- Al Lawson
- Alcee Hastings
- Bill Nelson
- Brian Mast
- Carlos Gimenez
- Charlie Crist
- congressional delegation
- Darren Soto
- Debbie Wasserman Schultz
- Gus Bilirakis
- Joe Biden
- Kathy Castor
- Kevin McCarthy
- Lois Frankel
- Maria Elvira Salazar
- Mario Diaz-Balart
- Marjorie Taylor Greene
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Ron DeSantis
- Stephanie Murphy
- Ted Deutch
- vaccination plan
- Val Demings
A stimulus package backed by President Joe Biden is a test on the new administration and its plan to govern on politically sensitive issues.
It also marks a chance for members of Florida’s delegation to signal how much — or how little — they plan to work with the new President.
Before Biden took office, Sen. Marco Rubio urged him to support a clean stimulus bill to deliver $1,400 to American households on top of $600 also approved under former President Donald Trump. But he expressed immediate disappointment when Biden headed another way and tied the payments to Democratic priorities like boosting the federal minimum wage.
“Please do not allow direct payments to the American people to get caught up in the normal political games by adding a wish list of far-left or other unrelated priorities to this legislation,” the Miami Republican said.
But he’s been mum since on how he will greet a deal that soon makes its way through Congress and that Biden wants set for March. The President’s package, priced at $1.9 trillion, has generated heartburn on Capitol Hill. Biden did agree to meet with a group of 10 Republican Senators who favor a much cheaper proposal.
Notably, neither Rubio nor Sen. Rick Scott appears to be attending that party.
Meanwhile, Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, labeled the Democratic proposal “outrageous” and told Fox News that if blue states reopened their economy like Florida, there would be no need for stimulus checks at all. But it’s not like House leadership is listening. ”The Democrats aren’t talking to our side of the aisle. They don’t want to deal with our side of the aisle,” he said. “They are just pushing it through, thinking that they are helping, but the only thing they are doing is making matters worse.”
Democrats, though, see the significance in moving forward with several measures they believe will help the American people while the economy struggles to recover from the coronavirus.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy said there’s a mandate to move ahead on issues like increasing wages. The Winter Park Democrat said she’s interfaced directly with Vice President Kamala Harris and said negotiations about COVID relief have been positive between Congress and the White House.
“This kind of partnership between Congress and the Biden administration will be crucial in the fight to end this devastating pandemic,” she tweeted.
Scott’s road to DACA
Scott quickly set himself apart as one of Biden’s ardent critics, but there’s one issue where he’s closer to the new administration than the old. The Naples Republican announced he’s filing legislation to provide permanent protection to recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Dreamers).
“One of the most moving experiences of my life has been watching new American citizens say the Pledge of Allegiance at their naturalization ceremony. I’ve always said that getting immigration reform done becomes a lot easier once our border is secure and we have a permanent solution for DACA,” he said.
“Today, I am proud to announce that I am filing a bill that provides a permanent solution to the many people in the DACA program and provides tens of billions of dollars in long-term funding for our Southern border wall and border security personnel.”
That sounds like Scott would instead provide citizenship to kids raised in America no matter how they arrived. But he made sure to couch his comments in a way that would still take Biden to task on immigration.
“My proposal will give our law enforcement and Border Patrol the resources they need to do their job, protect American families and stem the tide of the rampant and unyielding illegal immigration we’ve seen for decades at the Southern border,” Scott said. “President Biden’s plan of open borders and amnesty isn’t about practical reforms — it’s a radical and dangerous subversion of law and order. We can and must do better.”
Scott’s DACA positions have evolved significantly from his years as Florida Governor. For example, he repeatedly criticized President Barack Obama for implementing DACA via executive order. But years later, he encouraged Trump to extend DACA the same way.
However, Trump held a hard line against DACA and tried to kill it, making deportation possible for thousands who immigrated to the U.S. as children and came from the shadows after DACA offered legal protection.
