Delegation for 2.12.21: Travel — Venezuela — WHO — Gaetz battle — Grapefruit

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Will Joe Biden launch an 'attack' on Florida? Republicans seem to think so.

Flight plan

A high concentration of the mutated coronavirus strain B.1.1.7 in Florida has President Joe Biden considering travel restrictions on the state. But that trial balloon landed with a clunk as far as Republican delegation members. Rep. Michael Waltz of Saint Augustine called the plan “total BS.” Sen. Rick Scott called it “crazy.”

The seesaw policy ‘considerations’ from the Biden administration only hurt Florida’s working families whose livelihoods depend on tourism dollars,” Scott tweeted. “Biden should focus on delivering more vaccines and stop creating uncertainty for Florida businesses.”

Joe Biden’s talk of Florida travel restrictions goes over like a lead balloon.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who served in the House before becoming the state’s top executive, labeled the plan “unconstitutional.” “Any attempt to restrict or lockdown Florida by the federal government would be an attack on our state, done purely for political purposes,” DeSantis said at a news conference Thursday.

But the staunchest complaint came in writing from Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida’s senior Senator. The Miami Republican trashed the “authoritarian” plan. “Instituting a travel ban, or any restriction of movement between the states, would be an outrageous, authoritarian move that has no basis in law or science,” he wrote. “Instead, it would only serve to inflict severe and devastating economic pain on an already damaged economy.”

He also took to social media to note a contrast between Biden’s plan now and his statements as a candidate in the early days of the pandemic. “Day after [Donald] Trump issued a COVID travel ban on China, Joe Biden accused him of ‘hysteria, xenophobia and fearmongering.’ The following month he said banning travel from any part of the world will not stop coronavirus,” Rubio wrote. “But now he is considering restrictions on Florida travel.”

The plan, first reported by McClatchy and published in the Miami Herald, doesn’t target Florida specifically but would put restrictions on regions with high counts of the mutated strain. That right now would hit Florida and California. Requirements ordered from the White House could include testing requirements for domestic flights or quarantining requirements, similar to those mandated by DeSantis last year on visitors from New York.

Waiting for Guaidó?

Rubio played a major role in convincing the Trump White House to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s leader, not President Nicolás Maduro. Now he and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez hope to convince Biden to stay the course.

The two Senators introduced a Senate resolution condemning “fraudulent elections” in Venezuela boycotted by the Guiadó-led opposition party and which resulted in Maduro retaining power, while his allies seized control of the National Assembly.

How much persuading does Joe Biden need to recognize Juan Guaidó as Venezuela President?

“As the Maduro narco-terrorist regime continues to double down on its efforts to maintain its illegitimate grip on power, the United States Senate is sending a strong bipartisan message reaffirming its unwavering support of Interim President Guaidó,” Rubio said. “For years, we have witnessed the deterioration of Venezuela’s democracy. I am proud to lead this bipartisan effort to once again denounce Maduro and his cronies for their continued role in undermining their nation’s future through fraudulent elections. We will not stop fighting until Venezuela is once again a beacon of prosperity and democracy.”

Notably, the population of Venezuelan nationals in the U.S. has more than quadrupled in the past 20 years, according to Pew Research Center estimates. More than half the 421,000 who emigrated to the U.S. call Florida home. Hence, Venezuela’s politics have become a major political issue within the Sunshine State, with opposition to Maduro boasting bipartisan support.

In the Senate, a bipartisan group signed on as co-sponsors to Rubio’s and Menendez’s resolution, including Florida’s junior Sen. Scott, Texas Republican Ted Cruz, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin and Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin.

WHO dis

While the Biden administration halted the U.S. exit from the Who Health Organization, Scott still wants accountability for the international organization that many believe turned a blind eye to China’s suppression of data on the coronavirus. The Naples Republican, with Missouri Republican Josh Hawley, introduced the World Health Organization Accountability Act to do just that.

