- 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
Is offshore oil drilling the third rail of Florida politics? It has seemed that way for decades. Sure, there was a short period before the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico when leaders flirted with “safe” exploration. But since that ecological disaster caused a political earthquake, the delegation spoke largely with one voice on the subject of seeking crude oil off the coast.
So things stand at this early stage of the 117th Congress. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott made clear where they stood Friday when the Florida Republicans filed the Florida Shores Protection and Fairness Act, legislation to extend a moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico through 2032, and even deliver revenue to the state should any permits be allowed in portions of the Gulf near oil-friendly states like Texas and Louisiana.
“I urge my colleagues to move this legislation swiftly through the Senate and House so that Florida’s natural resources and economy remain shielded from the threat of offshore oil drilling,” Rubio said.
The current moratorium came courtesy of the Donald Trump administration, which carved Florida out of an offshore energy plan after a high-profile 2018 meeting of then-Gov. Scott and then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Scott wants the course to stay the same.
“We will never stop fighting to preserve and protect Florida’s natural resources so the state can remain a top destination for families, visitors and businesses,” added Scott.
What has changed is the makeup of the Senate. Florida’s GOP Senators notably filed the bill two days after Democrats formally secured a majority in the chamber. That’s significant considering this piece of legislation’s history. Rubio filed it before, in 2017 and 2019, but both times it died in the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, never seeing a vote in Mitch McConnell’s Senate. Will it fair better in Chuck Schumer’s?
There’s a reason for hope.
The House in 2019 passed a similar ban on drilling in the East Gulf championed by Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, and then-Rep. Francis Rooney, a Naples Republican. Like in the Senate, similar bills languished in the House under GOP control for years, but Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed it to move forward after the 2018 blue wave shifted control of the House. The bill passed then with the support of 22 Republicans, 13 of them hail from Florida. Only one Florida Congressman voted no, since-retired Rep. Ted Yoho. Should the delegation remain locked arm-in-arm on the issue, it should pass in the House again.
Can the same be said for the Senate? Notably, just as the subject of oil drilling can prompt even the most hard-right Florida Republican to buck leadership and Big Oil, there were five Democrats who voted against a drilling ban in the House last time around. Quite likely, Democrats in the Senate from Western states may do the same, countering Scott and Rubio. There’s also the question of whether the GOP minority in the Senate would find the issue worth fighting with the filibuster.
Florida Politics reached out to Schumer’s office to see if the New York Democrat even wanted the bill to advance, but no response arrived before press time.
Still, President Joe Biden certainly made his thoughts known early on whether America needs more drills in the ocean. He canceled the Keystone XL Pipeline permit and put a 60-day moratorium via executive order on any new Gulf permits. That signals the Oval Office likely welcomes legislation codifying a no-drilling policy offshore.
Rubio tackles McKinsey & Co.
Rubio took aim this week at one of the most prominent consulting firms in the world. The Miami Republican expressed outrage after McKinsey & Company forbade its employees in Moscow from protesting the arrest of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
In a letter to Kevin Sneader, McKinsey’s global managing partner, Rubio took the firm to task slamming the dissent-silencing actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This episode raises serious questions about McKinsey’s core values and corporate culture,” Rubio wrote. “ … With every new report of McKinsey & Company’s work with authoritarian regimes, I grow increasingly concerned about its work on behalf of the U.S. Government.”
Rubio also trashed work done by McKinsey on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, and last year sent an inquiry into all ties between the firm and China.
The latest attempts to silence criticism of Putin should alarm the world, Rubio asserts. “As the initial guidance emailed to Moscow-based employees suggests, the company is little more than a tool for authoritarian repression,” he wrote.
It’s clear the Senator, ranking member for the Senate Intelligence Committee, holds little love for McKinsey. But the company holds enormous sway and once employed many individuals who now serve on the Hill. Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, stands among McKinsey alums in the upper chamber. So does Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s pick for Transportation Secretary.
