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Months of friction between lawmakers elected or elevated in the Donald Trump era, and a high-ranking member of House leadership came to a close this week. In a voice vote of the Republican caucus, members voted to strip Liz Cheney of her role as GOP Conference Chair.
It’s an ouster supported by many Florida members — particularly Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, who publicly sought it since last year. A POLITICO report indicates Cheney’s final exile traces back to actions at an Orlando retreat, followed by plotting by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy at another in Key Biscayne.
So Florida’s fingerprints are all over the scene of Cheney’s dismissal.
“I’ve been very clear for a long time that I think Liz needs to step down and needs to go,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, in an interview earlier this month with Just The News. “She chose to remain.”
Donalds, Gaetz and other members of the Delegation who pushed for Cheney’s removal are (unsurprisingly) products of the Trump era, for the most part, elected to Congress the year Trump won office or later. Now a former President and full-time resident of Florida, Trump broadcast his wishes on Cheney’s fate with statements issued from Mar-a-Lago calling the outgoing conference chair a “warmonger” who is “bad for our Country and bad for herself.”
While much was made over Trump’s apparent steady grip on influence within the House GOP, the Cheney vote represented something else as well. In many ways, House leadership booted someone who acted as a standard-bearer for the last Republican administration to occupy the White House before Trump. Cheney’s father, Dick Cheney, served as Vice President under George W. Bush, whose brother and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush lost in the Republican primary to Trump in stunning fashion five years ago.
Indeed in the buildup to the leadership vote, Gaetz taunted the former President Bush’s “Invade everywhere, invite everyone” policies on war and immigration as clearly as he targeted Cheney.
Of Florida’s 16 Republican members of the House, 11 were first elected to Congress in 2016 or later. Of the five others, just three served full terms under President Bush. That’s a reminder of how much of Florida’s current political atmosphere, at least in GOP circles, formed during the Trump era.
Even those with ties to the Bush-Cheney administration ultimately said it’s time to look to the future. Rep. Mike Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican, served as an adviser to Vice President Cheney and has been among Congress’ most outspoken defenders of foreign policy from the era. He, for example, criticized troop withdrawal in Afghanistan as his “America First”-espousing peers support a step away from neo-conservativism.
But even Walz said Rep. Cheney should not be in the Conference Chair position any longer. He said he supports putting New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Trump defender, in the No. 3 GOP position in the House.
“I have immense respect for Liz and have worked on a number of national security issues with her, but it’s time for a new direction for our conference.” Waltz said. “I look forward to supporting Elise Stefanik for House conference chair as she is an exceptional member who is an expert on the issues and an effective communicator.”
Rep. Brian Mast could hardly wait to respond to news the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer recommend indoor mask use for vaccinated individuals. He received the news while on the House floor during a vote on unrelated legislation, and he charges to the microphone with his face-covering in hand instead of ear to ear.
Aping the language customarily used for voting by proxy for absent members, Mast declared, “As the representative designated for the member from Florida, Brian Mast, I ask that given the updated CDC guidelines, we all take off these stupid masks.”
Indeed, while mask use has been controversial in the halls of Congress, news that face coverings may become a passing fad inspired bipartisan enthusiasm.
How it started: How it's going: pic.twitter.com/86qu7IJHIm
— U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (@RepStephMurphy) May 13, 2021
“Exciting news from the CDC!” tweeted Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat. “If you haven’t been vaccinated yet, this is just another reason to find a vaccination site and make an appointment today.”
Donalds, who long eschewed masks despite contracting COVID-19 on the campaign trail, gloated as the guidelines evolved.
“Good to see the CDC following the lead of states like Florida and Texas, who lifted mask mandates and allowed their people to live safely and freely a while ago,” he posted. “Far too many people have been impacted by the draconian mandates coming out of Washington. Let’s get back to normal.” His tweet ended with an emoticon of a face mask and a goodbye wave.
Siding with Israel
As the violent conflict between the Israeli government and Palestinian-led Hamas once again gripped international headlines, Sen. Marco Rubio led Senate Republicans in demanding President Joe Biden stand with Israel. The Miami Republican serves as Vice Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, and Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues.