The legislation would withhold any U.S. taxpayer dollars reaching the organization until it changes the leadership in place at the start of 2020.

WHO’s there? Rick Scott wants accountability from the World Health Organization. Image via AP.

“The mission of the WHO is to get public health information to the world so every country can make the best decisions to keep their citizens safe. The WHO not only failed its mission, but it failed the world when it comes to the coronavirus,” Scott said.

“They served as a puppet for the Chinese Communist Party — parroting misinformation and helping Communist China cover up a global pandemic. Last February, I called on the WHO to do its own in-depth analysis on the extent and origins of the coronavirus. It took them nearly a year to take action, and we still have no answer. They have even dropped their investigation into whether COVID-19 leaked from [the] Wuhan lab. Their inaction has grave consequences.

Hawley called out WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom by name when introducing the legislation.

“Dr. Tedros and other WHO leaders must be held accountable for this dereliction of duty, and the WHO must undertake comprehensive reform before it is allowed to benefit from U.S. tax dollars once again,” Hawley said.

The legislation states the U.S. won’t pay the top costs out of every nation worldwide to support the WHO. It also demands Taiwan be allowed entry separate from China, with Scott saying to do otherwise enables China’s isolation of the territory.

‘Bring it’

Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz continued his battle with the anti-Trump wing of the Republican Party. On Wednesday, the Fort Walton Beach Congressman lobbed a social media response to Illinois Republican Adam Kinzinger singling Gaetz as Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene as targets of his Country First PAC.

“Now, he wants to target my America First politics, referencing me by name,” Gaetz tweeted. “My response: F*cking bring it. Adam needs PACs to win elections. I don’t.

Bring it on: Matt Gaetz turns up the heat in an interparty battle.

Indeed, Gaetz remains the only Republican in the House to swear off PAC money completely. Of course, Gaetz enjoys access to a significant pool of small donors thanks to popularity with right-wing outlets like Newsmax, Fox News and OAN, not to mention his near-million Twitter followers.

Kinzinger singled out Gaetz after he emerged as one of Greene’s most vocal defenders after Democrats voted to strip the freshman of her committee assignments. But Kinzinger notably cast one of 10 Republican House votes to impeach Trump following the Capitol riots. In contrast, Gaetz said the President had been right to claim voter fraud stole the election from him.

All you have to do is see people like, of course, Marjorie Taylor Greene. You look at people like Matt Gaetz, who know better,” Kinzinger told The Washington Post. “I think neither of them believes the stuff they ascribe to; they just want fame.”

Grapefruit intervention

Whether to impose tariffs on imports is generating plenty of controversy during the Trump era. But fighting tariffs on American products? That’s something to unite delegation members on both sides of the aisle.

Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto and Melbourne Republican Bill Posey together penned a letter to acting Trade Rep. Maria Pagan expressing their concerns over retaliatory tariffs placed on Florida grapefruit by the European Union.

Fruit fight: Darren Soto and Bill Posey gear up for a battle over Florida grapefruit.

“These tariffs have had a devastating impact on citrus, particularly Florida grapefruit, worsening the already difficult market conditions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter reads. “Because fresh citrus and citrus juices are subject to the retaliatory tariff, fresh Florida grapefruit is among the most adversely impacted.” 

The two go on to explain European markets account for 40% of purchases of the Florida crop. But a 25% tariff, on top of the more down-to-earth 1.5% tariff already in place, has devastated the market.

The letter picked up the signatures of 22 members of the Florida delegation.

“It is critical for the Biden administration to take steps toward resolving this issue as quickly as possible,” Soto said. “Our Florida grapefruit growers are depending on them to restore this important market and provide much-needed relief.” 

Titletown

The week brought a fresh reason for boat parades in Tampa Bay. Palm Harbor Democrat Charlie Crist and Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor took to sea Wednesday with other fans to celebrate the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl victory.