‘Blue state bailouts’
For months, Scott railed against “blue state bailouts.” Now he wants the Federal Emergency Management Agency to look into whether newly-installed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer just siphoned emergency funding into state coffers for general use.
In a letter to FEMA officials Bob Fenton and Mary Ann Tierney, the former Florida Governor, notes he boasts a stronger working understanding of disaster spending than most in Washington thanks to several hurricanes making landfall in Florida during his tenure.
“The work of FEMA is critical to our nation in times of crisis, and I believe it is incredibly important that we ensure nothing is done to diminish the ability of your team to quickly respond when your support is needed,” the Naples Republican wrote.
“Unfortunately, I fear that just such an action is being planned. I write today out of concern following reports that President Biden is working with Sen. Schumer to give New York City and the State of New York $2 billion in additional FEMA emergency funding. They claim this funding is to address fallout from the coronavirus, when in fact it would be used to address budget shortfalls caused by decades of fiscal mismanagement by the city and state.”
Scott fears Schumer, a New York Democrat, will leave no checks on how money tied to COVID-19 response will be used after it reaches Albany. The Florida Senator asked a series of pointed questions demanding clarity on what funds will be drawn from and whether it will impact disaster relief fund reserves. He also wants assurances no disaster funding can be used to backfill state government budgets that may be running short due to years of financial mismanagement.
Democrats ding DeSantis
Most Democrats in the Florida delegation issued a letter Friday to Gov. Ron DeSantis, a former House colleague, suggesting Florida has been slow to provide COVID-19 vaccines.
The missive, signed by Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Al Lawson, Kathy Castor, Darren Soto, Charlie Crist and Val Demings, said the Governor needs to provide more consistent and robust information to the public on how to get vaccinations and to make sure citizens can book appointments.
“The state has not been transparent about its distribution plan. Despite publishing a preliminary plan in October 2020, the state has not shared written updates to the plan,” the letter reads. “Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees recently made public statements indicating that the department is relying on your Dec. 23, 2020, Executive Order, which merely lists three priority categories and does not lay out a comprehensive distribution strategy.”
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control reported more than a million unused vaccines are still on hold for Florida. Members of Congress suggested that makes it hard for federal representatives to argue Florida needs more vaccines pronto, even if it probably does.
The letter did muster praise for one member of DeSantis’ administration, Jared Moskowitz, incidentally the most high-profile Democrat working for the Republican Governor. But the Democrats in the delegation allege DeSantis needs to book more vaccine appointments. In addition to sluggish administration of inoculations, the members allege there’s a growing sense of favoritism “creating a perception of unfairness and political motivation.”
Gaetz v. Cheney
Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz, for most of the last year, wanted Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney out as chair of the House Republican Conference. But since Cheney joined with nine other Republicans to impeach Trump, he’s stepped up the push.
The Fort Walton Beach Congressman will fly to Wyoming for an event this Thursday in Cheyenne to denounce Cheney in front of her own state’s Capitol. While Gaetz said he’s not trying to make room in leadership for himself, he’s clearly not happy seeing her as the No. 3 member of the caucus.
“I do not want her job. I unequivocally am not seeking a position in House Leadership,” he tweeted. “I also know Wyoming can do better.”
Gaetz said there are 115 members out of the 211 House Republicans who agree with him and support Cheney’s removal from leadership. But others certainly take umbrage at Gaetz’s insubordination.
“To be clear here, some in the Freedom Club (not all, some) have been trying to cancel Rep. Liz Cheney for years,” said Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger, who also backed impeachment. “She doesn’t bend to their intimidation, because after all, they aren’t that intimidating.”
In the past, Gaetz said he’s not part of the Freedom Caucus but frequently works with members, responded by tweeting he’s wanted Cheney out since she backed a primary challenge to Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie.
“She told us we are all-clear to campaign against one another in primaries. So that’s what may happen,” Gaetz said. “I don’t find it intimidating at all.”
Cammack to Agriculture, Homeland Security
Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack, who rode to Congress in part on a story of the loss of her family’s cattle ranch, will serve on the House Agriculture Committee. She will also be a member of the Homeland Security Committee in the House.
