Delegation for 3.9.21: No gridlock? — supercharged — fuzzy math — space race — women on top

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
For Americans, rescue is on the way.

Division but no gridlock

Maybe it’s the lingering divisiveness of the presidential election. Maybe it’s the math of the most closely divided Congress in generations. But in the last two weeks,  several pieces of major legislation passed that split the Florida delegation sharply along party lines, with the rest of Capitol Hill deviating little beyond that.

The Equality Act. The For The People Act. The George Floyd Justice in Police Act. The American Rescue Plan Act.

All narrowly made it over the finish line in the House. All rallied every Democrat behind them. None picked up support from a Florida Republican, even if GOP members had backed identical bills in past years. In the case of the American Rescue Plan, better known as the coronavirus relief package, the legislation ended up carved into parts to pass in the Senate through budget votes, passing 5-49. Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan missed the vote because of a family emergency, but Vice President Kamala Harris was ready to cast a tiebreaking vote if needed. 

Neither Senator from Florida supported the bill.

Each item stirred emotion. Rep. Kat Cammack took to the floor beside full police body armor gear. The Gainesville Republican explained that while a bad cop murdered George Floyd, nobody hates bad cops more than good cops; the Police Act was simply an attempt to defund police everywhere. 

Kat Cammack brings visual aids to prove her point. Image via Fox News.

“The real threat in this bill is that it will defund our police departments and take equipment off our men and women in uniform,” she said. “Until Democrats ride along with an LEO, they know nothing.”

Lakeland Republican Rep. Scott Franklin saw the bills as partisan measures of haste. 

“Instead of working with Republicans to produce bipartisan legislation that would positively impact communities of color, the Democrats have chosen to rush another partisan bill through,” he said.

Similarly, Sen. Marco Rubio, who filed several doomed amendments in the Senate, lamented a lack of bipartisanship now that Democrats control both chambers.

“Rather than working with Republicans — something two-thirds of Americans say they want — President [Joe] Biden and Congressional Democrats hijacked this package and used it as a Trojan horse to begin a radical restructuring of the nation,” he said.

But Democrats chimes different messaging, suggesting much of the legislation was long overdue. With Democrats in charge of the House, Senate and White House for the first time in a generation, progressive legislation in some cases in the works for years finally can see the light of a vote. 

Indeed, Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, suggested it’s imperative Democrats use this capital because Republican Legislatures across the nation will try to undermine what’s happening in Washington. Voting rights deliver the perfect example, she said in a statement about the For The People Act.

In the past two months, over 250 bills to restrict voting access have been introduced in 43 states,” she said. “This happens as the Supreme Court hears Republican-led cases on striking down what’s left of the Voting Rights Act, a shameful encroachment on our nation’s democratic values that H.R. 1 will fight against. This legislation reaffirms Democrats’ commitment to ensuring fair elections, fighting voter suppression and restoring, not eradicating, the Voting Rights Act.”

Politics as they are, there’s little incentive now for Democrats to work with Republicans, or for that matter, the minority party to vote for bills crafted by the majority. But however tight the margins, there’s legislation making it through Congress to the President’s desk, hardly a given the past two years when different parties held the chambers. As House Democrats prepared to take up the Senate version of the rescue package, many said the ability to get something done is what matters most.

I would bet my hat that if the Biden-Harris ticket hadn’t won and [Mitch] McConnell still ruled the Senate, the American Rescue Plan would not have passed in the Senate,” said Hollywood Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson. “Thankfully, Democrats are all in For The People, and help will soon be on the way!”

‘Supercharge’ recovery

Florida can expect $17.3 billion in COVID-19 relief from the American Rescue Act, according to Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

On the eve of the $1.9 trillion relief bill’s final approval (expected Tuesday), Wasserman Schultz and Democrats Charlie Crist, of St. Petersburg, and Darren Soto, of Kissimmee, hailed it as imperative for assuring the COVID-19 vaccine program runs at high speed, giving the economy support at all levels.

“The American Rescue Plan Act will supercharge these efforts,” Soto said.

