Delegation for 4.9.21: Hastings — China — Portland — Gaetz — Piney Point

American Captial Building.
Summing up the life of Alcee Hastings in a single word is impossible.

Congressman. Judge. Trailblazer.

Alcee Hastings, in his 84 years on earth, would bear all those titles. Before holding public office, his career began as a civil rights attorney.

Hastings would retain the reputation as a fighter until his death from cancer, weeks after his reported swearing-in from a Broward County hospital bed to what would be a final term.

While reliably partisan, Hastings developed deep friendships on both sides of the aisle.

The life of Aclee Hastings cannot be summed up in a single word.

Supporters have reflected on his time as a civil rights lawyer as much as his lengthy congressional career. In the early 1960s, Hastings set up a law firm in Fort Lauderdale alongside W. George Allen — the first Black man to graduate from the University of Florida law school. Even before that time, Hastings did side work with the NAACP while working an in-house gig. But the partnership with Allen — an old friend from segregated Seminole County — showed Hastings’ chops in the legal field, especially when it came to civil rights cases.

“Alcee was a brilliant goddamn lawyer,” Allen recalled to the Palm Beach Post in 2019. “Helluva trial lawyer. Charismatic.”

The two targeted businesses and even the Broward County School District, seeking to fight racial separation.

“A trailblazing lawyer who grew up in the Jim Crow South, Alcee was outspoken because he was passionate about helping our nation live up to its full promise for all Americans,” President Joe Biden said following Hastings’ death.

“It was a passion he forged as a pioneering civil rights lawyer in the 1960s, fighting tirelessly to desegregate hotels, restaurants, and public spaces in South Florida — a trailblazing spirit to advocate for what is right that guided him throughout his life.”

Eventually, Hastings and Allen began to clash. Hastings moved to his own firm and launched several unsuccessful bids for public office.

In 1977, Gov. Reuben Askew named Hastings a Broward County Circuit judge. That was followed by his appointment to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

That tenure began on a historic note, with Hastings serving as the first Black federal judge in Florida’s history.

It ended in ignominy.

Two years after his appointment, Hastings was charged with soliciting a $150,000 bribe for a sentence reduction. Hastings was not convicted in his criminal trial. But in 1989, Congress reviewed Hastings’ actions and found he lied during the trial. He was subsequently impeached and removed from office.

Some supporters of Hastings have argued prosecutors focused on Hastings because of his groundbreaking position as a Black man in power. Regardless, voters approved Hastings’ return to the government just three years later, when Hastings again broke new ground.

The 1992 election win saw Hastings, Corrine Brown and Carrie Meek win their respective races to become the first Black Congress members hailing from Florida since Reconstruction. Hastings’ career endured the longest, leading to his position as the longest-serving member of the Florida congressional delegation at his death.

“With Alcee Hastings’s passing, Florida has lost one of its most preeminent and passionate public servants,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, in a statement earlier this week.

“As a congressman, Hastings was a tireless advocate for his constituents and for fighting against civil rights injustices, and the decades he spent representing our state in the House were an inspiration to all members of the Florida congressional delegation. Working alongside him on issues like Everglades restoration has been a personal highlight in my own work in the Senate.”

The title of dean of the delegation appears to fall now to Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, who was elected in 2003. That in itself shows a new era with the passing of Hastings, the last sitting Florida member to serve in Washington during the 20th century. As for Hastings’ position as co-chair of the Florida Congressional delegation, which Hastings led first alongside Fort Lauderdale Republican Clay Shaw and more recently with Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan, Democratic members together will decide who will take that mantle in the bipartisan delegation.

Signal to China

A spotty network these days causes more than frustration when you want to make a call. Rubio sees relying on foreign competitors for communications technology as a national security risk. It’s why Florida’s senior Senator led a bipartisan letter with Virginia Democrat Mark Warner calling on President Joe Biden to budget $3 billion for the adoption of 5G alternatives to Chinese-manufactured equipment.

