Delegation for 5.4.21: Pork is back — Biden’s speech — Gaetz v. Cheney — Crist runs again

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Grab a barrel, here comes the pork. Earmarks are back!

(Ear)mark of the beast

Get the barrels ready; pork’s back, baby.

An entire decade after then-Speaker John Boehner and a newly-elected GOP majority in 2011 disposed of member projects, the practice of earmarking has returned. While some fiscal hawks are still suspect of the parochial process, members of the delegation started chomping at the bit for bacon.

Deadlines for the first round of requests under the new regime passed last week. And multiple members were eager to put in queries.

“I received over 30 requests from partners throughout Florida’s 14th Congressional District for a range of local initiatives to serve the needs of our neighbors and boost our economy, and while it was difficult to whittle down to the allowed 10 projects, these would provide critical funding for local initiatives,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat.

She submitted member requests for cancer research at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, bodycam hard drive space at the Tampa Police Department, and STEM programs at the University of South Florida. There’s also more local spending like the redevelopment of a community center in Fair Oaks, a septic-to-sewer project in Town N’ Country, and the Hand Up program with the Urban League of Hillsborough County.

Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, put in for 11 community projects in the surface transportation arena, saying he worked with the Florida Department of Transportation to identify Central Florida road projects in need. He put in spending requests large ($10 million for LYNX) and small ($300,000 for a Lake Alfred intersection).

“The completion of these projects will create good-paying jobs while eliminating multiple transportation issues faced by Central Floridians,” Soto said. “Our community will see reduced traffic, expanded roads, safer intersections for pedestrians, and many more benefits. It is an honor to work with local stakeholders to advocate for solutions in the present and more reliable infrastructure for future generations.”

New address

President Joe Biden on Friday gave his first address to a joint session of Congress, what would be called the State of the Union in any year but a President’s first in office. The chief executive sold a massive infrastructure package and expansive government intervention in a pandemic-struck economy while also promising to defend transgender kids from whatever atrocities others have in store for them. As could be predicted by almost anyone, members of the Florida delegation offered different takes on the substance of the speech.

Rep. Neal Dunn, a Big Bend Republican, said Biden has pushed “the Left’s radical agenda.”

“When the President was sworn in, we were promised unity and solutions that would benefit all Americans,” Dunn said. “Instead, we got partisan policy changes that killed jobs and hurt our economy.”

How’s Joe Biden doing? As expected, the delegation is split. Image via Getty/Pool.

But Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, offered a more flattering assessment.

“President Biden’s speech was powerful and inspiring,” Lawson said. “He connected with the American people, and his message spoke to the pressing challenges our nation can no longer afford to ignore — raising the minimum wage, common-sense gun reform, violence against women, rebuilding the middle class, criminal justice reform, getting Americans back to work, and beating this pandemic.”

The sharp partisan divide in reaction likely signals the type of response Biden’s agenda will receive in Congress. The House has already advanced a number of the President’s priorities but in near party-line votes. In that chamber, Democrats hold a slim six-seat majority. In the Senate, only Vice President Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote ensures control of the 50-50 chamber but Senate procedures still make it challenging to pass policy without bipartisan support.

Squalor in Jax

Poor living conditions in a Jacksonville apartment complex in April attracted the attention of Sen. Marco Rubio. In a letter to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, he expressed concern landlords may be forcing tenants across Florida to live in similar squalor.

Florida’s senior Senator called on immediate action regarding Eastside Terrace Apartments and Eastside Gardens Apartments. He said site visits by his staff following reports of decrepit housing found conditions so bad it threatened the health of those living there.

Marco Rubio is tackling Jacksonville’s squalor. Image via News4Jax.

“After receiving outreach directly from affected residents, my staff visited Eastside Terrace Apartments on April 21, 2021, and Eastside Gardens Apartments on April 22, 2021,” the Miami Republican wrote. “During these visits, my staff met with tenants of both properties, where they found systemic evidence of black mold, pest infestations, crumbling staircases, and a general state of chronic disrepair.”

Problems began, Rubio suggested, when regular HUD inspections ceased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both properties had received failing scores in the federal Real Estate Assessment Center inspections in 2019, but those did not receive the standard follow-up.

“It is unacceptable that residents of Eastside Terrace Apartments have been obligated to live in unsafe conditions at a property with a failing REAC score for 18 months without remedy. Furthermore, Eastside Gardens Apartments has not undergone a REAC inspection since November 13, 2018,” he wrote.

