Delegation for 4.2.21: Infrastructure week — berry blues — Gaetzgate — Tyndall lifeline — Holocaust vaxxes

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
It's infrastructure week ... for real!

Infrastructure week?

If there’s one type of government spending that Americans seem to embrace reliably, it’s money spent in their backyard.

Yet, as President Joe Biden moves forward with an infrastructure plan, it’s clear a tough road may lie ahead.

The President released a $2.3-trillion plan Wednesday he dubbed a “once-in-a-generation investment in America” but made clear he won’t pay for it with gas taxes and other mechanisms that place the financial burden on the working class.

Instead, Biden wants to undo Donald Trump-era corporate tax cuts.

Already, the plan has generated some party-line reactions within the delegation.

Joe Biden’s massive infrastructure plan is splitting the delegation along party lines.

“This package will not only address our physical infrastructure by fixing crumbling roads and bridges, ensuring access to clean drinking water, expanding broadband to every corner of our country, but it will also upgrade child care facilities, modernize VA hospitals, and invest in our care economy,” gushed Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat. “I look forward to working with the administration to pass this historic package, and future legislation focusing on social infrastructure, as we continue to Build Back Better.”

But Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Sarasota Republican, labeled the plan a “spending boondoggle.” Like several members, he expressed skepticism this plan could be paid for without resorting to a gas tax or other measures hitting the working class. Or worse, it could simply explode national debt even more.

“The $2.5 trillion bill spends a fraction on infrastructure and billions on ‘racial equity and environmental justice,’ Medicaid expansion and a Civilian Climate Corp,” Buchanan wrote on Facebook. “Sound familiar? Like the $2 trillion ‘COVID relief’ bill that spent less than 10% on COVID but billions on union pension bailouts and world food assistance? Next up: a record-breaking tax hike to pay for it all. No worries — just send the tab to your kids and grandkids. The economy is roaring back, unemployment low, and growth projected at 6%. We don’t need depression-era spending projects dishonestly labeled as infrastructure.”

Simultaneously, there are sure to be line items in the package that most or all of the delegation embrace. A summary of the infrastructure highlights released by the White House includes some specific Florida spending, such as “protection and restoration of major land and water resources like Florida’s Everglades.”

There’s also a promise to modernize 20,000 miles of highways, roads and Main Streets, and a portion of the $115 billion set aside for such work will likely make its way to the Sunshine State. Likewise, a plan to build a network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the country could catalyze Florida’s efforts to prepare roads for a high-voltage future.

The plan also devotes dollars toward resiliency in flood-prone areas at risk from major weather events, which kind of describes all of Florida.

The pandemic exposed the fact many rural areas of the state lack reliable high-speed internet and the White House proposal budgets $100 billion toward rural broadband with the goal of 100% coverage nationwide. The plan dedicated $40 billion for affordable housing, $50 billion to building new schools, $18 billion for Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics, and the list goes on.

Of course, the politics and how these money silos divvy out will be the subject of intense Washington politicking, and analysts have just barely sunk their teeth into the proposal.

Berry blues

Sen. Marco Rubio this week hosted a roundtable in Bartow where he spoke with agricultural leaders about the impact of blueberry imports on Florida farms.

That came about a month and a half after the International Trade Commission denied a request from blueberry growers in the state to provide relief based on unfair trade practices. Rubio, at the time, criticized the decision. “Relief for Florida’s fruit and vegetable growers is long overdue, and I remain committed to securing immediate, effective, enforceable, and durable solutions to unfair import competition,” he said.

Marco Rubio is highlighting the Florida berry business. Image via Marco Rubio’s office.

Rubio discussed his efforts to counter the influx of berries from nations with cheap labor (like Mexico) and addressed various other matters, including seasonal produce protections, temporary agricultural worker visa reform and natural resource management.

The farm industry also made clear agriculture professionals consider the Senator, who faces reelection next year, to be an ally in their causes. At the roundtable, Rubio received the Friend of Florida Farm Bureau Award.