“Today was a great day in the Bay Area,” Crist said, “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 Kathy Castor. Go Bucs!”

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

Castor posted a video from the deck on her own social media channels. “This is the city of Champions,” she said. Indeed, in the buildup to the Bowl, Castor’s social media might lead one to believe the House’s uniform might include displaying a pirate flag.

There’s no word as of yet when the two Champa Bay lawmakers will collect on Kansas City barbecue from Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids or Missouri Democrat Emanuel Cleaver, the Congressmen representing Loserville (err, Kansas City) and the Chiefs in the House. The delegation members had put up guava pastries and Cuban sandwiches as part of a friendly wager if Tom Brady and the Buccaneers sunk in defeat. Instead, the delicacies remained in the Bay area for countless celebrations.

Scuttling pandemic scams

Crises bring scammers, and the coronavirus has been no exception. Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan and Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch just introduced bipartisan legislation in the House to do something about it. The pair introduced the Seniors Fraud Protection Act to prevent various cons targeting Florida’s sizable retirement population.

The legislation would create a new advisory office within the Bureau of Consumer Affairs charged with alerting the public of recent scams, which surface regularly. The proposal comes as a wave of offers posing as a stimulus, unemployment or other government relief bombard seniors.

Vern Buchanan and Ted Deutch team up to protect seniors against COVID-19 scammers.

“Seniors have worked their entire lives with the promise of a safe and secure retirement,” Buchanan said. “Unfortunately, criminals are taking advantage of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and working overtime to target them. Scams targeting the elderly threaten more than retirement accounts — they imperil the independence and trust of an already vulnerable community. We must do everything we can to safeguard the savings and dignity of Americans as they enter their golden years against those who try to defraud them.”

Indeed, the FBI calculates scams targeting seniors already cost more than $3 billion annually, and more than 1 in 5 Americans age 65 and older has been taken advantage of financially, according to the Investor Protection Trust. Such charades often take advantage of a lower level of familiarity with digital communication, but also with a reluctance of victims to report crimes thanks to the shame felt at falling for a ruse.

“Seniors are often the biggest targets for scams trying to confuse and cheat them to give up money and personal information,” Deutch said. “We need a stronger federal effort to track, target, and warn against these fraudulent schemes. This bill will strengthen important consumer protections to help seniors protect their assets.”

Flying the POW flag

The Trump administration’s decision to move a POW/MIA flag from atop the White House to the South Lawn created a stir among veterans last fall. Now Stuart Republican Brian Mast said Biden could right the wrong.

“To say that the men and women who were captured or went missing while defending our nation went above and beyond the call of duty would be an understatement,” Mast wrote in a letter to the White House.

Brian Mast asks Joe Biden to right a wrong and return the POW flag to the White House.

“The POW/MIA flag is a symbol and proclamation that we will never forget the tens of thousands of American service members who we have not brought home yet. They must never leave our thoughts and our hearts, and this symbol of our dedication to those who sacrificed everything for the United States of America must be visible at the heart of our great institutions, especially the White House.”   

The Congressman’s letter follows a similar request from Democratic Sens. Maggie Hassan, Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. Tom Cotton.

Trump ally Mast didn’t join last year with voices critiquing the decision to move the flag on Memorial Day, but he expressed a belief in his letter to Biden that the move violated the National POW/MIA Flag Act, which Trump signed into law in 2019. That law requires the proper flying of the flag on numerous federal buildings, including the White House.

COVID craft relief

Freshman Miami Republican Maria Elvira Salazar is looking to boost craft beer producers affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Salazar’s draft legislation would make those breweries eligible for small business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program. The original PPP excluded them from securing loans due to their designation under the North American Industry Classification System. Salazar’s measure would change that, permitting breweries, wineries and other small beverage producers to wet their lips with funds from the program.

“Over 80% of our local small businesses employ less than 10 people,” Salazar said. “Our South Florida craft breweries, wineries and distilleries have created and supported thousands of jobs across our community.”