“I request immediate action to ensure that constituents at both properties are guaranteed safe and sanitary living conditions, including a swift follow-up inspection resulting in an updated REAC score for both properties. This should also include the enforcement of improvements at those properties through any applicable penalties. I also request an expedited review of the April 27, 2021, Management and Occupancy Review.”

Badge of bravery

A Volusia County deputy received special recognition last week. Sen. Rick Scott, in a Debary ceremony, presented Detective Brandon Watson with the Law Enforcement Congressional Badge of Bravery.

“This award recognizes exceptional acts of bravery in the line of duty by our law enforcement officers, which Detective Watson undoubtedly displayed by his lifesaving actions,” Scott said. “I will always work to support the men and women of law enforcement, who work so hard every day to keep our state and nation safe. Florida is blessed to have officers like Detective Watson who selflessly serve our communities.”

Rick Scott honors Volusia County Detective Brandon Watson for bravery. Image via Facebook.

According to the Bureau of Justice Assistance, in August 2018, Watson responded to a domestic violence report in Seville. He ended up in a violent altercation with a suspect, Emmanuel Alquisiras, tased as he chased his wife and children back into the home. Watson later shot and killed Alquisiras when he continued to resist.

The Daytona Beach News Journal reported on the subsequent investigation of the officer-related shooting. After Alquisiras grabbed Watson’s taser, Watson shot him seven times. His wife had called police saying Alquisiras had threatened her with a knife and continued to strike her in front of the children, though she gave differing accounts of Alquisiras trying to grab the taser.

Watson told investigators Alquisiras at one point told him he would have to kill him before taking him to jail.

Gaetz crashing

Since Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz doesn’t have any other pressing business, he’s still working to oust GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney from her spot as the No. 3 House Republican. But the effort hasn’t been working out. He pressed a legislative committee with the Republican Party of Florida to pass a resolution calling for her departure from leadership. Still, the state party ultimately did not take the matter up.

The resolution read that Cheney “betrayed her obligations to the Republican Party and has conducted herself in a manner that makes it impossible for her to be in a position of leadership for the House Republican Caucus.” It called for Cheney to step down as a conference chair or be removed. State Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a Gaetz ally and Congressional hopeful, shared the message on Twitter with a condemnation of the state party for failing to pass it.

Doesn’t Matt Gaetz have more pressing matters?

Gaetz was the only Florida member listed in the resolution as a Congressman calling for Cheney’s removal, but other members, including Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, Montana Republican Matt Rosendale, and Arizona Republican Andy Biggs were all named.

For those handicapping this fight, that’s Cheney against the subject of a growing underage sex trafficking and drug scandal, a man dogged by accusations he didn’t report child molestation for years, a freshman stripped of committee assignments for espousing Parkland hoaxes and other craziness, someone facing a string of financial scandals and a struggling Senate candidate giving updates from a questionable audit of the 2020 presidential election.

In related news, Gaetz and Greene will appear together this week in Florida at an America First Rally in The Villages at The Brownwood Hotel & Spa.

Re-fund the police

Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford spearheaded a bipartisan effort to boost federal funding for police departments across the country. The former Jacksonville Sheriff co-chairs the House Law Enforcement Caucus with New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell, Jr. The two led a letter to the Appropriations Committee calling for increased funding to two programs.

John Rutherford seeks more funding for police. Image via John Rutherford’s Office.

The Byrne Justice Assistance Grant provides local support for police initiatives like de-escalation, implicit bias, and duty-to-intervene training. Meanwhile, the Community Oriented Policing Services offers federal funding to local agencies to build their force through more hires. Both, the caucus leaders argue in a letter to House leaders, provide essential resources to departments across the nation.

“The Byrne JAG and COPS programs are the cornerstone of our federal justice assistance programs,” Rutherford and Pascrell wrote. “Since their inception, Byrne JAG and COPS grants have enabled law enforcement agencies to better protect their communities and promote community policing initiatives that form vital bonds between officers and those they serve. As Congress considers proposals to improve and reform policing, these programs will serve as critical tools to allow departments to fund training for de-escalation, use of force, implicit bias, and other initiatives to ensure officers are fully equipped to protect and serve in accordance with community expectations.”

A total of 159 members signed the letter, including Democrats Soto, Val Demings and Ted Deutch and Republicans Kat Cammack, Gus Bilirakis and Carlos Giménez, 

Back to Tally?

Pinellas Democrat Charlie Crist released a video Tuesday morning announcing he’s challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis. A former Republican Governor, he touted both his environmental record during his Tallahassee days and his progressive policies since switching parties and heading to Washington.