‘Woke’ Georgia

In another in his series of bunker-style selfie videos released on social media, Rubio comes to Georgia’s defense against attacks from corporations like Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola that are uncomfortable with the state’s new voter restriction laws.

Rubio scolded — Georgia? What about China? — dressed in a wrinkled T-shirt and floppy ball cap.

The CEOs of Delta, Coca-Cola and other companies have condemned the new voting laws signed in their home state of Georgia — which are not unlike bills being considered by Florida’s Legislature — as voter suppression acts. The companies want their customers to know the laws do not reflect the companies’ values.

“Delta Air Lines are business partners with the Chinese Communist Party, the same Chinese Communist Party that is committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims inside of China,” Rubio advises in the minutelong video he tweeted Thursday.

Rubio sarcastically says he looks forward to Delta’s statement condemning China’s genocide as not reflecting the company’s values.

“Of course, they’re not going to send that letter. Nor is Coca-Cola. Nor is any of these other corporations that are out there, proving to the world how ‘woke’ they are, because they are woke corporate hypocrites,” Rubio charges.

Table talk

Sen. Rick Scott, joined by Rubio and six other Republican Senators, introduced legislation to prohibit the federal government from purchasing solar panels manufactured or even assembled in China. In announcing the Keep China Out of Solar Energy Act, Scott specifically called out production in the Xinjiang province, citing accusations of forced labor there.

“No taxpayer dollars should be used to prop up the Communist Party of China, which is committing a genocide against the Uyghurs under General Secretary Xi [Jinping]’s direction, continues to threaten our ally Taiwan and strip basic rights from Hong Kongers,” the Naples Republican said. “Reports show that many solar companies rely on materials and labor from Communist China’s Xinjiang province, which is known for forced labor and horrific abuse of the Uyghurs.”

Rick Scott wants China out of the solar business. Image via AP.

He said the economic action could send a message to the Chinese government the U.S. won’t turn away from genocide. Rubio agreed.

“Beijing has made it clear that to do business in China, you must leave American values behind,” he said. “As the Chinese Communist Party is actively committing genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim minorities, it forces American companies to look the other way while profiting from its egregious human rights violations, including forced labor. The CCP’s crimes should not be fueled by American taxpayer dollars.”

But Scott signaled little hope for bipartisan support, noting that Democrats’ infrastructure plan calls for an investment in solar panels while no mention of where those goods will originate.

Gaetz storm

In the world of Florida politics, Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz for years enjoyed one of the most significant media profiles around, making near-nightly appearances on Fox News. A fixture of cable news who arrived in Washington at the same time as Donald Trump, he built up a reputation as a reliable foot soldier for the former President, but also enjoyed a stature as a kingmaker within his home state and developed a surprising number of friendships from across the aisle. At least, it has appeared that way.

Yet few friends have surfaced as the Congressman faces the most trying scandal of his career after news leaked the Department of Justice had an open investigation whether he ever trafficked a 17-year-old girl across lines to have sex.

Matt Gaetz is in it deep. Image via Reuters.

Gaetz once argued California Democrat Katie Hill should not be forced out of the House over reports of an extramarital affair, though she resigned anyway after her ex-husband allegedly leaked compromising pictures of her with a female campaign staffer. Hill, in turn, pushed back on left-wing trolls who questioned a father-son relationship with an ex-girlfriend’s younger brother.

But Hill offered no sympathy for Gaetz as his sex life received scrutiny. “A 17-year-old girl is a girl, not a woman,” Hill tweeted. “Statutory rape is rape, not anything else.”

He’s also seen a little support come cohorts on the right. Those who have rushed to his defense hail from the same “own the libs” wing of the party, and even then, support has come chiefly from colleagues who know the harsh light of a circus-level scandal.

Two years ago, Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, founder of the Freedom Caucus, faced questions about whether he turned a blind eye to sex abuse while working as a wrestling coach at Ohio State. Jordan said Gaetz deserved the benefit of the doubt. As Democrats called for Gaetz’s removal from the Judiciary Committee, he flatly said no.

