Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics — 2.11.21

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Don't miss your first look at stories driving today's agenda in Florida politics.

Florida’s case numbers are down from the five-figure daily reports posted over the past few weeks, but we’re not out of the woods yet.

Still, public health and technology company Kinsa is circulating new data that inspires optimism. Cautious optimism, but optimism nonetheless.

The findings show the number of elderly Floridians experiencing a fever is ticking up. Typically, that data point would be greeted with dread since fever is often cited as an early symptom of COVID-19.

The number of elderly Floridians experiencing a fever is spiking.

But it’s also a common reaction to the vaccine. As of Wednesday afternoon, the Florida Department of Health said more than 2.1 million Floridians had received at least one dose of the vaccine, and more than 1.5 million of them are over 65 years old.

Kinsa’s data is based on a network of more than 2 million smart thermometers in use across the country, with about 100,000 temperature readings flowing in every day. The raw data is fed through its machine learning and AI systems to identify outbreaks, often weeks ahead of CDC and hospital systems.

Take it with a shaker of salt, but the company has a solid track record — its data provided a 3-week leading indicator of COVID-19 in March. It can accurately predict flu spread 12 weeks in advance of hospital data.

— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —

Tweet, tweet:

@MarcACaputo: Of all [Donald] Trump’s defenses, this 1 is tough to explain: “Law Enforcement Had Reports Of A Potential Attack On The Capitol Several Days Before President Trump’s Speech” So Trump’s response was to speak before these people & tell them to “fight like hell” etc.?

@BenjySarlin: Regardless of whether the impeachment trial calls witnesses, the House and Senate badly need to reconstruct under oath what the President was doing throughout this day.

@AndrewDesiderio: Sen. [James] Lankford (R-Okla.) was incredibly shaken up after that last video of Officer [Daniel] Hodges being crushed. I and other reporters in the chamber observed Lankford appearing to get teary-eyed. Sen. [Steve] Daines (R-Mont.) was comforting him and was holding his arm.

@SMurphyCongress: I am consistently disturbed by Sen. [Rick] Scott’s lack of concern for anything other than his own political future.

@Sbg1: Wow, Officer [Eugene] Goodman directing @MittRomney away from the rioters. Them both running. What an image …

@GraceSegers: The other thing that is so horrifying is the impunity with which the rioters stormed the Capitol and sought to harm lawmakers. The footage shows that they thought they would not be held accountable at all — in fact, most of them were proud of their actions.

@JonFavs: I hope every Republican Senator who votes for acquittal is haunted by this footage for the rest of their lives.

—@RichardHaass: I changed my registration to ‘no party affiliation’ after 40 years. I worked for [Ronald] Reagan & Bush 41 & 43. But today’s Rep Party no longer embraces the policies & principles that led me to join it. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I didn’t leave the Republican Party; the Party left me.

@GrayRohrer: Don’t know if we can blame this on the pandemic or not, but the quality of gadflies has seen a significant decline in Tallahassee

@ByTimReynolds: You all laugh about Tom Brady now, but when he wakes up tomorrow, looks at Twitter, and realizes that he somehow ingested a carbohydrate, he’s going to be so embarrassed.

— DAYS UNTIL —

Daytona 500 — 3; Dr. Aaron Weiner webinar on mental health in the workplace — 7; ‘Nomadland’ with Frances McDormand — 8; The CW’s ‘Superman & Lois’ premieres — 12; the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference begins — 14; Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, with exhibition games starting — 16; 2021 Legislative Session begins — 19; ‘Coming 2 America’ premieres on Amazon Prime — 22; ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ premieres — 29; 2021 Grammys — 31; Zack Snyder’s ‘Justice League’ premieres on HBO Max — 35; ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ premieres — 43; MLB Opening Day — 49; ‘No Time to Die’ premieres (rescheduled) — 50; Children’s Gasparilla — 58; Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest — 65; ‘Black Widow’ rescheduled premiere — 85; ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ rescheduled premiere — 141; Disney’s ‘Shang Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings’ premieres — 150; new start date for 2021 Olympics — 163; ‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres — 170; St. Petersburg Primary Election — 194; ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ rescheduled premiere — 218; ‘Dune’ premieres — 232; St. Petersburg Municipal Elections — 264; Disney’s ‘Eternals’ premieres — 267; Steven Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ premieres — 302; ‘Spider-Man Far From Home’ sequel premieres — 309; ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ premieres — 407; ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ premieres — 449; ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ sequel premieres — 603.

— DATELINE TALLAHASSEE —

COVID-19 health care liability bill clears Senate Committee” via Jason Delgado of Florida Politics — The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced SB 74 with a 6-4 vote. Sen. Jeff Brandes is the bill sponsor. Brandes’ proposal would raise the bar for COVID-19 related lawsuits against health care providers. Under the measure, plaintiffs would need to prove a provider acted with gross negligence or intentional misconduct instead of simple negligence. The bill would also up evidentiary standards from “greater weight of the evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.” Further, the proposal affords protections to providers who “substantially” followed government-issued health standards and guidance.

Union dues bill advances in Senate, would require added steps before paycheck deduction” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — A Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill to increase regulations on unions over the objections of teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers and other public employees. SB 78 by state Sen. Ray Rodrigues affects the deduction of union dues from employee paychecks. Workers would have to confirm annually they belong to a union and want the dues deducted along with the federal withholding tax and Social Security and Medicare deductions when they are paid. Rodrigues and the bill’s supporters say the bill clarifies that money belongs to whoever earns it and not to a labor union until the worker authorizes the deduction. Democrats countered that no one has said otherwise and that no one has complained about the current process.

Ray Rodrigues wants to make it just a little harder to pay union dues. Image via Colin Hackley.

Latest vacation rental preemption bill gets House panel’s approval” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The annual legislative attempt to strip local limits on vacation rental homes cleared the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee Wednesday with the usual debate over clashing property rights and the need for state oversight of the rapidly-growing sector. However, this time, the House measure offered by Rep. Jason Fischer, the Jacksonville Republican, drew a couple of new, more provocative arguments. Fischer suggested the local authority that cities, counties, and their allies contend is beloved home rule power may now be a manifestation of socialism. HB 219 goes further than many previous attempts in the Florida Legislature to take regulation of vacation rentals out of the hands of cities and counties and place it with the state.

Ana Maria Rodriguez files PACE modernization bill” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Sen. Rodriguez filed a bill Wednesday that would overhaul a financing program that helps homeowners pay for eco-friendly and storm hardening property upgrades. SB 1208 aims to make the Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, program more accessible to Floridians while introducing a suite of consumer protections. PACE is a financing vehicle that allows consumers to pay back the cost of certain property upgrades through assessments on their property tax bill. As the name implies, the program is mostly geared toward energy efficiency upgrades such as solar panel installation, though storm hardening and septic-to-sewer projects also qualify.

Lauren Book reteams with Dan Daley on Jamie’s Law, vetting the sale and transfer of ammo” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Democratic Sen. Book is once again spearheading an effort to approve Jamie’s Law, seeking to keep dangerous Floridians from acquiring ammunition. Rep. Dan Daley, a Coral Springs Democrat, filed a measure in the House late last year. The two worked on the effort together in 2020, though the GOP-controlled Legislature declined to move forward with the proposals. “As a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, nothing is more important to me than preventing another tragedy like what our community experienced from ever happening again,” Daley said upon introducing his bill in November. The bills seek to take provisions regulating gun purchases and apply them to ammo sales as well.

Tom Wright, Chip LaMarca look to limit driver’s license suspensions caused by unpaid court debt” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — Republican lawmakers are reviving legislation to ensure drivers don’t have their licenses suspended due to an inability to pay court fees. Sen. Wright is once again backing the Senate version of the bill. Byron Donalds, last year’s House sponsor, is now serving in Congress. Republican Rep. LaMarca is taking over that effort ahead of the 2021 Session. “Far too many Floridians are without the ability to pay their owed fines and fees in full,” Wright said in a Wednesday statement backing the changes. The measure would not give an exception to individuals with suspended licenses due to dangerous driving or those overdue on child support payments.

Chip LaMarca and Tom Wright want people who owe fines to keep their driver’s licenses. Image via Colin Hackley.

Juvenile arrest expungement bill passes first House committee test” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A House panel unanimously advanced a bill Wednesday that would allow minors to have their arrest records expunged for completing diversion programs. Florida already allows minors to have their records expunged for first-time misdemeanor arrests if they complete diversion programs. Rep. David Smith‘s bill expands that to include felonies and arrests beyond a minor’s first arrest. Members of the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee voted unanimously to advance the Winter Springs Republicans’ proposal, what he called “true second-chance legislation.” “This is good kids, maybe running with the wrong crowd, maybe wrong place at the wrong time,” Smith told the panel.