“Current [radio access network] infrastructure relies on closed, end-to-end hardware solutions that are expensive to operate and dominated by foreign companies,” the letter explains. “For example, Huawei, a company with inextricable links to the Chinese government and a history of disregard for the intellectual property rights of U.S. companies, offers end-to-end RAN hardware, which poses significant counterintelligence concerns.

Marco Rubio says that you could blame China for your bad cell signal.

“For years, we have called on telecommunications providers in the U.S., as well as our allies and partners, to reject Huawei 5G technology, but we have not provided competitively-priced, innovative alternatives that would address their needs.”

Rubio and Warner say that can be addressed with a $1.5 billion federal investment in the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund and a like-size appropriation for the Multilateral Telecommunications Security Fund. Both were created last year through legislation co-introduced by the two Senators.

Prosecuting in Portland?

Sen. Rick Scott joined in demanding answers on how the Justice Department will protect a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon.

In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the Naples Republican joined three other Republican Senators — Utah’s Mike Lee, Texas’ Ted Cruz and Arkansas’ Tom Cotton — to demand an answer.

The quartet of presidential contenders said the courthouse too often has been the target of left-wing violence.

Rick Scott demands Merrick Garland do something about Portland. Image via AP.

“Throughout the summer of 2020, Portland’s federal courthouse endured months of nightly assaults, during which left-wing extremists repeatedly set fire to the building with personnel inside, and attacked federal officers using Molotov cocktails, explosives, and various weapons,” the letter reads. “The brave federal agents who defended the federal courthouse bore the brunt of those unchecked attacks, resulting in numerous injuries, including blindness caused by lasers the left-wing extremists pointed into the eyes of those officers. Unfortunately, neither state nor local law enforcement has been willing or able to intervene to disperse the organized attacks, and the extremists have continued targeting the federal courthouse for violence and vandalism.

“This is a textbook example of domestic terrorism, but neither the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, nor the Federal Bureau of Investigation appear to be doing anything to stop these attacks or bring to justice the left-wing extremists responsible for this violence and destruction.”

The letter references anti-police demonstrations in Portland that have continues for nine months.

Obligatory Gaetz update

An all-consuming sex scandal continues to grip Matt Gaetz.

Most recently, evidence shown to The Daily Beast further implicates the Panhandle Republican, suggesting he used Venmo to pay former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, who immediately sent the money to prostitutes.

That news Thursday came hours after the revelation Greenberg was negotiating a plea deal on a litany of federal charges.

But several members of Gaetz’s office staff continue to stand by the embattled far-right firebrand, if somewhat anonymously. Eight female staffers working in the Congressman’s office sent out a statement standing by their employer and his treatment of women.

There’s no bottom to this mess.

“During Congressman Gaetz’s time in office, we have been behind the scenes every step of the way. We have staffed his meetings. We have planned his events. We have traveled with him. And we have tracked his schedule. Congressman Gaetz has always been a principled and morally grounded leader. At no time has any one of us experienced or witnessed anything less than the utmost professionalism and respect. No hint of impropriety. No ounce of untruthfulness.”

The statement goes on to “uniformly reject these allegations as false.”

Notably, the statement does not list the staffers’ names; District Director Dawn McArdle did not return an email request for comment. And Jillian Jane Wyatt is staying on as Gaetz’s chief of staff; she shared the statement on social media.

Wait, there’s more!

In other personnel news from Florida’s 1st Congressional District, The New York Times reports Devin Murphy resigned as Gaetz’s legislative director, which follows Luke Ball quitting as communications director.

Medicaid moment

While Democrats for years advocated for Florida to accept a Medicaid expansion, the pandemic provides the best excuse yet for the state Legislature to do just that. That’s the case made in a letter, headed by Orlando Democrat Darren Soto and co-signed by eight other delegation members. The letter went directly to Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls.

