- Al Lawson
- Alcee Hastings
- Carlos Gimenez
- Charlie Crist
- congressional delegation
- Darren Soto
- Debbie Wasserman Schultz
- Gus Bilirakis
- Joe Biden
- Kathy Castor
- Lois Frankel
- Maria Elvira Salazar
- Mario Diaz-Balart
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Ron DeSantis
- Stephanie Murphy
- Ted Deutch
- vaccination plan
- Val Demings
Calls for unity
The Joe Biden era officially launched in Washington. After four years of high emotion and division during Donald Trump’s turn in the Oval Office, the theme of national unity dominated inauguration events of the week. Biden himself uttered the word ‘unity’ eight separate times during his Wednesday inaugural address — one delivered during a ceremony where Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, shared emcee duties with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat and Biden’s former primary opponent.
But for all the effort to bring a nation together after a bitter election, there remain questions about what shape unity will take in a Biden administration.
Biden comes into office after 147 Republican members of Congress, including 12 Florida Representatives and one of its Senators, objected to certifying the President’s election victory. Less than a week before Biden took his oath of office, the House impeached Trump on a near party-line vote, with all Democrats in Florida’s delegation in favor and all Republicans voting nay.
Still, even those Republicans who contested the election’s results made their way to the Capitol lawn. Reps. Kat Cammack and Byron Donalds, who both objected to electors for Biden from two states, snapped a picture together at the inauguration. Democrats shared the lawn, as well. “Central Florida game strong!” tweeted Rep. Stephanie Murphy, with a pic alongside fellow Orlando area Dems Darren Soto and Val Demings, who attended with husband and Orange County Mayor Jerry. But pictures of Democrats and Republicans side-by-side were hard to find on social media.
What shape does unity take? Notably, it’s not just bipartisanship and centrism. Check Vice President Kamala Harris’ evening address during the “Celebration of America.” She referenced the Transcontinental Railroad construction during Abraham Lincoln’s tenure or Martin Luther King Jr’s fight for economic justice. The reference to assassinated icons longed not for a time without division but as a reminder that progress is achievable in the most divisive times.
What does all this mean for the delegation?
Notably, Democrats not only took over the White House but added three Senators Wednesday, barely securing a majority (courtesy of Harris’ tiebreaking vote) in the upper chamber of Congress. But in a year when Democrats won full control of the elected branches of government, Republicans enjoyed dominance in Florida. Both U.S. Senators from the Sunshine State wear red, and the GOP holds a 16-11 edge in the state House.
Of course, Republicans arrive with mandates; they demand that they will act as loyal opposition if they can’t move forward with a conservative agenda.
“President Biden struck an important tone of national unity, and I believe that they were sincere,” said Sen. Marco Rubio in a Senate floor speech. “But pursuing a radical agenda in a divided country will not contribute to unity; it’s cynicism that destroys trust.
Filibustering the filibuster?
While Democrats enjoy the slimmest possible margin in the Senate, the change in the level of power for GOP Sens. Rubio and Rick Scott remains in question (as of this writing).
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell remains locked in negotiations with Democratic Leader Charles Schumer about the Senate organization.
The last — and only other time in Senate history — the chamber divided 50-50 came in 2000. Then Democrats took control of the chamber for only 17 days before Vice President Al Gore left office; then Republicans came back into power. They then negotiated organizational rules — with little notice. However, one important provision proved important later: allowing Democrats to take over all committee chairs the following year after Sen. Jim Jeffords, a Vermont Republican, left his party to caucus with Democrats. That’s all to say an organizing resolution in the Senate could be extremely consequential over the next two years.
Almost certainly, Democrats will end up chairing committees in the Senate, meaning Rubio will lose his chairmanship of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee to Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin and his Intelligence Committee acting chairmanship to Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner. He will maintain ranking member status on both panels.
But so far, nothing has changed as the negotiations continue. McConnell seems most interested in preserving the filibuster. For his part, Rubio reminded leadership of the bipartisan support of keeping the filibuster, something he supported even when Republicans held the majority.
