Delegation for 4.27.21: 100 days — counting up — no drilling — Agent Orange — ‘woke’ culture

American Captial Building.
Joe Biden's first 100 days were consequential and divisive.

100 days

Joe Biden began his term as President behind reinforced barriers in the wake of an attempted insurrection and a historic number of objections to his electoral college victory.

His term coincided with the swearing-in of two Democratic Senators from Georgia, swinging control of the chamber to his party but with a slim 50-50 margin that leaves Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote. 

The Senate had not yet confirmed any of Biden’s Cabinet appointments, though that could be remedied by days end when Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines received an upvote. 

Now, 100 days into his administration, 21 of 23 Cabinet appoints have been confirmed, CNN reports.

And his agenda? 

Monday, Biden arrived at an important milestone for the presidency — and a House more closely divided now than when he came. Democrats hold a six-seat edge, reduced in part by Biden tapping three Congress members for his administration. 

By all accounts, the oldest person ever elected President is advancing an aggressive set of priorities, which will grow government spending dramatically, propelled by long-held socially progressive goals and delivered on a series of campaign promises

Never mind Biden’s decadeslong reputation as a moderate and a message during the primaries to be a calming voice in the White House more interested in uniting the nation than enraging his enemies through late-night tweets.

Whether this becomes a pleasant surprise or horrible consequence depends in large part on their party identification.

Rep. Val Demings praised the President’s coronavirus response while cheering on the release of vaccines to India and other nations in need. The Orlando Democrat suggested this demonstrates a commitment to fighting the pandemic here and around the world.

“Under President Biden’s leadership, we’ve done 200 million vaccine doses in 100 days,” she tweeted. “A shot must be available for every American. We must also be a global leader. We cannot stand back and allow mass death.” 

However, conservatives see consequences to a highly partisan advance of Democratic priorities.

“Apparently, Biden’s plan for economic recovery is keeping the economy closed and raising taxes,” tweeted Rep. Greg Steube. The Sarasota Republican pointed to news of Biden’s plan to raise capital gains taxes, making clear he’s unimpressed with the Democrat’s fiscal policies. 

“This massive tax hike comes at a high price.”

Division over Biden’s job performance in the first hundred days can be illustrated through party-line (or near-party-line) votes on police reform, LGBTQ rights, coronavirus relief, election reform, and (likely soon) infrastructure. 

For many of these issues, Senate procedural rules stood between bills and the President, but matters like the American Rescue Plan reached Biden’s pen — thanks to budget reconciliation votes. 

And for all the pushback, Florida’s Republican-led Legislature is anxious to spend $10 billion sent to the Sunshine State through that rescue bill.

The first 100 days of the Biden administration were consequential. The remaining 1,361 begin today. 

The impact of each one, and the political ramifications, remain to be seen.

Add it up

According to data released Monday by the United States Census Bureau, Florida’s Congressional delegation will expand by one seat in the 2022 maps.

Notably, it represents the smallest increase since 1940. Florida’s population now at 21,538,187, up 14.6% — from 18,801,310 in 2010.

The Sunshine State will have 28 seats, up from the current 27. Many expected two more seats for the state. The underwhelming growth will, of course, diminish the state’s power in Congress over the next decade.

Taken as a whole, 2021 is not a year for substantive change: 7 seats will shift among 13 different states — the slightest change since the 1950 Census, according to acting U.S. Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin.

Florida grows, gaining a seat in the U.S. House, but not as much political power.

Another red state underperformed: Texas will gain two seats; some expected three. 

When asked why Florida and Texas underperformed expected gains in seats, Jarmin defended the count.

“The population growth had slowed significantly,” he said, compared to previous projections.

Other Census officers on the call also maintained the accuracy of their counts.

“We will continue to look into the quality of the data as we go forward,” said Kristen Koslap, Senior Technical Expert for Apportionment, Population Division.

States and the public will receive the data necessary for redistricting by August 16, Jarmin added. The Census Bureau will deliver all data at once. 

‘Woke’ up like this

It’s the 2021 Republican equivalent of the Rites of Spring: a few hundred words of red meat about woke corporations and the dismal fate that awaits them.