Crist, a Republican Governor through much of the Great Recession in 2008, said those who went through that economic downturn and recovery know the importance of an economic stimulus package. When former President Barack Obama pushed through the $831-billion stimulus package in 2009, Wasserman Schultz served in Congress and Soto in the Florida House.

“Shots and checks, plus relief for small businesses, state and local governments, and aid for those hardest hit by this pandemic, we are going to take what needs … to get a shot in the arm of every American who wants one, to get our economy back on track, and crush the virus so we can get back to normal sooner than later,” Crist said told the press Monday.

Soto said the relief would come “not a moment too soon,” noting Central Florida’s economy remains in dire need, with 7% unemployment in Orange County and 8% in Osceola County. He said there is also the daunting task of vaccinating most of 21 million people, requiring a dramatic ramp-up of resources and efforts.

“On the current pace of 40,000 residents per day, it would take us 15 months to vaccinate Florida. Our constituents and our economy can’t wait that long,” Soto said. 

Fuzzy math

Sen. Rick Scott long paid close attention to job reports and unemployment rates, numbers he rested on as measures of success since his days as Governor. So he took notice last week when historic numbers changed significantly.

The reason for the switch. President Biden’s administration, in its latest report, introduced new models for calculating employment estimates and applied the new models to statistics dating back to 1976. In a letter to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Scott expressed some alarm at the previously unannounced change.

“Why would such a wide-ranging and historic alternation of unemployment data be announced in a footnote?” 

Rick Scott is skeptical of Florida’s reported unemployment rate.

But that’s what happened. The Naples Republican said his attention drew to the switch because Florida’s reported unemployment in December dropped a full percentage report from the last available published data, from 6.1% to 5.1%.

Scott also expressed skepticism why the change happened now. He’s long dismissed Democratic pandemic relief proposals to provide extra funding to states with higher unemployment rates as “blue state bailouts,” rewarding those governments that left lockdown restrictions in place too long. That doesn’t dramatically impact Florida based on the most recent unemployment data, where new models only slash Florida’s unemployment rate by 0.1%. But Scott did notice many Democratic bastions report a higher rate under the new formulas.

“While I oppose bailouts for wasteful blue states for their decades of mismanagement, it is alarming that this new formula came out the night before these determinations are being made — disproportionally impacting some states,” he wrote. “The new data shows increased unemployment figures for blue states: California (+0.3%); New York (+0.5%); Illinois (+0.4%); New Jersey (+0.1%); and decreased unemployment figures for red states: Florida (-1%), Texas (-0.3%), Oklahoma (-0.8%), Arizona (-0.7%), and South Carolina (-1%).

Siding with Hong Kong

Election reform reliably proves contentious within domestic politics. But there seems broader agreement China’s recent voting revamps constitute a profound threat to democracy. Sen. Rubio, who proudly boasts on his Twitter bio he was banned from China, signed on to a joint statement condemning the electoral system in Hong Kong.

His name was among prominent co-signatories for a joint statement of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and other high-ranking House and Senate members. Democrats on board include Sens. Ed Markey and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Ami Bera and James McGovern, while other Republicans on the list include Sen. Mitt Romney and Reps, Steve Chabot and Chris Smith.

Marco Rubio blasts China for meddling in Hong Kong elections.

“We are deeply concerned by the changes that Beijing adopted to Hong Kong’s electoral system,” the resolution reads. “These revisions will only continue to advance Beijing’s ever-tightening grip on Hong Kongers’ autonomy, basic freedoms, and fundamental human rights.

“With these actions, the Chinese government is doubling down on its attempts to impose an authoritarian system on Hong Kong. Beijing is once again violating its binding international commitments under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Contrary to recent Chinese government statements, true patriots are not ‘yes-men.’ Beijing’s efforts to stamp out democratic opposition in Hong Kong only underscores its own insecurities.”

The statement urged Biden to act on behalf of Hong Kong’s people resisting China’s oppression and to use available tools to stand up for pro-democracy advocates in the East.

On Guard

It’s been more than two months since rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, but the National Guard remains in place there. The continued presence of guardsmen at the People’s House has started to try the patience of members, including St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz, himself a colonel in the Army National Guard.

“Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi continues to play politics behind closed doors regarding our security on Capitol Hill, and lawmakers have been left in the dark for too long,” Waltz said. “Before any extension for National Guard presence is finalized, lawmakers should be briefed on the latest intelligence threat assessments to determine the necessity of keeping our service members away from their families and full-time jobs. If more security is needed, it should by our Capitol Police with better planning and intelligence, not drawing from National Guardsmen and women that are needed for other missions such as vaccine distribution, natural disaster and overseas deployments.”

The statement notably leaves room for a case to be made to keep the Guard but gives voice to growing angst about the security around the People’s House.

Michael Waltz is growing tired of National Guard troops at The Capitol.

Notably, it’s not just Speaker Pelosi who calls the shots on Capitol security. Last week, the Capitol Police issued a request for further Guard support amid security threats for 60 days, though the law enforcement agency asked for just half the troops on hand now. Officials described a growing number of threats on specific lawmakers’ lives, justifying the show of force.

Space Race

As control of the Final Frontier once again heats up, bipartisan delegation members aim to make sure the U.S. — and Florida — remains the lead pioneers. Space Coast Republican Bill Posey and Democrat Crist last week reintroduced The American Space Commerce Act, which would provide American space firms incentives for launching from American soil and ports like Cape Canaveral.

“Our domestic space launch industry is in our national security interest, and America is up against unfair trade practices from nations like China and Russia that heavily subsidize space launches,” Posey said. “Our bill provides a powerful incentive for our space firms to keep investing to support America’s growing commercial space sector, further advancing our leadership in space and securing the ultimate military high ground for years to come. I thank my colleague, Congressman Crist, for joining me in introducing this legislation which is critical to both the state of Florida and our nation.”

Bill Posey and Charlie Crist are working to keep the U.S. at No. 1 in space.

The move comes as global players like China step up forays into commercial launches. The communist superpower provides state-backed financing of its programs. Indeed, the China Economic and Security Review Commission issued a report in 2019 that found: “China has already succeeded in undercutting some U.S. and other foreign launch and satellite providers in the international market, threatening to hollow out these countries’ space industrial bases.”

Crist said it’s time the U.S. became aggressive. “The U.S. aerospace industry plays a critical role in advancing our nation’s space exploration goals, national security posture, and global competitiveness,” the Democrat said. “I’m proud to work with Congressman Posey to introduce this bill to strengthen American leadership in space. The American Space Commerce Act will help shield the U.S. aerospace industry from unfair trade practices, promote our national security, and protect workers in communities across Florida and America.”

With the Sunshine State’s high interest in the industry’s success, Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello also chimed in with the organization’s support. “This bill will ensure that the US remains the world leader in space by supporting the development of domestic launch capabilities. It is the strength, innovation and agility of the commercial space marketplace which best enables American leadership in space,” he said.

Paving paths for women

As Black History Month made way for Women’s History Month, Orlando Democrat Val Demings reminded the heroes in each demographic that empowered both groups for generations. As part of a panel assembled by The Paley Center on Media, the Congresswoman spoke about how figures like Harriet Tubman paved the way and made sure others could follow.

She noted the former slave could have simply moved to the northern states and left her childhood oppression a memory. “Harriet Tubman was free,” Demings said. “She could have kept running and never looked back. But she realized she was not really free until others were.”

Val Demings is a trailblazer for women.

Demings knows a bit about the responsibilities that come with achieving a milestone. The veteran law enforcement officer in 2007 became Orlando’s first female police chief. 

After winning election to Congress years later, she became one of the first women to serve as a manager in an impeachment trial.

The Paley panel on which she sat put her as a representative of the whole political world. Others speaking as part of the event included famed ballet dancer Misty Copeland, actress pioneers Rita Moreno and Phylicia Rashad and CBS News anchor Norah O’Donnell.

For Demings’ part, she stressed the responsibility for those women who find success and a platform to help others do the same.

“It’s so important that when we make it, we look back and reach back and help other women make it and live up to their God-given potential,” Demings said. “We’re not in those decision-making positions to just enjoy the glory of them by ourselves. It’s not about us. When we make it, we have to believe and invest in something greater.”