Of note, both Scott and Rubio, which issuing some charged statements about the new President’s “radical agenda,” also made clear this week they won’t be full-time obstructionists. Rubio missed the inauguration but only to lead Intelligence Committee hearings to confirm Avril Haines as Biden’s new Director of National Intelligence. From his seat on the Commerce Committee, Scott offered praise during confirmation hearings for Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg.
Back to immigration
One arena where Biden’s policy plans will see the most significant shift is in immigration.
That’s an issue where Rubio, a one-time member of the Gang of Eight, has long walked the fine line between welcoming legal migration and avoiding an influx of economic refugees. In a Fox News Radio interview ahead of the inauguration, Rubio expressed distinct skepticism on Biden’s plan for an eight-year path to citizenship.
“When you send out a message that people are able to come here and stay even if they’re here illegally, you’re going to encourage more people to come,” Rubio told host Brian Kilmeade. “But here’s the bottom line. Like most Americans, I believe we need to have immigration. Immigration is good for this country. But it has to be via a system of laws.”
For years, Rubio pushed to help those protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). He listed the legal ways Biden can soften America’s immigration policies post-Trump. But he didn’t embrace too lax a course. “If you announce that you’re not going to enforce the law, what you are basically doing is not just being nice to the people who are here, you are inviting more people to come because they know once they get in, they’re going to be able to stay for a long time,” Rubio said.
The Senator suggested foreign aid to more neighbors in the Western Hemisphere could help nearby nations’ prosperity. “If a factory that makes certain things is now in China, in Vietnam, and it’s never going to be in America, for economic reasons or what have you, it probably is good for it to be in El Salvador, Honduras,” Rubio said.
“We don’t have a Costa Rican illegal immigration problem. Frankly, we don’t have a Mexican illegal immigration problem right now the way we once did. People are primarily coming from Central America and then some other places like Cuba … But there are plenty of countries in the Western Hemisphere that are not sources of illegal immigration because people don’t feel compelled to have to leave those countries.”
Scott generally praised a series of last-minute foreign relations decisions by the Trump administration’s State Department, including one by now-former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to classify China’s oppression of the Uyghurs as genocide. The move came after reports the Chinese government detained as many as 2 million within the Muslim ethnic minority in internment camps.
“Since at least March 2017, local authorities dramatically escalated their decadeslong campaign of repression against Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, including ethnic Kazakhs and ethnic Kyrgyz,” Pompeo said Tuesday.
Since taking office in 2019, Scott repeatedly leveled criticisms of the Chinese Communist Party in control of the Eastern superpower.
“We know what’s happening in Communist China is a genocide,” Scott said.
“The CCP has established hundreds of concentration camps in order to imprison, torture, and enslave Uyghurs living in Xinjiang. Through torture, the CCP threatens Uyghurs to forsake their language, their faith and their culture. I’ve been calling for strong action for months, and I’m glad the Administration listened and took a stand today against murderous dictators and let the world know this won’t be tolerated. The United States is the greatest supporter of freedom and democracy in the world, and we will never stop fighting to end human rights abuses. I urge every freedom-loving nation to do the same.”
The timing of the State movement and Scott’s statement, of course, also set up a test for the Biden administration. While the U.S. posture toward China remains one area where political observers expect little change from the Trump administration, Florida’s junior Senator has made clear he wants the new powers in Washington to pay attention to this situation in Xinjiang and hold to a hard line.
Shoring up shore funds
St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz enjoyed a policy victory on Tuesday, helping secure $250.5 million from the Army Corps of Engineers for water restoration. The funding came through some of the last exertions of Trump’s Work Plan for the Everglades.
Waltz worked with other Northeast Florida members of the delegation, including Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford and Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson. The three jointly sent a letter last October to the Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Director Ricky James regarding the St. Johns Shore Protection Project. Funding covers a $500,000 feasibility study on addressing shoreline issues for North Ponte Vedra Beach.
And last March, several delegation members lobbied the Army Corps to $250 million for the Everglades. More than $150 million of the allotment will pay for engineering work on the Indian River Lagoon’s southern portion.
