Delegation for 3.19.21: Border skirmish — dignity — PPP extension — Nelson — STEM

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
A growing immigration crisis has everyone up in arms.

Border broadside

As the Joe Biden administration seeks solutions for the surge of migrants at the southern border, House Republicans are on the attack. And three Miami-Dade County Republicans are leading the charge.

Rep. María Elvira Salazar of Florida’s 27th Congressional District is taking a front-line role in the GOP’s push. Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart and Carlos Giménez also play prominent positions. All three represent South Florida districts with large Hispanic populations, making them natural advocates for Republicans on this issue.

Salazar on Monday joined a group of House Republicans visiting the border amid the recent migrant influx. The GOP quickly labeled the situation a “crisis” as the Biden administration resisted that label.

Congressional Republicans are slamming Joe Biden for the ‘border crisis.’ Image via AP.

“Unfortunately, once again, we have a major crisis at the border. And once again, the Hispanic community is being used on both sides of that border,” Salazar told reporters. “We have human traffickers on one side — the cartels and coyotes — who are promising false hopes to migrants who want to come to the United States. On the other side, we have the Washington politicians playing games with those who are here looking to gain some type of legality.”

Border encounters increased during former President Donald Trump’s last few months in office and have continued rising since. Republicans argue that trajectory essentially tracks with Biden’s Nov. 3 election win. With a new administration incoming and signaling less strict border policies, migrants and coyotes got the message they could reach the U.S. and undocumented individuals could settle here once again, Republicans say.

Biden administration officials pushed back, arguing Trump’s border policies were unworkable and inhumane. Upon taking office, Biden signed executive orders undoing several Trump policies, such as a directive requiring migrants seeking asylum to do so before entering the U.S. Biden’s team says they’re working on a more permanent, sustainable fix. In the meantime, the President plans to send more direct remarks that the U.S. cannot handle a continued immigration spike.

“I can say quite clearly: Don’t come,” Biden said in a message to migrants during an ABC interview. “We’re in the process of getting set up, don’t leave your town or city or community.”

As of this past weekend, the U.S. Border Patrol held more than 4,000 migrant children. At least 3,000 of those were in custody longer than 72 hours. That cap came via a court order, but U.S. officials have struggled to find places to send those children safely.

At Wednesday’s GOP news conference, Díaz-Balart made perhaps the most direct condemnation of Biden’s policies, echoing criticism the border situation is at “crisis” proportions. If Biden’s executive orders are causing that increase, Díaz-Balart argues, the President owns the ill effects as well.

“What it means is that now we are in essence funding human trafficking,” Díaz-Balart asserted. “What it means are increases in rapes of young girls.”

‘Dignity’ plan

Wednesday’s GOP news conference served not just as a vessel to hammer the current Democratic administration but also as a challenge to Democratic members of Congress to come to the table on a bipartisan immigration plan.

Salazar just sponsored a five-point proposal that includes the use of technology to secure the border, protecting Dreamers’ legal status, reforming the asylum system, addressing the guest worker program, and finally, adding relief measures for American workers.

“As Hispanics, we don’t want any more false promises, false hopes,” Salazar explained.

Maria Salazar offers an immigration plan that promotes ‘dignity.’

“We want for those 11 million undocumented who are here in the country to be treated with dignity. But this will not happen, it will not happen, if we won’t stop the madness at the border with real, permanent solutions, not executive orders.”

Democrats hold majorities in both congressional chambers, but it requires a 60-vote minimum in the Senate to overcome a GOP filibuster. That means courting 10 Republicans to whatever plan ends up moving forward.

The majority party also moved forward with two smaller measures. One provides a path to permanent legal status for “Dreamers,” the undocumented migrants who arrived here as minors. A second measure allows migrant farmworkers to apply for temporary legal status, which is good for two years and renewable.

Multiple Florida Democrats are supporting those steps, including Reps. Kathy Castor, Al Lawson, Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy.

“We should all be able to agree that Dreamers who were brought here as children through no fault of their own, and are as patriotic as any American, should have a pathway to citizenship,” Murphy said. “They’ve earned the right to be citizens of the country they love.”