Guns in churches bill, schools included, passes first House committee” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — A House panel gave its initial thumbs up on Wednesday to a proposal allowing Floridians with concealed carry licenses to take a gun to religious institutions, even if there is a school on the property. Florida law does not generally prevent a person from properly carrying a gun into a house of worship, but state law prevents people from bringing firearms into schools. The bill would put the onus on individual places of worship to determine whether to ban guns. Facilities could even permit guns only during certain hours, potentially when classes aren’t in session. Members of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Subcommittee voted 14-3 to advance the bill, with three of the panel’s six Democrats casting votes in opposition.

Theme park beer promotion bill gets panel nod” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — A bill that would allow theme parks and beer companies to get together on naming rights and other marketing efforts drew approval Wednesday from the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee. HB 73 would create new joint marketing opportunities for breweries and Florida’s major theme parks, those with at least 1 million annual visitors and 25 acres. The bill proposes a revision of the so-called “Tied House Evil Law” that’s been on the books since the end of Prohibition. That law strove to require legal business distinctions between malt beverage brewers, distributors, and the establishments that served the drinks to disrupt the kind of corrupt monopolistic activities seen in bootlegger networks of Prohibition times.

Jeff Brandes seeks dissolution of Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority” via Veronica Brezina-Smith of The Tampa Bay Business Journal — A Florida legislator has filed a bill that could disband the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority and disburse their assets to other agencies. Brandes filed the bill on Feb. 8 in the Senate to “completely wipe out TBARTA from statute,” Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said during the Forward Pinellas meeting on Wednesday, providing a report on TBARTA’s latest activities. The Florida Legislature created TBARTA in 2007 to oversee regional transportation projects for Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties. It employs about a dozen people, according to previous reports.

What Kathy Mears is readingThe Florida Senate has a new top dog: Say hello to Briar” via Tori Lynn Schneider of the Tallahassee Democrat

— CAP REAX —

Jimmy Patronis celebrates after health care liability shield advances CFO Patronis praised the Senate Judiciary Committee after it advanced a bill that would shield health care providers from COVID-19 lawsuits. Patronis, who has toured the state to support protections for non-health care businesses, said the “front line heroes” who “have been working long hours and maintaining stringent health safety processes” deserve the same protections. “They have fought through PPE shortages and put their own lives on the line to protect our communities from this serious virus. I applaud the Florida Senate for taking action today to move this legislation forward and step up for these health care heroes as they stepped up for us,” he said.

Jimmy Patronis’ push for COVID-19 liability protection gets some traction in Tallahassee. Image via Colin Hackley.

Florida TaxWatch urges Senate to pass health care liability protections Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro stressed the need to protect health care facilities and providers from COVID-19 lawsuits during SB 74’s first committee hearing. “Responsible health care workers and facilities who are acting in good faith to comply with public health directives, and who must make extremely difficult decisions under trying and uncertain circumstances, must have [the] comfort that they will be able to provide treatment and care without fear of opportunistic, predatory, and expensive litigation,” he said in comments to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Calabro cited FTW data showing that the lack of a liability shield would “reduce the Florida economy by as much as $27.6 billion and more than 356,000 jobs annually.”

Florida League of Cities blasts vacation rentals preemption bill — FLC said the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee made an “unfortunate decision” when it advanced a bill (HB 219) that would put the state in charge of regulating vacation rentals. In addition to home rule concerns, FLC said the bill “doesn’t protect tenants from unsafe units or those who live next door to dangerous rentals.” It also said DBPR “doesn’t have the resources” to regulate the industry effectively. “Florida’s cities have shown the ability to appropriately manage short-term rentals based on the unique needs of their communities and protect residents’ property rights from out-of-state, unrestricted corporations,” the League said.

— LOBBYING REGS —

New and renewed lobbying registrations:

Joshua Aubuchon, Delegal Aubuchon Consulting: South Florida EMT Associates

Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Teye Reeves, Smith Bryan & Myers: Internet Association

Chip Case, Jefferson Monroe Consulting: Beauty and Health Institute

Roy Clark: Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Ida Eskamani, Florida Rising: Florida Immigrant Coalition

Susan Goldstein, Doug Holder, The Legis Group: ARC Broward

Mike Grissom, Mark Kruse, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney: Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated

Paul Hawkes: Study Edge

Thomas Hobbs, Evan Power, Ramba Consulting Group: Florida Supervisors of Elections, Powerhouse Gaming

Andrew Ketchel, Capital City Consulting: Florida Vacation Rental Management Association

James McFaddin, Seth McKeel, The Southern Group: Ambrosia Treatment Centers, Basik Trading

Drew Medcalf, Florida Association of State Troopers

Gregg Morton: Public Employees Relations Commission

Donald Ray, Donald G. Ray & Associates: Florida Monument Builders Association

Jeff Sharkey, Taylor Patrick Biehl, Capitol Alliance Group: The Boring Company

Joelle Tierney: Neurocrine Biosciences

Antonio Verdugo, Winning Strategies: Miami DMV

Alan Williams, Meenan: Wayne Barton Study Center

— STATEWIDE —

Spotted — CFO Patronis on FOX & Friends talking about Disney possibly shifting some jobs from California to Florida. “Florida is for winners. Bob Chapek should do the exact same thing Tom Brady did and move to the State of Florida,” Patronis said Wednesday morning. “ … Disney already has a proven track record here. We just like to allow them to grow and expand their business.”

Questions raised on federal school money” via Ryan Dailey of News Service of Florida — About $693.2 million in funding for Florida’s public schools was received by the state through the first round of the federal CARES Act. Only about 40%, or $277.2 million, of that money had been disbursed to districts as of Friday. House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Randy Fine questioned Department of Education Chief of Staff Alex Kelly about how what Fine called “an avalanche of funding” from the federal government is being spent. “The federal money was supposed to address expenses that we only have as a result of COVID,” Fine said. “What do these actually have to do with responding to COVID, as opposed to things that you might ask us to fund through our regular budgetary process?”

Randy Fine seeks an audit of the avalanche of federal money for schools. Image via Colin Hackley.

Environmental chief defends Florida Forever funding” via Jim Turner of News Service of Florida — During a meeting of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein defended Gov. Ron DeSantis for not asking to issue bonds for the Florida Forever land conservation program, as the financing method has been proposed to cover Everglades work and a new program to fight rising sea levels. “We believe $50 million will allow us to continue a robust land-acquisition program,” Valenstein said. After the meeting, Valenstein said the Governor has “repeatedly had us bring forward amazing projects to the Cabinet. He voted for those projects and expects us to continue to bring amazing projects.” DeSantis and the Cabinet must sign off on land purchases.

‘Roadmap to sustainability’: DEP Secretary talks up Everglades restoration efforts” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics

Working families caught between economic crisis and pandemic” via Laura Cassels of Florida Phoenix — The least-fortunate of Florida’s working families are in trouble, in ways that Florida lawmakers have never faced before. Few could have imagined the coronavirus pandemic would persist for over a year, with hundreds of thousands of Floridians still, or again, unemployed and struggling. Hundreds of thousands are at risk of being disconnected from utilities and/or evicted from their homes for inability to pay, while Unemployment Insurance benefits ebb and flow unpredictably. Unlike the Great Recession of 2008, which snuffed out wealth and jobs when financial markets collapsed, the calamities of 2020-21 cannot be overcome with austerity measures, stimulus programs, and perseverance.

Florida’s climate future is female” via Daniel Figueroa IV of WMNF — Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long says her county is leading by example. “The four departments that will have the biggest impact are all being led by women,” Long said. “Heretofore, they’re always been led by men. And it’s public works, utilities, housing and community development, and our emergency management department.” She’s talking about department directors Kelli Levy, Megan Ross, Carol Stricklin and Cathie Perkins respectively. Long said they’re ready to tackle the environmental challenges faced by Florida. “All women leading the way,” she said. “Committed to making sure that resiliency and sustainability are part of our plan.” Long was joined by Florida Congress members Kathy Castor and Samantha Murphy, both Democrats.

