Delegation for 4.23.21: Hastings — post-Floyd — cruising — Glades — 51st state?

American Captial Building.
'In Congress, one less wise, patient and compassionate statesman walks our halls.'

Liberty, justice for all

With a grinning picture of the late Alcee Hastings on display in National Statuary Hall, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz fought through tears as she memorialized a mentor and colleague, a man who at the time of his passing was Florida’s longest-serving federal elected official.

“He valued every part of the cultural and ethnic mosaic that enriches our great state,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We’ve lost a brilliant, fearless, giant-hearted advocate for the place he so dearly loved. And here in Congress, one less wise, patient and compassionate statesman walks our halls.”

Wasserman Schultz took to the microphone in a new capacity as co-chair of the delegation, the role Hastings held for more than a decade. 

After his death, the job fell to the Weston lawmaker, now the most senior Democrat representing Florida on Capitol Hill. 

To watch the service, click on the image below:

But Schultz felt a greater closeness to Hastings. For years, she’d known the family running for the Student Senate at the University of Florida alongside Hastings’ son, Alcee “Jody” Hastings II. When she arrived in Washington to represent an adjacent district to Hastings, the veteran Representative offered her guidance and (sometimes unsolicited) advice on how best to serve.

Over the past 10 months, Wasserman Schultz held near-daily conversations with Hastings, acting as his proxy in Congress and casting votes he relayed from a Broward County hospital bed. In January, Wasserman Schultz was awarded the responsibility to go to that hospital and swear Hastings into his final term.

Rep. Vern Buchanan, now the senior co-chair for Florida’s delegation, also spoke at the memorial event for Hastings, the only Republican to share the microphone that day. He recalled the friendly relationship the two men shared over the past eight years, holding Florida’s 29 members together on issues including offshore oil drilling, support for Florida agriculture and Everglades restoration. The Congressmen also worked together on legislation combating human trafficking and animal cruelty.

“We successfully avoided partisan land mines because Alcee understood the importance of unity in our delegation when it mattered,” Buchanan said. “Alcee was one of the most dedicated public servants I’ve had the privilege of working with during my lifetime in Congress.”

Buchanan recalled birthday parties where Hastings served specialty drinks with shocking potency. And he spoke of his friend’s disarming sense of humor and disabling in-depth knowledge of every topic at hand. “Everyone knew him as experienced, charismatic, energetic and enthusiastic about the issues that we worked on,” Buchanan said.

The speaker’s list for the ceremony included White House Special Adviser Cedric Richmond, Majority Whip James Clyburn, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the event drew guests including Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge and Vice President Kamala Harris. All eulogized Hastings as a figure of historical significance, the first Black federal Judge in Florida and one of its first Black Representatives elected since Reconstruction.

“His life is the story of America,” Pelosi said, “a son of domestic workers who became one of the most influential members of Congress.” The Speaker presented to Hastings’ family a flag flown over the Capitol the day he died, a symbol of a nation grieving the loss of a political giant.

“It waved goodbye to him, saying ‘liberty and justice for all,” Pelosi said. “Our pledge to the flag was Alcee’s pledge to the world.”

After Floyd

The trial of Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd proved a critical moment in a national conversation about police reform. But unlike the seemingly universal reaction of horror to the video of Floyd’s death last year, politicians responded in a range of ways to both the guilty verdict and the broader topic at hand.

To be sure, voices within the Florida delegation on both sides of the aisle issued statements and social media posts heralding a guilty verdict by the jury.

“The whole world watched that tragic 9-minute 29-second video as the air left George Floyd’s body. He didn’t deserve to die,” said Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat. “ … The guilty verdict was a victory for his family, for all those who peacefully marched in the streets, and for those who have lost loved ones to senseless violence.

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican, also praised the verdict. “9-minute Derek Chauvin broke the law, and now, he is being held accountable for his actions,” Dunn said. “I believe the jury made the right decision based on the evidence presented.”

But for many, the verdict itself was but a moment. Members on both sides of the policing debate rushed to advance their beliefs on that issue moving forward.

It’s past time to seek justice for ALL of our neighbors … the ability to live without fear of dying at the hands of police,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat. “The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act must be passed into law.”

