Delegation for 1.19.21: One more time — forbidden fruit — pushing Putin — unity? — Cuba hard-line

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
The clock is winding down. But is it an end, or the beginning?

One last time

The last Delegation of the Donald Trump administration has arrived, but neither the state nor its Congressional delegation seems quite done with him yet.

When Trump moved his legal residency from his native New York to sunny Florida in 2019, it marked the first time in 174 years of statehood that a sitting President claimed the Sunshine State as his legal home.

But that historic stint now comes to a rapid close. The first and so far only term of Trump’s presidency ends Wednesday at noon, 14 months after he registered as a Palm Beach County voter. How has Florida life treated him? Since the President became a bona fide Florida Man, a pandemic struck U.S. shores, killing hundreds of thousands of Americans; Black Lives Matter protests broke out in every major city and often turned violent, Trump’s supporters besieged the Capitol, apparently incited by weeks of the President’s claims that Joe Biden stole his election victory in November.

Trump then found himself impeached a second time.

Is it the end of Donald Trump, or just the beginning? Image via AP.

It’s unclear if or when the Senate will meet for a first-ever post-presidency trial to consider symbolically deposing Trump and forbidding him from seeking federal office again. There are members of the delegation anxious to learn the outgoing commander in chief’s fate.

“Trump, on his second impeachment, is facing the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history,” reminds Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat. “I urge my Republican colleagues in the Senate to put our country and your consciences first. Convict this President.”

But as his time in Washington sunsets, his future in Florida rises from the Atlantic horizon. The President plans to immediately move to Mar-a-Lago full-time with his wife Melania and son Barron. History may associate the Queens native chiefly with New York. As a real estate developer, he built a national profile that he used to launch a political career. But he made Southeast Florida his second home before his presidency and took to calling Mar-a-Lago his “Winter White House.”

While President Harry Truman enjoyed regular retreats to Key West in the Navy-owned “Little White House,” Trump, during his term, hosted world leaders on private property he owned, the mansion rose in prominence. It became a site for both political fundraisers and international diplomacy. His strongest supporters believe it will remain that way.

“Let’s just state a political fact,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican, told Fox News this weekend. “If Donald Trump wants the Republican nomination in 2024, it will be handed to him on a silver platter. I’ll support, and I think the field will be mostly clear.”

Regardless, Trump brought a new type of political attention to Florida, a state already accustomed to the swing state spotlight. A little-noticed bit of history occurred on Jan. 6 as Congress read aloud the Electoral College votes in the U.S. Capitol. Every time they read the red state votes, Senators announced those cast for “Donald John Trump of Florida,” the first electoral votes ever certified for a candidate from this state. In the future, the first full-fledged presidential library may yet locate in Palm Beach in Trump’s name, further tying the Sunshine State to The Donald.

Forbidden fruit

For years, Florida’s agriculture industry remained a top critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement, with many decrying the unfair playing field for produce. To this day, many still feel the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement approved by the Trump administration in NAFTA’s place does little to appease concerns about unfair competition from those employing dirt-cheap labor outside the U.S.

Every Republican in the delegation, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and 16 GOP House members, wants the U.S. International Trade Commission to address Florida’s producers of strawberries and bell peppers, two deep red crops sowed in the light red state.

Delegation members sent a letter to highlight industry concerns.

Rick Scott and Marco Rubio join others in the Florida delegation to call for investigations into unfair agriculture competition.

“For years, Florida growers have suffered disproportionate economic harm due to unfairly traded Mexican imports,” the letter reads. “The trading practices employed are a substantial cause of serious injury to Florida’s industry, placing the future of this critical domestic food supplier and its economic contributions to the state and nation at risk.”

In 1993, the U.S. imported approximately $1.2 billion in fresh fruits and vegetables from Mexico, but as of 2019, that number increased more than tenfold to $13.5 billion.

In November, the U.S. Trade Representative called on the UTC to investigate the import market for peppers and berries. That could trigger a global safeguard investigation under the Trade Act of 1974.

The Delegation members argue Florida farmers suffered hundreds of millions in losses just since 2000 because of the 1,654% increase in Mexican berries imports. That eclipsed domestic growers. Meanwhile, Mexican peppers now account for 73% of the U.S. market, and the Florida output subsequently declined nearly 58% as a result.

