still issue secret “pocket pardons” that only come to light when recipients are charged with crimes. MSNBC host and Congress Nerd Lawrence O’Donnell wrote, “Don’t trust the list. Trump doesn’t have to reveal the names of anyone he pardons.” Former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean raised the possibility as well. Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal threw some cold water on the idea, writing “I think secret pardons are constitutionally dubious … But here it doesn’t matter, even if Trump tried secret pardons, Biden could make them public the next day.”

Among Floridians granted clemency by Trump: rich elites, rappers, an elderly pot dealer” via David Ovalle of the Miami Herald — In all, the Trump doled out over 100 pardons and commutations Among those Floridians who did get pardons: rapper Lil Wayne, the former Miami Beach resident and international hip-hop star who pleaded guilty last month to a federal weapons charge. Abel Holtz, the philanthropist and banker whose name is featured on a downtown Miami street, a children’s hospital at Jackson Memorial and a tennis center in Miami Beach. Robert “Bob” Zangrillo, a prominent Miami developer who was charged in the infamous Varsity Blues scandal. Todd Farha, William Kale, Thaddeus Bereday, Paul Behrens and Peter Clay, who are former executives with Tampa’s WellCare Health Care. They were convicted of Medicare fraud in 2013.

How FSU legend Deion Sanders helped secure a pardon from Trump for rapper Lil Wayne” via Jim Henry of The Tallahassee Democrat — Lil Wayne owes a debt of gratitude to Trump. And to Sanders, too. Sanders, the former Florida State All-American and first-year football coach at Jackson State, was cited for his support in Trump’s pardon of the rapper early Wednesday. Lil Wayne was among the 143 pardons and commuted sentences issued in the President’s final hours in office Wednesday morning. Wayne faced up to 10 years in prison after he was arrested in Miami in 2019 with a handgun and drugs. He also pleaded guilty last month to possessing a firearm as a formerly felon. Wayne faced up to 10 years in prison after he was arrested in Miami in 2019 with a handgun and drugs. He also pleaded guilty last month to possessing a firearm as a formerly felon.

Pardon for former Google engineer who stole trade secrets” via The Associated Press — Trump pardoned a former Google engineer who was sentenced to prison last year for stealing trade secrets from the tech giant related to robotic vehicles. Anthony Levandowski left Google in early 2016 where he worked in the autonomous vehicle division to start his own company called Otto. That company was acquired by Uber for $680 million as the ride-hailing venture pursued its own autonomous vehicle division. Before leaving, Levandowski downloaded a trove of Google’s self-driving car technology, leading eventually to 33 counts of intellectual property theft against him. He pleaded guilty to one count and was sentenced to 18 months in prison last summer.

Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski was among the 150 eleventh-hour presidential pardons. Image via AP.

Trump extended Secret Service protection to his adult children as he left office” via Carol D. Leonnig and Nick Miroff of The Washington Post — In the days before he left office, Trump instructed that his family get the best security available in the world for the next six months, at no cost, the protection of the U.S. Secret Service. According to three people briefed on the plan, Trump issued a directive to extend post-presidency Secret Service protection to his four adult children and two of their spouses, who were not automatically entitled to receive it. Trump also directed that three key aides leaving the government to continue receiving protection for six months: former treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin, former chief of staff Mark Meadows and former national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien.

‘Trumplicans’ greet Trump in South Florida after snub of Biden inauguration” via David Smiley and Martin Vassolo of the Miami Herald — Trump, in the company of his family, touched down at Palm Beach International Airport at 10:54 a.m. Wednesday in Air Force One, becoming only the fourth President in the history of the United States to skip the swearing-in of his successor. Without taking questions from reporters at the airport, the Trumps entered their motorcade, which proceeded to crawl slowly down Southern Boulevard, giving the outgoing President time to wave and give double thumbs-ups to cheering crowds grouped at various points along his route. By 11:49 a.m., when Biden took his oath of office, Trump had already arrived home at Mar-a-Lago, his private Palm Beach club and residence.

Few Trump supporters turn out at Capitol” via The News Service of Florida — Only about 10 supporters of Trump waved signs to motorists outside Florida’s Capitol as Biden was sworn into office in Washington, D.C. With law-enforcement officers visible atop the Florida Capitol and the nearby Leon County Courthouse, the handful of Trump backers maintained their unsubstantiated belief about election fraud in the 2020 election as motorists occasionally honked in agreement or shouted disparaging remarks. “We just feel there were a lot of improprieties during the election. We just don’t feel like our votes were heard,” said Earl Austin, who with his wife, Suzanne, held signs outside the Capitol. “We just feel like, right now, we know it’s over probably, but it’s so these things do not occur ever again.”