“I believe Matt Gaetz,” Jordan told CNN. “He should not be removed from the Judiciary Committee.”

Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who Gaetz publicly defended as Democrats this year, stripped her of committee assignments for tweeting conspiracy theories, decried accusations now as another inside job.

“Remember all the conspiracy theories and lies like Trump/Russia collusion and propaganda that the media has spread around. Take it from me; rumors and headlines don’t equal truth,” she said. “I stand with Matt Gaetz.”

But Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday said Gaetz should lose his committee seats if accusations prove true. That came days after Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the same, though he’s taken no action to date and signaled he would likely wait for an indictment to take any such action.

So far, no member of Florida’s delegation jumped into the debate on Gaetz’s behalf. But then, even Democrats from the state so far held back from piling on.

Fired up for Tyndall

When the Air Force announced Tyndall Air Force Base would be the new headquarters to three new squadrons of F-35A Lightning II fighter jets, Panama City Republican Neal Dunn greeted the news like an economic lifeline. After Hurricane Michael largely flattened Tyndall, the base’s future seemed in doubt. This decision guarantees it will serve a critical mission for years to come.

“Tyndall Air Force Base is the perfect choice to host three new squadrons of the F-35A Lightning II, the future of the U.S. Air Force,” Dunn said. “Tyndall was hit hard by Hurricane Michael in 2018, and I’m grateful to the U.S. Air Force for committing to rebuilding the base immediately following the storm. This addition is exactly what the base and the surrounding area need to further recover and thrive. Not only will building these new squadrons bring new jobs to the community, but thousands will soon call Florida’s 2nd Congressional District ‘home.’”

Tyndall is the new home for three new F-35 squadrons.

Access to the Gulf Range Complex, the 130,000-square-mile airspace over the Gulf of Mexico that’s reserved for training, seemed to be what put Tyndall over the top in the selection process. The decision means three squads composed of 24 strike fighters will soar into the Big Bend area soon. The 72 aircraft will join the 325th Fighter Wing.

“The airspace surrounding Tyndall is a national treasure,” said Col. Greg Moseley, the Fighter Wing’s commander. “The type of training conducted here integrates the DOD’s most advanced aircraft and builds a dynamic force.”

Rescue me

The American Rescue Plan, signed by Biden into law, will direct more than $21 million to six North Florida community health centers, announced Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson.

The money comes as part of a $6 billion investment in expanding vaccine access to underserved communities. More than $268 million of that will end up at Florida health centers.

“The pandemic has hit Floridians hard, and this crucial funding to our local health centers will help families across Florida’s 5th District,” Lawson said. “The centers can use the funding to expand COVID-19 vaccinations, testing, and treatment for vulnerable populations, as well as deliver preventive and primary health care services to people at higher risk for COVID-19. More help is on the way as we work to get more shots in arms and save more lives.”

Al Lawson is touting how his district will benefit from federal largesse.

The money helps two Jacksonville locations, directing $2.46 million to the Agape Community Health Center and $2.9 million to the I.S. Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless. The rest goes to the Tallahassee area. The Bond Community Health Center will receive $2,67 million. The Florida Department of Health office in town will get $3.67 million, Neighborhood Medical Center will collect $3.55 million, and North Florida Medical Center will come out the big winner with $5.09 million.

While intended to expand operational capacity in the pandemic, the funding will also help modify and improve physical infrastructure and add mobile units available for years.

Vaccinate Holocaust survivors

Are Florida’s thousands of Holocaust survivors getting vaccinated against COVID-19? Democrats Stephanie Murphy and Debbie Wasserman Schultz are pressing Gov. Ron DeSantis to say.

Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Murphy of Winter Park sent a letter to DeSantis Thursday asking for an update outlining the state’s efforts to make sure Holocaust survivors get priority attention.

In their letter, Wasserman Schultz and Murphy cited estimates that 80,000 survivors live in the United States, and tens of thousands of them would be in Florida. All of them would be in their late 70s or older. So they would both be most vulnerable to the virus and automatically in DeSantis’ stated priorities for vaccinations.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Stephanie Murphy want Holocaust survivors to get their vaccines.