Webster ready to fight

Clermont Republican Dan Webster made clear he’s not retiring in 2022 and called out a potential primary opponent, Anthony Sabatini, for a lie.

“Rep. Sabatini called me to say he was running for Congress, but that he did not intend to run against me,” Webster said in a statement. “Today, he has chosen to file his paperwork for Congressional District 11 instead of another district. I never take reelection for granted. I work hard every day to serve my constituents and campaign hard every election.”

In other words, game on. 

Daniel Webster says Anthony Sabatini’s congressional campaign started with a lie.

Webster released his statement to local media about a half-hour before Sabatini formally posted a video announcement and appeared at a kickoff at his parents’ restaurant. Sabatini, a Howey-in-the-Hills Republican now serving his second term in the state House, signaled a major announcement last week. Notably, redistricting may place him in another district.

While the 71-year-old Webster may seem at first a less fiery candidate than the 33-year-old Twitter-omnipresent Sabatini, it’s notable the six-term incumbent is no stranger to a fight. He won his seat in Congress in 2010, soundly defeating Democratic incumbent Alan Grayson, who at the time boasted a national reputation as a liberal firebrand and enjoyed a nationwide network of financial support.

Before that, Webster served in the Florida Legislature for 28 years, during which time he played a crucial role in shifting control of the state Capitol from Democratic to Republican hands. He became the Speaker of the House in 1996, the first Republican House Speaker in 122 years. But he’s not easily cast as a figure of the Washington GOP establishment. In 2016, the Freedom Caucus endorsed Webster as an alternative to Kevin McCarthy for House Speaker following John Boehner’s retirement. 

The job ultimately went to Paul Ryan.

Preventing HPV

There’s more than one kind of vaccine making headlines. While the nation still works to protect the public from the coronavirus, Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor last week introduced legislation stressing the importance of stopping the human papillomavirus, or HPV. The sexually transmitted disease causes six types of cancer and leads to 36,000 cancer cases each year, health officials estimate.

Last Thursday, International HPV Awareness Day, Castor and Washington Democrat Kim Schrier filed the Promoting Resources to Expand Vaccination, Education and New Treatments for HPV Cancers Act, or PREVENT HPV Act. Castor announced the bill during an event at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

Kathy Castor is pushing to stop HPV, which leads to six types of cancer. Image via NYT/Pool.

“After learning six years ago that Florida and the Tampa Bay area have some of the worst HPV vaccination rates in the country,” she said, “I joined forces with Moffitt Cancer Center, Dr. Anna Giuliano, and USF College of Public Health to improve vaccination rates, increase public knowledge and save lives.”

“It’s clear that we can do better across America as well, so together with Rep. Schrier, a pediatrician, I’m pleased to introduce the PREVENT HPV Cancers Act to boost vaccination rates and ensure that all communities — especially the underserved — are being educated on the importance of cancer prevention and screening. Americans are dying from cancer when they shouldn’t. Our bill provides a strong commitment to health education and equity that will save lives and decrease racial disparities in diagnosis and treatment. Working with local leaders like Moffitt and USF as well as the National Cancer Institute and CDC, I’m confident we can increase health equity and positive outcomes through public education and research.”

Friendly skies at TPA

Last year, federal stimulus funding helped prevent Tampa International Airport from laying off staff even when air traffic there declined 96%. On Monday, airport officials stood alongside Castor to offer their support to another round of relief.

The airport officials and local press joined Castor at the airport to send her off to vote for the American Rescue Plan. The $1.9-trillion package just passed out of the Senate this weekend includes $15 for airlines, $8 billion for airports, and $800 million for airport concessionaires.

Rescue is on the way for TPA. Image via Tampa Airport.

Castor said leaders in Washington were well aware of the different challenges facing the air travel industry all-around because of the threat from travel in spreading the virus but the essential nature of keeping airlines working. The Tampa Democrat has been a frequent traveler through TPA, going to and from Washington, D.C. regularly in the last year as relief deals came together.

She also noted the additional relief would come into TPA through other portions of the relief bill, including a significant increase to a restaurant revitalization fund.

“These are grants, not loans, and they prioritize minority-owned and veteran-owned business,” Castor said.