“From improving and expanding access to rural broadband to increasing border security and emergency preparedness, these committees will give me great opportunities to continue to fight for [Florida’s 3rd Congressional District],” Cammack tweeted Tuesday.
That’s going to be crucial for protecting the interests of Cammack’s largely rural district. A former staffer to predecessor Ted Yoho, she also walks into the committee with a working knowledge of the mechanics of Congress.
All of Florida’s freshman Congressmen learned about committee assignments this week. All those announced enthusiasm for the coming work.
Republican Rubio and Kissimmee Democrat Soto are leading a bipartisan effort to bring relief to coral reefs throughout American waters.
Rubio introduced a bill in the Senate, and Soto (with other Representatives from oceanic states and territories) introduced a similar measure in the House this week to reauthorize the Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000 and to establish the United States Coral Reef Task Force.
Soto’s bill, House Resolution 160, was co-sponsored by Palm City Republican Brian Mast, Hawaii Democrat Ed Case, Virgin Island Democrat Stacey Plaskett, Puerto Rico Republican Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, and American Samoa Republican Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen.
Rubio’s bill had not yet been assigned a number Tuesday morning.
“Our Florida coral reefs are a national treasure that contain part of the most diverse ecosystems on earth,” Soto stated in a news release from his office. “We’ve witnessed how the effects of climate change, overfishing, pollution and development have threatened the vitality of coral reefs around our coasts. Protecting our environment, specifically preserving the precious habitats for marine life, should not have an expiration date.”
Rubio said in the release that he’d seen the reefs’ devastating condition firsthand when touring the Florida Keys.
“This important bipartisan bill will ensure federal agencies are partnering effectively with state and local governments, as well as the communities who rely on the vitality of these critical habitats,” he said.
Mast credited the reefs with offering protection to coastal communities from hurricanes and devastating flooding.
“Restoring and conserving these reefs will also promote healthier ecosystems, protect aquatic habitats and support our marine life,” he said. “That’s what this bill is all about.”
Franklin to Armed Services
Lakeland Republican Scott Franklin landed on the House Armed Services Committee, an assignment embraced by the Navy pilot. Franklin spent decades in a flight suit, 14 years in active duty, and 12 in the Reserves, so the U.S. Naval Academy graduate fought for this post. He issued a grateful statement thanking Ranking Member Mike Rogers, an Alabama Republican, for drafting him to the panel.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be named as a member of the House Armed Services Committee,” Franklin said. “My 26 years of experience and leadership in the United States Navy provided a great training ground to apply my skills as a member of this esteemed committee. Florida contributes a great deal to our nation’s military readiness, and it’s an honor for me to serve our military members in this capacity in Congress.”
Florida’s 15th Congressional District may not serve as home to a base itself, but it’s nearby MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, which houses Central Command, Operations Command, and the 6th Air Refueling Wing. The state has always been a popular home base to military members, with 92,249 active duty military members living here at the moment.
“I’m grateful for Rep. Scott Franklin’s years of service to our country in the Navy,” Roger said. “His experiences bring a unique perspective to the House Armed Services Committee, and I’m looking forward to working with him to support our brave men and women in uniform.”
Buchanan bashes Big Tech
As President Biden ponders appointments to lead the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission, Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan hopes he appoints individuals willing to rein in Big Tech. The delegation co-chair sent a letter making a bipartisan appeal to stop an “assault against free speech and free enterprise.”
“Silencing the speech of millions of Americans because they have a different opinion sets an extremely dangerous precedent that goes against our nation’s founding principles,” Buchanan said.
The move highlights a significant shift in Republican posture after the Trump administration. Decades after the Ronald Reagan administration stopped enforcement of a “Fairness Doctrine” that required equal time for views broadcast on public airwaves, allowing for the rise of dedicated conservative talk radio stations, there are now demands that social media companies face requirements to give a platform to specific points of view. This spawned a groundswell of concern on the right about Section 230, which grants platforms near-complete legal immunity for content published while granting the ability to censor posts.