Inauguration sows doubt among QAnon conspiracy theorists” via Michael Kunzelman, Amanda Seitz, David Klepper of The Associated Press — For years, legions of QAnon conspiracy theory adherents encouraged one another to “trust the plan” as they waited for the day when Trump would orchestrate mass arrests, military tribunals and executions of his Satan-worshipping, child-sacrificing enemies. Keeping the faith wasn’t easy when Inauguration Day didn’t usher in “The Storm,” the apocalyptic reckoning that they have believed was coming for prominent Democrats and Trump’s “deep state” foes. QAnon followers grappled with anger, confusion and disappointment Wednesday as Biden was sworn into office. Some believers found a way to twist the conspiracy theory’s convoluted narrative to fit their belief that Biden’s victory was an illusion and that Trump would secure a second term in office.

The world will never forget Trump’s trips abroad” via Jennifer Hassan and Ruby Mellen of The Washington Post — Even among the many norm-shattering, unpredictable moments that marked Trump’s tenure, his approach to foreign travel and high-level diplomacy stood out. Trump broke with tradition by visiting Saudi Arabia for his first foreign stop as President, rather than one of the United States’ neighbors, Canada or Mexico. After Saudi Arabia, Trump passed through Israel, where he became the first sitting U.S. President to visit the Western Wall and was welcomed warmly by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The following year, Trump found himself at odds with other world leaders at a meeting of the Group of Seven countries in Quebec City. An iconic image from the summit, seeming to make visible the tensions, went viral.

‘They have not legitimately won’: Pro-Trump media keeps the disinformation flowing” via Jeremy W. Peters of The New York Times — The coverage struck a discordant tone, with pro-Trump media and President Joe Biden in a jarring split screen: There was the new President delivering an inaugural address of unity and hope, while his political opponents used their powerful media platforms to rally a resistance against him based on falsehoods and fabrications. For One America News, it was as if Biden weren’t President at all. The network, a favorite of Trump’s because of its sycophantic coverage, didn’t show its viewers Biden’s swearing in or his inaugural address.

Well, there’s thatSales of U.S. Constitution topped 1 million during Trump years” via Hillel Italie of The Associated Press — At the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, they like to joke that what’s bad for the country is often good for the organization. “Web traffic is through the roof,” says the nonprofit’s CEO and President, Jeffrey Rosen. “We had more than 400,000 visitors to our site in the days following Jan. 6,” when supporters of Trump rampaged in the U.S. Capitol. “Our previous record was around 160,000.” More than 1 million copies of the Constitution in various editions have sold since Trump took office, compared to around 600,000 during the second term of President Barack Obama. The spike began in 2016 when Trump became the Republican candidate for President: Sales more than doubled from the year before.

Donald Trump helped boost sales of the U.S. Constitution. Image via AP.

A politician in Trump-loving Hialeah has left the Republican Party. Here’s why” via Aaron Liebowitz of The Miami Herald — Paul Hernandez, a Hialeah city councilman for the past decade, said he changed his voter registration from Republican to Democrat just hours after he watched a mob of Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol. City and county leaders in Miami-Dade serve in nonpartisan roles. But a defection from the Republican Party is notable in conservative Hialeah, where Hernandez is now the only registered Democrat representing the city at any level of government. The replies were mostly supportive, including from local Democrats like Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. Hernandez had supported Levine Cava’s Republican opponent, former county commissioner and Hialeah local Steve Bovo, in the November mayoral race.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Seniors’ vaccine hopes are crushed as more than 250,000 rush for Publix sign-up” via Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — A quarter of a million people jammed the supermarket chain’s website all at once Wednesday, but only 24,402 appointment slots were up for grabs — and they were gone in less than two hours statewide. Seniors say trying to get the vaccine has been a nightmare: It’s been a test of their stamina as they get repeatedly shut out of appointments through various sign-up sites. They can expect more of the same for many weeks, experts say. The rising infection rate and death toll and a new variant of the virus are contributing to the angst.

Ron DeSantis’ expansion of the Publix vaccination effort results in a flood of seniors ready to get their shots.

More than 40,000 Floridians overdue for second coronavirus shots” via Allison Ross of The Tampa Bay Times — More than 40,000 people in Florida have not gotten their second shots of a coronavirus vaccine within the recommended time frame to do so, raising questions about why that may be happening. Both of the coronavirus vaccines approved for use in the United States require two doses per person to be fully effective, with Pfizer-BioNTech recommending a second dose after three weeks and Moderna vaccine doses scheduled four weeks apart. More than 1 million people in Florida have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to state data from Tuesday. Of those, about 100,000 came back for their second shots and another 44,000 were listed in state data as overdue for second doses.

— CORONA LOCAL — 

Miami-Dade County crosses 350K COVID-19 cases, Palm Beach nears 100K” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — South Florida recorded more than 4,000 new COVID-19 cases, with one major county crossing a major milestone and another county nearing one. Miami-Dade County added another 2,287 cases in Wednesday’s report. That puts Florida’s most populous county at about 350,000 total COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Two counties to the north in Palm Beach, another 687 cases were recorded Wednesday. Palm Beach has now tallied 99,379 total cases, putting the 100,000-case mark in reach by Thursday or Friday. Palm Beach also saw its daily positivity rate rise for the fourth straight day. That number sat above 10% in Wednesday’s report. While the positivity rate in Palm Beach is still down week-to-week, that trend won’t last long if this increase continues.