“The situation is truly dire,” the letter reads. “If a solution is not provided and fair trade practices are not restored, Florida’s vital produce industries, and our ability to provide a nutritious source of domestic food supply, will be lost. We applaud the ITC and encourage your effort to work with our state’s producers and relevant agencies to monitor and investigate imports of strawberries and bell peppers to provide meaningful relief to Florida growers.”

Venezuelan lifeline

Before Trump leaves the building, Rubio holds some hope he can still convince the President to help the people of Venezuela fleeing Nicolás Maduro’s government. The Senator renewed a request to grant deferred enforced departure status to eligible refugees from the South American nation who now reside in the U.S. Basically, he doesn’t want those people fleeing a regime the U.S. wants changed to arrive here only to be deported to the impoverished nation.

“Such a designation is consistent with — and advances — your administration’s foreign policy priorities with regard to Venezuela, as well as support for our neighbors and allies in the Western Hemisphere,” Rubio wrote in a letter directly to Trump.

Marco Rubio wants one more favor from the Donald Trump administration. Image via CNN.

Florida’s senior Senator noted Trump became the first world leader to recognize Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim President of the nation. Rubio has also called for temporary protected status for Venezuelan nationals hoping to stay in the U.S. until their homeland can restore democracy. “Absent such a TPS designation from the Secretary of Homeland Security; we must ensure that we are not deporting individuals back to a country in which the illegitimate Maduro regime and its security forces routinely carry out extrajudicial murders, disappearances and torture of political opponents,” Rubio said.

Calling Maduro a “narcoterrorist,” Rubio cites United Nations reports finding rights violations, including the arbitrary killing and systematic use of torture. That makes it more concerning that at least 188 Venezuelans with no criminal record have been deported by Trump’s administration in the 2020 fiscal year alone.

“Your administration has prioritized supporting human rights and democracy for the people of Venezuela and restoring constitutional order to both the near and long-term national security benefit of the United States,” Rubio writes. “As the people of Venezuela continue their pursuit of democracy and the long road to [restoring] human rights and civil society, I encourage you to ensure that United States government policies continue to support such efforts.”

Repudiating Putin

Throughout his first term, Scott focused on human rights on the international stage. Upon news this weekend of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s detainment in Moscow. Navalny was returning home after five months of medical recovery from nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin, The Associated Press reports.

“The arrest of Alexei Navalny is shameful and should be condemned by everyone,” Scott tweeted at the news of his detainment. “He must be immediately released. [Vladimir] Putin isn’t our friend and refuses to tolerate opposition or respect basic rights. We must stand with those fighting for freedom and democracy.”

Rick Scott blasts Vladimir Putin for the arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Image via AP.

It’s somewhat notable to see Scott, a close ally to Trump, level criticism at Putin by name. Trump (rather famously) developed a friendly relationship with the Russian President. But relations with Moscow long marked a point of disagreement between the Naples Republican and the President. During his 2018 Senate campaign, Scott would cite his concerns over Putin’s place on the world stage. “I think Putin, he’s not to be trusted,” Scott said then.

Indeed, the recent call for Navalny’s release puts Scott in the company of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden. Members of Biden’s national security transition team made a similar demand Sunday. Trump, meanwhile, resisted bipartisan calls for sanctions in the months since Navalny’s poisoning.

Save Democracy Act

Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack, after her election in November, quickly joined the Republican Study Committee, a caucus focused on conservative policy. Now she’s emerged as a face for key election reforms coming from the group. The Save Democracy Act, introduced by Indiana Republican Jim Banks, would focus on election security and ensure only eligible voters may register and vote nationwide. Since Banks chairs the RSC, it’s no surprise the group granted this legislation an imprimatur.

Cammack was among the chorus on the right to cheer the bill. “The Save Democracy Act will improve security and administration measures to protect the integrity of our electoral system,” Cammack said. “The 2020 presidential election revealed glaring weaknesses that must be addressed, and this bill will take the necessary steps to make sure Americans have confidence in their sacred right to vote.”

Right after her electoral win, Kat Cammack joined the Republican Study Committee, a caucus focused on conservative policy. Image via Twitter.