Salazar, for her part, says she supports both of those smaller Democratic bills. But Republicans say Senate colleagues will not go along with those measures or a broader Democratic proposal unless additional items — for example, on border security — are included.

“The legislation that was presented [to the] House and Senate, pushed by the Biden administration, has little to no chance of ever becoming law in its current form,” Díaz-Balart said.

Republicans argue they do see a path forward but are trying to put down an ultimatum that comprehensive immigration reform will fail unless it includes both Democratic and Republican priorities.

“There is, I believe, bipartisan support for a number of the issues,” Rep. Giménez said Wednesday in backing Salazar’s bill.

“A lot of Maria’s ideas are good. Some of them are new, but some of them are old, and I know that we can work with some Democrats to bring this to fruition.”

As for Salazar, the daughter of Cuban exiles is clearly trying to frame the issue less as a D.C. power play and more as a method of finally finding a fuller fix that’s been confounding Congress for years.

“No party holds a monopoly on compassion,” Salazar said. “We’re Republicans; we’re compassionate too.”

Spaceman Bill

With Bill Nelson officially on his way to becoming NASA’s 14th administrator, Florida may get its highest-profile official yet in the new administration. On Friday morning, Biden announced he’s tapping the longtime Senate Democrat, a decision that won praise within the delegation from his former Democrat and Republican cohorts.

Nelson is old Florida and pure Floridian — when he wants.

And Nelson would oversee an agency critically important to the Sunshine State. Rockets rank up there, right with beaches, football, alligators and mouse ears. 

In many ways, Nelson is a safe pick. 

Bill Nelson is getting spaced out.

Joe and Jill Biden and Bill and Grace Nelson have remained close friends for decades. They socialize. They campaign together. And, for a long time, the veteran Senators worked together as part of the Democrats’ moderate wing. The two know each other as well as anyone Biden could want as an adviser.

It’s also almost unimaginable that Nelson could fail Senate confirmation after serving there for 18 years, being widely viewed as a Senate leader on space policy, and pretty much getting along with almost everyone. Even Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican with a penchant for enemies, is known for having a close and amicable relationship with Nelson on space issues.

His strong relationships on both sides of the aisle went on display as Sen. Marco Rubio offered vocal support to his longtime colleague. “Bill Nelson would be an excellent pick to lead NASA,” the Republican tweeted.

Still, the last confirmed administrator, Trump’s pick of former Rep. Jim Bridenstine, got in by a slim (and entirely party-line) vote of 50-49. If it comes to that sort of partisan divide, Nelson will face a Senate controlled by Democrats 51-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote.

There’s no template for NASA administrators. The list includes scientists and engineers, military officers, business leaders, career public service administrators, astronauts, and Congress members.

Nelson checks several of those boxes. He’s been an Army Reserves captain, a member of the House and Senate, a public service administrator, and, while he was in the House in 1986, an astronaut, as he flew on Space Shuttle Challenger.

The drawback: his age. 

Republican Sen. Rick Scott famously exploited Nelson’s age in the 2018 election, which ousted the longtime Senator. At 78, Nelson would become the oldest NASA administrator ever — just seven weeks older than Biden.

More time for PPP

Rubio played a critical role last year in passing the Paycheck Protection Program. Now, he’s introducing legislation to extend deadlines. 

Florida’s senior Senator joined several Republicans to introduce legislation Wednesday, giving all nonprofits and businesses until the end of May to apply for PPP loans. The proposal also prohibits the Small Business Administration from giving priority to any applications. 

Marco Rubio is giving PPP loans more time.

“The Paycheck Protection Program serves as a lifeline to millions of small businesses and the millions of individuals and families who rely on them to earn a living,” Rubio said. “PPP is critical to getting employees rehired and small businesses reopened. I urge my colleagues to swiftly pass this extension so that small businesses can receive the help they need to stay afloat.”

Rubio and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins serve as the prime sponsors, with 11 other GOP members signed on as co-sponsors.

When Republicans held the Senate majority last year, Rubio helped to craft the original PPP program, which authorized $800 billion in loans to small businesses and helped many avoid layoffs. 

As many as 5.2 million businesses pulled forgivable loans, including 430,000 in Florida.

