Delegation for 5.7.21: Dominoes fall — fraud watch — gun loophole — special elections — muzzling the right?

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Charlie Crist is running — setting off a domino effect.

Dem dominoes

Every election cycle holds the potential to shake up membership in the Florida delegation. The first domino of the cycle fell this week when Rep. Charlie Crist announced a run for Governor against incumbent Ron DeSantis.

As far as Florida’s team in Washington goes, the most immediate effect is the Pinellas Republican just became the first delegation to say he won’t seek reelection to Congress. That opens up Florida’s 13th Congressional District. Republican Anna Paulina Luna, Crist’s 2020 opponent, already filed to take another shot at the seat shortly before Crist’s highly anticipated announcement. Now Eric Lynn, a former national security adviser to former President Barack Obama, jumped into the race on the Democratic side. 

So has Rebekah Jones, the architect of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard, who was fired in a public conflict with the Governor.

Charlie Crist: knocks over some Democratic dominoes. Image via Twitter.

Cook Political Report recently rated Crist’s district as the only one in Florida with an even partisan voting index. However, that comes before Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature has its chance to redraw borders. 

Expect this open seat to attract more candidates on both sides of the aisle. But don’t expect it to be the last district without an incumbent. In fact, the Governor’s race and a 2022 shot at Sen. Marco Rubio have other delegation members exploring bids as well.

Observers expect Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, to challenge Rubio; her political committee already started launching ads criticizing the incumbent. But beyond the prospect of shaking up Florida’s Senate lineup, Murphy’s ambitions also mean another swing district, Florida’s 7th Congressional Districts, will likely have no incumbent running. Cook grades the district D+3 based on current lines.

Murphy created some stir when she put a poll in the field, testing her support compared to two other delegation colleagues, Reps. Val Demings and Ted Deutch.

Many expect Demings to run for either Governor or Senator in 2022, thus creating another opening in Florida’s 10th Congressional District. That’s a D+12 seat, and it’s likely to stay a blue stronghold. But that will just feed another Central Florida speculation game as to who runs in her place. 

But the speculation holds off as those two seats likely are to be redrawn in ways that don’t just change their partisan makeups but where potential candidates will wind up residing after redistricting.

Most everyone in Central Florida expects Florida’s 28th Congressional District to be carved from pieces of Murphy’s and Demings’ districts, plus some from Clermont Republican Dan Webster’s jurisdiction, Florida’s 11th Congressional District.

On the Democrats’ side, many wonder if Demings’ husband, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, will make a run for her seat. If no Demings runs in CD 10, then Sen. Randolph Bracy becomes the most likely Democratic candidate. Bracy, too, has been toying with a Gubernatorial campaign, though not with a lot of enthusiasm. But Demings’ congressional seat? Sure.

Which would leave Rep. Geraldine Thompson again on the outside looking in, as she was when she gave up her Senate seat (to Bracy) for a run in CD 10 in 2016, only to be overwhelmed by Demings. Former Lt. Gov. Candidate Chris King of Winter Park has been looking closely at running too. He’s currently in Murphy’s district, but could find himself in Demings’ district after the map’s redrawn.

And though Rep. Anna V. Eskamani of Orlando has ruled out a run for Governor, she’s always been seen as a more plausible candidate for Murphy’s seat, should it become available. Or Demings’ seat, depending on where the line falls.

The more curious calculations run on the Republican side. No serious Republican candidates dare run in CD 10. Until something changes, Murphy would be a prohibitive favorite in CD 7.

Rep. Anthony Sabatini of Howey-in-the-Hills already has filed to run in CD 11, but really, he’s hoping to run in that new district, not against firmly entrenched Webster.

Higher-profile Republican candidates than Cory Mills, Mark Busch, or Willie Montague can afford to wait, as CD 7 and CD 10 aren’t really winnable now, but they might be soon.

Deutch represents a somewhat competitive D+6 constituency in Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, but the Jewish enclave still probably favors the blue team. There’s been less distinct speculation on a Deutch run, but he certainly has taken some swipes at Rubio.

If all four of these House incumbents seek higher office, that means fuller half the Democratic incumbents in the delegation could bow out of the House. On top of everything, Florida will also pick up an additional Congressional seat because of reapportionment. That means 2022 could see five of Florida’s then-28 Congressional seats entirely up for grabs.

That says nothing of the loss of the late Rep. Alcee Hastings, who lost last month (read more on the race to succeed him below). By next year, a new incumbent should be in place. But already, it’s clear the delegation sworn in for the 118th Congress could look very different from that sworn in for the 117th a few months ago.