“Over the past couple of days, Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, who are funded by Iran, have launched a series of rocket attacks into Israel. They are targeting Israeli civilians and cities, including Israel’s capital Jerusalem,” reads a letter from Rubio’s office. “This is troubling as members of your administration are currently in Vienna negotiating with Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. In light of these recent attacks by Hamas against Israel, the United States should take all steps necessary to hold Tehran accountable and, under no circumstances, provide sanctions relief to Iran. This is especially important as Iran is supporting terrorist activity against the United States’ closest ally in the region, Israel.”
A whopping 43 Republican Senators, including Florida’s junior Sen. Rick Scott, co-signed onto the letter, which says the U.S. must make sure no foreign aid ever reaches Hamas. Republicans frequently criticized some $1.7 million ended up transferred to Iran around the time of a prior treaty negotiation and detainee releases.
The concern about Israel is Iran’s long-term support of Hamas, with Iranian officials just last week openly discussing Israel’s vulnerability to a tactical strike shortly before 600 rockets launched from Gaza in 24 hours, as noted by the Jerusalem Post.
Sen. Scott, meanwhile, spearheaded a separate critique of Biden’s foreign policy at the Mexican border. The Naples Republican led a news conference slamming “reckless open borders and amnesty policies,” standing with four other Republican Senators and officials from border states.
“There is a manmade crisis on our border, and it’s 100% caused by one person, Joe Biden,” he said.
Scott chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which intends to make immigration a major issue in the midterms as the GOP attempts to retake the Senate. He said shifts in border policy since Biden became President have made an untenable situation.
“I saw it firsthand when I traveled to the border with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in March. Everyone outside of D.C. knows what this is. The Mayors, law enforcement and Customs and Border Protection agents on the front lines know it’s a crisis because they’re living it every day,” Scott said.
Tune in here at approx. 12:15 PM EST, as Senate Republicans discuss the need to secure our border ⤵️ https://t.co/SKSJTCSl9c
— Senate Republicans (@SenateGOP) May 12, 2021
A release from Scott’s office includes comments from Florida law enforcement contending the policies have impacted this state despite it not sharing a land border with any nation.
“Law enforcement has witnessed significantly more fentanyl seizures on our southern border since January and this deadly drug is making its way in large quantities to the Sunshine State,” said Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman. “The lack of leadership from the White House is killing American citizens in cities across the United States. Even though Florida is over 2,100 miles from Arizona the deadly drug fentanyl has been showing up on our streets killing our citizens and ruining lives. Fentanyl is smuggled across the southern border because this White House fails to recognize the crisis they have created.”
Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Mike Lee of Utah all joined in the lament.
Scott said the message to voters should be clear.
“While Republicans are unified in our commitment to securing the border, Biden and [Vice President Kamala] Harris won’t even visit the border and see the crisis they’ve created,” he said. “Biden and Harris have made a mockery of a very serious crisis, and instead of taking action, are playing pretend and hiding from the facts. This isn’t a game. Biden is doing nothing to help or protect American families. It’s time to ditch his failed open borders and amnesty strategy and secure the border now.”
Monday could mark a significant moment in an unfolding sex trafficking scandal surrounding Panhandle Republican Gaetz. The intensely awaited plea bargain for federally indicted former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg is now set in U.S. District Court in Orlando.
Greenberg is expected to change his plea from not guilty on at least one of the 33 federal felonies he has been charged with, possibly in exchange for testifying against other potential defendants. He worked for weeks toward a deal with federal prosecutors investigating sex trafficking and public corruption allegations.
On Thursday, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Orlando Division, filed a judge’s order that a change of plea hearing has now been set for Monday before U.S. District Judge Leslie Hoffman.
Chief among the crimes Greenberg has been charged with is sex trafficking of a minor. Media reports indicated that involved a girl whom Greenberg paid to have sex with others, including Gaetz, and that she was transported across state lines.