Soto, who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said it’s still possible for Florida to take on a fully funded Medicaid program.

Darren Soto puts pressure on state lawmakers to expand Medicaid.

“I look forward to having important conversations with state representatives about the investments we will make to rebuild our state after the COVID-19 pandemic,” Soto said. “I hope we can work together to uplift the very public health programs that have responded to this unprecedented crisis.”

The letter argues the funding could deal with revenue troubles challenging the state government this year. “Given earlier projections of a gap of roughly $2.1 billion in state revenue attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are hopeful this funding will go a long way in reducing pressure to enact steep spending cuts in the year ahead — particularly for those programs and entities which have been central to the public health response required by this unprecedented public health emergency,” it reads.

Notably, Sprowls last month announced support for a partial expansion, extending Medicaid to new mothers for one year after they deliver a child.

Piney Point politics

Various federal agencies already stepped in at a potential environmental disaster at Piney Point.

But part of the delegation wondered if more could help and began scrutinizing the decisions that brought Florida here.

Pinellas Democrat Charlie Crist already called on the Environmental Protection Agency to double-check Florida’s water testing. On Thursday, he asked NASA to deploy its resources to help the situation.

Charlie Crist urges the EPA to get to the bottom of Piney Point. Image via AP.

In a letter to acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk, he expressed concern about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ direction to dump 175 million gallons of nutrient-rich industrial wastewater into Tampa Bay.

“NASA’s Landsat satellites are critical tools for early detection and tracking of [harmful algal blooms]. They are … literally our bird’s eye view over threatened bodies of water,” Crist wrote. “ … I encourage NASA surveillance not only over Tampa Bay and the nearby Gulf of Mexico, but also specifically at Piney Point and Port Manatee, where the discharges are occurring. In addition, I encourage NASA to capture images of Piney Point, Port Manatee, and Tampa Bay and update those images with each overhead pass of a Landsat. This will help identify possible trouble earlier and assure my constituents who are concerned about our water.”

Stuart Republican Brian Mast called out the hazards of pouring phosphorus-laden water into the Bay while speaking to The Brian Mudd Show on WIOD. That’s especially notable considering the Congressman has been one of DeSantis’ strongest allies in the early days of the Governor term.

“If we wouldn’t put something in the bathtub with our kids or our grandkids, we’ve got to do everything we can in the world to keep it out of our public waterways because those are our treasures as the state of Florida, our landscape, our conservation, our outdoors,” he said. “If we destroy that, we destroy our state.”

Mast’s office stressed the comments addressed a need to “better manage these facilities moving forward to avoid needing to discharge contaminated water in the future.”

Staffers said the statement should not be read as criticism to pump the way amid the emergency that threatened hundreds of nearby homes with potential for flash floods.

Of course, Sarasota Republican Buchanan, who represents Piney Point, offered a different take, praising environmental agencies’ response so far. “Great to see county, state and federal officials working together to contain contaminated wastewater at Piney Point,” he tweeted. “Although much work remains, an imminent catastrophe appears to have been averted and a long-term solution is in the works.” He tweeted kudos to DeSantis and the EPA.

EPA vs. Army Corps?

Days after urging a stop to all discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River, Stuart Republican Brian Mast suggested feds at least could stop pouring outright toxic sludge. He called for the Environmental Protection Agency to begin testing all water and stopping releases for anything considered unsafe for humans.

The hope, Mast said, is the EPA will halt a practice the Army Corps of Engineers seems intent on continuing in sending algae-contaminated water downriver.

“While I understand the Army Corps goal is to make preventative discharges now in an effort to avoid discharges during the summer, continuing these releases indefinitely — even if the water is toxic — will put lives at risk,” Mast said.

If the Corps cannot stop Lake O discharges, they can at least prevent releasing toxic sludge, says Brian Mast.