Miami-Dade passes a major COVID-19 milestone.

Eviction window extended to 30 days for month-to-month renters as moratorium continues” via Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald — The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to extend the window of notification for evictions of month-to-month tenants to 30 days on Wednesday morning. The vote helps thousands of the county’s most economically vulnerable residents, who will now have two more weeks to relocate in case of an eviction. Previously, renters whose leases had expired and never renewed, or were renting an apartment based on a verbal agreement with the landlord, could be legally notified they had to vacate the premises in 15 days. About 10 people spoke in favor of the legislation during the commission meeting. The City of Miami already requires a 30-day eviction window for month-to-month tenants.

Palm Beach County schools postpone decision on start date after criticism” via Lois K. Solomon of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Parents and students made it clear on Wednesday night: They don’t want a shortened summer after this pandemic school year. Hearing the frustration, the Palm Beach County School Board postponed a vote to start school on Aug. 10, the earliest date allowed by the state, for the next two years. The proposal would have shortened the upcoming summer vacation from the traditional 10 weeks to seven weeks. That’s because school started and will end three weeks later this year due to COVID-19. Palm Beach County has been starting on Aug. 10 or close to it for many years. The board will revisit the calendar on Feb. 3.

State-run vaccination clinic to open at Tampa’s University Mall” via Fox 13 staff reports — The Florida Department of Health and Florida Division of Emergency Management announced Wednesday it will open a new state-run COVID-19 vaccination site in Hillsborough County. The state says the site will offer 1,600 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for free, by appointment only, at the University Mall, 2200 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa, FL 33612. The site will be open seven days a week from 8 a.m. — 4 p.m. and will offer the vaccine to all individuals 65 years of age and older, as well as front-line health care workers. The state did not specify a start date for the vaccination site.

Estero Council warns of rising COVID-19 cases; staff says one-year wait for new Corkscrew Road traffic light” via Thaddeus Mast of the Naples Daily News — COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Estero, and during a Wednesday public meeting, village councilors asked residents to stay safe. Confirmed COVID-19 cases jumped from 967 on Dec. 1 to 1,732 on Jan. 20, according to the Florida Department of Health. Lee County gave the village $550,000 in CARES Act federal funding to spend on COVID-19 related efforts, said Marilyn Edwards, a spokeswoman for the village. The Village Council voted to distribute 110,000 masks to all residents, employees and volunteers in Estero and tested 1,545 people for COVID-19 before Thanksgiving. The village gave 5,000 personal protection equipment packages to residents and gave 300 hand sanitizers to local businesses. Equipment used to support remote meetings, such as cameras and microphones, also were upgraded.

— CORONA NATION —

Biden urges action on the pandemic, saying he will ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days” via Katie Glueck and Thomas Kaplan of The New York Times — Biden pressed Congress and the nation to confront the worsening pandemic with urgency, as he also addressed the fallout from Trump’s final turbulent days in office. Biden’s remarks came as part of a wide-ranging joint interview on CNN in which he and Vice President-elect Harris defended their cabinet appointments, alluded to covert Republican outreach to Biden and offered some of their most detailed remarks since winning the election about the next steps the country must take to battle the coronavirus crisis. Biden said that on his first day as President, he would ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days. “Not forever. 100 days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction,” he said.

Joe Biden is urging Americans to wear masks for 100 days. Image via AP.

Anthony Fauci lays out Biden’s support for WHO after Trump criticism” via Jamey Keaten of The Associated Press— Fauci, President  Biden’s top medical adviser on COVID-19, announced renewed U.S. support for the World Health Organization after it faced blistering criticism from the Trump administration, laying out new commitments to tackle the coronavirus and other global health issues. Fauci, speaking by videoconference from pre-dawn United States to WHO’s executive board, said the U.S. will join the U.N. health agency’s efforts to bring vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to people in need, whether in rich or poor countries. He said the U.S. will also resume full funding and staffing support for WHO.

Biden’s COVID-19 fight meets a big test: Red-state politics” via Joanne Kenan and Rachel Roubein of POLITICO — Biden has promised to unite the states to vanquish the coronavirus. And he may have a narrow opening as increasingly contagious forms of COVID-19 spread. Even more patients will crowd hospitals as the more-transmissible variants take hold. More will die. The U.S. death toll passed 400,000 Tuesday; incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain has bluntly pointed out that it will likely top a half-million within weeks. Biden’s plan to encourage better masking, social distancing, testing and contact tracing could gain traction with governors whose states are overwhelmed. About a dozen red-state governors have vowed to defy any effort to mandate statewide face coverings, saying it should remain a personal choice or up to local communities.