“Following the severe coastal erosion and flooding from Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, we have worked tirelessly to secure commitments from the federal government to help restore our beaches,” Waltz said. “The New Start designation is a major commitment from the federal government to help restore and protect our coastal communities.”
COVID tax breaks
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy is touting a nonpartisan congressional office’s analysis that says her COVID-19 relief measure could save 13 million American jobs.
The new Joint Committee on Taxation report says the expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit she spearheaded as part of the most recent COVID relief bill will help over 6 million businesses retain or rehire over 13 million workers over the next six month, according to her office.
According to the JCT estimate, businesses will claim over $35 billion in employee retention tax credits, with small businesses employing fewer than 500 workers claiming the vast majority of those federal benefits.
Murphy, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced a bill in May to expand the tax credit, then shepherded it into the COVID-19 relief bill finally approved in December.
“This job-saving tool will help millions of businesses, especially smaller businesses, retain or rehire millions of American workers during this pandemic, keeping these workers connected to their jobs and to their employer-sponsored health insurance,” Murphy stated in a news release.
Pinellas Republican Gus Bilirakis was named ranking member of the House Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
That makes Bilirakis the leading GOP House voice for consumer protection, interstate, and foreign commerce, data security, privacy matters, product safety and liability, and motor vehicle safety.
The committee also has oversight of one of the hot-buttons of partisan politics in the past year, regulating social media.
In a news release, Bilirakis vowed to use his oversight to “protect Americans from predatory scams, investigate potential social media monopolies, encourage and spur innovation of emerging technologies, and defend against security breaches involving sensitive consumer data.”
The panel also covers various commercial activities, including sports, travel, tourism and time.
Bilirakis said the position provides him “a unique opportunity to help the travel and tourism industry — which is vital to Florida’s economy and job market — as it seeks to fully rebound from the pandemic.”
No deportation for Venezuelans
If there’s any sign Trump has genuinely become a South Florida Republican, it may be the last-minute decision to offer Venezuelan refugees protection through an 18-month Deferred Enforced Departure program. While Republicans in the Senate long blocked legislation offering protected status to Venezuelans, Republican lawmakers from the Sunshine State have championed such a move.
Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart heralded the Trump administration move with statements released in Spanish and English.
“President Trump has guaranteed that those Venezuelans who sought safety in the United States will not be returned to the dictatorship, where they could be subject to persecution, human rights abuses, or even death,” Diaz-Balart said. “Today’s action is a fitting continuation of a foreign policy that champions human rights and democracy while standing up to dictators in our hemisphere.”
Two Miami Republicans joined him: Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar. Giménez placed much of the credit for convincing the administration on Diaz-Balart’s shoulders. “This could not have been achieved without my friend Mario Diaz-Balart championing DED for the people of Venezuela over the last several years,” he tweeted.
Rubio and Scott issued tweets of thanks to Trump for the shift and Scott condemning the Nicolás Maduro regime in the South American nation.
“The United States stands with VZ, and we will not back down,” Scott tweeted.
First-term Congress members Giménez and Salazar will serve as assistant whips in the 117th Congress after House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana selected them for his team.
“In order to move this country forward, we need to ensure policies enacted by this Congress promote what the American people fundamentally care about — lowering taxes and cutting needless regulation, keeping our communities and country safe from our enemies, rebuilding America’s infrastructure, and beating COVID-19 once and for all,” Giménez said.
“The only way to achieve that is by governing our nation responsibly and forcefully rejecting any attempts by the extremists in the House from hijacking the legislative process.”
Members of the whip team are responsible for pushing fellow Republicans to vote in line with the party. The position is a notable honor for the two Florida lawmakers, both freshmen.
Giménez joined the House after serving eight years as Miami-Dade County Mayor. This past November, he won the seat in Florida’s 26th Congressional District, which covers part of Miami-Dade County and all of Monroe County.
“I’m excited to announce Carlos’s addition to the Whip team as an Assistant Whip,” Scalise added Wednesday.