“We got a lot done for Florida,” he says from the deck of an airboat. “We protected 27,000 acres of the Everglades, saved the jobs of 20,000 teachers, cut property taxes for our seniors, lowered the cost of prescription drugs, expanded children’s health care with KidCare, restored voting rights for 150,000 Floridians who did their time, and we pulled together to pull our state out of the Great Recession.” He also took shots at the former delegation member living in the Governor’s mansion today, saying of DeSantis “unless you can write him a campaign check you don’t exist.” Read more on his Governor’s run here.

As for the impact on the delegation, Crist becomes the first member to announce he’s not running for reelection to Congress. That comes after Cook Political Report rated Florida’s 13th Congressional District with an even partisan split and the most closely divided in the state. That’s before a Republican-majority Florida Legislature begins the redistricting process.

For now, Crist’s move leaves Republican Anna Paulina Luna, the Republican nominee against Crist in 2020, as the most prominent candidate in the race. She announced her plans to run again just a day before Crist launched his bid for Governor. Libertarian Frank Craft has also opened a campaign account.

In November, Crist won a third term in the House. He first won election in 2016, unseating Republican Rep. David Jolly

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

Neocon voice?

It’s been more than a decade since the neoconservative movement, which drove foreign policy for much of former President George W. Bush’s administration, was calling the shots on military intervention. But as the Biden administration discusses a total withdrawal from Afghanistan, St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz pushed back against a complete step away from Central Asia.

“A big part of the justification is that we need to shift to ‘great power competition.’ Look, what’s the only country in the world where we currently have a base that physically borders China? It’s Afghanistan,” the combat-decorated Green Beret told the Washington Examiner last week. “It’s Bagram Air Base. Why would we give that territory up if we are preparing as a nation and as a military for a possible confrontation with China?”

As a counterterrorism adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who also worked for former Defense Secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Bob Gates, he knows the motivations that put U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan after 9/11. While the Taliban and al-Qaida for many Americans may seem organizations of historical note, Waltz sees the potential for both to roar back.

Michael Waltz gives pushback on a full pullout from Afghanistan.

“The Afghan army will not be able to hold without our advice, without our air support, without our intelligence support. Importantly, now that I’m in Congress, without our funding,” Waltz said.

“I remind people that South Vietnam didn’t fall when we pulled our advisers out. It fell a few years later when Congress no longer had confidence to send that amount of money over to a place where we no longer had American oversight of those dollars. I fear the same thing is going to happen again. al-Qaida is going to come roaring back in the wake of the Taliban takeover of the country. The difference here that I don’t think it fully is appreciated is that, in Iraq, we had all kinds of basing options to go back again. We had Incirlik in Turkey. We have Kuwait. We have the Gulf states. We have Kurdistan. We don’t have anything like that in Afghanistan.”

Key to NRCC

A fundraiser at Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan’s coastal mansion brought in $750,000 for national Republicans’ efforts to retake Congress. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy headlined the event last week, with all money raised going to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“The huge success of this event shows the enormous support for retiring Speaker Nancy Pelosi and returning control of Congress to Republicans,” Buchanan said. “The left’s radical policies, from opening the borders to defunding police to expanding the Supreme Court with liberal justices, are turning off voters across America.”

A Vern Buchanan fundraiser headlined by Kevin McCarthy pulls in some big dough.

The event took place a day after Biden delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress and when Republicans boast an appetite for taking back control of the House chamber. Historical trends favor the party out of power in the midterms following presidential elections.

The event included appearances by other House members from Florida and across the country. Minnesota Republican Tom Emmer, chair of the NRCC through the 2022 cycle, buttered up guests at the event. From the Florida delegation, GOP members Scott Franklin of Lakeland, Greg Steube of Sarasota and Byron Donalds of Naples all attended. So did Missouri Republican Billy Long, Illinois Republican Darin LaHood, Texas Republican Ronny Jackson, Alabama Republican Gary Palmer and Pennsylvania Republican Glen Thompson.

Wounded Warriors wanted

Working with the Wounded Warrior Project, Steube announced plans to establish a fellowship for a wounded veteran to work within Florida’s 17th Congressional District. The position will be based out of his Venice office.

Serving our veterans is a top priority for our team, and my office is looking for a wounded warrior or medically retired veteran to serve as our Wounded Warrior fellow,” Steube said.Our district is honored to be home to over 74,000 veterans, and I look forward to partnering with the Wounded Warrior Foundation to provide this opportunity. This fellow would be an important asset in assisting our veterans with the many issues they face today while offering unique career training and an inside perspective of the nation’s legislative process.