How to distribute 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days” via Thomas J. Bollyky, Jennifer B. Nuzzo and Prasith Baccam of The New York Times — Biden has an ambitious plan: to administer 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine in his first 100 days in office. 16.5 million shots have made their way into the arms of Americans, an average of 447,000 doses per day. Biden’s goal of more than doubling this rate can be achieved if the United States implements a vaccination campaign that treats COVID-19 more like an act of bioterrorism and less like the seasonal flu. While the United States does not currently have enough vaccine to inoculate all 331 million Americans, supply is far from the only obstacle to ending the pandemic. Only 46% of the 36 million doses distributed to states so far have been administered.

Amazon offers to help Biden administration with vaccinations” via Spencer Soper and Matt Day of Bloomberg — Amazon.com Inc. is offering to help the Biden administration accelerate the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, including to its own employees. In a letter dated Wednesday, Dave Clark, the incoming chief executive officer of Amazon’s retail unit, offered his congratulations to Biden and Harris. He reiterated a request Amazon made to the CDC last month asking that front-line workers among the company’s more than 800,000 U.S. employees receive vaccines at the “earliest appropriate time.” Even as much of Amazon’s white-collar corporate workforce at its Seattle headquarters and other offices toil from home, the company’s warehouses, cloud-computing data centers and Whole Foods Market stores have stayed open through the pandemic.

Amazon is lending a big hand in the vaccination effort.

Moderna on track to make 100 million vaccine doses by end of March, CEO says” via Peter Loftus of The Wall Street Journal — Moderna’s leader said the drugmaker is on track to produce enough doses of its new COVID-19 vaccine to help meet Biden’s goal to administer 100 million vaccine doses in the first 100 days after he takes office on Wednesday. Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said Tuesday that Moderna plans to deliver 100 million doses of its shot, which requires two doses per person, for use in the U.S. by the end of March, with additional doses to follow. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech SE also are supplying doses of their vaccine to the U.S. “I think from a supply standpoint from industry, we are well on track to deliver to the President’s goal,” Bancel said.

Pfizer-BioNTech shot likely to foil mutant, new study shows” via Naomi Kresge and Janice Kew of Bloomberg — Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE built the case that their COVID-19 vaccine will protect against the new variant of the coronavirus that emerged in the U.K. with results of another lab trial. Like previous work out of the University of Texas Medical Branch, the results published on Wednesday showed that antibodies in the blood of people who had been vaccinated were able to neutralize a version of the mutant virus that was created in the lab. The study was published on preprint server BioRxiv before peer review. Unlike the earlier study, which focused on one crucial mutation, the new research tested all 10 mutations.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Wall Street hits records as hopes build for more stimulus” via Stan Choe, Damian J. Troise and Alex Veiga of The Associated Press — Wall Street marked the dawn of Biden’s administration with stocks rallying to record highs as hopes build that new leadership in Washington will mean more support for the struggling U.S. economy. The S&P 500 rose 1.4%, topping its previous all-time high set earlier this month. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, Nasdaq composite and Russell 2000 index of smaller companies also notched record highs. Biden has a flurry of executive actions at the ready. Of primary interest to the stock market, he has also pitched a plan to pump $1.9 trillion more into the struggling economy, hoping to act quickly as his Democratic Party takes control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

— MORE CORONA —

WHO sees record global death toll, but some signs cases are declining.” via Nick Cumming-Bruce of The New York Times — The global death toll from COVID-19 hit a record in the last week at the same time as the number of new cases declined, the WHO reported on Wednesday. The United Nations health agency said 93,000 people died in the week ending Jan. 17, a record and a 9% rise over the previous week, bringing the total global death toll from the pandemic to more than 2 million people. Deaths rose in all of the WHO’s six regional groups, it said in its latest weekly bulletin, but the Americas fared the worst, with a 15% rise in deaths in the past week. Led by the United States, where over 400,000 people have died, and Brazil, with more than 200,000 deaths, the Americas account for close to half the total number of people lost to the virus since the start of the pandemic.

— D.C. MATTERS —

Chuck Schumer becomes Majority Leader as 3 Democrats sworn in” via Steven T. Dennis of Bloomberg — Schumer became the Senate’s majority leader on Wednesday as three new Democratic Senators were sworn in just hours after Biden and Harris took their oaths of office. Former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and newly-elected Georgia Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were given the oath by Harris shortly after the Senate was called into session, creating a rare 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans.

Kamala Harris’ first task: Swearing-in three new Senators, giving Democrats a slim majority. Image via AP.

Marco Rubio invokes Richard Nixon, floats Trump pardon” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Rubio staunchly opposes a second Senate impeachment trial of former President Trump and suggested the endgame Wednesday of disgraced President Nixon as a model. “I get it, hold the President accountable. Here’s the thing I would say. When Richard Nixon left office, Gerald Ford pardoned him. Now it was very controversial. It probably cost him the election, OK, and a lot of people ripped him apart. But I think years into the future, we all acknowledge that was the right decision because it was in the right interest of our country to move beyond that period of time,” Rubio said.