She pushed in the wake of the verdict for the Senate to take up a reform package passed in the House, which would ban chokeholds and carotid holds, prohibit no-knock warrants in federal drug cases, and end qualified immunity from lawsuits for law enforcement. It passed 220-212 with Florida’s delegation members breaking along party lines.

But Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican and one of two Black Republicans in the House, said he’s tired of controversial moments being used to promote a federal agenda at odds with supporting police and curbing crime. “My point is about the Democrats really weaponizing this thing to push an agenda … They are using these flashpoints in our country just for their own political gain and only for their political power,” he said. “It is disgusting. It has got to stop.”

Built to Last

As the federal government looks to make a significant investment in infrastructure, Sen. Marco Rubio wants to make sure everything gets built to last. He introduced bipartisan legislation named just that with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat.

“I am proud to partner with Sen. Baldwin, a fellow member of the Climate Solutions Caucus, in this bipartisan effort to mitigate the challenges and impacts of a changing climate and empower states to plan appropriately,” Rubio said.

The Senator noted that extreme weather events and other factors already bring wear and tear on roads. The Congressional Budget Office estimates hurricanes and storm-related flooding now deal $54 billion in damage to homes, businesses, and government facilities each year. That demands a focus on resilience upfront, he said.

Marco Rubio wants government buildings to be resilient.

“Florida’s public and private building standards are already among the most stringent in the nation, including the requirement to withstand major hurricanes,” Rubio said. “The Built to Last Act would bolster our preparedness by improving the Federal Government’s capacity to share projections of weather-related risks to our communities and provide guidance for building codes, ensuring that the infrastructure we build in the future is more resilient to weather impacts.”

The legislation would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Institute of Standards and Technology to provide critical data of forecasting and building standards ahead of any infrastructure advancement.

“As extreme weather and costly damages become more and more frequent, it’s important we equip states and local communities with what they need to build stronger and more climate-reliant infrastructure,” Baldwin said. “Our bipartisan legislation will help make sure our infrastructure is built to last and save taxpayer dollars.”

Come sail away

An effort by Sen. Rick Scott to force the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to lift a no-sail order on cruises was blocked, with the Naples Republican accusing Senate Democrats of stopping a “common-sense measure” to steer vessels back on course.

He had introduced the Careful Resumption Under Improved Safety Enhancements (CRUISE) Act with Sen. Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican. “But it’s not just Florida and Alaska,” Scott said. “Tourism, including our all-important cruise industry, has huge impacts for states across our nation and the thousands of jobs that rely on its success.”

Cruises are sailing away from the U.S. But will they ever return?

During a speech on the floor, Scott brought visuals aids about the 450,000 American jobs the cruise industry provided before COVID-19, including 300,000 lost since the pandemic shut down ships. Worst of all, Scott said, other nations already started allowing cruises, so the industry may simply move its resources to foreign ports.

“Cruising has a significant impact on many small businesses,” he said. “It employs hundreds or thousands of people in America.”

Scott said Congress should not wait any longer for the CDC to release guidelines on safe cruising and instead laid out requirements in legislative form. With President Joe Biden’s plan to vaccinate all Americans by July 4, with 200 million already receiving shots, Scott said it should be possible for cruise lines to set sail again.

EAA move

Republican Sens. Rubio and Scott each praised an Earth Day deal to advance construction on the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir.

Thursday morning, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state reached an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin building the next step of the project. That will allow the construction of a 10,500-acre aboveground water storage reservoir, primarily designed to collect water that can serve as a resource for nearby communities.

But by catching local runoff — and discharges from Lake Okeechobee — the reservoir can also help slow the spread of blue-green algae to southern communities.

For Earth Day, the Everglades get a big boost.

“GREAT news for (Florida),” Rubio tweeted Thursday after the deal was announced. After years of bureaucratic delays, (the South Florida Water Management District and Army Corps) signed an agreement to begin construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir this year. This is a critical project for restoring the Everglades, (and) will make our water safer and cleaner.”

Added former Gov. Scott, “The EAA Reservoir plays a vital role in protecting (and) preserving the Everglades. We secured billions in funding for Everglades restoration when I was Governor (and the SFWMD and Army Corps.) signing an agreement today to begin federal construction on this project continues that crucial work.”

Construction on the project could begin later in 2021, according to the Governor.

Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican, praised the deal in a separate statement.

“The construction of the EAA reservoir is the single most important Everglades restoration project that will help end toxic discharges permanently,” Mast said.

“Thanks to Gov. DeSantis’ leadership, the state began construction on their portion of the project a year ahead of schedule, but the federal government has bogged the project down with unnecessary bureaucracy. The signing of this agreement will hopefully bring an end to this obstruction and should be heralded as a major accomplishment toward cleaning up Florida’s waterways.”

51st state

Florida’s Democrats and Republicans joined their party caucuses Thursday in a straight-party vote that approved a bill calling for Washington D.C. to become the 51st state.

The House approved HR 51 by a 216-208 vote, all Democrats versus all Republicans. It was the second straight year a Washington D.C. statehood bill cleared the House. 

All of Florida’s Democratic members, including the late Alcee Hastings, co-sponsored the bill.

D.C. inches a bit closer to statehood.

“Our nation was founded on the basic principle of democracy — that every American is afforded the right to a voice in our country’s future. The residents of D.C. deserve the same,” Pinellas Democrat Charlie Crist said in a news release. “Taxation without representation cannot be allowed to continue. That’s why I’m proud to vote for D.C. statehood and grant the hardworking taxpayers of D.C. the same basic right to representation that we are blessed to enjoy in the Sunshine State!”

Crist noted the overwhelming number of the district’s 700,000 or so residents want statehood, which would give them two Senators and a voting member of the House.

St. Augustine Beach Republican Michael Waltz called it a Democratic power grab. He suggested that if the residents of D.C. want full representation, he will support returning their neighborhoods to Maryland.

Washington D.C.’s population overwhelmingly votes Democratic.

“It’s no coincidence progressives are pushing for statehood for Washington, D.C. just days after introducing legislation to pack the Supreme Court with more justices,” Waltz said. “This is nothing more than a power grab to add two Democrat senators with the help of newly appointed justices to help give constitutional cover. Full stop.”

As with what happened in 2020, the bill faces a likely death in the Senate, where the Democrats do not have enough votes to overcome a potential filibuster.

Military benefits

Waltz joined a couple of members Thursday in a news conference pushing for more support for their bill seeking to close a health care law loophole penalizing military families.

The Health Care Fairness for Military Families Act of 2021, introduced by Virginia Democrat Elaine Luria of Virginia with Waltz as a prime co-sponsor, would allow military dependents to stay on their parents TRICARE health care plans until they are 26 years old.

Michael Waltz seeks to close a loophole in military health care.

HR 475 would give them the same coverage option that civilian dependents have under the Affordable Care Act. The 26-year-old dependents rule is one of the most popular innovations of Obamacare.

Yet, the Act never raised the age ceiling for dependents in the TRICARE health care coverage plans offered to military service members and their families. 

Waltz said that’s unfair to the military families and a problem as the Armed Services try to retain personnel with older children. 

“I hear from guardsmen and women but also active duty men and women all the time, particularly as they’re approaching that 17, 18, 20-year career mark, and they often have college-age children. And they are making those tough decisions about whether they can continue to serve or move on to the private sector. Health care, and health care for their children, is often a key factor,” Waltz said. “We want to retain so much of that experience this country has invested in these servicemen and women for so long.”

Hispanic Caucus

Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto was part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that sat town with President Biden and Vice President Harris in the Oval Office Tuesday.

Soto’s office said he was encouraged after speaking with Biden and Harris about housing issues critical to Central Florida before and during the ongoing coronavirus economic crisis. Soto received assurances Biden would support extending Section 8 vouchers for mortgages and extending the federal moratorium on evictions due to the coronavirus crisis.

Darren Soto gets some face time (with masks) at the Oval Office.

The caucus also discussed immigration reform and vaccination equity issues. Puerto Rico did not come up.

“As we continue navigating the challenges disproportionately affecting Hispanic communities across the nation, it is encouraging to know we have the support of @POTUS and @VP,” Soto tweeted afterward.

Shunning tech

Swearing off Big Tech donations seems to have caught on with a growing number of House Republicans. This week, a group of seven representatives, including Sarasota Republican Greg Steube, collectively pledged to reject any campaign donations from Amazon, Apple, Facebook. Google or Twitter.