TPA CEO Joe Lapano noted that the pandemic brought on an instant 96% drop-off in traffic last year. “That’s something you can’t model or plan for,” he said. But the passage of relief packages out of Congress aided the airport at the time. 

WHO is accountable

With the U.S. barely back in the World Health Organization, Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan wants out. He co-sponsored legislation Monday to freeze any U.S. support to the WHO, overruling Biden’s decision.

The Congressman remains angry with the organization’s continued deference to the East. In a statement labeling the international group as “China’s puppet,” he became fed up by anything-but-shocking revelations that the WHO publicly praised China for transparency about the coronavirus while officials within the organization suspected they were withholding the truth.

Vern Buchanan does not trust the Chinese to be completely honest with the WHO.

“Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars should not be freely flowing to an organization that has aided the Chinese government in covering up the origin and spread of the coronavirus,” Buchanan said. “This legislation halts aid until the organization proves it is not under the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Former President Donald Trump started the process last July of pulling the U.S. out of the organization. Leaving would be a significant financial blow to the WHO; the United States in 2019 provided about 20% of the global organization’s budget, about $415 million. That’s twice China’s level of financial support without the same level of deference, Buchanan said.

He pointed to study findings that Beijing’s decisive action early in the pandemic could have reduced 95% of China’s infections and could have alerted the world to the threat posed.

“China is not our friend, and the WHO loses all credibility when it chooses to advance China’s lies and deception over public health. We need to hold the WHO responsible for their actions which cost countless American lives,” Buchanan said.

The WHO Is Accountable Act would hold funds from the WHO until the organization can show it’s not under China’s malignant influence, grants Taiwan observer status, and implements other reforms.

Bipartisan COVID-19 loan relief

Miami-Dade Republicans Mario Díaz-Balart and Maria Elvira Salazar are championing bipartisan legislation pushing back the due date for loans under the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Small businesses and nonprofits could apply for that EIDL money to cover rent, utilities, health care benefit costs and other expenses, as those entities struggled due to the economic slowdown.

The EIDL program opened up in March 2020 near the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those loans were required to be paid back within one year. The COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan Relief Act could extend that deadline by another year.

Maria Salazar and Mario Diaz-Balart want to push back due dates for COVID-19 small-business recovery loans.

“Many of our local job creators applied for EIDL loans at the beginning of the outbreak, and yet the pandemic has continued to take a devastating toll on our small businesses,” Salazar said. “We cannot force our struggling small business owners to repay these loans at a time when many are barely able to keep their doors open. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan bill that will provide our local job creators with an extra year before they have to make their first loan repayments.”

Minnesota Democrat Angie Craig and Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids also back the legislation, as does Pennsylvania Republican Dan Meuser.

“Even with the vaccine rollout speeding up, the pandemic is far from over, and our small businesses need all the help they can get to make it through,” Davids added.

The House did not include the extension in the larger COVID-19 package approved by the Senate.

On This Day

March 9, 1841 — “Supreme Court rules on Amistad slave ship mutiny case” via History.com — At the end of a historic case, the U.S. Supreme Court rules, with only one dissent, that the enslaved Africans who seized control of the Amistad slave ship had been illegally forced into slavery, and thus are free under American law. On June 28, 1839, 53 enslaved people recently captured in Africa left Havana, Cuba, aboard the Amistad schooner for a life of slavery on a sugar plantation at Puerto Principe, Cuba. Three days later, Sengbe Pieh, a member of the Mende from West Africa also known as Joseph Cinque, freed himself and the other enslaved people and planned a mutiny. 

March 9, 1989 — “Senate rejects John Tower in first Cabinet veto since 1959” via The New York Times — The Senate rejected President George H.W. Bush‘s nomination of Tower to be Secretary of Defense, the first time in 30 years that the Senate denied the choice of a Cabinet member. The vote for the nominee, bruised by weeks of allegations about his private conduct and possible conflict of interest, was 53 to 47. With the decision, attention immediately turned to the question of an alternative candidate. In New York for the day, President Bush telephoned his chief of staff, John H. Sununu, shortly after the vote to discuss other candidates. 

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Ryan Nicol and Scott Power.

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