“We have a special responsibility to protect Holocaust survivors, whose numbers are rapidly dwindling due to the passage of time and, unfortunately, the ravages of the pandemic,” the pair wrote. “Now, in the twilight of their lives, these men and women are a national treasure. They endured Hitler’s death camps and experienced other unspeakable horrors. They are a living, breathing reminder of humanity’s capacity for evil, but also of humanity’s capacity for grace and fortitude in the face of such evil.

“We understand that Florida has a program in place to vaccinate Holocaust survivors in the state. We ask that you please update us on the progress this program has made to date, including your best estimates regarding the number of Holocaust survivors who have been vaccinated, the number of Holocaust survivors who still need to be vaccinated, and your strategy to vaccinate those remaining individuals,” they requested.

Call your mother

There is a caucus of moms in Congress, led by Weston Democrat Wasserman Schultz, and they want you to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Right away.

And to call your mother.

The Moms in the House Caucus, which includes at least one Senator, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, released a video through social media this week urging people to get vaccinated — from a mother’s point of view.

Though only Democrats participate in the video message, Moms in the House Caucus is an informal bipartisan caucus of congressional mothers with school-aged children. Its 37 members include Murphy of Winter Park, who does not take part in the video. Wasserman Schultz, who has two daughters and a son, founded the caucus after the 2018 election.

In the video, Wasserman Schultz, Duckworth, and fellow Democrats Cindy Axne of Iowa, Marie Newman of Illinois, Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands, Kim Schrier of Washington, Lori Trahan of Massachusetts and Nikema Williams of Georgia take turns delivering lines in the one-minute message.

“For over a year now, we’ve stayed safe at home and masked up,” Wasserman Schultz begins.

“And y’all, the end of the pandemic is finally on the horizon,” Williams adds, followed by the others. “The United States currently has three approved COVID-19 vaccines, and all of them are proven safe and effective. Children are not yet approved to receive the vaccine. So the Moms in the House Caucus is here to ask you to get vaccinated for your kids. We expect all adults to be eligible to be vaccinated by May 1. Vaccine eligibility is rapidly expanding. So check with your local health department regularly to see if you and your loved ones qualify. Whether you get a Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson shot, rest assured you’re making your family and community safe. So listen to the Congress Moms and get vaccinated.”

“And then call your mother,” Schrier concludes. “She can’t wait to hug you again.”

RIP Shirley Lafleur

Shirley Marie Moreau Lafluer has died after a battle with liver cancer. The longtime staffer to Hollywood Democrat Frederica Wilson was 51.

In announcing Laufler’s death, the Congresswoman credited her director of field operations for her efforts well beyond Florida’s 24th Congressional District’s boundaries. Most notably, it was the high-profile “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign to return 476 female students kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram.

“Shirlee’s intellect, relationships, political acumen — and her heart — enabled her to change the lives of my constituents and others across our nation and the world,” Wilson told the Miami Herald. “She was able to perform miracles that almost no one else could perform.”

RIP: Shirley Marie Moreau Lafluer, a top staffer for Frederica Wilson, has died at 51. Image via Miami Herald.

Before working for Wilson, Lafluer worked for another South Florida Congressman, Miami Democrat Kendrick Meek, who served from 2003 through 2011. The daughter of Haitian immigrants played a critical role in assisting constituents with immigration issues and helping bosses navigate complicated international affairs important to South Florida.

Honoring exiles

The Bay of Pigs remains one of defining moments in U.S.-Cuba relations 60 years after the face. Ahead of the April 17 anniversary of the fateful mission, Miami-Dade Republican Mario Diaz-Balart introduced a resolution honoring the group of Cuban exiles recruited for the effort.

“The courageous Brigade 2506 veterans fought for freedom for the Cuban people, and many suffered torture or even perished in the struggle,” the Congressman said. “We are indebted to them, and this resolution honors their determination to bring freedom, justice, and human rights to Cuba. We honor these veterans’ remarkable legacy and valor by continuing to work toward a free and democratic Cuba.”