Florida Chamber, Veterans Florida launch effort to bring SkillBridge to Florida” via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Veterans Florida want to boost business participation in a federal program that helps military veterans transition to the private sector and bring their skills with them. The two organizations announced a coalition to encourage businesses and exiting service members to enroll in SkillBridge, a federally funded program that connects veterans in the last six months of service with job training, apprenticeship, and internship opportunities in the private sector. Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson said the program could accelerate the state’s economic rebound, help the state hit the benchmarks outlined in the Chamber’s Florida 2030 blueprint.

— 2022 —

Nikki Fried committee rings up slow month” via News Service of Florida — A political committee linked to state Agriculture Commissioner Fried raised little money in January amid speculation that she will run for Governor next year. According to a newly filed finance report, the committee, Florida Consumers First, brought in $13,205 during the month while spending $14,360. The committee had about $976,000 in cash on hand as of Jan. 31. Almost all of the January money came in contributions of $250 or less, except for a $5,000 donation from AT&T. Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, can run again for Agriculture Commissioner in 2022 but is often mentioned as a possible challenger to DeSantis.

Nikki Fried has a soft month. Image via Colin Hackley.

Patronis committee pulls in $66,000” via News Service of Florida — As he prepares to run for reelection next year, a political committee linked to state CFO Patronis raised more than $66,000 in January, according to a newly filed finance report. The committee, Treasure Florida, brought in $66,252 while spending only $3,364 during the month. It had about $1.64 million on hand as of Jan. 31. Contributions included $25,000 from a political committee known as Building a Better Florida and $10,000 from Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits.

Republicans still targeting Stephanie Murphy’s, Charlie Crist’s congressional districts” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Republicans keep looking at Florida’s 7th and 13th Congressional Districts and continue to see opportunities, no matter what Democratic Reps. Murphy and Crist do in Congress or past elections. Once again, the National Republican Congressional Committee targets Murphy’s CD 7 and Crist’s CD 13 among their assessments of “offensive pick-up opportunities” in the next election. The NRCC listed those as its Florida targets among 47 congressional districts across the nation as 2022 campaign priorities. “House Republicans start the cycle just five seats short of a majority and are prepared to build on our 2020 successes to deliver a lasting Republican majority in the House,” NRCC Chair Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Congressman, said in the release.

Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy are being targeted as ‘vulnerable’ Democratic seats.

Meet the Jewish Florida Senator poised for statewide office” via Matthew Kassel of Jewish Insider — When Lauren Book launched her bid for Florida Senate in the summer of 2015, she was embarking on a somewhat predetermined path, given her pedigree. Her father, Ron Book, is one of the state’s most influential lobbyists — as much a presence in South Florida, where he resides, as he is in the state capital of Tallahassee. But it is one thing to wield power in the shadows, as her father has done, and quite another to shape state policy in public view. During her first five years in office, Book proved adept at the task.

Clay Yarborough cracks six figures in first SD 4 reports — Rep. Yarborough raised more than $110,000 between his campaign and political committee since he announced his run for Senate District 4. The campaign raised $35,950 while the committee, Floridians for Conservative Values, raised $74,500. Notable names on the donor sheet include John Rood and Thomas Petway III. The Jacksonville Republican now has $283,490 on hand between the two accounts. Yarborough faces fellow Reps. Cord Byrd and Jason Fischer in the GOP primary for the Northeast Florida seat currently held by term-limited Sen. Aaron Bean.

Jax Beach lawyer Heath Brockwell launches HD 11 campaign” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — Rep. Byrd is leaving his House District 11 seat and running for Senate, leaving an opening that potential candidates are already looking to fill. Personal injury lawyer Brockwell announced his bid for the seat encompassing Nassau and eastern Duval counties Wednesday via news release, continuing a trend of candidates launching very early in the 2022 cycle. Brockwell, who practices in Jacksonville Beach and lives in Atlantic Beach, serves as the Jacksonville Beaches Bar Association treasurer. He is running as a constitutional conservative. “Washington, D.C., is in ruins after this past election. Florida needs representatives in Tallahassee who will stand up to an overreaching federal government, and I am ready to fight for all of Florida’s citizens,” Brockwell contended.

Former Darryl Rouson aide Jason Holloway to run for Chris Latvala’s House seat in 2022” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — The first candidate has emerged to run for Florida House District 67, the Largo seat Rep. Latvala is vacating next year due to term limits. Holloway, a moderate Republican, filed Wednesday to run for the seat in the 2022 cycle. Holloway is a former legislative aide for Sen. Rouson, a Democrat, putting him in prime position to court votes from both sides of the political aisle. Holloway told Florida Politics he plans to run on three key pillars, transparency and accountability in government contracts, increasing Florida’s technology footprint in business, and environmental stewardship.

Jason Halloway wants a shot at term-limited Chris Latvala’s seat.

Latvala to run for Pinellas County Commission in 2024” via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Rep. Latvala is running for Pinellas County Commission, according to documents filed with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections website. Latvala is filed for District 5 in 2024, the seat currently held by incumbent Karen Seel. Seel is not expected to seek reelection. She was reelected last year unopposed and would face reelection in the 2024 cycle. Both Latvala and Seel are Republicans. Latvala first filed for the seat in late January, according to the filing. His first campaign finance report in the race shows Latvala has already banked $1,000 for the bid from his Suncoast Better Government Committee that has supported Latvala’s legislative races. Latvala is term-limited out of his House District 67 seat in 2022.

— CORONA FLORIDA —

Florida adds 7,000+ coronavirus cases, 165 deaths Wednesday” via Romy Ellenbogen of The Tampa Bay Times — Florida added 7,537 coronavirus cases and 165 deaths on Wednesday. With just under 135,000 tests processed the day prior, the state’s single-day positivity rate was 6.59%. Overall, Florida has recorded 1,798,280 coronavirus cases. The weekly average coronavirus caseload increased Wednesday to about 7,666 cases announced per day. As of Wednesday, 2,110,794 people in Florida have gotten a coronavirus vaccine, an increase of 53,640 from the day prior. The majority of those received their first of two needed doses, but 823,126 people have been fully immunized.

Florida adds another 7,000+ COVID-19 cases. Image via AP.

‘National disgrace’: Ron DeSantis slams school closures, ‘special interests’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — In Venice Wednesday at a news conference, DeSantis mocked people in other states who haven’t been able to figure out how to reopen their physical facilities as Florida controversially did months ago. “The fact that you’re going to have schools that are going to be closed for this entire school year and probably even into the fall is a national disgrace,” DeSantis said, offering unsolicited editorial comments as part of more extended remarks on the coronavirus and vaccinations. As other states wrestle with when and how to move students back into schools, DeSantis has long since moved on, a stance that he clearly bets will be refreshing to people working and living in more restrictive environments.

Will a more contagious virus reverse Florida’s recent downturn in COVID-19 cases?” via Ben Conarck of The Miami Herald — Even with two vaccines and COVID-19 cases waning from a winter peak, Florida’s pandemic future has been obscured in recent weeks by the rapid spread of a new and more contagious variant of the virus. The state has become ground zero in the U.S. for the B.1.1.7 variant of the COVID virus, or the ”U.K. variant,” one of several spin offs that have raised alarm in the scientific community. The more infectious version of the virus, scientists worry, could accelerate severe disease and deaths before public health officials get enough people vaccinated. The B.1.1.7 variant is establishing a foothold at a time when COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are trending down across the state from a peak in early January.

Is it getting easier to get a vaccine appointment? Publix’s sign-up lasts twice as long” via Lisa J. Huriash of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Many people eager for vaccine appointments say they finally have a fighting chance, now that pharmacies are receiving a large vaccine supply. Wednesday’s sign-up lasted twice as long as before, taking about three hours to fill 53,000 appointments across Florida. The grocery giant offered its largest sign-up with this week’s start of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, which broadened the vaccine distribution across the U.S. Publix almost doubled the number of counties where it’s distributing the vaccine in Florida, expanding to 593 stores in 41 of the state’s 67 counties.

Publix has an agreement with CDC for its vaccine program, not a contract with Florida” via Austin Fuller of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Publix’s month-old vaccine program touted by DeSantis is overseen under an agreement with federal health officials, the Lakeland-based grocer said Wednesday, after it was revealed the company does not have a contract with the state of Florida. The chain’s comments came after the Orlando Sentinel submitted a public-records request to officials earlier this month for its agreement with Florida to distribute the vaccine in pharmacies. “Publix was the first private-sector company to answer the call and have the capability to quickly mobilize vaccination sites,” Meredith Beatrice, a spokeswoman for DeSantis, said.

