Delegation for 2.16.21: Parkland — ‘waste of time’ — Pearl justice — DeSantis 2024? — remembrances

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
A day of remembrance; a promise of action.

Honor with action

The third anniversary of the Parkland shooting brought moments of remembrance and emotion to Florida. Social media feeds for members of the delegation flashed images of the words MSD Strong, with 17 iconic doves in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School colors honoring the 14 students and three educators killed Feb. 14, 2018.

A day of remembrance and the promise of action. Image via AP.

But will the loss bring with it policy change? There’s reason to believe gun control legislation sees a more straightforward path than it has been in a decade.

“With a supportive Senate and President, I am hopeful for common-sense reforms such as enhancing background checks, closing loopholes, extending waiting periods and banning military-style assault weapons,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat. “We cannot accept these tragedies as normal in America. They must lead to lasting change.”

The tragedy remains close for Rep. Ted Deutch, the Democrat representing Parkland. On the day his community came together for a remembrance, he committed to honoring his fallen constituents with action.

“We cannot fully understand the pain felt on this day by the families of the victims. But we must uphold our responsibility as community members to remember those who died, to celebrate the lives they lived, and to offer our support to anyone struggling on this day,” he tweeted Sunday. “On this day, I recommit to ensure that the names of the 17 victims are never forgotten in the halls of Congress and to honor their memory with action that will make our communities safer from gun violence.”

But can change occur in Washington? As Governor of Florida during the shooting, Sen. Rick Scott signed into statute the first gun control measure to pass out of the Florida Legislature in decades, raising the gun-buying age to 21 and implementing red flag laws. Will he support such moves as a member of the Senate Republican caucus? When asked by Florida Politics, Scott’s office pointed to two pieces of legislation he’s co-sponsored. The first is a red flag law first introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio shortly after the shooting. The other is a bill to create a best practice federal clearinghouse for school safety, legislation named for Parkland victims Luke Hoyer and Alex Schachter.

“The tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the 17 innocent lives lost that day will never be forgotten, and I will never stop working to protect our families and prevent any further tragedies,” Scott said.

In a promising signal to supporters of reform, President Joe Biden, a private citizen at the time of the attack, made clear Sunday he hasn’t forgotten the tragedy. A father who lost two children during his lifetime, he visited with Parkland parents in 2018. In a White House statement, he expressed a strong interest in legislation reaching his desk that enacts policy change backed by several mourning families.

“This Administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call,” Biden said. “We will take action to end our epidemic of gun violence and make our schools and communities safer. Today, I am calling on Congress to enact common-sense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets. We owe it to all those we’ve lost and to all those left behind to grieve to make a change. The time to act is now.

Excused absence

It came as no surprise when both Senators from Florida, Rubio and Scott, cast their votes against President-turned-Florida constituent Donald Trump’s impeachment. But plenty found the movements of these two members of the 100-person jury noteworthy and newsworthy in the buildup to a second acquittal.

Rubio derided the trial as a “waste of time” while raising eyebrows with insinuations during the trial that a conviction could allow the Senate to impeach former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or other officials no longer in office. “It’s the creation of a new political weapon that we will see used,” Rubio said. “We’ll regret creating that weapon.”

Some uproar ensued mid-trial as reporters noticed Rubio and others were not present in the chambers throughout, though Rubio dismissed that as hyperbole. Responding to criticism from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Rubio said his absence was excused while also directing a swipe at Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who presided judge-like over the trial but also cast a vote to impeach.

“Chillax Professor Reich,” Rubio tweeted. “No one skipped today, although I did leave my seat a few times to check in on one of my children who had minor surgery. And this isn’t a criminal trial. In America, criminal trials aren’t presided over by someone who declared the defendant guilty beforehand.”

Scott immediately drew attention when he brought a copy of Vicksburg, Donald Miller’s military history of Ulysses Grant’s Civil War campaign, as reading material. “Day One of the impeachment trial (the sequel), and there seems to be a lot of interest in the book I’m reading,” Scott tweeted. “I’ll tell you this — it is a lot more interesting, factual and informative than what we heard in the House managers’ testimony today.”

That surprised some as the managers’ case won wide praise, even among Republicans, for a brief opening and video that laid out a timeline of the Capitol riots Jan. 6. But Scott routinely came out of trial days dismissive of the charge Trump faced. “Nobody’s told me that they’ve changed their mind,” Scott reported to Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. He referenced a 55-45 vote ahead of the trial where most said trying a President no longer in office was unconstitutional, with most Republicans voting not to take up the issue.

But notably, two of Scott’s colleagues, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Richard Burr of North Carolina, did change their mind and were among seven Republicans who voted to convict. The 57-43 vote fell well short of a required two-thirds majority, with Scott and Rubio remaining recalcitrant.