Greg Steube, a veteran himself, is looking for a wounded veteran to work out of his Venice office.

The two-year paid gig is part of the Wounded Warrior Program, a partnership with the U.S. House to create professional opportunities. The fellowship will be open to designated Wounded Warriors and medically retired veterans. Applicants must have left active duty in the last five years with an honorable discharge, worked at pay grades below E-5 or O-3, and either be Purple Heart recipients or be able to show a 20% or greater service-connected disability rating. Veterans who receive a 20-year or Temporary Early Retirement Authorization will not be eligible.

Applicants may sign up here.

Anti flow

Stuart Republican Brian Mast continues to push for a revamp of Army Corps of Engineers practices at Lake Okeechobee. He’s proposed three new policies to the House Appropriations Committee to change how water discharges pour out in coming years.

First, the Congressman wants to defund the spraying of pesticides used by the federal government to cut down on invasive plant species and instead employ mechanical and biological management methods. Second, he wants to prohibit the Army Corps from ever discharging water in the St. Lucie or Caloosahatchee rivers that test at eight parts per billion or more microcystin levels, a standard considered toxic to humans. 

Brian Mast floats three appropriations to improve Lake O water. Image via Facebook.

Finally, he wants more federal funding for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir south of the lake.

“The algal bloom outbreak at Pahokee Marina is just the latest in a long line of disasters for Florida’s environment and public health. Nobody should lack access to clean and safe water, but sadly, that’s the reality for people on the Treasure Coast nearly every summer when the Army Corps dumps toxic water into our community,” Mast said. “Urgent action is needed to address this issue. If we wouldn’t put it in a bathtub with our kids, it doesn’t belong in our waterways, which is why I am working to defund toxic chemical spraying, prevent toxic discharges to our estuaries and send clean water south into the Everglades where it is needed.”

Wexler shortlisted

President Biden is reportedly deciding between two choices to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel, and former Congressman Robert Wexler, a Delray Beach Democrat, has made the cut.

Forward’s Jacob Kornbluh reports that Wexler is on Biden’s shortlist alongside Tom Nides, a veteran of the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama presidential administrations. Biden is expected to make his pick this week.

That Wexler would be a finalist for the gig is no surprise. During his House tenure, Wexler became well-versed on Israeli issues and seen as a strong pro-Israel Democrat. Shortly following his departure from Congress in 2010, Wexler was floated as a potential Ambassador to Israel under the Obama administration.

Robert Wexler is on the shortlist for an ambassadorship.

Wexler eventually remained in his think tank gig. He stepped away from Congress in 2010 after 13 years to serve as executive director of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation.

In recent years, Wexler has worked at the high-powered lobbying firm Ballard Partners. Wexler joined the firm in 2017. When Ballard opened a shop in Tel Aviv three years later, Wexler helped found that office.

While The Washington Post pegs Nides as the favorite over Wexler, Secretary of State Tony Blinken reportedly prefers Wexler, giving him a high-profile backer in the Biden Cabinet.

On this day

May 4, 1961 — “First Freedom Rides begin” via The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute — During the spring of 1961, student activists from the Congress of Racial Equality launched the Freedom Rides to challenge segregation on interstate buses and bus terminals. Traveling on buses from the District of Columbia to Jackson, Mississippi, the riders met violent opposition in the Deep South, garnering extensive media attention and eventually forcing federal intervention from John F. Kennedy’s administration. Although the campaign succeeded in securing an Interstate Commerce Commission ban on segregation in all facilities under their jurisdiction, the Freedom Rides fueled existing tensions between student activists and Martin Luther King, Jr., who publicly supported the riders, but did not participate in the campaign. 

May 4, 1970 — “Guard kills four students in Kent State shootings” via History.com — in Kent, Ohio, 28 National Guardsmen fired their weapons at a group of anti-war demonstrators on the university campus, killing four, wounding eight, and permanently paralyzing another. The tragedy was a watershed moment for a nation divided by the conflict in Vietnam and further galvanized the anti-war movement. Two days earlier, National Guard troops were called to Kent to suppress students rioting in protest of the Vietnam War and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. The next day, scattered protests were dispersed by tear gas, and on May 4, class resumed at Kent State. By noon that day, despite a ban on rallies, 2,000 people assembled on the campus.

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

Staff Reports


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