DeSantis: Only the news media are worried about COVID-19 spread from Super Bowl celebrations” via Steven Lemongello of The Orlando Sentinel — DeSantis brushed aside fears that the raucous, largely maskless celebrations of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Super Bowl victory could lead to increased spread of the highly contagious “UK variant” of the coronavirus. “The media is worried about that,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Venice on Wednesday when asked about such concerns. The Governor then compared the celebrations, including Wednesday’s boat parade in Tampa, to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and November’s celebrations of President Joe Biden’s victory. DeSantis argued that vaccines have proved effective against the UK mutation, which has been increasingly reported in more Florida counties.

Ron DeSantis says only the media cares about his maskless Super Bowl celebration.

One pandemic positive: Suicides in Florida actually plummeted. Experts worry it won’t last” via David Ovalle of The Miami Herald — The coronavirus pandemic has clearly stressed out countless Americans. But in Florida at least, one mental health barometer actually improved — fewer people killed themselves in 2020 than in any time in recent years, newly released statistics show. Despite the strains of sheltering at home, economic uncertainty, and political turmoil during the pandemic, experts say the drop in suicides was not unexpected. “During national crises, we tend to see large drops in the suicide rates. Wars, natural disasters — we tend to see drops in suicides for the first year or two,” said Dr. Bart Andrews, a board member of the American Society of Suicidology.

— CORONA LOCAL —

South Florida again tops 30 COVID-19 deaths in a day, now nearing 9.6K total” via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — South Florida’s tri-county area has recorded another 31 COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, marking the 18th day in the past 20 the region has eclipsed that mark. Wednesday’s Department of Health report showed a slight uptick in new cases, at 2,992. But testing also went up in the region’s three major counties: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. That testing bump largely explains the case increase, as the case positivity rate continues to trend downward. That number ranges from 6.9%-7.1% in all three counties over the past seven days. That’s good news as far as new viral spread goes, as the state continues vaccinating vulnerable Floridians. But with 31 new deaths reported, South Florida has now seen 9,558 people die from the virus since the state of the pandemic.

Annette Taddeo criticizes DeSantis for not providing Miami-Dade its ‘fair share’ of COVID-19 vaccine” via CBS Miami — Pharmacies across Florida are getting more doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this week. Still, some lawmakers say not enough is being done to get the vaccine to Florida’s most populous county, Miami-Dade. Taddeo criticized Gov. DeSantis on Monday, saying Miami-Dade, the hardest-hit county in the state, is not getting its fair share of the vaccine. “Frankly, if the Governor can’t do this, then we’re going to ask the federal government to give it to the counties directly and to the cities directly,” she said.

Miami-Dade should get its fair share of COVID-19 vaccines, says Annette Taddeo, Image via Colin Hackley.

Miami-Dade jury trials to resume March 1 though spread of COVID-19 variant a concern” via David Ovalle of The Miami Herald — In-person jury trials in Miami-Dade County will resume March 1, officials announced, nearly one year after the courts shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement by Chief Judge Bertila Soto comes as the number of coronavirus cases has dipped and more people are being vaccinated — but also as the so-called “U.K. variant” of the virus, thought to be significantly more contagious, is taking an alarming hold in Florida. In an interview, Soto said health experts consulted by the courts are confident that the positivity rate is low enough and safety precautions sufficient to start jury trials, despite the new strain.

Miami-Dade’s vaccination website has a big shortcoming. County planning a fix soon” via Douglas Hanks of The Miami Herald — A week after Miami-Dade County launched online registration for a vaccine waiting list, instructions on the portal still only cater to English speakers. The county site run by the private firm Nomi Health launched on Feb. 4 as a clearinghouse for anyone seeking a COVID-19 vaccine from Miami-Dade. While county-run websites on COVID-19 and community vaccination information can toggle to Spanish and Creole translations, the Nomi site where people actually register for the waiting list only provides English instructions.

Mass vaccination site opens at South Florida Fairgrounds” via Wells Dusenbury of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Hundreds of vaccine-seeking seniors flocked to the South Florida Fairgrounds on Wednesday as Palm Beach County’s new mass vaccination site officially opened for business. The site has the capacity to provide up to 7,000 COVID-19 vaccine shots per day, but will provide a limited number of shots until the vaccine supply increases. According to a spokeswoman for the Palm Beach County Healthcare District, there were 550 people scheduled to receive their first dose Wednesday at the site near West Palm Beach. Appointments are required as the Healthcare District works its way through the Department of Health’s initial waitlist, which will take approximately four to six weeks to complete.

Florida boosts vaccinations in Sarasota County” via Renzo Downey of Florida Politics — Florida is pushing more COVID-19 vaccines into Sarasota County on both a one-time and recurring basis. The state will vaccinate 3,000 preregistered seniors over three days, until Friday, at the Venice Community Center using the Pfizer vaccine. Additionally, the state is boosting the 3,300 vaccines available per week at the Sarasota Square Mall state-run site to 7,000 per week. DeSantis, who was in Venice on Wednesday to announce the latest efforts, has branded the state’s vaccine rollout as “Seniors First.” “We’re putting our parents and our grandparents first on this, and our goal is to give every senior a shot that wants a shot,” DeSantis told reporters.

COVID-19 exposure causes closure of Gadsden County Property Appraiser office” via The Tallahassee Democrat staff reports — The office of the Gadsden County Property Appraiser has been temporarily closed after exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. Property Appraiser Reginald Cunningham announced the closure Wednesday evening. “All property appraiser employees will be quarantined per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines,” he said in a statement. “Once the offices are sanitized, and employees are tested for COVID-19, the office could open as soon as Friday.”

Reginald Cunningham shutters the Gadsden County Appraiser’s Office.

Judge dismisses parents’ lawsuit against mask mandate in Indian River County schools” via Sommer Brugal of TCPalm — A judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit challenging the school district’s requirement that students wear face masks to protect against the spread of coronavirus. In her ruling, Circuit Judge Janet Croom said the lawsuit “fails to state a legally sufficient claim.” The mask mandate was part of the district’s plan to reopen schools in August. “We’re pleased with the court’s detailed and prompt ruling on this important issue,” said Superintendent David Moore. He declined to comment on details of Croom’s ruling but said school staff will continue to work with families and teachers to ensure teaching and learning continue in a positive learning environment. School Board member Teri Barenborg also declined to comment on the specifics of the decision.

— CORONA NATION —

Shot — “Brutal COVID-19 surge in the U.S. weakens significantly” via Jon Kamp and Talal Ansari of The Wall Street Journal — The most severe surge of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. has weakened significantly, according to key metrics. However, public-health experts and public health researchers urge caution, given the spread of highly contagious new variants. Newly reported cases have dropped 56% over the past month, based on a seven-day average, marking a significantly steeper fall than the U.S. saw after the spring and summer surges. Hospitalizations have declined 38% since Jan 6. The seven-day average of COVID-19 tests returning positive fell over the past week to 6.93%, the lowest since Oct. 31. Unlike during earlier moments in the pandemic, case counts are heading lower amid a mass-inoculation effort.

Chaser — “Joe Biden team fears: No COVID-19 herd immunity until Thanksgiving” via Erin Banco of The Daily Beast — Top members of Biden’s COVID response team are warning internally that the U.S. may not reach herd immunity until Thanksgiving or even the start of winter, months later than originally calculated, according to two senior administration officials. Biden hinted at some of these concerns, saying it would be “very difficult” to reach herd immunity “much before the end of the summer” with the current daily rate of approximately 1.3 million vaccine doses. Other top officials working on the federal government’s COVID-19 response say they are uneasy about vaccine supply long term and the impact on herd immunity and have begun to explore ways to expand U.S. manufacturing capacity, potentially through new partnerships with outside pharmaceutical firms.

Herd immunity is months away, warns Joe Biden’s staff. Image via AP.

Up to 50,000 COVID-19 cases can be traced back to Mardi Gras 2020, study finds” via Stephanie Weaver of FOX 13 — More than 1 million people from all over the U.S. were drawn to Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans last February during the dawn of the pandemic. Now, a new study shows the absence of COVID-19 safety regulations during that period likely caused it to be a superspreader event that spawned up to 50,000 cases. “We show that SARS-CoV-2 was already present in New Orleans before Mardi Gras and that the festival dramatically accelerated transmission,” the study authors wrote. “Although we did not attempt to estimate the exact magnitude of the Mardi Gras superspreading event … it seems likely that the majority of the ~50,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases during the first wave can be traced back to Mardi Gras.”