First in Sunburn — For Our Future Florida urges Rubio to support ‘American Recovery Plan’ — On the first day of the Biden presidency, For Our Future Florida called on Rubio to back Biden’s “American Recovery Plan,” which includes funding for a national vaccination strategy and direct payments to Americans, among other things. “The reasons to pass this package are as long as the unemployment lines in Florida. The vaccination rollout so far has been a disaster, both nationally under Trump and here in Florida under Gov. Ron DeSantis. Getting this country back on track begins with getting this virus under control. Now is the time for Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio to drop their partisanship and come together for the country and help pass this rescue package,” For Our Future FL communications director Blake Williams said.

Mario Díaz-Balart says he’ll work with Biden administration on immigration reform, pathway to citizenship” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Republican Rep. Díaz-Balart, a longtime proponent of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, says he’s once again open to working on that issue with Biden. Díaz-Balart described goals for a larger immigration reform package in a Wednesday statement released as Biden was being sworn in as the nation’s 46th President. “While I have not seen details of President Biden’s proposal, immigration reform has been a top legislative priority for me in Congress,” Díaz-Balart said. Biden has proposed an eight-year-long pathway to citizenship as part of his immigration plan. Undocumented immigrants in the country as of Jan. 1 would be able to begin a five-year process to achieve temporary legal status if they qualify.

Mario Diaz-Balart is open to working with Joe Biden on immigration reform. Image via CQ Roll Call.

Army falsely denied Michael Flynn’s brother was involved in key part of military response to Capitol riot” via Dan Lamothe, Paul Sonne, Carol D. Leonnig and Aaron C. Davis of The Washington Post — The Army falsely denied for days that Lt. Gen. Charles A. Flynn, the brother of disgraced former national security adviser Flynn, was involved in a key meeting during its heavily scrutinized response to the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol. Charles Flynn confirmed in a statement issued to The Washington Post on Wednesday that he was in the room for a tense Jan. 6 phone call during which the Capitol Police and D.C. officials pleaded with the Pentagon to dispatch the National Guard urgently, but top Army officials expressed concern about having the Guard at the Capitol. Flynn left the room before the meeting was over, anticipating that then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who was in another meeting, would soon take action to deploy more guard members, he said.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

House starts moving on protest bill” via The News Service of Florida — The House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee is slated Jan. 27 to take up the bill (HB 1), sponsored by Miami-Dade County Republican Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin. The bill, along with an identical Senate proposal (SB 484), would create a host of new crimes, crack down on protests and make it difficult for local government officials to trim spending on law enforcement. The legislation, in part, would create a new offense of “mob intimidation” when three or more people act “with a common intent, to compel or induce, or attempt to compel or induce, another person by force, or threat of force, to do any act or to assume or abandon a particular viewpoint.”

Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin is moving on a protest crackdown bill.

Poll: As Legislative Session looms, Florida’s mostly GOP leadership might be out of step with voters” via Michael Moline of the Florida Phoenix — A statewide survey of Florida voters, conducted following the attack by Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol, suggests a distinct lack of support for DeSantis push to ramp up criminal penalties for what he considers “disorderly” protests. Asked to rate their support for “protecting our constitutional right to free assembly and free speech by legally protesting without fear of criminal charges,” 90% considered it important, with 71% saying it is “very important.” Seventy-one percent of Democrats and 74% of Republicans deemed the issue a top priority, according to EMC Research, a data analytics and political research firm.

Senate committee to take up COVID-19 liability protections for businesses” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Florida Senate will streamline legislation on Monday that would provide COVID-19 liability protections for businesses. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to take up SB 72 at 2:30 p.m. in the Knott Building, Room 412, on Monday. The Senate’s apparent urgency is in near lockstep with the rapid pace taken by the House on HB 7, a bill also seeking COVID-19 liability protections. SB 72 and HB 7 seek to exclusively protect churches, schools and businesses from “frivolous” COVID-19 related lawsuits. Both bills notably omit protections for health care providers such as nursing homes and employees. By design, the measures would make winning lawsuits a greater challenge for plaintiffs.

House panel to review spending by state-backed nonprofits” via News Service of Florida — The House State Affairs Committee has set aside an hour Tuesday to discuss how to oversee taxpayer money provided to nonprofit organizations and quasi-public entities, an issue spurred a year ago after it became public that Tiffany Carr, the former long-serving chief executive officer of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, drew $7.5 million in compensation over three years. The Department of Children and Families for more than a decade had a sole-source contract, enshrined in Florida law, that made FCADV a pass-through for millions of dollars meant for the state’s 42 domestic violence shelters. In November, House Speaker Chris Sprowls advised his members of the need to continue review efforts.