But there’s at least one bit of consistency from Scott. He always favored a legislative solution as the best path forward on immigration reform.
“American innovation and our unique culture has been built on legal immigration. But, for too long, politicians in Washington have refused to address the issue of illegal immigration head-on, and we can’t ignore it anymore,” he said. “Doing so is reckless and unfair to the American people, kills American jobs, and prevents countless families from pursuing the opportunity to chase their American dream. It’s time to come together and finally bring a sensible solution forward.”
Propping up Ecuador’s democracy
As a new administration takes over U.S. foreign policy, Rubio continued a push for involvement promoting democracy throughout the Americas. The Miami Republican reintroduced a resolution supporting Ecuador’s current leadership.
Rubio, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues, took the lead on a bipartisan resolution concerning the South American republic.
The resolution “reaffirms its commitment to the historic partnership between the United States and Ecuador; and recognizes President Lenin Moreno and his administration for recommitting Ecuador to democratic values, anti-corruption efforts, and the adoption of economic policies that will benefit the people of Ecuador.”
That’s undoubtedly a different posture than the U.S. holds with socialist nations like Venezuela. Moreno narrowly won the election in 2017 and has slowly shifted his country away from leftist policies. However, some international observers have not been fans of Moreno’s economically conservative actions and trade objectives.
But in the U.S., he’s been greeted with support.
Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Jim Risch, an Idaho Republican, joined to introduce Rubio’s proposal, as well as Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin, Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine and Texas Republican Ted Cruz.
Is civility possible in today’s divisive political culture? Panhandle-area representatives Neal Dunn and Al Lawson believe so. The pair spoke about the matter with Florida State University students during a webinar on House procedures.
Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, told students with the Institute of Politics that compromise remained a valuable practice, but it can be difficult.
“It’s very important for the good of your constituents to make sure that when you debate everything, you can come to a compromise,” he said. “I was used to that, serving for years in the Florida Legislature with a Republican House, a Republican Senate, and under Republican Governors. We had 60 days to come together to really pass a budget and work between the parties. But Congress is a little bit different in the four years I have been there. Sometimes it’s a little bit harder to get compromise.”
His experience in Tallahassee makes it easier for Lawson to seek a middle ground comfortably, he said. And Dunn, a Panama City Republican, said that remains a critical ability for any lawmaker interested in passing significant legislation.
“The parties are not monolithic, ideological entities,” Dunn said. “Even with a lopsided majority, you’re going to lose your ability to control your legislation from your own party’s extremists if you can’t compromise on both sides.”
Neither chamber of Congress enjoys an outsized majority right now. While Democrats control both chambers, the Senate breaks down 50-50 with Vice President Harris casting tie-breaking votes, while Democrats hold a historically slim 11-seat majority in the House. “In a Congress as narrowly divided as ours and a Senate that’s even closer, I think compromise is likely to become a very valuable asset in the near future,” Dunn said.
That’s part of why Lawson said it’s vital to maintain congeniality in Congress, even in times when compromise ultimately proves elusive.
“You want members to really get along with each other and to have the freedom to express themselves and not to compromise their positions on certain issues,” Lawson said. “Civility brings you together so that you can show to the public and to everyone else that you have the ability to get along.”
Dunn and Lawson at least have a record to prove they can work in conjunction with North Florida issues. According to the FSU Institute of Politics, the pair have voted the same 68 times during their four years serving together in the House.
Saint Augustine Republican Michael Waltz wants to keep Gitmo open. The Space Coast Congressman led a letter to the newly confirmed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin urging the Biden administration to keep the infamous Guantánamo Bay prison operational. The letter bears the signatures of veterans of the Global War on Terror now serving in the House who hold “serious reservations” about Biden’s plans to close the detention camp.
“Many of us put our lives on the line to prevent these terrorists from ever returning to the battlefield. Some of us even sustained permanent wounds,” the letter reads. “Without law-of-war detention, we could be forced to release these dangerous individuals, allowing them to reestablish their networks and jeopardize American national security interests, along with the security interests of our allies.”