Return to sender

As many Americans wait for stimulus checks from the relief package just signed by Biden, Sen. Scott said the federal government should save $2 billion and not bother sending checks to inmates. The Democratic majority blocked legislation introduced by the Florida Senator to hold back any checks drafted for those in a state or federal prison. 

Scott called out cutting checks for convicts as “reckless.”

But he’s said as much about many facets of the recent relief bill. Scott sent a letter Monday to Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Rob Fairweather urging the administration to rescind much of the bill’s wasteful spending.

The families I represent in Florida deserve to have their taxpayer dollars protected,” the letter said. “That’s why I am writing to you today to request that the Biden Administration take immediate action to request the rescission of the non-COVID-related, misguided, and in some cases, purely wasteful funding found throughout this bill.”

That, of course, includes sending money to prisoners who can’t spend it. But Scott sees there’s plenty of other funding that no one needs. He’s asked any Governors and Mayors who don’t need the money to send checks back to the federal government. That includes Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida.

Rick Scott will not stop giving Ron DeSantis grief on COVID-19 relief funds. Image via AP.

“Send it back,” Scott said in a Fox News interview on Thursday. “We’re all American citizens. Don’t waste the money.”

For the record, neither DeSantis nor any other Governor to date refused the relief. Florida’s Governor says to send money back means it will just go to blue states.

There’s historical evidence to believe him. That’s what occurred when then-Gov. Scott refused transportation money for rail projects and Medicaid expansion dollars during President Barack Obama’s terms.

Medal test?

The House voted Wednesday overwhelmingly on a resolution to award three Congressional Gold Medals honoring the United States Capitol Police and those protecting the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Support for the bill sounded easy, honoring the “Men and Women in Blue” who put their lives, literally, on the line to protect members of the House and the Senate as an angry mob surged forward.

Yet, it also could be a bit of a loyalty test over fealty to the insurrection’s goal (which the police stopped): keeping Trump in office.

Twelve Republicans voted against the medal award, including Florida’s two staunchest Trump supporters, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz and Sarasota Republican Greg Steube.

The medals will go to the United States Capitol Police headquarters, the D.C. Metropolitan Police headquarters, and the Smithsonian Institution for the public to admire.

Gaetz complained Democrats gummed up the resolution with inappropriate rhetoric.

“It’s wrong Congress log-rolled recognition of Capitol Police. Dems combined recognition of USCP with editorial comments about January 6th,” Gaetz tweeted. “The brave men and women of the USCP deserve better, which is why I co-sponsored a clean recognition of their heroism with Rep. Louie Gohmert.”

The harshest language in HR 1085 declares Congress found “a mob of insurrectionists forced its way into the U.S. Capitol building and congressional office buildings and engaged in acts of vandalism, looting, and violently attacked Capitol Police officers.” 

It also notes the “sacrifice of heroes including Capitol Police Officers Brian Sicknick and Howard Liebengood, Metropolitan Police Department Officer Jeffrey Smith, and those who suffered injuries, and the courage of Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman.” And it decried, “The desecration of the U.S. Capitol, which is the temple of our American Democracy, and the violence targeting Congress are horrors that will forever stain our Nation’s history.”

The rest of the bill mainly was boilerplate language and nonjudgmental background. There was no mention of Trump or any partisan.

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy saw no moral dilemma. 

“Today, I voted to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Capitol Police officers who defended the Capitol during the Jan 6 insurrection,” she tweeted Wednesday night. “These officers risked their lives to protect our democracy, and they earned this medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow on an individual.”

LEO caucus

Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford and New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell lead the newly relaunched House Law Enforcement Caucus.

Rutherford and Pascrell serve as co-chairs of a bipartisan caucus, which had 145 members in the 116th Congress, including seven from Florida. 

Besides Rutherford, delegation members in the caucus include Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Frederica Wilson, all Democrats.

Former Sheriff John Rutherford is once again a member of the congressional LEO caucus.