The drumbeat for change only increased among Republicans after most social media platforms suspended Trump, including Twitter, and shut down several right-wing accounts after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
“While social media companies should be empowered to remove illegal and threatening content from their platforms, it is clear that current protections under Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934 are too often used to silence content that companies may disagree with,” Buchanan wrote in his letter.
But the Congressman also noted it’s not just conservatives concerned about the unadulterated power of Big Tech. He said House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, voiced concerns some companies act as ruthless monopolies. The New Yorker in October said, “There is a clear and compelling need for Congress and the antitrust enforcement agencies to take action that restores competition, improves innovation, and safeguards our democracy.”
While the left and right seem to have different priorities on how to rein in Big Tech, there’s at least some agreement it needs to happen.
A flag for Emma
Support for law enforcement should start at a young age, according to Sarasota Republican Greg Steube. This weekend, the Congressman announced he was honoring a 9-year-old girl, identified only as Emma of Punta Gorda in a news release, for her efforts to back the blue.
That came after the girl handed out 250 homemade blue line flags to law enforcement officers working around the state of Florida. In addition to handing out flags in her home of Charlotte County, she also presented the black and blue colors in Alachua, Collier, Columbia, DeSoto, Hamilton, Hendry, Lee, Levy, Madison, Manatee, Polk, Sarasota and Suwanee counties.
“I am honored to have the privilege to represent outstanding constituents such as Emma,” Steube said. “Her effort to show appreciation comes during a time when law enforcement officers across the country face threats and physical attacks from those calling to defund the police. Emma should be a role model for all Floridians and Americans in standing up to defend the police, not defund them.”
Steube’s father, Brad Steube, served for years as Manatee County Sheriff, so strong law enforcement roots are in the Congressman’s background.
Emma was the first constituent of Florida’s 17th Congressional District to be awarded by Steube with an FL-17 MVP Award. Still, he intends to spotlight one person a month with the honor that recognizes her significant contribution to the community. For her efforts, Emma will also get a flag of her own, a Stars and Stripes flew in her honor over the U.S. Capitol.
Donalds to Budget
Byron Donalds will serve on the powerful House Budget Committee. In addition, the Naples Republican also picked up spots on the Oversight and Reform Committee and the Small Business Committee.
“The opportunity to serve my constituents on these three committees is a tremendous honor, and I look forward to continuing to bring conservative and common-sense ideas to the table that enhance and empower the lives of the American people,” Donalds said.
“As a member of these distinguished committees, I will ensure the federal government is working efficiently and effectively for every American. This Congress, I will strive to achieve bipartisan solutions for the mounting issues facing the American people, prioritize transparency and accountability, and invigorate access to the American dream fostering better lives, better communities, and a better America.”
Those will be powerful perches from which the Naples Republican can govern. The Budget Committee drafts the annual concurrent resolution on the budget that provides a Congressional framework for all spending and revenue levels, the federal surplus or deficit, and public debt.
This will be where many issues may also be set through the budget reconciliation process, and the budget resolution also can include mechanisms for enforcing budget procedures. The Committee will be the main stop in the Chamber for scrutinizing Biden’s annual budget request, as well as any economic projections from the Congressional Budget Office.
Giménez to Transportation Committee
Miami Republican Carlos Giménez joined the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for his freshman term. Giménez won the seat in Florida’s 26th Congressional District after serving eight years as Miami-Dade County Mayor.
“I am confident we will be able to move important policies forward in this committee in a thoughtful, deliberate, and bipartisan way,” Giménez said.
Giménez will serve in his new committee role and work as an assistant whip for the House GOP. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will tackle air travel and port issues, two areas critical to South Florida’s economy. CD 26 spans parts of Miami-Dade County and all of Monroe County.
“The work my colleagues and I will do in this committee over the course of the next Congress will have a meaningful impact on South Florida’s communities, helping to bolster and protect our airports, secure and expand our ports, and ensure better and more efficient mobility with improved highways, bridges, and mass transit systems,” Giménez said in a Monday statement.