How a sluggish vaccination program could delay a return to normal and invite vaccine-resistant variants to emerge” via Harry Stevens, Aaron Steckelberg and Naema Ahmed of The Washington Post — The President-elect’s pledge had a certain ring to it: “at least 100 million COVID vaccine shots” in 100 days. That was on Dec. 8, before Biden took office. On the fifth day of his presidency, Biden appeared to aim higher, saying 1.5 million shots per day were within reach. Less than a month into the Biden presidency, as the rate of vaccinations continues to increase, the country has nearly reached the pace needed to achieve that milestone, with 1.48 million shots per day administered over the past week.

AP poll: A third of U.S. adults skeptical of COVID-19 shots” via Mike Stobbe and Hannah Fingerhut of The Associated Press — About 1 in 3 Americans say they definitely or probably won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a new poll that some experts say is discouraging news if the U.S. hopes to achieve herd immunity and vanquish the outbreak. The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that while 67% of Americans plan to get vaccinated or have already done so, 15% are confident they won’t, and 17% say probably not. Many expressed doubts about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. The poll suggests that substantial skepticism persists more than a month and a half into a U.S. vaccination drive that has encountered few if any serious side effects.

As Biden pushes for racial equity in vaccination, data is lagging” via Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times — Federal health officials are struggling to gather accurate data on the race and ethnicity of people being vaccinated against the coronavirus, hampering Biden’s push for racial equity in a pandemic that has taken a disproportionate toll on communities of color. Biden has repeatedly said racial equity will be at the core of his administration’s coronavirus response. On Tuesday, White House officials announced a program to ship doses of the vaccine directly to a network of federally funded clinics in underserved areas, beginning next week.

Variants mean the coronavirus is here to stay — but perhaps as a lesser threat” via Carolyn Y. Johnson of The Washington Post — In early December, the end of the pandemic glimmered on the horizon. Blockbuster vaccine results suggested a clear path forward. The return to normalcy would take time — but after a year of uncertainty. For the past two months, disease trackers’ understanding of the threat has evolved day by day, as scientists piece together meaning from fragmented clinical data, lab experiments, and bits of science gleaned on Twitter. The path forward is still hopeful but longer and more labyrinthine. It has become clear that coronavirus variants can slip past some of the immunity generated by vaccines and prior infections. The virus is here to stay, and scientists will have to remain vigilant.

Vaccines will soon be a regular part of life. Image via AP.

White House looks at domestic travel restrictions as COVID-19 mutation surges in Florida” via Michael Wilner, Ben Conarck, and Nicholas Nehamas of The Wall Street Journal — The Biden administration is considering whether to impose domestic travel restrictions, including on Florida, fearful that coronavirus mutations are threatening to reverse hard-fought progress on the pandemic. One federal official said outbreaks of the new variants had lent urgency to reviewing potential travel restrictions within the United States. Discussions in the administration over possible travel restrictions do not target a specific state but focus on preventing the spread of variants that appear to be surging in several states, including Florida and California.

— CORONA ECONOMICS — 

Large bipartisan majority of Americans favor more COVID-19 economic relief” via Fred Backus, Jennifer de Pinto, Anthony Salvanto of CBS News — A very large and bipartisan majority of Americans would support congressional passage of a new stimulus bill to help those impacted by the pandemic. Many would prefer that it received bipartisan support in Congress, too. Meanwhile, a majority give Biden good marks for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak and his job as President overall in his administration’s opening weeks. Though six in 10 Americans think the vaccine rollout has been too slow in their states, 73% of Americans think the process has been fair, including majorities of both non-White and lower-income Americans.

Fed chair: Unemployment rate was closer to 10%, not 6.3%, in January” via Rachel Siegel of The Washington Post — Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the unemployment rate in January was “close to 10%,” significantly higher than the 6.3% rate reported by the Labor Department last week. The discrepancy is partly due to many unemployed Americans being misclassified as employed, Powell said during a virtual speech at the Economic Club of New York. After accounting for people who have left the labor force since February 2020 and other factors, the unemployment rate is much higher than the official figure, he said.

— MORE CORONA —

The CDC says tight-fit masks or double masking with cloth and surgical masks increases protection.” via Roni Caryn Rabin and Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times — Wearing a mask reduces the risk of infection with the coronavirus, but wearing a more tightly fitted surgical mask, or layering a cloth mask atop a surgical mask, can vastly increase protections to the wearer and others, the CDC reported. New research by the agency shows that transmission of the virus can be reduced by up to 96.5% if both an infected individual and an uninfected individual wear tightly fitted surgical masks or a cloth-and-surgical-mask combination.

Two masks are considerably better than one, experts say. Image via AP.

— PRESIDENTIAL —

Biden’s top challenge abroad is something no one wants to talk about” via Steven Erlanger of The New York Times — When Biden left office as Vice President four years ago, anxiety about nuclear weapons was low, save for North Korea. But after four years of Trump, Biden has returned to a world filled with nuclear dangers. There is little arms control; modern technologies are unrestrained, and the players are more numerous and rapidly building up nuclear stockpiles. As important, Trump’s transactional, spasmodic, “America First” policies undermined allies’ confidence in American security guarantees. Many experts are now warning that Biden must once again make arms control a priority, even if the notion seems as dated as the wide-lapeled suits of the 1970s and ’80s.

In a throwback to the 80s, Joe Biden will have to deal with nuclear dangers. Image via AP.

Biden to launch a Pentagon review of China strategy” via Gordon Lubold of The Wall Street Journal — Biden is expected Wednesday to launch a Pentagon review of the national security aspects of the administration’s China strategy, as part of a broader administration effort to determine its approach to countering Beijing, administration officials said. A task force will study the military’s footprint in Asia, technology, intelligence, the role of allies and partnerships, and other areas of the strategy, the officials said. Biden is expected to announce the effort during his first visit as commander in chief to the Pentagon, where he planned to meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and other top officials.

TikTok sale to Oracle, Walmart is shelved as Biden reviews security” via John D. McKinnon and Alex Leary of The Wall Street Journal — A U.S. plan to force the sale of TikTok’s American operations to a group including Oracle Corp. and Walmart Inc. has been shelved indefinitely, people familiar with the situation said, as Biden undertakes a broad review of his predecessor’s efforts to address potential security risks from Chinese tech companies. The TikTok deal has languished since last fall in the midst of successful legal challenges to the U.S. government’s effort by TikTok’s owner, China’s ByteDance Ltd. In a new development late Wednesday, the Biden administration asked to delay the government’s appeal of a federal district court judge’s December injunction against the TikTok ban.

— EPILOGUE: TRUMP —

Graphic video shows mob storming Capitol, stalking Nancy Pelosi, Mike Pence” via Mark Niquette, Laura Litvan, and Billy House of Bloomberg — House impeachment managers played a graphic video showing a violent mob of Trump supporters rampaging through the U.S. Capitol and stalking House Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Pence, portraying the siege as the culmination of the former President’s monthslong campaign to stoke anger over the election. Democratic Delegate Stacey Plaskett, one of the House members prosecuting the impeachment case against Trump, said the FBI and prosecutors found that rioters intended to assassinate Pelosi, Pence and others in the Capitol on Jan. 6. “They did it because Donald Trump sent them on this mission,” Plaskett told the Senators who are sitting as jurors in the impeachment trial.

Heroics from Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman include potentially saving Mitt Romney from the violent mob.

—“Evidence from Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial” via The Washington Post

Everything about Trump’s impeachment trial is personal” via Robin Givhan of The Washington Post — The House managers are arguing that this impeachment is not political — or at least not simply that. This second impeachment is special because it’s historic and also because it’s personal. To everyone. No one made that more apparent than Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, who drew a parallel between the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when she was working on Capitol Hill as a staffer and the January riot. Plaskett said the 44 passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 gave their lives to prevent terrorists from flying that plane into the Capitol building. Enslaved people gave their lives to construct that building. “This Capitol stands because of people like that.”

Mitch McConnell signals Trump conviction is a GOP conscience vote” via Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg — McConnell is signaling to fellow Republicans that the final vote on Trump’s impeachment is a matter of conscience and that Senators who disputed the constitutionality of the trial could still vote to convict the former President, according to three people familiar with his thinking. The Kentucky Republican has also suggested that he hasn’t made up his mind how he’ll vote, two of the people said, even though he voted Tuesday to declare it unconstitutional for the Senate to hear the case against a former President. That position is starkly different from McConnell’s declaration at the start of Trump’s first impeachment trial last year that he did not consider himself an impartial juror.