“As a former sheriff and career police officer, it is an honor to advocate on behalf of America’s law enforcement community,” Rutherford said. “Over the last few years, our nation and the Caucus has engaged in substantial policy debates regarding law enforcement training, practices, and oversight. I look forward to joining Congressman Pascrell in the 117th Congress as we work together in a bipartisan way to support law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

Congress created the House Law Enforcement Caucus in 1994 to serve as a clearinghouse for information and grants and a sounding board for ideas addressing the law enforcement community. 

Minority STEM 

Mike Waltz wants federal grants for science agencies directed toward colleges that serve Black, Latino and other minority communities. The St. Augustine Republican, ranking member on the Research and Technology Subcommittee, co-introduced legislation to that end with Texas Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson, chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

The MSI STEM Achievement Act would offer steps and recommendations for minority-serving institutions with robust science, technology, engineering and math programs.

“Minorities continue to be badly underrepresented among the STEM workforce, and Congress has an obligation to find solutions to increase representation in fields that are pivotal to economic competitiveness and national security,” Waltz said. “Over the next decade, the STEM shortage is anticipated to reach one million professionals, and a stronger national commitment to increasing diversity in the STEM workforce is needed to help address this glaring skills shortage.”

Michael Waltz seeks more minority STEM studens. Image via Twitter.

He noted that while minorities make up 30% of the U.S. population, only 11% of the STEM workforce falls into that category.

Waltz represents the Space Coast, a region with a particular interest in STEM and the need for graduates in those fields. Florida’s 6th Congressional District also serves as home to Bethune-Cookman University, a historically Black school.

Johnson said it’s vital to include minority populations as opportunities grow in STEM fields.

“The challenges we face today demand a dramatic expansion of the STEM workforce, one that is inclusive of talented students of all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds,” she said. “The way I see it, we have two possible futures: one in which we rise to the moment and leverage all of our human capital, and one in which our capacity for innovation and our standing in the world continue to erode. I know which future I want to see happen, and I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.”

Fast Pass vax

Pinellas County Democrat Charlie Crist blasted DeSantis by proposing a five-point plan to improve Florida’s current vaccine rollout.

The initiative, coined “Successful Shots,” suggests a system counter to DeSantis’ current implementation. 

Under the Governor’s current plan, an individual is eligible to receive a vaccine if they are older than 60, or have a doctor’s note, are a health care worker, schoolteacher, firefighter, or law enforcement officer 50 years old or older.

Crist’s plan suggests creating a Disney-style “Fast Pass” system so seniors and vulnerable groups get priority access. All other Floridians will have to wait their turn for a vaccine.

Charlie Crist wants to Disnify the vaccine process. Image via AP.

The initiative prevents what Crist deems “vaccine distribution abuse” by DeSantis by reserving pop-up sites only for underserved communities. The Governor previously faced criticism from Crist, among others, for his vaccine distribution.

The Congressman’s plan also calls for expanded hours and prioritizes teachers and other critical workers. The proposal would “eliminate the Governor’s meaningless doctor’s note.”

Crist’s proposal follows a heated back-and-forth between the two since the start of vaccine distribution — all amid speculation from Crist about a potential 2022 run for Governor, an office with which he’s no stranger. 

If the Congressman decides to run, the current Governor’s vaccination system will likely be a reoccurring talking point on the campaign trail.

Helsinki condemns Kremlin

A National Intelligence Council report on Russia’s repeated attempts to influence U.S. elections showed a pattern Fort Lauderdale Democrat Alcee Hastings has seen for years. As the U.S. co-chair of the Helsinki Commission, he joined in the bipartisan condemnation of the meddling.

“The Kremlin wants to sow uncertainty, chaos, and disorder in the United States and uses weapons of influence and disinformation to strike when we are most divided and vulnerable,” Hastings said. “International election observers noted earlier reports of foreign actors engaged in disinformation campaigns designed to degrade public confidence in the U.S. electoral process. Although the 2020 elections were free and fair, we cannot be complacent. We must strengthen our society and institutions against further attacks on our sovereignty.”

Russian meddling is nothing new for Alcee Hastings.

The report generates some typically partisan response, especially with mentions of the use of Trump. But the Helsinki Commission, also known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, seems notable for its international focus. It operates independently of the federal government but has always included participation from Congress on both sides of the aisle. 