A bipartisan group of Representatives co-sponsoring the legislation includes 13 of Diaz-Balart’s on the delegation. Among them are Republicans Michael Waltz, Bill Posey, Gus Bilirakis, Scott Franklin, Greg Steube, Brian Mast, Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar and Democrats Murphy, Val Demings, Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch and Wasserman Schultz.

Mario Diaz-Balart is honoring Cuban exiles who took part in the Bay of Pigs mission.

The CIA in 1961 planned covert operations, sending some 1,300 Cuban exiles by night to Playa Giron, the Bay of Pigs, to fight Fidel Castro’s communist revolutionary forces, according to a Military.com summary of the doomed mission. When the insurgent force became overpowered, President John F. Kennedy infamously called off all U.S. support and left the recruited soldiers to fend for themselves. Castro’s military force overtook the group, killing 114 and imprisoning the rest. The Kennedy administration nearly two years later negotiated prisoners’ release in exchange for $50 million in cash and supplies.

The incident ultimately served only to bolster Castro, who fended off the world superpower located 90 miles away, coloring South Florida politics for decades.

Florida loses water war

The Supreme Court sided unanimously with Georgia over Florida in a long-running legal matter over water resources. Florida in 2013 sued its neighbors to the north after the oyster fishery collapsed in Franklin County’s Apalachicola Bay. The state blamed Georgia for drawing too much water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

Since the suit was filed while Scott served as Governor, the decision was disappointing for the now-Senator.

“Sen. Scott is disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision, which rewards Georgia’s reckless water consumption at the expense of the livelihoods of Apalachicola Bay’s families,” said Scott spokesperson McKinley Lewis. “Senator Scott will always fight to protect our communities, marine fisheries, and all Floridians who rely on Apalachicola Bay.”

The Georgia-Florida water war is over, and it’s not good for Florida.

But in an opinion from Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the court ruled Florida failed to provide any evidence Georgia’s actions caused damage to the bay. “The precise causes of the bay’s oyster collapse remain a subject of ongoing scientific debate,” she wrote. She also seemed swayed by Georgia’s argument that Florida fisheries over-farming the bay after the BP oil spill in 2010 forced many out of the Gulf of Mexico may have played a role in the consequences for state waters.

“In 2011 and 2012, oyster harvests from the bay were larger than in any other year on record,” Barrett wrote. “That was in part because Florida loosened various harvesting restrictions out of fear — ultimately unrealized — that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill would contaminate its oyster fisheries.”

Rubio, though, labeled the decision as misguided and hurtful to Florida’s environment and economy. “Hardworking families in northwest Florida have depended on this treasured natural resource for generations, and they deserve a brighter economic future that can only be secured with sufficient downstream freshwater flows to Apalachicola Bay,” he said. “I will continue to fight for a long-term solution to the deteriorating conditions of Apalachicola Bay and the entire ACF River Basin.”

On this day

April 2, 1865 — “Chasing Jefferson Davis” via Warfare History Network — When the end came, Confederate President Davis was sitting in his usual pew at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. A messenger interrupted the Sunday service to deliver a sealed telegram from General Robert E. Lee, then some 25 miles to the south defending Petersburg. “I advise that all preparation be made for leaving Richmond tonight,” Lee reported. Richmond was doomed. Davis, his family and high-ranking government officials began a desperate dash southward with Richmond in flames behind them. Their ultimate destination was Mexico.

April 2, 1917 — “The swearing-in of the first woman elected to Congress” via U.S. House History, Art & Archives — Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman elected to Congress, was sworn into the House. Rankin had campaigned as a progressive in 1916, pledging to work for a constitutional woman suffrage amendment and emphasizing social welfare issues. She won one of Montana’s at-large. Rankin arrived at the Capitol to be sworn in along with the other members of the 65th Congress (1917—1919). “When her name was called, the House cheered and rose so that she had to rise and bow twice, which she did with entire self-possession,” an observer wrote.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Scott Powers.

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