Waltz notably came out last week in opposition to Austin’s confirmation, arguing against granting a waiver for a recent general to hold the civilian post. But he opened the letter with congratulations on the historic occasion of being the first Black defense secretary.
The Congressman cited a quote from Austin in his letter urging the general to push back on the Biden policy.
“We agree with you that ‘Guantánamo has provided us the capability to conduct law of war detention in order to keep our enemies off the battlefield,’” the letter reads. “We believe this continues to be the case. Law of war detention is the most acceptable and secure disposition for the remaining terrorist detainees.”
Waltz was more forceful in tweets on the issue. “Biden’s admin would be starting exactly where Obama left off by proposing to release some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, including 9/11 co-conspirators,” he tweeted. “Closing GITMO’s not only bad policy, but it’s dangerous. Only the most radical terrorists remain in Guantánamo. If we release these GITMO detainees, they’ll become rock stars in the Islamist Extremist world, posing an even greater threat to America and the world.”
This weekend, Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto urged that charges be dropped against a high school girl slammed on the ground by Florida law enforcement in a viral video. The Congressman said State Attorney Monique Worrell, of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, needs to correct an injustice.
“With an investigation pending, Osceola Sheriff Marcos Lopez and State Attorney Monique Worrell should reconsider charging Taylor Bracey,” Soto tweeted. “She has been through enough. This also sends the wrong message about justice and accountability in Osceola County.”
Bracey, a 16-year-old student at Liberty High School, was slammed to the ground and handcuffed by School Resource Deputy Ethan Fournier, who remains on paid leave and under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The arrest reportedly happened after disorderly conduct in school. The Orlando Sentinel reports Bracey won’t be suspended by the school but now faces charges of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence. Lopez told the paper his officer is innocent until proven guilty.
The case has quickly become a rallying cry over the difference in treatment of Black suspects, even teenagers, compared to White individuals being arrested. Tallahassee civil rights attorney Ben Crump joined a rally on the Liberty High School incident over the weekend.
It looks like Val Demings will have more than just a seat on Homeland Security issues in this Congress. The Orlando Democrat was named chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery for the next two years.
Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, announced Demings as one of six subcommittee chairs working in the arena. Demings’ panel will oversee and direct policy on prep for mass-disaster events. That includes oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to counter weapons of mass destruction.
“I am confident that our new Subcommittee Chairs and Committee Democrats are up to the challenge of confronting the pressing issues facing our country today — which include crushing the coronavirus, defending our homeland from violent extremism and domestic terrorism, undoing the damage of the Trump Administration’s disastrous and cruel immigration and border security policies, and protecting our networks and infrastructure from cyberthreats,” Thompson said.
Demings, a former Orlando police chief, embraced the role. “I look forward to this expanded role as we work to keep Floridians and all Americans safe from natural disasters, COVID-19, and terrorism,” she said. “As a former 27-year law enforcement officer and Orlando’s Chief of Police, I know firsthand that adequate preparation, education, and resources are the key to effectively managing any crisis. I am proud of the bipartisan work we have done over the past several years to bring additional counterterrorism and FEMA support to Florida and communities across the country and look forward to expanding on these successes.”
Clermont Republican Daniel Webster now serves as the ranking member on the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, under the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The key might be the influence it gives him over emergency management legislation, notably hurricane relief. Webster’s 11th Congressional District starts in Lake County west of Orlando and reaches the Gulf Coast.
“From ensuring the proper management of government facilities to improving emergency management procedures and enacting policies that promote economic development, I’m excited to get to work on behalf of hardworking Americans,” Webster stated in a news release. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to develop and pass legislation that saves taxpayer money, protects communities across the United States, boosts our resilience and strengthens our economy.”
While telehealth has long been an area of policy interest for health care wonks, it’s become an increasingly essential part of caregiving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis wants to make sure the most vulnerable populations have the capacity for remote access.