“Not only does improving and safeguarding our infrastructure help accelerate economic growth and create good-paying jobs here in America, it helps strengthen defense of America’s national security. As Mayor of Miami-Dade County, I had a front-row seat to state-owned Chinese companies maneuvering to bid on contracts for pieces of infrastructure important to our communities and our nation. These efforts must be stopped, and we must protect America’s control over our critical infrastructure.”
Ranking Committee Member Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican, welcomed Giménez to the committee in a separate statement.
“His background in working across the aisle to improve Miami-Dade’s infrastructure will be an asset to our efforts,” Graves said. “I look forward to working with Rep. Giménez on these important issues.”
Giménez fills one of 31 Republican slots on the committee. The body expects to begin meeting in early March.
Foreign Affairs for Salazar
Miami Republican María Elvira Salazar is joining the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Like Giménez, Salazar is a freshman member representing parts of Miami-Dade County. Salazar, a former broadcaster, was born in the county’s Little Havana area to two Cuban exiles.
“South Floridians truly understand the value of freedom and democracy. I will fight tirelessly to stand-up to the brutal regimes in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies like Israel, Colombia, and Taiwan,” Salazar said in a Tuesday statement.
“My community is home to thousands of men and women who fled tyranny and oppression. For over 30 years, I dedicated my career in journalism to covering the brutality, cruelty, and inhumanity of the socialist dictatorships that have destroyed so many nations throughout the world. As the daughter of exiles who fled the evil [Fidel] Castro regime, it is the honor of a lifetime to serve on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and fight for our American values of freedom, democracy, and respect for Human Rights.”
In November, Salazar won the seat in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, defeating one-term Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala in a rematch of the 2018 contest.
Texas Republican Michael McCaul, the ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, also issued a statement welcoming Salazar to the panel.
“María has great experience in foreign policy, including her Emmy Award-winning career in journalism where she went toe-to-toe with Latin America’s most ruthless tyrants,” McCaul said. “She will be an important voice on our committee, and I look forward to working closely with her to advance U.S. interests around the world.”
A personal loss
A death in the political world hit close to home for Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart.
Acting U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Nilda Pedrosa died this weekend from an “aggressive” cancer at age 46. The daughter of Miami had played a significant role in several Florida Republican campaigns through the years. She had worked in the State Department under former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo since September. Before that, she served in Diaz-Balart’s office as the Congressman’s chief of staff.
“Heartbroken over the tragic passing of an extraordinary friend, colleague, mother and wife,” Diaz-Balart wrote on the news. “Nilda Pedrosa was my Chief of Staff for many years — she touched the lives of many and leaves behind an everlasting legacy. Praying for her husband, children and entire family.”
Pedrosa, a native of Miami who graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes Academy, Miami-Dade College and Florida International University, and had ties through Florida and Washington. Before working in the State Department, she served as chief of staff to former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
She leaves behind her husband Eliot and two children, Elias and Emma.
On this day
Jan. 26, 1998 — “’I did not have sexual relations with that woman’” via U.S. News and World Report — Bill Clinton famously told the nation, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” Clinton later confessed that he did indeed have an “improper physical relationship” with Monica Lewinsky, a 24-year-old White House intern. For his deceit, Clinton became the second president in American history impeached by the House of Representatives — the second step required for removal from office, a Senate trial, failed to eject Clinton. The impeachment remains controversial, with many supporters arguing that Clinton’s personal life should not have been a public issue.
Jan. 26, 1802 — “An act concerning the Library of Congress” via U.S. Capitol Visitor Center — Establishing a Congressional library became a priority when the government moved to the new federal city of Washington, D.C., in November 1800. During the time Congress had been meeting in New York City and Philadelphia, it had relied upon private libraries in these well-established cities. President Thomas Jefferson appointed John Beckley, the clerk of the House of Representatives, as the first librarian of Congress.