Justice for Pearl

The murder 2002 murder of Daniel Pearl, South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, rattled the United States in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Now, the nation of Pakistan just let his suspected killer go. Rubio, the Ranking Republican on the Senate’s Subcommittee on East Asia, condemned the recent failure of justice in a letter to Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States, Asad Majeed Khan.

“I write to express my deep concern and disappointment with the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s decision to acquit Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is a convicted terrorist and the mastermind behind the kidnapping and killing of American journalist Daniel Pearl, as well as the court’s decision to move him to a ‘safe house,’” Rubio wrote. “I urge the Pakistan Government to ensure those responsible for Daniel’s brutal murder, including Sheikh, remain in jail.”

A Pakistan court overturns the conviction of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh in the death of Daniel Pearl, which angered Florida’s Senators. Image via NBC News.

Sheikh served 18 years in prison before the high court effectively overturned the verdict. The White House condemned the move, and acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson announced the U.S. would eagerly take Sheikh into custody if Pakistan will not. “The Department of Justice reiterates that the United States stands ready to take custody of Sheikh to stand trial here on the pending charges against him,” Wilkinson said. “He must not be permitted to evade justice for his charged role in Daniel Pearl’s abduction and murder.”

Bibi on line 3

Scott offered the Biden White House some unsolicited advice Friday, urging an immediate call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As well, Florida’s junior Senator added, the President of the United States should apologize for the “grave mistake” of not making the call sooner, especially in light of having called Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Scott spotlighted what a media release called a “disturbing” report from CNN that Biden had called the leaders of other countries, including China.

Rick Scott offers unsolicited advice to the White House. Image via AP.

“President Biden’s failure to call Prime Minister Netanyahu is unacceptable and sends a deeply troubling message on the priorities of the United States under his Administration. It is unconscionable that Biden would restore aid to the Palestinians, who openly support terrorism, wage war against Israel and do not recognize its existence, before having a discussion with Israel’s prime minister,” the Naples Republican said.

“President Biden must apologize for this grave mistake and immediately make clear his commitment to uphold the long-standing and special partnership between the United States and Israel.”

And Scott, a potential 2024 opponent for Biden, reminded he boasts some solid bona fides in the pro-Israel arena. “As both Governor and Florida’s U.S. Senator, I have traveled to Israel several times and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli leaders,” Scott asserted.

Indeed, in 2019 Scott last visited during one of his first trips as U.S. Senator. He went to the Western Wall and prayed for a thus-far unfulfilled hope for Venezuelan regime change.

Recruiting Ron

When then-delegation member Ron DeSantis first filed to run for Governor of Florida, Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz became his most high-profile and stalwart supporter. Now, Gaetz wants his one-time House colleague to run for President.

As DeSantis pushes back on any consideration of travel restrictions for Florida, Gaetz told Fox News he was proud of “my friend and Governor.”

“What Ron DeSantis didn’t say, but which is the truth, is that the Biden folks know that if Donald Trump is not the candidate in 2024, the leader of our movement will be Ron DeSantis,” Gaetz said. “He is a strong potential presidential candidate in 2024. The Biden team knows that. And so they are trying to somehow cast aspersions on the Florida experience, because you know what? Around America, there is a lot of Florida envy right now.”

Matt Gaetz gives props to Ron DeSantis, suggesting a potential 2024 presidential run.

Of course, potential travel restrictions by the White House appear driven by the fact a third of the known cases of the mutated coronavirus B.1.1.7 in the U.S. were detected in the state of Florida.

Meanwhile, DeSantis swatted down speculation about a 2024 run, saying he’s focused on his reelection in 2022.

Beijing benched?

With a human rights reputation as China’s, it’s always controversial when they host a world event. Now, Saint Augustine Republican Michael Waltz has questioned whether it’s in the best interest of the U.S. even to show up. He introduced a resolution in the House on Monday calling for a boycott of Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics.

Waltz tweeted a list of China’s bad actions on the world stage to slam the puck to make a point. Atrocities include genocide of the Uighurs and undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy. “These are just a few of the numerous atrocities and heinous acts China’s authoritarian regime has carried out over the last year,” he wrote. “Without a doubt, they should disqualify the [Chinese Communist Party] from the honor of hosting the 2022 Olympic Games.”

Michael Waltz says China does not deserve an Olympics. Image via AP.

First reported by Fox News, the resolution said that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which first surfaced in China, the Eastern nation’s actions cannot be rewarded.

“Hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics Games in the [People’s Republic of China], where organized atrocities in the [Xinpiang Uyghur Autonomous Region] are ongoing; where the freedoms of Hong Kong‘s citizens are being trampled; where the fundamental right to worship is brutally persecuted; and in the wake of the ongoing global devastation from COVID-19; would be immoral, unethical and wrong,” the resolution reads.

Snubbing the Beijing games isn’t a new idea. Scott in 2019 called on the International Olympic Committee to yank the games away from China, with Rubio joining with him. Both have been frequent critics of the Chinese Communist Party, as has Waltz.

But then, there’s only been one Olympics ever without chants of “USA” in the stadiums. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter called for the U.S. to boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow over the U.S.S.R. invading Afghanistan. The decision to bench 466 U.S. athletes sparked outrage that lingers today, and may have played a role in Carter’s reelection defeat the same year by Republican Ronald Reagan.

Quashing QAnon

The Blue Dog Coalition of moderate Democrats in the House, chaired by Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy, endorsed legislation introduced by the Congresswoman to strip QAnon supporters from keeping security clearances. It’s part of the caucus’ response to the Capitol riots on Nov. 6, where insurrectionists including many individuals active within the conspiracy-spinning community.

“As a former national security specialist at the Pentagon, I know how dangerous it is for individuals who participated in a violent attempt to overthrow our government to receive a security clearance and access classified information,” Murphy said.

Stephanie Murphy seeks to end the Q movement.

The Coalition also backed a bill by Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider to task the Homeland Security Department with ferreting out domestic terrorism through a designated office, The Hill reports.

It’s a sign that even though Trump himself avoided conviction in the Senate for inciting the attempted insurrection, plenty on the hill still want justice for all those involved. And while the Homeland Security Department came into existence in the wake of terrorists from outside the U.S. attacking the nation, the most recent instance of individuals attacking the nation’s foundations come from homegrown nationalists.

“QAnon has spread far beyond the fringes,” Murphy said. “And we must now take steps to ensure these dangerous conspiracy theories don’t infiltrate our government. Holding a security clearance is a privilege, not a right.”

Franklin hires Holzmann

Lakeland Republican Scott Franklin just hired Madeline Holzmann as his press assistant. She started on Tuesday, confirmed Franklin Communications Director Patrice Smith.

That’s a high-profile hire within Florida circles. Holzmann most recently served as the communications director for Florida Internet & Television, where she advocated for cable and internet businesses.

Congratulations to Madeline Holzmann, the latest high-profile hire by Scott Franklin.

Listed by INFLUENCE Magazine as a “Rising Star” in 2019, Holzman previously worked for Attorney General Ashley Moody’s scheduling team during her 2018 statewide political campaign. Before that, the Florida State University graduate worked with political consultant Anthony Pedicini.

Honoring the fallen

Sarasota Republican Greg Steube feels former soldiers should face fewer barriers to holding events at war memorials. He filed bipartisan legislation, along with Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind, to waive all special use permit application fees for veterans’ demonstrations and events held at such sites on federal land. The legislation only applies to events where the primary purpose is to honor or commemorate the service of veterans and their immediate families.

“This legislation would properly thank our nation’s heroes by giving them the opportunity to travel to our nation’s capital on national honor buses and flights without the unnecessary paperwork and financial costs,” said Steube, himself a former Army JAG who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. “The last thing veterans and their families should worry about are burdensome administrative fees when visiting memorials and monuments erected in their honor.”

Greg Steube wants to make it easier for veterans to honor the fallen.

Kind added: “Although we can never repay the debt of gratitude we owe these heroic men and women, waiving application fees for the facilitation of honor flights and honor buses is one simple way to show our appreciation for their service and sacrifice.”

Steube filed similar legislation that passed in the House last Congress but didn’t move in the Senate. This year, 15 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle signed on at introduction, including Florida colleagues Waltz, Kat Cammack and Maria Elvira Salazar.

“I’m proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Free Veterans from Fees Act so that our men and women in uniform never have to assume burdensome costs to honor our fallen,” Salazar said.

Travel ban pushback

Several GOP House members penned a letter to Biden, urging him not to impose domestic travel restrictions on the Sunshine State in response to COVID-19 concerns.

Naples Republican Byron Donalds led the House members in writing the President in response to a report from the Miami Herald that found travel restrictions were being considered a result of a COVID-19 variant surging across the state.

The White House issued the following statement, saying: “To be clear, there have been no decisions made around additional public health measures for domestic travel safety. The administration is continuing to discuss recommendations across the travel space, but no specific decisions are under consideration.” But most Republicans representing Florida in the House made clear restrictions on Florida travel must be off the table.

Byron Donalds blasts Joe Biden for floating the idea of a Florida travel ban. Image via Colin Hackley.