“The Army Corps has proven that if left to their own devices, they will continue to poison our communities. No Floridian should tolerate being poisoned by their government. The moment that water turns toxic, the Army Corps must stop the discharges immediately.”

The Army Corps this year began releases on March 6. Col. Andrew Kelly, Florida commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said those would continue indefinitely,

Mast said the EPA should be brought in and be empowered to disallow the release of any water containing more than eight parts per billion of microcystin. He called on a change in a letter to Kelly sent Thursday.

Palestinian aid

While the Biden administration’s decision to restore foreign aid for the Palestinians isn’t going over well with Israel’s government, the most prominent Jewish member of Florida’s delegation praised the move. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, welcomed the offer of action.

“The U.S. has long provided assistance that contributes to the health, well-being and prosperity of Palestinians, and to the overall stability of the region,” he tweeted. “Our bilateral assistance is provided in accordance with all applicable U.S. laws, like the Taylor Force Act, as the Biden administration has noted.”

Isreal may not be happy, but Ted Deutch is pleased with Palestinian aid.

While Deutch still worries about how the money will be used, the U.S. is obliged to meet it, he says.

“Despite my serious concerns about transparency & accountability at [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees], withholding assistance that provides health care and education to children during a global pandemic risks further deteriorating an already dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza made worse by Hamas,” he posted.

Israel’s leading isn’t so confident. “Israel is strongly opposed to the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity happening in UNRWA’s facilities,” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, told the Jerusalem Post. “We believe that this U.N. agency for so-called “refugees” should not exist in its current format. UNRWA schools regularly use materials that incite against Israel and the twisted definition used by the agency to determine who is a “refugee” only perpetuates the conflict.

But Deutch said in providing aid, the U.S. could demand change in how to run the international program.

“The administration is committed to seeking reform of UNRWA, and I’ll insist that they follow through on that commitment,” Deutch wrote, “The $10 million for conflict mitigation supports peacebuilding by establishing people to people relationships that form the foundation of any future peace.”

Replacing Hastings

Politics doesn’t linger, and news of Hastings’ death already inspired speculation on who will next represent citizens of Florida’s 20th Congressional District.

The first candidate to formally announce he will run in a special election was Republican Greg Musselwhite, who challenged Hastings in 2020. But he earned just 21% of the vote in that deep blue district last year, and indeed, with the district’s existing makeup, Hastings will likely be succeeded by another Democrat.

In the blue field, health care advocate Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick and Broward County Commissioner Barbara Sharief already filed as Democratic candidates for 2022 before Hastings’ death. They can be expected to seek the nomination in a special election once the Governor sets a date. Coral Springs attorney Marlon Onias on Tuesday filed his paperwork with the state division elections as a candidate for the seat.

First up for Alcee Hastings’ seat: Greg Musselwhite. Image via Facebook.

There’s further interest in the open seat. State Sen. Perry Thurston on Thursday told POLITICO he’s running. Palm Beach County Commissioner Mack Bernard could jump in as well. Dale Holness, Sharief’s colleague on the Broward County Commission, has also shown a desire to run for the seat.

There are also rumors state Sen. Shevrin Jones, Florida’s first openly gay state Senator, is weighing a run.

Haiti TPS

Delegation members already won a fight to extend temporary protected status to Venezuelan refugees. Could TPS status for Haitians be next?

Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart wrote a bipartisan letter with New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires calling on the Biden administration to redesignate TPS for Haiti based on extraordinary but temporary conditions in the Caribbean nation.

Mario Diaz-Balart goes to bipartisan bat for Haitian refugees. Image via Getty.

“We are deeply concerned about the situation in Haiti,” the letter reads. “Haitians are suffering under a dysfunctional government, a deepening economic crisis, and a spike in gang violence and kidnappings. The mandates of most Haitian Parliament members and all Haitian Mayors were terminated at the beginning of 2020 due to delayed elections, leaving President Jovenel Moïse to run the country by decree with no legislative oversight and few checks on his power.”