The latest example of this conservative anti-corporatist cosplay comes from Florida’s senior Senator in the New York Post.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who happens to be running for reelection next year, posited that “corporations that undermine American values don’t deserve GOP support.”

Today, corporate America routinely flexes its power to humiliate politicians if they dare support traditional values at all,” Rubio bemoaned Monday.

Marco Rubio blasts ‘woke’ culture. Image via Reuters.

“These hypocrites want to have it both ways: to coast off everything that makes America the most business-friendly country in the world while moving good jobs out of our nation and waging a merciless war against traditional values,” Rubio added, sounding like an America First-er reinvented.

The Senator also contends: “Taking aggressive positions on woke cultural issues that tear at our national fabric might seem like an easy way to avoid boycotts from activists. But those of us charged with keeping America strong recognize that these positions are the greatest threat to our long-term viability.”

Sen. Rick Scott parlayed his op-ed about woke corporations into what turned out to be a dud of a Sunday morning segment on ABC This Week. But he got play nonetheless. The question facing Rubio, in that context, is whether this seeming cul-de-sac of the woke corporation news cycle has legs for yet another week.

Alternative to nativism?

Scott’s more politically significant segment in his sit-down with George Stephanopoulos may have come when he tried to mark out a middle ground on immigration. Scott sought a place between liberals welcoming the Biden freeze on immigration and those in Scott’s party who want a full-stop on all comers.

“The Republican Party is the land of opportunity,” he contended. “I live in an immigration state, but I believe in legal immigration.”

Despite piling on with peers at what they describe as a crisis on the border, Scott, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has taken some moderate positions. He called for temporary protected status for Venezuelans in the U.S. In 2018, Scott also (rather famously) ran away from President Donald Trump’s call to eliminate birthright citizenship, a non-starter after the election.

Rick Scott tries to strike out a middle ground on immigration, but Democrats won’t take the bait.

He suggested Democrats were the extremists in this debate, increasingly favoring open borders.

“Look, the Democrats don’t want to do anything,” Scott said. “I believe we’ve got to figure out how to take care of the DACA kids. We have to create security at the border, and let’s figure out how we make us a country where people that want to live the dream that we want to live can come in here on a legal basis.”

100%

Embattled Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz remains under scrutiny for sex trafficking allegations and what appears to be a toxic broth of sordid political connections.

On the positive side, he did get plaudits from a conservative group Monday.

The American Conservative Union Foundation gave Gaetz a “100%” rating for his floor votes in 2020. The only other Florida Congressman to receive that designation: Sarasota Republican Greg Steube.

Matt Gaetz still has a few fans left. Image via Getty.

Scott came in at 95%, tied with former Rep. Ted Yoho. Another former member, Ross Spano, came in at 92%.

There was considerable variance among the Republican side of the delegation. Rubio came in at just 71%, and several Republicans in Congress, including Vern Buchanan, Mario Diaz-Balart, and John Rutherford, came in below that.

Democrats performed dismally according to this index, with most (including potential statewide hopefuls Charlie Crist, Val Demings, and Stephanie Murphy) all scoring the same 4%. 

“To produce this year’s scorecard, the ACUF’s Center for Legislative Accountability analyzed every vote taken last Session and selected a wide array of issues relating to fiscal, tax, regulatory, education, environment, Second Amendment rights, election security, life, and government integrity. All lawmakers in America at the federal and state levels are scored on a 100-point scale,” the group asserts.

Orlando retreat

Central Florida long served as a popular destination for corporate retreats. Why not host the House GOP caucus? Republican members of the delegation didn’t have to travel far for a caucus gathering in Osceola County, organized by GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (who notably left one Floridian off the invite list).

The conference strategized on policy and politics; conscious historical trends mean the chance to close what’s now only a six-seat margin between them and majority status. Members heard speakers from pundit Ben Shapiro to former press secretary Ari Fleisher speak.

St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz was happy to mug with a man less known for politics than winning in stadiums, legendary coach Lou Holtz. Steube also posted a picture with the sports legend.

“The only people who aren’t going to be criticized are those who do absolutely nothing,” Holtz told the members.