He co-authored legislation with Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky to provide the appropriations needed to develop telehealth capacity at nursing facilities. The Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors, or ACCESS Act, would increase access during the COVID-19 crisis and support virtual visits to residents during the emergency.
Schakowsky chairs the House Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce, where Bilirakis serves as the ranking member.
Bilirakis said the steps to expand telehealth capability seem more important now than ever. “We’ve seen throughout the pandemic that telehealth services have provided a critical lifeline for millions of Americans, especially seniors, allowing them to receive quality medical and behavioral health care from the comfort and safety of their homes,” he said. “This critical legislation builds upon those lessons learned by ensuring that seniors in long-term care facilities have access to and are able to enjoy the benefits of telemedicine.”
It’s an issue with bipartisan support.
“From the start of this pandemic, the physical distancing necessary for saving lives has made it almost impossible for nursing home residents to receive telehealth services or visit with their loved ones. It has left them socially isolated,” Schakowsky said. “We are introducing the bipartisan ACCESS Act to ensure that all nursing home residents are able to use telehealth services and to communicate through video with their families and loved ones. Nursing home residents have suffered the brunt of this pandemic. Providing much-needed technology will significantly help them fight the challenges of social isolation.”
Sarasota Republican Greg Steube served in uniform in Afghanistan and plans to fight for soldiers and U.S. interests on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The second-term Congressman was named to a spot on the committee last week.
“As the Biden Administration takes drastic moves to unravel our foreign affairs victories, like signaling intent to rejoin the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the Iran nuclear deal] or taking a ‘patient’ approach to our adversaries in China, we need warriors on the House Foreign Affairs Committee who will be truly committed to protecting U.S. international interests,” Steube said.
“I am honored to be given this opportunity to play an active role in U.S. diplomatic missions and represent Floridians as we stand up to terrorism, socialism, and human rights abuses.”
Steube will serve on subcommittees for Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, and Immigration and Citizenship.
Going after Greene
Democrats Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Sunrise, are moving forward with a resolution stripping Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene‘s committee assignments over her support for Parkland shooting conspiracy theories and other reckless remarks.
“This is not idle political chatter,” Wasserman Schultz said of Greene’s comments. “After Jan. 6, we know what can happen when elected officials amplify dangerous lies and encourage violence.”
Greene backs the QAnon theory, has spread — before later retracting — the conspiracy theory that 9/11 was an inside job, and voiced support for executing elected Democratic officials.
She has also endorsed lies that the 2018 Parkland shooting was a planned, “false flag” event. A video that reemerged last week showed her harassing Parkland survivor David Hogg over his gun-control advocacy and labeling him a “coward” after refusing to respond to her berating.
As her past remarks were emerging, House Republicans placed Greene on the Education and Labor Committee and the Budget Committee.
“Her refusal to disavow these outrageous claims cannot be rewarded with a post on an Education Committee whose mandate is to provide a safe, fact-based learning environment for our children,” Wasserman Schultz argued.
Deutch added Republicans should speak up to condemn Greene as well.
“The question, quite simply, is whether they will draw the line when a member of the Republican caucus moves far beyond political rhetoric and into what is extremely dangerous misinformation, deeply offensive harassment, and the refusal to acknowledge truth,” he said.
Many have pushed for Greene to be expelled from the House altogether over her previous remarks. That would require a two-thirds vote, requiring cooperation from a large chunk of her GOP colleagues. In the past, the House has also been reticent to expel members for conduct before taking office, opting to defer to a district’s constituents. Wasserman Schultz said Monday that effort isn’t likely to succeed.
Giménez staffs up
Miami Republican Carlos Giménez announced his senior staff team after taking over the seat in Florida’s 26th Congressional District with a win in November.
Alex Ferro served as the chief of staff for Giménez while Giménez was Mayor of Miami-Dade County. Ferro will follow Giménez to D.C., serving in the same role. Nicole Rapanos, a lead spokesperson for Giménez during his congressional run, will serve as deputy chief of staff.