It’s a matter of vital interest to Florida, home to more than 1 million Haitian Americans, according to 2018 census estimates.

There are also about 60,000 Haitian migrants in the U.S. who currently hold TPS but risk deportation as soon as it expires, the letter noted.

“We believe it would be unsafe and unconscionable to send Haitian nationals already residing in the U.S. back into harm’s way,” the letter reads.

Target practice

New lines have yet to be drawn for the 2022 midterms, but national Democrats and Republicans alike have now made clear the seats they feel can be flipped. This week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a list of 22 “districts in play,” including two South Florida seats held by freshman Republicans Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar.

DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney said he’s spotlighting those seats to get them back under Democratic control and already made clear a line of attack on incumbents. “Every single Republican on this list voted against putting checks in pockets and shots in arms, and we’re going to make sure voters in their district know it,” he said.

Democrats are targeting Maria Salazar.

Meanwhile, in February, the National Republican Congressional Committee announced it would target seats held by two-term Democrats Stephanie Murphy and Crist.

“House Republicans start the cycle just five seats short of a majority and are prepared to build on our 2020 successes to deliver a lasting Republican majority in the House,” said NRCC Chair Tom Emmer.

Of course, the state of play for all four of these seats remains shaky. The Florida Legislature has yet to begin its decennial redistricting process. While bound by a Fair Districts amendment in Florida’s constitution, the Republican-controlled body will likely take some steps to protect Salazar and Giménez and may just seek a way to weaken Crist or Murphy. Notably, all four targeted Representatives earned their seats in Congress by defeating incumbents from the opposing party.

Same cause, new gig

A former member of the delegation just took on a prominent role with one of America’s most prominent gun safety groups. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who served one term representing South Florida, joined Giffords as a senior adviser.

Mucarsel-Powell, whose father was shot and killed in Ecuador, served as vice-chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force while in the House. During her time in office, she worked on legislation (HR 8) that would become the first gun control measure to pass in the chamber in 25 years, a universal background checks bill that didn’t clear the Senate but was the model for legislation moving through the Congress with a more receptive upper chamber of White House.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is ready to fight for Gabby Giffords.

Now she will work with a group founded in honor of another former Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011.

“When I was 24 years old, my life was forever changed because of gun violence,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “My father didn’t have the chance to walk me down the aisle or meet my beautiful children, because his life was stolen far too soon.”

“I have so much admiration for Gabby Giffords and the work her organization has done to save lives from gun violence and change the conversation around gun safety in America. I’m thrilled to join Giffords and play a part in enacting change to make our communities safer.”

Mucarsel-Powell won her seat in Congress, defeating Republican incumbent Carlos Curbelo in 2018 but then lost two years later to Salazar.

On this day

April 9, 1865 — “Robert E. Lee surrenders” via History.com — In the Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Lee surrendered his 28,000 Confederate troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War. Characteristically, Grant arrived in his muddy field uniform while Lee had turned out in full-dress attire, complete with sash and sword. Lee asked for the terms, and Grant hurriedly wrote them out. All officers and men were to be pardoned, and they would be sent home with their private property — most important, the horses, which could be used for a late spring planting. Officers would keep their sidearms, and Lee’s starving men would get Union rations.

April 9, 1959 — “NASA Introduces Mercury 7 Astronauts” via NASA — The event took place in the ballroom of the Dolley Madison House on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., which then served as the first headquarters of the new space agency. NASA Administrator T. Keith Glennan introduced them in alphabetical order: “Malcolm S. Carpenter, Leroy G. Cooper, John H. Glenn, Virgil I. Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Alan B. Shepard, and Donald K. Slayton … the nation’s Mercury astronauts!” For most of the men, this was a new experience as they had little prior exposure to the media in their previous jobs as test pilots. By the time the event concluded, it was clear to them that their lives had changed forever.

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

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