Proposal again targets constitution revision panel” via News Service of Florida — The Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on Jan. 27 will take up a proposal (SJR 204) by Sen. Jeff Brandes that would put the abolishment of the CRC before voters in 2022. The 37-member commission meets every 20 years with a unique power to place proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. Most of its members are appointed by the Governor and legislative leaders. The commission, however, drew bipartisan criticism in 2018 because it “bundled” together unrelated issues in single ballot measures, such as linking a ban on offshore oil drilling with a ban on vaping in workplaces. The Senate, in a 35-4 vote, backed a 2019 proposal to eliminate the commission, but the measure failed to advance in the House.

B.K. Roberts’ name removal from FSU Law is priority for Tallahassee-area legislators” via James Call of The Tallahassee Democrat — Leon County lawmakers will consider a local bill to allow Roberts‘ name to be stripped from the main building of Florida State University’s law school. The COVID-19 crisis and the closing of the Leon County Courthouse amid threats of violence this weekend have caused the annual pre-session meeting of local lawmakers and constituents to be held online next week. State Sen. Loranne Ausley will chair the meeting. Attending will be state Reps. Jason Shoaf, Ramon Alexander and Allison Tant. Legislation under review includes a bill on Roberts, a late Florida Supreme Court justice. The building name issue was one of many rallying cries for protesters this past summer.

Renaming Florida State University’s law school building, named after Chief Justice B.K. Roberts, is becoming a leading priority for lawmakers. Image via Florida Memory.

Proposal takes aim at attorney fees, roof costs” via News Service of Florida — Rep. Bob Rommel filed a proposal (HB 305) that would, in part, limit plaintiffs’ attorney fees in some property-insurance lawsuits by restricting what are known as “contingency risk multipliers.” Under the bill, contingency risk multipliers could only be awarded “in a rare and exceptional circumstance with evidence that competent counsel could not be retained in a reasonable manner.” The bill also would allow insurers to use what is described as a “roof surface reimbursement schedule.” Under the proposal, reimbursements could vary based on ages and types of roofs. For example, insurers would be required to provide full replacement coverage for roofs less than 10 years old. But they would be allowed to provide less coverage for other roofs.

Legislative delegation meetings — The Palm Beach County legislative delegation — Sens. Lori Berman, Gayle Harrell, Tina Polsky and Bobby Powell; Reps. Kelly Skidmore, Matt Willhite, Mike Caruso, John Snyder, David Silvers, Joe Casello, Rick Roth, Omari Hardy and Emily Slosberg — will hold a joint meeting with the Palm Beach County League of Cities and the Palm Beach County School Board, League meeting at 9 a.m., School Board meeting at 10:45 a.m., Port of Palm Beach, 1 East 11th St., Riviera Beach. The Baker County delegation — Sen. Jennifer Bradley and Rep. Chuck Brannan — will meet, 10 a.m., Baker County Commission Room, 55 North Third St., Macclenny. The Indian River County delegation — Sen. Debbie Mayfield and Rep. Erin Grall — will hold an online meeting, 11 a.m. The Gadsden County delegation — Sen. Ausley and Rep. Ramon Alexander — will meet, 5 p.m., Gadsden County Commission Chamber, 9-B East Jefferson St., Quincy. The Santa Rosa County delegation — Sen. Doug Broxson; Reps. Alex Andrade and Jayer Williamson — will meet, 5:30 p.m. Central time, Santa Rosa County Administration Building, 6495 Caroline St., Milton.

— STATEWIDE —

Appointed Dev Motwani to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation Board of Directors; Jeff Condello and Bill Christy to the University of Central Florida Board of Trustees.

Ex-CEO of charter school firm fights conviction” via Jim Saunders of The News Service of Florida — A state appeals court will hear arguments in a challenge to the conviction of a former charter-school management company CEO who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for racketeering and fraud involving schools in various parts of Florida. Marcus May, whose company Newpoint Education Partners operated 15 schools in six counties, is asking the 1st District Court of Appeal to overturn his 2018 conviction in Escambia County. The appeal raises a series of issues, including arguing that an expert witness was improperly prevented from testifying and that a prosecutor made inflammatory and inappropriate comments. Among other things, May’s attorneys pointed to descriptions of May’s lifestyle and the prosecutor’s use of the term “kickbacks” in describing the alleged illegal conduct.

— LOCAL NOTES —

What a Biden administration could mean for Tallahassee and Leon County” via Karl Etters and CD Davidson-Hiers of the Tallahassee Democrat — In interviews with the Tallahassee Democrat, local leaders expressed excitement about a new vision and new priorities relating to the economy, infrastructure, education and the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor John Dailey said he looked forward to a focus on unity at the federal level and, after Biden said COVID-19 was his No. 1 priority, working to curb the deadly virus. Biden’s focus on the coronavirus is also top of mind for City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox, who is supportive of the expansion of Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act as a way to extend more health care options to people who have or may contract the virus.