Cammack voted to challenge electoral vote slates from Arizona and Pennsylvania and signaled plans to object to more ahead of the Capitol riots. She had joined with many of her colleagues, questioning the integrity of the presidential election. However, accusations of widespread coordinated voter fraud have been repeatedly debunked and tossed out of court.

Notably, the bill seems focused on setting national standards for some decisions now left to states. For example, many states don’t require registration to vote ahead of the day of the election. Banks said it’s important to take steps to restore public faith in the outcome of elections. “This bill will restore the public’s trust that their vote is counted and their voice is heard,” he said.

Unity through impeachment?

While many have expressed concerns that Trump’s second impeachment could further divide the nation, Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson said he’d seen the exact opposite. The Congressman told radio WCTV’s The Sean Pittman Show that one result of the Capitol riots was to bring all Democrats together behind accountability for the President.

“The Democratic Party has moderates, liberals and progressives, and for the first time I’ve seen all the groups come together for the benefit of the county,” Lawson said.

Al Lawson believes that impeachment is bringing various factions closer together. Image via Twitter.

A record 10 Republicans in the House this month voted to impeach a President of their party. Lawson suggested to Pittman even is telling only part of the story. “Among some of my colleagues, they wanted to do it, but they were afraid,” he said.

Even though no Senate trial will begin before Trump’s term formally comes to a close, Lawson said it’s essential the Senate follow through on charges to make sure Trump can never seek federal office again. But he also suggests some colleagues within Congress should be held to account. While Lawson has a strong history of working across the aisle, he said some members crossed a line by directly working on charging up crowds ahead of the riots.

“Some members of the Republican Party helped orchestrate this, and we have got to get rid of them,” he said.

Hard-line on Cuba

Several Florida Republican members of Congress made clear to the incoming Biden administration that the U.S. posture with Cuba cannot be negotiable. Michael Waltz, Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar sent a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to reject all officials nominated by Biden if they do not hold a hard line on Cuba or Venezuela.

“The regimes in Cuba and Venezuela have continued to carry out policies of repression toward their citizens, used their government resources to promote terror, and contributed greatly to destabilizing activities in the Western Hemisphere,” said Waltz, a St. Augustine Republican. “The Obama administration made a grave error in attempting to normalize relations with Cuba without preconditions, and Biden administration nominees must commit that such policies will not be replicated.”

Michael Waltz, Maria Salazar and Carlos Giménez are calling for the Joe Biden administration to take a harder line on Cuba.

Last week, Salazar filed her first piece of legislation in Congress, a bill to ensure Biden can’t delist Cuba as a state supporter of terrorism, a designation just put back on the communist nation last week. “My community is home to the many men and women who have fled from the brutal dictatorships that terrorize the people of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua,” she said. “Our government should reflect our American values of freedom, democracy, and Human Rights. Our leaders must acknowledge the truly dangerous nature of these regimes and hold the dictators accountable for their countless crimes against humanity.”

Gimenez, the former Mayor of Miami-Dade County, said it’s essential to realize the nation 90 miles off South Florida’s coast remains recognized as a threat to Western civilization.

“Our foreign policy toward Latin America must be rooted in defense of human rights, democracy, and free-market capitalism. This includes policies of maximum pressure on the brutal dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela to curb their communist expansionist vision and their undermining of legitimate, democratic governments throughout the hemisphere,” he said. “Our national security interests are intertwined with pro-freedom policies in Latin America. It’s time for President-elect Biden to make that commitment clear by nominating Cabinet appointees and senior foreign policy officials who share that vision for Latin America.”

The Senate committee, including Rubio, will play a role in confirming several appointments. That a prominent list of nominees including Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for Secretary of State.

No access for QAnon acolytes

QAnon conspiracy theory followers and participants in last week’s Capitol insurrection could be barred from obtaining or keeping national security jobs, or access classified information under a new bill offered by Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy. The Congresswoman introduced the Security Clearance Improvement Act of 2021 to revise the background check process to keep such people from receiving America’s national security clearances.

“Any individual who participated in the assault on the Capitol or who is a member of the conspiracy movement QAnon should be required to disclose this fact when applying to obtain or maintain a federal security clearance,” said Murphy, a former national security specialist at the Department of Defense who held high-level security clearance.