“With a historically thin margin between Republicans and Democrats in the House, it’s more important than ever for us to stick together against Democrats’ radical schemes. Carlos has an impressive background in local government after serving as the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, and his experience will make an immediate impact as we reopen and rebuild our local economies. Carlos will be a key member of our team, and I look forward to working together over this Congress.”
Salazar represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District, which also spans parts of Miami-Dade County.
“I’m deeply humbled by the opportunity to serve as a leader among my Republican colleagues and look forward to doing my part to unite our party,” Salazar said.
“I’m excited to welcome Maria to the Whip Team for the 117th Congress,” Scalise added.
“I know she will be an effective member of our team as we work to push back against [Nancy] Pelosi’s radical agenda.”
The end of the Trump administration means the beginning of his post-presidency. The National Archives on Wednesday, within hours of the end of the President’s term, launched the beginnings of the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library.
For the moment, that’s not a physical space. But historians can already access a digital archive of the White House website during his four years in office. There’s also a social media archive, though it only includes official government accounts such as the feed for @POTUS, not Trump’s preferred personal handle @realDonaldTrump, which has been suspended by Twitter.
The National Archives have official Flickr archives of photographs documenting the tenure of the Republican commander in chief.
More will come online in time. The Presidential Records Act will allow a considerable chunk of records and data to hit the public sphere five years after his term, or on Jan. 26, 2020.
Eventually, a physical library will be established that chronicles the Trump years in exhibition form, and many supporters in Florida would like it located near Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida home. But the future of that project won’t be headed by the Archives, which will keep organized the physical records in the National Capital Region. Any questions about a Presidential Center or a Museum will be headed by the official Office of Donald J. Trump.
Trump’s one late move before leaving office: making sure those working in his administration can still find jobs in Washington. He released all current and former staffers from an ethics pledge that included a five-year ban on lobbying former agencies, The Associated Press reports.
That’s certainly helpful for Tate Bennett, who just took a job as senior vice president for lobbying firm Forbes Tate. Bennett advised Trump in agriculture, trade and food assistance programs, and had led a coronavirus food assistance program. She was recently added quietly to the major lobbying firm’s roster, Popular Information reports. Her bio now appears on the website, though her headshot does not, and no news release went wide announcing the hire, which actually came before Trump dumped his ‘Drain The Swamp’ executive order.
Of course, Bennett has other experience as well, including working for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But she now will be able to lobby the government on matters in which she worked for the Trump administration. But notably, there’s agitation already in the Washington lobby corps about how much firms should rely on members of the unpopular Trump squad after the twice-impeached president left office. Indeed, Congress is already investigating whether the coronavirus food program led by Bennett wasted money sending personal letters with food boxes that cost the federal government about $60 apiece.
As for rules on current administration members, Biden on Thursday issued his own order to stop the spin of the revolving door between Pennsylvania Avenue and K Street. But it’s anyone’s guess whether that lasts beyond the close of his own term.
On this day
Jan. 22, 1973 — “Roe v. Wade decision” via CBS Evening News — The Supreme Court today legalized abortion. A majority ruling in Texas and Georgia cases said that the decision to end a pregnancy during the first three months belongs to a woman and her doctor, not the government. Thus the anti-abortion laws of 46 states were rendered unconstitutional. In two related cases and eight separate opinions, the nine justices made abortion mostly a private matter. They ordered the states to make no laws forbidding it, except possibly during the final months.
Jan. 22, 1807 — “Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr and the American way of treason” via Smithsonian Magazine — Without mentioning Burr by name, Jefferson issued a proclamation stating that a traitorous conspiracy had been uncovered. He called on “all persons whatsoever engaged or concerned in the same to cease all further proceedings therein as they will answer the contrary at their peril.” The House of Representatives requested Jefferson to present evidence in support of his claims. Although he saw this request as an affront to his administration, Jefferson nevertheless complied, identifying Burr by name and stating that he was an “arch conspirator” and traitor whose “guilt is placed beyond all question.”