The New York Times took note while also reporting Steube had accepted money from Google in the past. The newspaper also pointed out many of these companies committed themselves not to support campaigns for any politician who voted against certifying the presidential election results, including Steube.

Greg Steube says thanks, but no thanks, to tech money.

Notably, long before that, Steube publicly announced he wouldn’t accept any more money from the tech firms. He told Breitbart last July he would not accept such checks after watching a Fox News interview grilling a colleague about past donations. 

At the time, Steube and many conservatives had expressed frustration at social media companies refusing to allow a New York Post article on Hunter Biden to be shared. Anger on the right only grew after Twitter and Facebook de-platformed former President Donald Trump altogether.

Steube, in response to these moves, filed a bill in the House to curb social media censorship of conservatives.

Blue carbon boost

In an Earth Day announcement, Stuart Republican Mast announced an effort to protect coastal blue carbon ecosystems across the country. Bipartisan legislation introduced with Oregon Democrat Suzanne Bonamici would help “capture the power of our ocean and estuaries” to protect environmental treasures like the Indian River Lagoon, Lake Worth Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary.

Blue carbon ecosystems like those all along Florida’s coastlines serve a critical purpose providing habitats for fish and oysters, protecting our shorelines, and improving water quality,” Mast said. “But if we continue down the current path of mistreating our coastal ecosystems and poisoning our waterways, we are going to exponentially increase the damage and risks for future generations. Making sure we protect and restore these ecosystems is a must.”

Brian Mast goes blue for Earth Day.

Bonamici added such systems can be easily overlooked and undervalued but can play a critical role in solving the climate crisis. “We must act now to capture the great power of our coastal ecosystems to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it,” she said. The bipartisan Blue Carbon for Our Planet Act recognizes the potential of this natural climate solution by mapping, protecting, and restoring coastal blue carbon ecosystems.”

Rockledge Republican Bill Posey also co-sponsored the legislation, which would create a national map of the ecosystems with their sequestration potential. The bill also calls for studying the effects of environmental stressors and improving existing systems while restoring damaged ones.

Lobbyist to the stars

Ballard Partners earned a reputation during the Trump administration as a go-to lobbying firm. That extends into the supermodel world. The Tallahassee-based firm just signed Naomi Campbell as a client.

The London-born model lived for years in New York but apparently needs help navigating the visa process, according to public lobbying disclosures published by Legistorm. She will be represented by Brian Ballard, the firm’s founder, as issues go addressed. There’s little other specific information about any obstacles Campbell may be facing or why she needs a lobbyist instead of, say, a New York-based immigration attorney.

Brian Ballard goes to bat for Naomi Campbell.

Of course, she’s faced legal problems through the years, most recently being sued by her ex-boyfriend, Russian national billionaire Vladislav Doronin

Last year, he accused her of holding onto $3 million in property without permission after their relationship ended, TMZ reported. She’s also faced accusations of violence in the past as well, and it’s possible legal troubles could impact her ability to stay in the U.S.

Regardless, it shows the Ballard brand continues to hold weight in Washington, even in a post-Trump era.

On this day

April 23, 2015 — “Loretta Lynch confirmed by Senate as Attorney General” via The Washington Post — Lynch’s long wait to become U.S. Attorney General ended with the Senate voting 56 to 43 to confirm the veteran New York prosecutor five months after President Barack Obama submitted her nomination to Congress. Obama said that “America will be better off” with Lynch in charge of the Justice Department. “She will bring to bear her experience as a tough, independent, and well-respected prosecutor on key, bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform,” he said. Lynch was the first African American woman to be nominated for the post.

April 23, 1789 — “George Washington moves into first Presidential residence” via Old New York Tours — Washington moved into 1 Cherry Street, making it the first Presidential Mansion, and initial seat of the executive branch of the federal government. The house, known as the Samuel Osgood House, or alternatively as the Walter Franklin House, was built in 1770 by Walter Franklin. When Washington moved in, the house was owned by Samuel Osgood, who had married Franklin’s widow, Maria Bowne Franklin. Washington, his family, and his staff occupied the house until February 23, 1890. Washington then moved to the larger Alexander Macomb House at 39-41 Broadway. Washington stayed there until August 30, 1890, when the U.S. Capital was moved to Philadelphia.

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

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