“As members of the Florida Republican Congressional Delegation, we are concerned about recent reports that your Administration is considering implementing travel restrictions to our beloved home, the Sunshine State,” the letter reads. “This decision not only lacks merit but is also unequivocally unconstitutional and reeks of partisanship that will only cause reprehensible damage to our state and the more than 21 million Americans who call Florida home.”

Eight other Florida Republican House members signed on to the letter including Sarasota’s Greg Steube, Lakeland’s Franklin, Gainesville’s Cammack, Panama City’s Neal Dunn, Melbourne’s Bill Posey and Miami’s Salazar, Carlos Giménez and Mario Diaz-Balart.

Rebuilding the House

Is 435 the right number of members for the House? Fort Lauderdale Democrat Alcee Hastings thinks that’s a question worth exploring. He introduced the Congress Commission Act of 2021 in hopes of sparking study of the fundamental makeup of the chamber where he’s served longer than any other delegation member currently in office.

“As we enter into a new administration and a new Congress, I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting the creation of the Congressional Commission to Strengthen Representative Democracy,” said Hastings, co-chair of the Florida delegation. “My legislation will mandate such a commission to solemnly examine representation in the people’s House and offer recommendations to address any shortcomings.”

Alcee Hastings wonders if 435 is the right number for the House.

Hastings introduced the bill with three other Democrats, André Carson of Indiana, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Barbara Lee of California. But the bill itself calls for the Commission to be bipartisan. In addition to scrutinizing the Chamber’s size, the panel would also study how members win election to the body, whether gerrymandering impacts representation and other relevant issues.

The number of House seats was permanently fixed at 435 by The Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929. Until then, the Constitution required that each member represent no more than 30,000 Americans, which forced the chamber to grow steadily in size. The law fixed total membership for the House, while still requiring each state to have at least one dedicated Representative. But that has created its own inequities. After the 2010 Census, each Rhode Island Congressman represented around 526,000 people, compared to more than 713,000 of Hastings’ constituents in Florida’s 20th Congressional District.

“We have not addressed House membership in over a century, despite a growing population and an overwhelming amount of evidence illustrating the need for reform of the House of Representatives,” Hastings said. “This past year, Americans from coast to coast demanded change and turned out at the polls in record numbers. It is high time we examine representation to ensure the people’s House truly reflects those we serve.”

Ready, set, earmark!

Could the days of earmarks return to Washington? According to Punchbowl News, the return to pork-barreling practice will occur within weeks. Senate Appropriations chair Leahy and House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro, both New England Democrats, will reinstate member-directed spending in the next fiscal year’s budget bills.

That’s a big deal to elected officials anxious to bring home the bacon to their districts. When Republicans controlled the House in 2011, then-Speaker John Boehner disposed of the practice as the Tea Party called out wasteful spending in Washington. Punchbowl notes ending earmarking also helped end scandals that plagued politics for years when representatives used undue influence to direct dollars, ultimately deemed corrupt.

Should earmarks be reinstated? House Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro seems to think so. Image via AP. 

When the process returns, Leahy and DeLauro assure integrity measures will also go into place, including transparency on who requests dollars.

The development will surely be exciting news to the lobbying corps in the District of Columbia as well, as a pathway to securing federal dollars for projects around the country opens anew.

On This Day

Feb. 16, 1959 — “Fidel Castro sworn in as prime minister” via — Castro is sworn in as prime minister of Cuba after leading a guerrilla campaign that forced right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista into exile. Castro, who became commander in chief of Cuba’s armed forces after Batista was ousted on Jan. 1, replaced the more moderate Miro Cardona as head of the country’s new provisional government. The United States initially recognized the new Cuban dictator but withdrew its support after Castro launched a program of agrarian reform, nationalized U.S. assets on the island and declared a Marxist government. Many of Cuba’s wealthier citizens fled to the United States, where they joined the CIA in its efforts to overthrow Castro’s regime.

Feb. 16, 1913 — “U.S. ambassador plots against Mexican president” via POLITICO — With three weeks left in his presidency, William Howard Taft said the United States would not intervene as political turbulence in Mexico threatened American business interests there. Despite Taft’s stance, Henry Lane Wilson, Taft’s ambassador to Mexico, played a key role in the Mexican Revolution then underway. Diplomatic relations between the neighboring nations were interrupted when, two days after Taft’s announcement, Gen. Victoriano Huerta, commander of the federal forces, overthrew President Francisco Madero. Wilson, who had presented his credentials to a Mexican government headed by Porfirio Diaz on March 5, 1910, now pressed Taft to recognize the newly installed Huerta regime.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to U.S. Rep. Cammack, who turns 33 on Tuesday (February 16).

Staff Reports


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