Chase Clanahan will take over as legislative director. He held the same role in the office of former Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois. Danny Jativa will work as communications director for Giménez and will be based in D.C. Jativa will also lead the congressman’s foreign affairs work. Jativa has worked on Capitol Hill before, including for Webster, and has also served in media roles at Fox News and the Washington Examiner.
“I am excited to have a dedicated and bright team working for Florida’s 26th Congressional District,” Giménez said.
“From the beginning, I have told our team that I expect the best, and that is what our constituents deserve. I am confident we have the team in place to best represent our vibrant and dynamic South Florida communities in Congress.”
Giménez also announced his top staff hires based in South Florida. CD 26 covers parts of Miami-Dade County and all of Monroe County.
Christina Elias will serve as the deputy district director and will be based in Miami. Frank Balzebre, a Giménez staff vet, will work out of Florida City as the community outreach director. Jeanna Garrido was named the Florida Keys director, based in Key West.
Reimy Benitez, Carlos Fanjul and Andre Rodriguez will all work out of Miami. Benitez is the director of constituent services. Fanjul will serve as a congressional aide, while Rodriguez will work as a communications adviser.
Venezuela hires Rivera, Dem donor
Opposition to the Nicolás Maduro regime remains a unifying agenda item among current delegation members, but lobbying disclosures show the Venezuelan President sent millions to Democrats and Republicans in Florida, including one former delegation member.
In March 2017, Petróleos de Venezuela, a former state-owned Venezuelan oil company, signed a $50-million consulting deal with David Rivera, who previously represented Florida’s 25th Congressional District from 2011 to 2013 before losing reelection. The just-released filings confirm a relationship between the ex-Congressman and the Maduro regime first made public when the oil giant sued Rivera over the contract.
But filings also show the company paid $6 million to Miami Democratic donor Marcia Wiss’ Washington law firm Wiss & Partners the same month it hired Rivera, according to an investigative report by The Associated Press. Wiss supported numerous Democratic candidates through the years, including donating $1,500 to Biden’s campaign just last year. Wiss denied to the AP that she did any lobbying for Maduro’s regime. “Wiss was engaged to provide PDV USA and its affiliates with legal services only,” Wiss wrote in an email to the news service.
Petróleos de Venezuela for years served as a cash cow for the Venezuelan government and an arm to do work for the ruling party in the socialist nation. But the company has changed ownership, and now is working with leaders of opposition leader Juan Guaidó to make public the financial dealings done on behalf of Maduro, which is why filings and documents are becoming public now. The same situation led to the lawsuit against Rivera last year.
At the time of the contracts with Wiss and Rivera, Maduro was trying to curry favor with the Trump administration, though that ultimately did not work. Trump later recognized Guaidó as the head of state and not Maduro.
On this day
Feb. 2, 1948 — “Harry Truman and Civil Rights” via U.S. Department of the Interior — President Truman took a great political risk by presenting a daring civil rights speech to a joint session of Congress. Based on the committee’s findings, he asked Congress to support a civil rights package that included federal protection against lynching, better protection of the right to vote, and a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission. These proposals met strong opposition in Congress and led to the splintering of the Democratic Party right before the 1948 presidential election. Truman won reelection, but little civil rights legislation was enacted during his administration.
Feb. 2, 1848 — “The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo” via the Library of Congress — The treaty was signed in the village of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the Mexican War and extending the boundaries of the United States west to the Pacific Ocean. The terms of the agreement confirmed U.S. claims to Texas and established the border between the U.S. and Mexico at the Rio Grande and the Gila River. The treaty also granted the U.S. more than 525,000 square miles of former Mexican territory, including present-day California, Nevada, Utah, most of New Mexico and Arizona, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. In exchange, the U.S. paid Mexico $15 million for the territory and agreed to assume the claims of American citizens against the Mexican government.