Stephanie Murphy wants any QAnon members to lose any right to security clearance. Image via AP.

“It is highly unlikely that such an individual will be found by investigators to have shown the conduct, character, and loyalty to the United States that is a prerequisite to holding a national security position and viewing classified information,” she added.

Murphy was referring to followers of the mysterious and possibly mythical leader known only as “Q” and the bizarre theories linking Democrats, journalists, the mysterious “Deep State” of the federal government, elitists, and networks of Satan-worshiping pedophiles, all in a giant conspiracy to traffic humans, run America and undermine Trump.

That might include at least a couple of Murphy’s Republican colleagues in the House, Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, both avowed QAnon followers in the past.

Steube eyes Section 230

After seeing Trump permanently banned from Twitter, then watching Parler shut down by its web host Amazon, Greg Steube said it’s time to place time limits on how much censorship major platforms may practice. The Sarasota Republican introduced the Curbing Abuse and Saving Expression in Technology Act (CASE-IT), which he said will demand equality for all political voices.

“The American people should all demand equal treatment, especially in the public square,” Steube said.

Moving forward, though, any subsequent debate on the behavior of social media platforms will indeed hinge on the question of what constitutes a public square. Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, and their ilk, are all private companies allowed to take down content from their servers or deny service to any user. But Steube said the communications platforms are becoming a central part of the marketplace of ideas.

Greg Steube is pushing to strip protections for social media platforms.

“Our country’s founding and entire system of government prides itself on our ability for citizens to have different views without being suppressed or censored,” he said. “Through this legislation, we can reform Section 230 and ensure that Big Tech will be held accountable for revoking accounts and selectively censoring conservative content on a partisan basis.”

That includes changes to the much-maligned Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act that provides liability protections to social media companies. Steube wants that legal immunity conditional for “market-dominant” social media companies and to require the major platforms to adhere to First Amendment standards with content moderation.

Fight, Frederica, fight

On the day honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., social media feeds Monday turned into a cascade of quotations and memes as politicians across the political spectrum embraced the assassinated civil rights leader’s message of equality.

But Miami Lake Democrat Frederica Wilson also spoke of King’s fighting spirit. In an interview with CBS4 News’ Jim DeFede, the Congresswoman spoke fondly of the progress made by Black Americans in past decades but saw many challenges ahead.

Frederica Wilson praises MLK’s fighting spirit.

“We wash our hands in the same sinks, we don’t ride in the back of the bus anymore, we go through the front door of restaurants, but all is not well,” she said.

Asked what King might demand of Congress in 2020, she rattled off a list of social justice initiatives. That included a bill to restore the Civil Rights Act named after former colleague and civil rights icon in his own right John Lewis. She saw many Trump-era policies undoing President Barack Obama’s policies to expand access; she wants to turn that trend around.

“We’ve got to breakdown some of these barriers, these Jim Crow laws that have been put in place over the years,” she said, “ … so Dr. King would be saying fight, Frederica, fight, and reverse all those tactics. You cannot give up.

On this day

Jan. 19, 1955 — “Dwight Eisenhower held first televised news conference” via The Baltimore Sun — The White House had authorized television and newsreel cameramen to “make sound movies of Presidential news conferences for possible public showings.” President Eisenhower‘s press secretary said the new policy would go into effect with the president’s weekly news conference. Press secretary James C. Hagerty explained to AP that the “new policy did not extend to ‘live’ telecasts.” An Army Signal Corps detail had been making sound recordings of presidential news conferences for several years. In 1954, the White House instituted a policy whereby sections of the recordings were released for later use by radio and TV but without film.

Jan. 19, 1989 — “George Steinbrenner pardoned by Ronald Reagan for 1972 election law violations” via The New York Times — President Reagan pardoned Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, for convictions connected with illegal contributions to the 1972 campaign of Richard M. Nixon, a White House official disclosed. Steinbrenner, whose public berating of his players has often upstaged the team, was convicted in the election law case in 1974. He was fined $15,000 but did not go to jail. The pardons amount to official forgiveness for people who have already been punished for the crimes. Patricia Hearst Shaw, the newspaper heir, and Armand Hammer, the industrialist, have sought pardons from Reagan but were not included in the names disclosed.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Gimenez, who turned 67 on Jan. 17.

Staff Reports


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