Waltz also spoke to Spectrum News about how the pandemic has largely prevented mass gatherings until now, so the most critical part of the gathering was just bringing the team together.

“In fact, our freshmen. Many new women and minorities and veterans that came in, this is the first time that we’ve actually all been able to meet together,” he said. “So just getting to know each other, understanding each other’s priorities and background are really important. But then, I have to honest with you; I really think we have a great shot at taking the majority back.”

Stopping the slicks

Two Florida Representatives once again will spearhead a bipartisan effort to ban oil drilling off the coast. This Congress, Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan, co-chair of the Florida delegation, will pick up where retired Republican Francis Rooney left off. Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor, meanwhile, will remain a champion for protecting the coast.

“Here in the Sunshine State, our natural resources and beautiful beaches are central to our way of life and the cornerstone of our economy. We have seen the devastating impacts of oil and gas drilling off of our shores, and are coming together, Democrats and Republicans, to once again introduce legislation to make protect our coast — permanently,” Castor said.

Vern Buchanan picks up the mantle of no offshore drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast. Image via Facebook.

“President Biden took action early in his tenure to pause new oil and gas leasing in public waters and launch a rigorous review of all existing leasing and permitting related to fossil fuel development — good news for Florida. But without Congressional action, we know that executive orders can be reversed. That’s why Congress must vote to fully protect Florida’s economy and environment — we overwhelmingly passed this bill last Congress, and it’s my hope, with a Democratic majority in the Senate, that we can get this bill to President Biden’s desk for signature. The future of our way of life depends on decisive action.”

Buchanan, who has opposed offshore drilling through eight terms in Congress, cited the BP oil spill from 2010 as an example of the devastating impact a single accident can have on the Gulf of Mexico and coastal economies.

“The fatal explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and massive spill into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 was one of the worst environmental disasters in history,” Buchanan said. “We can’t risk another spill that would threaten our economy, our environment, and our way of life.”

The House two years ago passed a ban on drilling in the eastern Gulf, but it sunk in the Senate despite support from Sens. Rubio and Scott.

The Florida Coastal Protection Act aims for more, a permanent ban off drilling along the state’s coastline. There remains a Trump-instated moratorium in place on drilling in waters up to 235 miles off the state’s west coast, but it will expire within the year. Even if Biden, through executive order, extends that, Castor and Buchanan say it’s crucial to find a permanent solution.

Agent Orange

As Stuart Republican Brian Mast steps up efforts to require the Veterans Affairs Department to disclose more on the impacts of burn pit exposure, he compared the issue to a prior military scandal.

Burn pits are the Agent Orange of our generation, so I will keep fighting to make sure veterans who were exposed get the care that they need!” he tweeted.

Mast earlier this month reintroduced bipartisan legislation with Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan that would require the VA to track all cases of burn pit exposure reported by veterans and notify Congress of findings. Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, a Democrat and Republican respectively, filed companion legislation in the Senate. In the last Congress, Mast ran legislation with Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, who is no longer serving in the House.

Brian Mast takes on the burning issue of Agent Orange.

It’s been a regular practice for years in U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia to burn waste and garbage, including industrial materials. The military has since acknowledged this resulted in lung and heart problems for many active duty service members exposed to airborne hazards as a result.

Mast compared it to a Vietnam War-era technique of using powerful herbicides to kill crops and eliminate tree cover for the Viet Cong. Exposure to Agent Orange was later shown to cause cancer, neurological issues, and other problems for the Vietnamese people and American soldiers.

Veteran health issues have been an important issue to Mast, who lost both his legs while serving as a bomb disposal expert in the Army.

Impressions on race

Naples Republican Byron Donalds raised eyebrows across America when he denied systemic racism in a video interview with POLITICO.

“It doesn’t exist today,” said Donalds, one of two Black Republicans in the House. “One hundred years ago, if you had told me there was systemic racism in the United States, I would have said absolutely there was. Not only the police but the D.A., the defense attorney, and the judge were systematically set up to make sure you were guilty no matter what. Systemic and institutionalized racism today in the United States? No.”