Climate solutions

A bipartisan group seeking a solid path forward on environmental issues includes Florida’s senior Senator. Rubio, a Miami Republican, co-sponsored the Growing Climate Solutions Act, which supporters say will assist farmers, ranchers and foresters in accessing voluntary environmental mitigation credit markets.

“I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing this common-sense, bipartisan proposal, which will inform farmers, ranchers and foresters how to navigate around the barriers-to-entry that have historically prevented them from accessing voluntary environmental mitigation credit markets,” Rubio said.

Marco Rubio is reaching across the aisle on climate issues.

Rubio signed on as a supporter of the legislation from the jump, with his name attached on April 20 when the bill was filed by Sen. Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican. Since then, the list of co-sponsors grew from 37 to 43.

The bill also boasts support from over 60 agricultural and environmental organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund. Florida State Director Dawn Shirreffs praised the legislation.

“EDF applauds Sen. Rubio and the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus for their work on this important piece of legislation,” Shirreffs said.

Eye on fraud

Sen. Rick Scott questioned early if unemployment payments during the pandemic rose too high. Now he wants the Labor Department to investigate if too many people lacking eligibility filed claims.

In a letter to Larry Turner, acting Inspector General for Labor, Scott said he wants an investigation of potential fraud and abuse of the system. The move comes a week after Scott sent a similar message to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh; the Republican junior Senator said he has yet to hear a response.

Rick Scott thinks the U.S. is spending too much on unemployment.

“While I am encouraged to see the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is initiating an audit of the Department’s oversight of Unemployment Insurance (UI) integrity activities, there is still work to do, and your attention to this matter is of the utmost importance,” Scott wrote.

“I understand that current law prohibits workers who refuse suitable work from receiving unemployment benefits. Current law also prohibits workers from remaining on unemployment simply because benefits pay them more than what they would earn after returning to work. My expectation is that the Department, and your office, continue to do everything possible to help Americans that are struggling while ensuring the integrity of the UI system and that all laws are being followed.”

The call for scrutiny on the process comes as Scott has openly fretted about impending inflation. He detailed his concerns in a letter to The Wall Street Journal where he called for Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell to release a plan to curb the effects of a rising price of goods.

Stopping iCOP

Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz this week launched a barrage of attacks on the U.S. Postal Service. In an op-ed published by Newsmax, he accused America’s mail carriers of spying on the American people by abusing the U.S. Postal Inspection Service power. He said the investigatory arm of the post office has “taken upon itself to expand beyond the scope of its mandate to implement what it calls the Internet Covert Operations Program.”

He accused iCOP of tracking social media posts from Americans to flag politically inflammatory speech considered dangerous to postal operations.

Secret spies? Matt Gaetz seems to think so.

In a statement to Fox Business, the USPS confirmed it follows social media communications but brushed off accusations the motives are nefarious. 

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service occasionally reviews publicly available information in order to assess potential safety or security threats to Postal Service employees, facilities, operations and infrastructure,” the statement reads.

But Gaetz wrote: “The Surveillance State is adding yet another spyglass to its collection of creeping tools and supplies.” He considers the review an invasion of privacy and maybe a violation of Americans’ rights.

The Congressman, for one, doesn’t care much for government investigators combing public accounts for information that can pin a crime on someone.

Filling a void

Minority Whip Steve Scalise this week publicly broke with leadership over whether Liz Cheney should remain GOP Conference chair. The fallout from the breakup could create opportunities for members of the delegation.

Many believe Scalise’s statements carry more consequence for the No. 3 Republican in the House than other feuds,  and that has tongues wagging on who could replace Cheney shortly.

Much of Capitol Hill has its hair on fire over Liz Cheney. Image via AP.

Now, Scalise favors New York Republican Elise Stefanik, as does former President Donald Trump. But there’s been speculation whether the party could go a different direction, presuming Cheney indeed falls from grace over this. Punchbowl News listed two Florida delegation members who could snag the job, both of them Republican freshwomen.

The insider outlet pointed to Kat Cammack of Gainesville, and Maria Elvira Salazar, of Miami, as potential choices.

About Cammack, the group noted her history on the hill. “The youngest Republican woman on Capitol Hill, Cammack is a former aide who has now replaced her old boss in Congress, ex-GOP Rep. Ted Yoho. Cammack’s family lost its ranch when she was young, leaving her homeless. It was a searing experience that spurred Cammack’s interest in politics.”

Salazar, meanwhile, offers a picture of where GOP leaders want their demographics to go. “Florida is the future of the Republican Party, and Salazar is someone that represents where the party would like to be heading. She’s a South Florida Republican, the daughter of Cuban exiles and a former Telemundo anchor who flipped a Democratic-held seat in November.”