A few miles from Mar-a-Lago, White supremacists set up headquarters” via Brittany Wallman, Megan O’Matz and Mario Ariza of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — As the drumbeat of White supremacists grew louder in America, three men quietly formed a new extremist group, planting their flag in Palm Beach County. The Sovereign American Project, based in West Palm Beach, began recruiting in August. It envisions an America separated, as in the days of segregation. Described by one supporter as “political nerds,” their rhetoric is cerebral, like a treatise on sociology. But the dark undertone is clear: They hope to undo racial integration and allow White, conservative people to live apart. Whites, the group’s website says, are genetically superior in “civilization building” and “should always have the majority of power and influence in the nations founded and built by our European ancestors.”

Pensacola man arrested in Capitol siege grew more agitated over summer” via Emma Kennedy of the Pensacola News Journal — Social media accounts that appear to be owned by Jesus Rivera, the Pensacola man arrested Wednesday for his alleged part in the recent riot at the U.S. Capitol building, show he had steadily become more vocal about pro-Trump viewpoints since July when he started a page called Chicano Patriot. He often would be seen wearing a “Latinos for Trump” hat and talking about his military service. As that page gained traction he developed a business with another Pensacola man, Scott Brumfield, in September called We the People 1776. The two would frequently post videos about patriotism and their views on subjects like the Black Lives Matter movement and the Democratic Party, in addition to supporting Trump.

Jesus Rivera of Pensacola become more aggressive on social media, leading to his arrest for his role in the Capitol riot.

Elon Musk’s tunnel crusade sparks new talk of a possible rail tunnel under Fort Lauderdale’s New River” via Chris Perkins of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — It’s all far from a serious plan. But an intriguing flurry of Twitter posts between Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX and one of the world’s wealthiest men, and South Florida leaders has speculation swirling online. Behind the exchange is a push by Miami to lure high tech workers newly freed from their Silicon Valley offices into a world of remote jobs. When Miami Mayor Francis Suarez tweeted an invitation to Musk to city hall to discuss “solutions for the benefit of our future,” Musk’s reply was anything but a brushoff. The idea of building tunnels beneath cities isn’t a pipe dream for Musk, whose business The Boring Company is already digging a tunnel under Las Vegas.

Peter Thiel bought an $18 million island estate in Miami that was once featured on MTV’s ‘The Real World’” via Becky Peterson of Business Insider — Thiel purchased the Real World house, and a similar house on the lot next door, in September through an anonymized LLC called Atlantic View Holdings, property records show. The property was previously owned by Jacques Nasser, the former president and CEO of Ford. Thiel isn’t listed on the deed, but his new address was revealed in an email exchange with Miami Mayor Suarez, which Business Insider obtained through a public records request. Suarez and Thiel ate lunch together at the Real World house on January 13.

Cape Coral City Council appoints John Gunter as new Mayor after Joe Coviello’s death” via David Dorsey of the Fort Myers News-Press — Gunter, the Cape Coral city council member for District 1 and the Mayor Pro Tem, became the new Mayor of one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities Wednesday night following a vote by his peers. Cape Coral Mayor Coviello died Jan. 13 at the age of 65. Gunter left Coviello’s seat empty for the meeting. “I know that Mayor Coviello is here in spirit,” Gunter said as they got going, a day after Coviello’s funeral and a day after DeSantis ordered the state Capitol flag to fly at half-staff in Coviello’s honor. The seven council members could have chosen to hold a special election or appoint a replacement for Coviello, according to the city charter.

Cape Coral Commissioner John Gunter is sworn in as Mayor, replacing Joe Coviello, who died Jan. 13. Image via Cape Coral Breeze.

First in SunburnKen Welch lands baker’s dozen of endorsements for St. Pete Mayor” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Welch is already lining up endorsements for his bid for St. Petersburg Mayor. The former Pinellas County Commissioner announced 13 endorsements from current and former elected officials in the region on Wednesday, just days after he filed to run. His endorsers include an all-star cast of Pinellas County politicos such as Congressman Charlie Crist; former Commission colleagues Pat Gerard, Charlie Justice, Janet Long and Karen Seel and former Commissioner Bob Stewart; Welch’s successor on the Commission Rene Flowers; St. Pete City Council members Lisa Wheeler-Bowman and Deborah Figgs-Sanders and former City Councilmembers Charlie Gerdes and Connie Kone; former Congressman Jim Davis; and former Public Defender Bob Dillinger.

CongratsRon Christaldi named managing partner at Shumaker Loop & Kendrick” via Luke Torrance of The Tampa Bay Business Journal — Christaldi will take over as the new managing partner for Shumaker Loop & Kendrick LLP’s Tampa office, the law firm confirmed this week. Christaldi will take over for Mark Catchur, whose three-year term expired at the end of last year. “He is the hardest working, most empathetic and kindest individual I’ve worked with,” Christaldi said of Catchur. “He is still around and I told him I will draw upon his wisdom.” Christaldi is a longtime member of the Tampa Bay community and has been with Shumaker for almost 14 years. Before joining the firm in 2007, he spent a decade working for de la Parte and Gilbert PA.