But Donalds did not shy from discussing issues of race, including problems within the Republican Party. 

Byron Donalds denies the existence of systemic racism.

Interviewed in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the venue of his choice, Donalds said his party needs to do far more to improve its reputation with Black voters.

“I’ve been hypercritical about the party on this one,” he said. “Because when you never go and see somebody, the natural inclination is that you don’t care about that person. The thing I always tell them is, just go. Go sit and listen. Once you have that baseline of communication, that baseline of relationship, then you can talk about your policies and that thing you support, and people will be receptive to it. If there’s one thing I would change about my party, it’s that very fact.”

He holds to a belief that a conservative philosophy of governance will be helpful to marginalized groups. “If you want to unleash systemic anything that disenfranchises one subset of Americans over another, you need to have more freedom and more opportunities, not less.”

Speaking for the RNC

A former Florida communications director for the Republican National Committee will return to the organization with a bigger platform. By December last year, Emma Vaughn, who headed Sunshine State’s communications for national Republicans since October 2019, just started a new job as national press secretary for the RNC.

Of course, national Republicans had a great cycle in Florida during Vaughn’s time. It was among three states where Trump posted a more significant margin of victory than he achieved in 2016, and Republicans Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar defeated incumbents to flip two House seats blue.

Vaughn lists the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area as a base on her LinkedIn page, but she’s no stranger to Washington. During a brief RNC break, she served in the House as communications director to New York Republican Andrew Garbarino. In the past, she worked in the chamber for Ohio Republican Dave Joyce. She also kicked off her pollical career interning for the RNC during the Republican National Convention, which followed a press internship in the House.

NSC to Ballard

Tallahassee-based lobbying firm Ballard Partners added yet another high-profile hire to its Washington, D.C operations. Alex Gray, a former chief of staff to the White House National Security Council, joined the firm. Gray served as deputy assistant to Trump and chief of staff for the security council from September 2019 through January this year.

Gray, of note, will remain the managing partner of American Global Strategies, an international affairs consulting firm. Gray’s background includes stints as director of Indo-Pacific Security and Oceania for the NSC and as a senior adviser to the House Armed Services Committee.

Alex Gray is bolstering Ballard Partners’ national security capabilities. 

“Alex’s unique leadership experience advising the President’s National Security Adviser and managing the day-to-day operations of the National Security Council, as well as his experience navigating the U.S. defense industrial base, significantly expands our firm’s capabilities in defense, foreign affairs, and national security,” said Brian Ballard, president and founder of Ballard Partners. “We are proud to have Alex join our Washington office and further grow our national security practice.”

The firm enjoyed a strong relationship with the Trump administration. Hence, it’s no surprise to see some White House insiders landing in the office, even as Ballard beefs up its Democratic lineup with hires like former Florida Congressman Robert Wexler and Tola Thompson.

On this day

April 27, 1861 — “Abraham Lincoln suspends the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War” via History.com — John Merryman, a state legislator from Maryland, is arrested for attempting to hinder Union troops from moving from Baltimore to Washington during the Civil War and is held at Fort McHenry by Union military officials. His attorney immediately sought a writ of habeas corpus so that a federal court could examine the charges. However, President Lincoln decided to suspend the right of habeas corpus, and the general in command of Fort McHenry refused to turn Merryman over to the authorities. Federal judge Roger Taney, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, issued a ruling Lincoln did not have the authority to suspend habeas corpus. But during a July 4 speech, Lincoln was defiant.

April 27, 2011 — “Barack Obama releases long-form birth certificate” via The New York Times — President Obama released his long-form birth certificate, which injected him directly into the simmering “birther” controversy in the hope of finally ending it, or even turning it to his advantage. The gamble produced dramatic television as Obama strode into the White House briefing room to address, head-on, a subject that had been deemed irrelevant by everyone in his orbit for years even as it stoked conservative efforts to undermine his legitimacy as president. Obama’s comments risked elevating the discredited questions about where he was born and allowed him to cast his political opponents as focused on the trivial.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Daniel Webster, who turns 72 on April 27.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by A.G. Gancarski.

Staff Reports



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