Hastings co-chairs with Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican.

Though Wicker offered no comment, Rep. Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican on the commission, joined Hastings in criticizing Russia’s continued attempts to undermine Western democracy.

“The Kremlin’s mobilization of bots, trolls, and agents of influence to exploit preexisting divisions in American society and further polarize discourse will not stop with our most recent elections,” Wilson said. “America’s best defense will continue to be informed citizens, continued vigilance from the U.S. intelligence community, and sanctions and other punishments on those who seek to undermine our institutions.”

Schoolhouse vax

Some letters on congressional letterhead delve into complex issues in great detail. Others get right to the point. 

In a one-paragraph letter to DeSantis, the Democratic members of the delegation said it’s time for all school workers to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

Leading the 60-word query was West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel, who said it’s time for DeSantis to catch up with the Biden administration.

Ron DeSantis gets a terse letter from delegation Democrats. Image via AP.

“We write to urge you to align state points of vaccine distribution with federal guidelines by including child care workers and teachers of any age in the current state distribution. Our educators and day care staff are confused by the conflicting guidelines between state and federal distribution sites. As essential workers, they should have access to vaccines at all sites,” it reads.

Of course, there has been a high-profile discrepancy between DeSantis and Biden’s policy regarding school personnel shots. The Governor this month allowed teachers over the age of 50 to receive doses. But the feds made clear shortly afterward that teachers of all ages could receive doses at the state’s four FEMA sites. Once pharmacies realized Biden gave the OK on providing doses for a larger pool of people, they jumped at the chance. 

However, state-run sites still limit shots based on age.

It’s an interesting turn, as some delegation members are a little more focused on whether DeSantis gave shots away to political allies (see above). But this letter didn’t dwell on disputes.

Blue & green

While the House of late frequently has divided itself between red and blue, several members hope to see unity against a familiar foe that’s blue-green. Naples Republican Byron Donalds introduced the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act. It’s the freshman Congressman’s first bill in the hopper.

Panhandle Republican Gaetz, Space Coast Republican Bill Posey, Pinellas Democrat Crist and Sarasota Republican Steube quickly signed on as original co-sponsors, with Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib and Ohio Republican Anthony Gonzalez.

Byron Donalds tackles Florida’s nagging problem of blue-green algae blooms.

“This bipartisan bill fosters the federal governments’ resources in tackling the environmental and economic challenges brought on by HABs in Southwest Florida and throughout America,” said Donalds. “Over the last 60 years, these events have increased substantially, impacting local economies, our nation’s ecosystems, and the American people’s health.”

The bill amends 1998’s Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act and ensures that essential services will continue fighting blooms — even during a government shutdown.

“Water is the lifeblood of Florida, with our thriving ecosystem offering vital resources for our local economies, agriculture, tourism, and recreation,” Steube said. “As we are no strangers to harmful algal blooms and the negative effects they have on our water quality, this bipartisan legislation takes an important step in prioritizing Florida’s environment despite ongoing partisan gridlock in Washington.”

On this day

 March 19, 1918 — “Standard Time Act signed into law” via The Congress Project — The Calder Act, named for Sen. William Calder, established that standard time in the United States, divided into five time zones and created by the Interstate Commerce Commission, It would be in concurrence with zones previously established by the national railroad system. It also dictated that to save fuel, the clock advances an hour on the last Sunday of March every year, returning that hour on the last Sunday of October of that same year. It was considered and adopted after the outbreak of World War I during the 1st and 2nd sessions of the 65th Congress.

March 19, 2016 — “Barack Obama hopes Cuban visit can be harbinger of political change” via The New York Times — Obama and his family will arrive in Cuba aboard Air Force One and receive a red-carpet welcome from a country that has been a bitter adversary of the United States since before he was born. He will stroll the streets of Old Havana and meet with Cuba’s President, Raúl Castro; watch Cubans and Americans face off in a baseball game; and deliver a televised address in the historic theater where Calvin Coolidge, the last American president to visit, spoke 88 years ago. He will meet with entrepreneurs and dissidents, Cubans who have found ways to challenge the status quo in a country undergoing profound change.

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

Staff Reports



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