Nearly half the Republicans who will judge Trump bolstered the falsehood that drove the Capitol riot” via Philip Bump of The Washington Post — Before the Nov. 3 election, Trump claimed that he could lose his reelection bid only if rampant fraud occurred; once he lost, that’s precisely what he alleged. Trump had a lot of assistance in pushing that case, including from the conservative media and his campaign team. But he was also assisted by a large segment of the Republican Senate caucus. This group is currently asked to see his behavior after the election as part of an effort to overthrow the presidential election results. Nearly half the Republican caucus, in other words, is being asked to judge that the falsehood they helped propel was an instrumental part of an attempted insurrection against the U.S. government.

Rick Scott after viewing brutal new videos: ‘This is a complete waste of time’” via Rebecca Shabad of NBC News — Sen. Scott told reporters after viewing the explicit videos of the attack on the Capitol the Senate trial is a “complete waste of time.” “I’m disgusted that, you know, people think that they can do things like that and get away with it. I hope everybody that came into the Capitol and did the wrong thing gets prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Scott said. Asked if he thinks Trump bears any responsibility for the attack, Scott said, “Look, I’ve been clear that I wish the President had said something faster when they broke into it, but, you know, I’ve watched what he said. He’s never said when somebody should break in — [he] actually said that people should do this peacefully.”

Proud Boys member says Trump to blame for inciting Capitol riot” via David Yaffe-Bellany of Bloomberg — A member of the far-right Proud Boys charged for his role in the riot at the U.S. Capitol blamed Trump for his conduct, claiming he was “misled by the President’s deception.” As Trump faces trial in the Senate on charges that he incited the Jan. 6 insurrection, a lawyer for the Proud Boy, Dominic Pezzola, filed a memo in federal court in Washington on Wednesday making an argument Democrats have stressed repeatedly in the impeachment proceedings: that the riot was the culmination of weeks of conspiracies and misinformation spread by the President to overturn the election results.

Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola is clear on whose orders he was at The Capitol. Image via The Washington Post.

How right-wing radio stoked anger before the Capitol siege” via Michael M. Grynbaum, Tiffany Hsu, Katie Robertson and Keith Collins of The New York Times — Two days before a mob of Trump supporters invaded the United States Capitol, upending the nation’s peaceful transition of power and leaving at least five people dead, the right-wing radio star Glenn Beck delivered a message to his flock of 10.5 million listeners: “It is time to fight.” “It is time to rip and claw and rake,” Beck said on his Jan. 4 broadcast. “It is time to go to war, as the left went to war four years ago.” Beck had speculated for weeks about baseless claims of voter fraud in the presidential race.

In an avalanche of words, there’s no sign of regret from Trump” via Robin Givhan of The Washington Post — The first day of the second impeachment trial of Trump began in silence and dignity. It ended with a tale of grievance and fury told by a team of last-minute lawyers who looked and sounded more than a little worse for wear. Trump has lawyers representing him. It might be an exaggeration to say they are defending him, perhaps because he doesn’t believe he requires protection or justification. Among all the words that have been spoken, there’s no evidence thus far that after a mob of Trump’s supporters caused death and mayhem at the Capitol, the former President ever uttered the words, “I’m sorry it happened.”

State and local Republican Party committees attack any Republicans who dare turn on Trump” via Michael Scherer of The Washington Post — Since Trump left office, grassroots Republican activists and state parties have become Trump’s vociferous defenders, condemning and censuring elected Republicans who dare to deviate in any way from full-throated support of the former President. That has created a backlash of its own, as some Republicans — even some who eventually may oppose impeachment — are pushing back against local leadership. The resulting clashes have laid bare the division in the Republican Party, which some strategists worry will undercut the party’s chances in the 2022 midterm elections, when winning House and Senate majorities are likely to hinge on a united party that can draw out Trump’s supporters and win converts from among swing voters who were repelled by the former President’s politics.

Twitter CFO says Trump’s ban is permanent, even if he runs for office again” via Brian Fung of CNN — Trump will not be permitted back on Twitter even if he runs again for office and wins, according to the company’s chief financial officer. Asked during an interview on CNBC Wednesday whether Trump’s tweeting privileges could be restored if he wins the presidency again, CFO Ned Segal clarified that Trump’s ban is permanent. “The way our policies work, when you’re removed from the platform, you’re removed from the platform,” he said. The statement comes amid Trump’s impeachment trial in Congress. If he is acquitted, Trump would not be barred from seeking the presidency or another federal office.

Ivanka Trump wants us all to know she’s having fun in Miami, damn it” via Alaina Demopoulos of The Daily Beast — Since the day her father left office, Ivanka has self-imposed a strict social media blackout. There are no planned “candid” shots of Jared and the kids, no tweets about “female empowerment” or whatever it was she did for the past four years other than gaslight and obfuscate her way into a government job. That kind of cold turkey logging off for someone who seemed to live for every photo op seemed like remarkable restraint — until Daily Mail photographers caught up with her.

Trump Justice Department sought to block search of Rudy Giuliani records” of Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum of The New York Times — In the final months of the Trump administration, senior Justice Department officials repeatedly sought to block federal prosecutors in Manhattan from taking a crucial step in their investigation into Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine, delaying a search warrant for some of Giuliani’s electronic records, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The actions by political appointees at the Justice Department in Washington effectively slowed the investigation as it gained momentum last year. In the final months of 2020, the prosecutors were still delving into whether Giuliani had illegally lobbied the Trump administration on behalf of Ukrainian officials.

Matt Gaetz hits back at Adam Kinzinger PAC targeting ‘Trumpism’” via Zack Budryk of The Hill — Gaetz, one of former President Donald Trump’s most vocal backers in Congress, called on Illinois Republican Rep. Kinzinger to “bring it” over reports his House colleague plans to start a super-PAC targeting the right flank of his party. “Adam is a patriot who fought for America from Northwest Florida. We will always appreciate and honor his service. Now, he wants to target my America First politics, referencing me by name,” Gaetz tweeted Wednesday. “My response: F–ing bring it. Adam needs PACs to win elections. I don’t.”

Pastor was a charlatan, but few cared as long as he hosted Trump, pushed GOP agenda” via Fabiola Santiago of The Miami Herald — Long before divorce documents spilled tantalizing secrets about the wealth of Miami megachurch pastor Guillermo Maldonado there were signs he was a charlatan. “The presence of the living God,” the evangelical preacher called Trump, who, on the campaign trail, stood steps away from him looking like he was trying to stifle a good laugh while beaming at the obsequious praise. Not to leave himself out of the power equation between God and Trump, Maldonado declared himself the conduit of all this greatness: “I release the Holy Spirit upon his life. I declare, God, that you use him.”

— D.C. MATTERS —

Marco Rubio calls possible Florida travel ban ‘authoritarian’ — U.S. Sen. Rubio sent a letter to Biden calling recent reports that the White House plans to restrict travel to and from Florida “an outrageous, authoritarian move that has no basis in law or science.” The administration is considering domestic travel restrictions for Florida and other states, such as California, that have many coronavirus variant cases. Rubio said such a ban “would only serve to inflict severe and devastating economic pain on an already damaged economy. If you are concerned about the coronavirus spread in Florida, I urge you to fast track additional vaccines to the state instead of attempting to cripple our economy.”

Marco Rubio is no fan of Florida travel bans.

Spotted — Rubio on Axios’ “Top tweeters of the 116th Congress” list. Rubio is ranked No. 10 in the average number of tweets per week, with 80.7. He was one of two Senators in the Top 10, placing behind U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas.

Assignment editors — Crist will host a news conference to announce legislation to expedite Pinellas Veterans getting their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, 10:30 a.m., VFW Post 39, 2599 Central Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Then, Crist will host a virtual meeting with the leadership of food banks across Tampa Bay to discuss addressing widespread food insecurity, 12:30 p.m. Join the meeting here.

Republicans came within 90,000 votes of controlling all of Washington” via Aaron Blake of The Washington Post — The 2020 election was bad for Republicans, full stop. That said, postelection analysis often overstates just how dire the situation is for a political party. And that’s certainly the case for Republicans and 2020. Republicans came, at most, 43,000 votes from winning each of the three levers of power. The Democrats’ narrow retention of the House is surely one of the biggest surprises of 2020. In an election in which most analysts expected the Democrats to gain seats, they wound up losing 14, including virtually all of the “toss-ups.” While the GOP lost the presidential race and control of the Senate, we very nearly had a much different outcome.