Pensacola loophole

While Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford has been a long-time advocate of gun owners’ rights, he doesn’t want foreign nationals to evade thorough background checks. 

Rutherford joined Democrats Crist and Demings to close the “Pensacola loophole,” which in 2019 allowed the shooter who killed three and wounded eight others at Naval Air Station Pensacola to buy a weapon using only a hunting license.

“In 2019, a terrorist killed three American sailors at the Pensacola Naval Air Station,” Rutherford said. “He was able to purchase a firearm without a proper background check due to a loophole in federal gun laws for foreign visitors. This legislation would close that loophole by holding foreign individuals to the same standard as U.S. citizens and requiring them to be vetted both here in the U.S. and in their country of origin. I’m proud to join a bipartisan coalition working to prevent an attack like this from ever happening again.”

John Rutherford goes bipartisan to close the big ‘Pensacola gun loophole.’

Crist, whose constituent Mohammad Haitham was among those killed, said foreign adversaries know how to use U.S. laws to their benefit. 

“The Pensacola Loophole allowed a terrorist to attack American heroes on our own soil. Some Floridians may not know that foreign nationals can legally buy guns in America simply by acquiring a hunting license, but al-Qaeda knows it. ISIS knows it,” Crist said. “That’s why I’m renewing my push to close this loophole to keep foreign terrorists from legally buying guns.”

Demings billed the legislation as a bipartisan fix. “Every reasonable person agrees that people shouldn’t be able to get any gun, anywhere, anytime, with no oversight and no background checks,” she said. “We have seen that guns in the wrong hands leads to tragedy. This legislation will close the loophole that allowed a tragic shooting at NAS Pensacola and bring some sanity and common sense into our gun laws.”

Probing John Kerry

Naples Republican Byron Donalds joined a call to probe Special Presidential Envoy John Kerry and investigate his security clearance. The Congressman made clear he brings little regard for the former Senator and Secretary of State to any inquiry.

“John Kerry is a threat to America’s national security. He has a long and damning history of putting his business and personal dealings before the business of the American people, and just as concerning, with the Iranians, who are outspoken enemies of the United States,” Donalds said.

Byron Donalds wants to get to the bottom of John Kerry.

“The Biden Administration must restore the American public’s faith in our national security by providing transparency regarding how someone like John Kerry can obtain a security clearance and continue representing America’s national security interest. Since the media and Congressional Democrats refuse to conduct necessary oversight on Kerry’s dealings with the Iranian regime, my GOP colleagues and I will. Every day we waste is another day John Kerry is compromising our national security.”

Of course, Kerry had enjoyed a security clearance for years, dating back to his time in the Senate when he once chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He served as Secretary of State under President Obama.

But pressure on Kerry, now Special Presidential Envoy on Climate, ratcheted upward since The New York Times reported on leaked audio from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The Iranian leader said in the recording that Kerry informed him that Israel attacked Iran’s interests in Syria on at least 200 occasions. Kerry has denied ever sharing information with Iran on strikes by Israel.

CD 20 Special

Gov. DeSantis set a date for the special election to fill Hastings’ open seat representing Florida’s 20th Congressional District. But he’s pissed a lot of people off with how he scheduled the vote. The General Election to replace Hastings will take place on Jan. 11. The district will hold on Nov. 2 to decide the respective parties’ nominees. The Governor said the qualifying deadline would be sometime around the end of September.

Hastings died on April 6. That means his constituents will remain without representation in Congress for more than nine months. Meanwhile, one of the Supervisors of Elections said that would create problems as several state lawmakers resign to run to succeed Hastings, prompting more special elections. Broward County Supervisor Joe Scott said it would be better to schedule a primary on Aug. 31 and a general on Nov. 2.

Is Ron DeSantis dragging his feet to replace Alcee Hastings?

“The dates that we are planning for would work so much better, and there’s just no good reason not to go along with them other than politics,” Scott said.

As far as the delegation goes, the chief political motivation may be leaving a D+28 seat vacant. Democrats hold just a six-seat majority in the House now, and DeSantis wouldn’t be the first Republican Governor to drag his feet in remedying a blue district vacancy.

But DeSantis, a former Congressman himself, said he’s motivated by a need to give a crowded field time to campaign.

“I know there will be a lot of folks that want to run for it,” he said. “So hopefully, that gives them enough time to be able to get on the ballot and do whatever they need to do to be competitive.”

Muzzling the right?