Maria Elvira Salazar joined Jennifer Wexton of Virginia for a bipartisan boost for craft beer producers.

Virginia Democrat Jennifer Wexton joined as a co-sponsor on the bipartisan legislation. She also released a statement distilling the issue the measure seeks to address.

“Craft beverage producers who rely on on-premise sales have been some of the hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like restaurants and bars, they’ve closed or significantly reduced capacity in their taprooms and tasting rooms, making business all but impossible during the cold winter months,” Wexton said.

“These small businesses drive our local economy, support jobs across our district, and add to the vibrancy and character of our region. We must swiftly correct this oversight in the second round of the PPP to keep our favorite breweries, wineries, and distilleries afloat through the next few months of this crisis.”

Salazar cheered that sentiment. “I’m proud to introduce the bipartisan Fairness for Craft Beverage Producers Act alongside my colleague, Congresswoman Wexton, that provides full access to the Paycheck Protection Program loans to local small brewers and distillers. I look forward to continuing working in a bipartisan fashion to deliver immediate COVID-19 relief for our struggling local job creators.”

Leaving D.C.

There’s some personnel news out of Sarasota Republican Buchanan’s office in Washington D.C. Buchanan spokeswoman Chloe Conboy wrapped up her duties this week as a Congressional staffer. After spending two years working for the Congressman, she’s leaving the Capitol and will still serve some of Florida’s 16th Congressional District residents, just for a local government. She starts soon as strategic affairs manager for the Manatee County Public Safety Department.

Chloe Conboy to exit D.C. and head back to South Florida.

Conboy, a local media veteran who previously worked for ABC-7 in Sarasota, started working for Buchanan in December of 2018 as a field representative before moving to his Washington, D.C. office.

“It has been the greatest honor to serve as press secretary for Congressman Buchanan, a genuine leader who works tirelessly for the people he represents,” she said. “I look forward to watching Vern’s continued success as I begin my new role for Manatee County government.” 

Moon to the NRSC

Another alumnus from Scott’s past campaigns has come on board with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“I’m thrilled to announce Matt Moon as deputy executive director of the NRSC for the 2022 cycle,” said Scott, who this year chairs the campaign arm for Senate Republicans.

“Matt’s extensive experience in politics, government and advocacy, as well as his incredible work ethic and the passion he brings to everything he does, make him an invaluable addition to our team. He’s been at the forefront of major political campaigns and policy fights, and I know he’ll bring the same dedication to our mission of winning back the Senate.”

Moon’s prior work includes serving as communications director for Scott’s 2014 reelection campaign for Florida Governor. He also worked as a senior adviser to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and as deputy research director for the Republican National Committee.

He recently served as vice president for advocacy at Business Roundtable, where he lobbied for the tax cuts signed by Trump in 2017 and for implementing legislation for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

On This Day

Feb. 12, 1999 — “The Senate Acquits Bill Clinton” via The Washington Post — The United States Senate acquitted Clinton on charges he committed perjury and obstruction of justice to hide sexual indiscretions with a onetime White House intern, permitting the 42nd president to complete the remaining 708 days of his term. After a tumultuous year of scandal that tested the Constitution and tried the nation’s patience, neither of the two articles of impeachment brought by the House garnered a simple majority, much less the two-thirds necessary. Article I alleging perjury was defeated on a 45 to 55 vote at 12:21 p.m. Just 18 minutes later, Article II charging obstruction failed on a 50 to 50 tie. Five Republicans joined all 45 Democrats in supporting full acquittal.

Feb. 12, 1793 — “Congress enacts first fugitive slave law” via History.com — Congress passes the first fugitive slave law, requiring all states, including those that forbid slavery, to forcibly return enslaved people who have escaped from other states to their original owners. The laws stated that “no person held to service of labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such labor or service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who turned 58 on Feb. 8.

Guest Author



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