— CRISIS —

Was Byron Donalds chillin’ with insurrectionists before the Capitol riots?” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — A photo resurfaced Tuesday of U.S. Rep. Donalds near some of Trump’s highest-profile supporters the day of the Capitol riots. Of course, the Congressman was inside House chambers with his colleagues deliberating the certification of election results as Trump gave a speech at the White House that directly led to his impeachment. He was also there as pro-Trump protesters besieged the Capitol. But the Naples Republican’s office confirmed that earlier in the day, he attended events outside the Capitol with Trump supporters. The matter came up because Trump ally Mike Lindell, best known as the founder of MyPillow, posted a picture on Facebook from outside the Capitol where Donalds can be seen in the background.

Is that Byron Donalds hanging with Mike Lindell and Capitol rioters?

Proud Boy charged in insurrection blasts Trump’s ‘deception’ in new court filing” via Kyle Cheney of POLITICO — One of the Proud Boys arrested for participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol told a court Wednesday that he was duped by Trump‘s “deception” and “acted out of the delusional belief” that he was responding patriotically to the commander in chief. Dominic Pezzola, who was indicted last month and charged with conspiracy, urged a federal court to grant his release pending trial, emphasizing that his involvement in the Proud Boys was recent and minimal and that he has no other criminal history. But the most notable part of Pezzola’s 15-page motion for leniency was his thorough repudiation of Trump.

A majority of the people arrested for Capitol riot had a history of financial trouble” via Todd C. Frankel of The Washington Post — Nearly 60% of the people facing charges related to the Capitol riot showed signs of prior money troubles, including bankruptcies, notices of eviction or foreclosure, bad debts, or unpaid taxes over the past two decades, according to an analysis of public records for 125 defendants with sufficient information to detail their financial histories. The group’s bankruptcy rate, 18%, was nearly twice as high as that of the American public, The Post found. A quarter of them had been sued for money owed to a creditor. And 1 in 5 of them faced losing their home at one point, according to court filings.

Many of the Capitol rioters arrested had money problems.

UWF student involved in Capitol insurrection grabbed riot gear from police, court hears” via Emma Kennedy of the Pensacola News Journal — Tristan Chandler Stevens, 25, is charged with a slew of offenses for his alleged involvement in the insurrection Jan. 6 at the Capitol. In court Wednesday, the prosecution showed a four-minute video excerpt that depicted what appeared to be Stevens, of Pensacola, grabbing ahold of a federal officer’s riot shield and baton in an area of the Capitol building that day. Although there was no footage shown openly in court about other allegations, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Tharp said there is more evidence submitted to the court showing Stevens left and returned to the mob multiple times as the group attempted to breach the Capitol.

Southern Baptist leaders called Kamala Harris a ‘Jezebel.’ That’s not just insulting, it’s dangerous, experts say.” via Anne Branigin of The Lily — Two days after Vice President Harris was sworn in as the nation’s first female Vice President, Tom Buck let it out. “I can’t imagine any truly God-fearing Israelite who would’ve wanted their daughters to view Jezebel as an inspirational role model because she was a woman in power,” tweeted Buck, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas. Despite criticism, including from fellow pastors, Buck doubled down in a follow-up tweet the next day. While it may be easy to dismiss these Texas pastors as isolated examples, experts warn that these messages are far more prevalent in congregations across America.

The killing of George Floyd tore Minneapolis apart. Now comes the trial.” via Tim Arango of The New York Times — in the lead-up to Derek Chauvin’s trial, which is scheduled to begin with jury selection on March 8, there is great uncertainty about the case’s outcome and whether the proceedings could provoke more violence. Some office workers in downtown Minneapolis have already been told not to come to work during the weekslong trial because of heavy security. The National Guard will be deployed, transforming the city center into a military zone, with Humvees and armed soldiers monitoring checkpoints. In his recent budget proposal, Gov. Tim Walz included a special $4.2 million item for security during the trial, as well as a $35 million fund to reimburse local law enforcement agencies that may be called upon to quell unrest.

— LOCAL NOTES —

Daniel Davis resurrects dormant political committee with $1.31M January haul” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — The open question in Jacksonville: What is Davis going to do with his massive fundraising haul? Davis, a Westside Republican who many have talked up as a logical successor to current Mayor Lenny Curry, set the fundraising standard in Northeast Florida this cycle by starting 2021 hot, raising $1.314 million in January from 72 contributions to his political committee, Building a Better Economy. Davis built a donor class coalition that would be the envy of either local political party, bringing in six-figure checks from some of Jacksonville’s biggest names, including Gary Chartrand, Tom Petway, John Baker, JB Coxwell Contracting, and First Coast Energy. Reasonable expectations are that DeSantis could very well lean in for Davis.

Daniel Davis’ PAC roars back to life. Image via WJCT.

‘OK’ sign at Jacksonville City Council meeting sparks look at White supremacist gestures” via David Bauerlein of The Florida Times-Union — When is the “OK” sign a symbol of White supremacy? On Tuesday, a Jacksonville City Council workshop delved into that question after a speaker raised his arms to display the “OK” sign with both hands during the public comments at a January council meeting. City Council member LeAnna Cumber, who hosted the workshop, said it’s important for the city’s elected leaders and residents to be aware of hate groups and how hate symbols are “being mainstreamed, and we ignore it at our own peril.” But Seber Newsome III said after the workshop he made the “OK” gesture while praising Trump because Trump frequently used the same gesture at campaign rallies.

James Calkins: Trump supporters would be ‘offended’ if Navarre bridge was named for military heroes” via Annie Blanks of the Pensacola News Journal — Santa Rosa County Commissioner Calkins said Tuesday that Trump supporters would be “offended” if the Navarre Beach bridge was named after local military heroes instead of Trump. At a public forum at Tuesday’s County Commission workshop, Santa Rosa County resident Tony Hughes presented to the board the idea to make a memorial dedication of the causeway to Master Sgt. John Chapman and rename the bridge the Air Commando Bridge. Calkins, a staunch Trump supporter, claimed Hughes’ motivations to rename the bridge are “suspicious” because Calkins brought up renaming the bridge after Trump in December. He said the effort to rename the bridge after local military heroes was an affront to the former President and his supporters.

California investor cuts $250K check for Miami Mayor’s reelection amid tech push” via Joey Flechas of The Miami Herald — Francis Suarez’s reelection campaign is benefiting from his campaign to lure tech companies from California to Miami. State records released Wednesday show that Miami’s mayor raised more than $400,000 for his reelection campaign in January, with more than half of that coming from one quarter-million-dollar check cut by an early Facebook executive and venture capitalist. The donor who gave Suarez $250,000? Billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya, one of several California tech bigwigs connected with Suarez as he has tried to woo Silicon Valley to reboot in South Florida.

Democratic Party condemns Miami Beach Commissioner for ‘conspiracist screeds’” via Jessica Lipscomb of The Miami New Times — Ever since he started spitballing about deliberately infecting first responders with the coronavirus last spring, Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola has been one to watch on social media. In the past year, Arriola has boosted conspiracy theories about COVID-19 from less-than-credible websites while railing against the media, local and federal government officials, and anyone else he deemed “Team Doomsday.” After the commissioner engaged in a particularly heated Twitter spat with documentary filmmaker Billy Corben last month, the Miami-Dade Democratic Party leaders threatened to take action against Arriola, a registered Democrat.

Ricky Arriola is entertaining to watch on social media — if nothing else.

Multiple political figures under consideration as Manatee County’s next administrator” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Manatee County Administrator Cheri Coryea has begun severance negotiations and will leave her post by the end of the month. Already, there’s a list of notable figures in the region ready to fill her job on an interim or permanent basis. Former Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines seems to be a board consensus to fill the post on an interim basis. Still, at a meeting Tuesday, Commissioners offered other names for consideration, including Manatee County School Board Chair Scott Hopes and former Manatee School Superintendent Rick Mills. Next, Commissioners will discuss the matter on Feb. 23, when County Attorney William Clague hopes to bring a negotiated and amicable termination agreement with Coryea.

In return to its roots, Tallahassee Democrat moving downtown to City Centre” via TaMaryn Waters of the Tallahassee Democrat — Located at 227 N. Bronough Street, the Democrat will occupy the sixth and seventh floor of the pearl-colored, fortress-like building across from the LeRoy Collins Leon County Library. In 2015, the building shed its unattractive stucco façade for a major $4 million face-lift. City Centre has several tenants, including the Florida Justice Administrative Commission, the Office of the State Courts Administrator and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation. The newspaper is leasing space within the 153,000 square-foot building. It will house the company’s newsroom and business services operation, including the LOCALiQ advertising solutions team and finance hub serving the Democrat and 260 markets throughout Gannett, the Democrat’s parent company.