Could the federal government stop a conservative radio station from beginning broadcasts in South Florida? Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart sees an attempt in the making and wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission expressing his concern. Sens. Rubio and Scott co-signed and said they share concerns.

The issue arose following the announced sale of WSUA Broadcasting, a Spanish language station, to America CV, which owns the right-leaning América TeVé network. Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which is made up mostly of Democrats, called on the FCC to block the sale, Fox News reports.

But Diaz-Balart, who is not a member of the caucus, said that’s absurd.

Mario Diaz -Balart thinks the feds stepping in on a radio sale is ‘absurd.’

“That type of censorship would implicate serious First Amendment concerns of free expression and media. I am alarmed that many on the left want to prohibit the sale simply because they are concerned that conservative voices will have a place to be heard,” he tweeted. “The left wants to silence any voices other than their own. Americans are capable of choosing what type of media content that interests them. They do not need a paternalistic bureaucracy to make those choices for them.”

The Republicans mocked the very suggestion this could introduce bias in the market.

“Given the overwhelming predominance of left-leaning bias in print, cable, and broadcast media, it is laughable that left-leaning partisans have found reason to object to the sale of one radio station in South Florida,” the letter reads. “It is similarly telling that simply because the purchaser is expected to have an anti-Castro, anti-Communist, anti-Socialist viewpoint; it has been deemed ‘too conservative.’ Should the FCC begin basing its decisions on content, conservatives certainly would have plenty of left-leaning media outlets that they similarly could refer to the FCC for censorship based on lack of balance in the media marketplace and excess liberal content.”

New day in space

Former Sen. Bill Nelson formally took the reins at NASA this week, with Vice President Kamala Harris swearing him in as the agency’s administrator during a ceremony at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington.

“To have the President and the Vice President have this kind of confidence in an old buddy from the Senate is indeed one of the high honors that anyone could have,” Nelson said. “I want to say that it’s a new day in space.”

Pam Melroy, another astronaut nominated last month to be Nelson’s Deputy Administrator, also attended the event, according to Space.com. She’s expected to be confirmed by the Senate soon.

And Legistorm reports another individual from Nelson’s professional orbit will land at the agency. Susie Quinn, Nelson’s former chief of staff in the Senate, will fill the same role for Nelson at NASA. She’s leaving a post at the National Governors’ Association she has held since late 2019 to head Nelson’s team at the space administration.

Nelson served three terms as a Senator for Florida before his defeat by now-Sen. Scott in 2018. He previously served in the House, during which time he flew into space as a payload specialist on the Columbia in 1986. 

New trial

On Thursday, a federal appeals court overturned the conviction of former Rep. Corrine Brown, ordering a new trial. The Jacksonville Democrat left office nearly five years ago under the weight of indictment, convicted on 18 counts related to fraud after losing her last election. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, she was released early from her five-year prison stretch. The guilty verdicts stood, however.

Meanwhile, her theory that a pro-Brown juror being eliminated from the jury pool during her original hearing was illegal was roundly derided until it prevailed in court.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals subscribed to the defense’s longstanding theory that a juror was wrongfully purged because of saying the holy spirit told him Brown was not guilty, invoking religious authorities ranging from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther in defense of an individual’s right to religious freedom and latitude of expression.

“Because the record establishes a substantial possibility that the juror was rendering proper jury service, the district judge abused his discretion by dismissing the juror. The removal violated Brown’s right under the Sixth Amendment to a unanimous jury verdict. We vacate Brown’s convictions and sentence and remand for a new trial,” read the opinion authored by Chief Judge William Pryor.

On this day

May 7, 1789 — “George Washington attends inaugural ball” via National Park Service — A week after his inauguration, Washington attended a celebration in his honor. Martha Washington did not initially accompany her husband to New York because she had stayed in Virginia to wrap up affairs at Mount Vernon. Although she missed the inauguration, she joined the President for the gala. While not officially called the Inaugural Ball, that event also led to a modern tradition that formally began with James Madison‘s inaugural celebration in 1809. Today, multiple balls are held on the evening of Inauguration Day.

May 7, 1975 — “Gerald Ford Ends ‘Vietnam Era’ and Terminates G.I. Wartime Benefits” via The New York Times — President Ford formally declared the end of “the Vietnam era” in a proclamation ending wartime veteran benefits for new military recruits. At the same time, the President sent to Congress legislation that would set June 30 as the final date on which an individual enlisting in the military could qualify for educational benefits under the G.I. bill. “America is no longer at war,” Ford said in a statement issued at the White House. “The time has now come to terminate wartime benefits which apply to the new peacetime volunteers.”

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Gaetz, who turns 39 today.

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

Staff Reports



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