— TOP OPINION —

Obituary for a failed presidency” via Susan B. Glasser of The New Yorker — In the end, Trump was everything his haters feared — a chaos candidate, in the prescient words of one of his 2016 rivals, who became a chaos President. An American demagogue, he embraced division and racial discord, railed against a “deep state” within his own government, praised autocrats and attacked allies, politicized the administration of justice, monetized the presidency for himself and his children, and presided over a tumultuous, turnover-ridden administration via impulsive tweets. He leaves office with the lowest average approval ratings in modern history. Defeated by Biden in the 2020 election by seven million votes, Trump became the first incumbent seeking reelection to see his party lose the White House, Senate, and the House since Herbert Hoover, in 1932.

— OPINIONS —

A President replaced. A nation redeemed.” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — Biden’s inauguration Wednesday was more than a transfer of power. In ways symbolic and substantive, it was the redemption of a nation. Inauguration Day in the capital city dawned to fierce winds as if Nature herself were sweeping away the pestilence, financial misery, political violence and lies. The winds carried Trump away on Air Force One three hours before Biden took the oath of office — the first time an outgoing President refused to attend his successor’s inauguration since the disgraced Andrew Johnson demurred 152 years ago. Former Vice President Pence, a target of the Trump-incited mob on Jan. 6, declined to participate in this last stroking of a narcissist. Breaking with Trump, he attended the inauguration.

An incompetent authoritarian is still a catastrophe” via Adam Serwer of The Atlantic — So what if he was bad at it? The five years of the Trump era — which began with his descent down the gilded escalator in Trump Tower in 2015 and are ending with a massive military presence in the nation’s capital to protect the transfer of power to his successor — brought a sustained assault on self-government. This assault was most often futile, almost always buffoonish, and, as the conversion of the seat of the federal government into an armed fortress demonstrates, unquestionably real. Believing that Trump’s departure proves his harmlessness is akin to arguing that getting shot in the leg is inconsequential because the wound will not kill you. Even nonfatal gunshot wounds do terrible things to the human body.

A sermon in America’s civic religion” via David A. Graham of The Atlantic — Midway through Biden’s first speech as President today, he said something that, in any other inaugural address, would have seemed so unobjectionable as to be pointless. “What are the common objects we as Americans love, that define us as Americans?” Biden said. “I think we know. Opportunity, security, liberty, dignity, respect, honor, and, yes, the truth.” In 2021, however, that wasn’t just a throwaway line: It drew an ovation from the limited crowd at the event. Biden’s speech was well-wrought, but it offered nothing unusual, nothing surprising, nothing especially memorable. Paradoxically, that was the source of its power. But these statements feel less rote today, two weeks after Trump-incited violent insurrectionists stormed the same Capitol, seeking to overturn Biden’s election.

Exhale, Florida. Biden’s COVID-19 and immigration policies are good for us” via Fabiola Santiago of the Miami Herald — The state won’t have to wait long after today’s historic inauguration to benefit from Biden’s policies. Biden has promised to urgently take action to stem the unfettered spread of COVID-19 and to deliver immigration reform and relief. Biden’s “whole-of-society” plan will mobilize resources in the public and private sector — and give a centralized emergency vaccine management role to FEMA. Setting up a centralized command post is exactly what a President is supposed to do when managing a national emergency. On Day One, Biden is also expected to deliver to Congress an immigration reform plan he wants to pass that will positively affect hundreds of thousands of people living in Florida under uncertain status.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

Republicans in control of Florida’s state government are dealing with a new reality in Washington: Trump is out; Biden is in.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Trump skipped the inauguration ceremonies and delivered farewell remarks to the crowd before leaving the White House.

— Trump spent his last moments as President in Palm Beach County, waving to his new neighbors from inside an armored Escalade after making the final flight on Air Force One. 

— Florida Democrats didn’t have much to celebrate after the election because they lost seats in both Congress and the state Legislature, but they are happy now that Biden was sworn in.

— The new chair of the Florida Democratic Party is vowing to come up with some way to make his party relevant again.

— But, for the moment, Democrats like Sen. Gary Farmer of Broward are smiling. Or is that more like a grin?

— Coronavirus doesn’t care who’s in charge; it just keeps on killing. Florida added 145 fatalities and almost 12,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The virus has infected more than 1,600,000 Floridians since the pandemic began.

— And finally, a Florida Man who went to jail for trying to free the horses.

To listen, click on the image below:

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Best wishes to former Sen. Tom Lee, as well as Jon Costello, and former House candidate Bruno Portigliatti.

___

Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.



#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

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