— TOP OPINION —

Lower Florida wages! More parents should have to work two or three jobs!” via Scott Maxwell of The Orlando Sentinel — Last year, you voted to raise Florida’s minimum wage, and now legislators are scheming to undermine that. Why? Because that’s just what Florida legislators do. Slugs can’t help but be slimy. Skunks can’t help but stink. And now that 61% of Sunshine State voters said yes to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026, Sen. Brandes is leading the charge to let businesses pay less than that, as long as they claim they’re employing “hard-to-hire” workers or former felons.

— OPINIONS —

Donald Trump’s trial has crystallized the horror of Jan. 6. The Senate must convict him.” via The Washington Post editorial board — Before former President Donald Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial, members of both parties wondered whether it was worth the effort. Democrats worried it would disrupt the early days of President Joe Biden’s administration. Republicans, most of whom remain terrified of Trump, rallied to oppose his conviction on procedural grounds, all but guaranteeing in advance it would not occur. What good could a Senate trial do? Two days in, it is clear that the proceedings are essential for the nation, even if they do not end in a formal verdict against Trump.

Cynicism and courage, conscience and cowardice, on display at Trump trial” via The South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial board — The 44 Republican Senators who voted Tuesday to abort Trump’s impeachment trial did not give themselves a constitutional pretext to acquit him of the high crime of inciting insurrection. To think they did would be as delusional, and as cynical, as his own claim to have won the election that he sent a howling, murderous mob to overturn. Trump’s objection to the constitutionality of trying an ex-President was settled with the 56 to 44 vote against it. That was the equivalent of a judicial ruling, and it as binding on the Senators sitting as jurors as if it were a judge’s ruling in a civil trial, where the jury is under oath to apply the law as the court explains it.

You can’t hear that officer’s scream and acquit the man who caused it” via Dana Milbank of The Washington Post — For a full minute, the officer’s screams of agony pierced the Senate chamber — and then, silence. On their screens, senators sitting in judgment of Trump saw the raw savagery that Trump incited on Jan. 6 in his last-ditch attempt to overturn his defeat. They saw it in the pain-contorted face of Officer Hodges of Washington’s Metropolitan Police. Trump’s apologists seem willing to excuse just about anything. But they do not have hearts if they are not moved by the Capitol and D.C. police departments’ heroism, badly outnumbered by Trump’s armed supporters. They do not have souls if they can’t see the evil Trump inflicted on the officers protecting the seat of American government.

DeSantis budget will require working better with Biden White House” via the Palm Beach Post editorial board — Gov. DeSantis may actually believe that old Reagan adage about the worst nine words in the English language: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” But you’d never know it, given the hefty $96.6 billion spending plan for fiscal 2021-22 that landed with a thud in Tallahassee last week, especially when that surprisingly generous state budget wouldn’t be feasible without the largesse of the federal government. The truth is, DeSantis’ budget wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s printed on without a hoped-for multibillion-dollar injection of federal government cash into state education, health care, unemployment benefits and COVID-relief programs.

Could anything be worse than Florida’s Stand Your Ground? Yes, a new, racist legislative proposal” via the Miami Herald editorial board — Proponents of Florida’s proposed “Combating Public Disorder” law are spinning it as a reaction to the violent mobs that stormed the nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6 to try to reverse the results of the presidential election. But don’t be fooled. House Bill 1, a priority of the Republican leadership in Tallahassee, is redundant, racist and totally political. It’s aimed at Black Lives Matter and will make it dangerous for the movement’s supporters to take to the streets, however peacefully. Gov. DeSantis first pitched the idea in September, in the wake of summer protests over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and Trump’s calls for law enforcement to crack down on them.

Where is Florida Democrats’ Stacey Abrams?” via Mark I. Pinsky for the Orlando Sentinel — Going into the 2020 presidential election, the nation’s eyes frequently turned to Florida as the quintessential swing state. Still, it was Georgia that had helped swing the presidential election and control of the U.S. Senate. The difference, observers agreed, was Abrams. So, who could emerge as Florida’s Stacey Abrams to take on DeSantis? Early speculation about who the badly bruised Democrats will pick to challenge DeSantis suggests that the gubernatorial primary could feature four prominent, elected women of diverse ethnic backgrounds: U.S. Rep. Val Demings, U.S. Rep. Murphy, Agriculture Commissioner Fried and state Rep. Anna Eskamani.

— ON TODAY’S SUNRISE —

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill to protect health care companies from being sued over the COVID-19 crisis. Backers of the bill say it protects the health care heroes. Opponents say it only protects employers … especially the bad ones.

Also, on today’s Sunrise:

— Gov. DeSantis travels to the Venice Community Center to announce new vaccination sites — and do a victory dance of sorts. The Governor says he was right and other states got it wrong.

— Unions representing police, firefighters, teachers, and other public employees are under attack in the Legislature again. AFL-CIO lobbyist Rich Templin questions the timing … and intent.

— The simple answer is that most Florida lawmakers are anti-union, taking great delight in poking the hornet’s nest.

— And finally, police jailed a Florida Man for threatening to kill his girlfriend and her children after she dumped him while they were on vacation.

To listen, click on the image below:

— ALOE —

The Super Bowl’s woke capitalism” via Dave Zirin of The Nation — We need to have a conversation about the National Football League’s use of “woke marketing” or “woke capitalism” or whatever you want to call it, before the weight of its contradictions causes us all to crack collectively. What the NFL did on Sunday was dare the viewing public to sweep away the Buffalo wings from their tables and proclaim the entire endeavor to be a snarling pack of lies. This is a league that remains racially segregated between those with power and those who play. In a sport so deeply dependent on Black talent, Black bodies, and the concussive destruction of Black minds, there are still only three Black coaches. There are only a handful of Black executives. There are no Black franchise owners.

Super Bowl champion Buccaneers celebrate with boat parade — and really, really enjoy themselves” via Fred Goodall of The South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Even on the water, it seems the connection on and off the field between Super Bowl champions quarterback Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski cannot be denied. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers held a boat parade Wednesday to celebrate their championship on a sun-splashed day with thousands of fans lining the Hillsborough River near downtown Tampa. At one point, Brady was captured on video tossing the NFL’s Lombardi Trophy from his boat across the water to a shirtless Gronkowski in another boat. That brought wild cheers from fans and players.

Crist joins Bucs boat parade — U.S. Rep. Crist on Wednesday donned his Bucs gear — and a mask — to join fellow fans at the Bucs Boat Parade to celebrate the team’s victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV. “Today was a great day in the Bay Area, celebrating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their amazing Super Bowl win alongside my sisters Cathy Kennedy, Elizabeth and her husband, Tedd Poore, as well as my sister in service, Congresswoman Castor. Go Bucs!” Crist said.

Charlie Crist and Kathy Castor take to the river to celebrate the Bucs win. Image via Facebook.

Super Bowl streaker recounts ‘the greatest moment of my life’” via Lane DeGregory of The Tampa Bay Times — They hatched the plan last Wednesday, on the plane ride home from Dubai. The 15-hour flight gave them plenty of time to strategize. Douglas Schaffer ran onto the field first and dove onto the turf as a decoy. Security officers from several sections raced to grab him, which gave Yuri Andrade an opening. He raced down the stadium stairs and, from six rows up, jumped over the fence and tore off his shirt. That, he said, was “the greatest moment of my life.” The crowd went wild. Two security guards tried to grab him, but he eluded them with a spin move, dashed past a lineman and blew a kiss to Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who scowled at him.

What John Lux is reading‘Fear of Rain,’ shot in Tampa Bay and starring Katherine Heigl, premieres Friday” via Paul Guzzo of The Tampa Bay Times — The writer and director of “Fear of Rain” would not share her first choice for the movie’s villain. But Castille Landon did name her best choice. Everything always seemed to work out for Landon. She lost her original financing source and then had to change backdrops, costing her a state incentive and creating a larger budget. But the movie found a new home in the Tampa Bay area and was backed by financiers that included the Steinbrenner family. Now, the film starring Heigl and Harry Connick Jr. screens in theaters for at least a week beginning Friday. The local theaters showing Fear of Rain include Studio Movie Grill in Seminole and Tampa and Green Light Cinema in St. Petersburg. It will then be available as a digital rental.

— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —

Happy birthday to former Gov. Jeb Bush, Alex ConantHannah Kaplan Plante, John Rodriguez, and Larry Williams.

___

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

Peter Schorsch

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



#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Renzo Downey, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Joe Henderson, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Gray Rohrer, Aimee Sachs, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Wes Wolfe, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704




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