Sometime last fall, federal investigators began expanding their probe to look at other suspects. In late March, Gaetz’s name surfaced publicly. Last month, Greenberg agreed to consider a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
Meanwhile, POLITICO reports prosecutors are inching closer to a deal with an ex-girlfriend of Gaetz who may cooperate. Federal investigators believe the former Congressional intern was on a plane trip to the Bahamas that could be central to any case against Greenberg, Gaetz and other targets.
49 for the 49
A resolution to designate the planned Pulse Memorial and Museum in Orlando, an official national monument, was approved again by the U.S. House of Representatives. House Resolution 49 is the 117th Congress’ version of a bill approved last spring. The prior measure died as neither of Florida’s Senators got behind a Senate version. This year, Sen. Scott intends to introduce the Senate bill as soon as Thursday.
The House measure is co-sponsored by Orlando area Democrats Murphy, Darren Soto and Val Demings.
“‘Orlando Strong’ is more than just a slogan,” said Demings, whose Orlando-based district includes Pulse, just south of downtown Orlando. “It is a promise to support each other and to never forget those we lost and those who were injured on that tragic night. By establishing Pulse as a national memorial, we will honor their memories and remind ourselves of that promise.”
With Wednesday’s approval in the House, the federal declaration is lining up for the possibility of final approval on or around the fifth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, June 12. That mass shooting at the popular gay nightclub left 49 people dead and 53 people wounded. The onePULSE Foundation, a nonprofit organization established by Pulse owner Barbara Poma and others, is developing a National Pulse Memorial & Museum.
“Together, we will open minds and hearts. We will make the Pulse memorial a national symbol of hope, love and change,” said Soto.
“We owe it to those we lost to honor their memories by dedicating a national memorial at Pulse, a memorial that reflects the same love, acceptance and spirit of community that embodied the victims, and that embodies the LGBTQ community at large; a place of healing for the survivors and all those affected,” said Murphy,
To watch Soto’s comments, click on the image below:
Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor wants breast cancer patients to receive faster access to care. The Congresswoman on Thursday filed bipartisan legislation with New York Republican John Katko that would guarantee immediate support to individuals with metastatic breast cancer who already qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance and are therefore eligible for Medicare.
“Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States, and 90% of breast cancer deaths are as a result of metastatic breast cancer,” Castor said. “We must do more to invest in treatments and cures and increase access to affordable, quality care for individuals with MBC. Immediate access to treatment has the ability to improve outcomes for those with MBC, and our bipartisan bill would eliminate barriers and reduce current health disparities in care.”
Right now, individuals must wait five months for SSDI and 24 months for Medicare benefits to take effect. This bill would waive both waiting periods, potentially improving outcomes for Americans with late-stage cancer.
“Current federal guidelines force individuals diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer to wait five months to access Social Security Disability Insurance and 24 months for Medicare benefits, leaving many without the health care and resources they desperately need,” Katko said. “This common-sense bill would waive these waiting periods and allow individuals with metastatic breast cancer to have immediate access to critical support and medical care.”
The legislation boasts support from the National Breast Cancer Coalition. “Too many women and men in the U.S. have to deal with how to pay for treatment and provide for their families while they are dying from metastatic breast cancer,” said Coalition President Fran Visco. “The National Breast Cancer Coalition and its members from across the country who have worked hard for years to address this issue are grateful for Representatives Castor and Katko’s leadership on this bill. It will make a significant difference for those who face this terrible situation.”
Tarpon Springs Republican Gus Bilirakis took the occasion of National Police Week to honor two officers killed in Tampa Bay.
“According to Officer Down Memorial, there have been 124 police officers killed in the line of duty since January of this year,” Bilirakis said. “Tragically, two of them have been my constituents: Deputy Michael Magli of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office and Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen of Tampa Police Department. I went to the funeral services of these two heroes, and shared the anguish of their grieving families and colleagues..”
Magli died in February when he was struck by a driver fleeing from police, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Robert Allen Holzaepfel faces several charges connected to the crash, including felony murder and manslaughter. Madsen died in March after pulling into the path of a wrong-way driver on Interstate-275; the other driver also died in the collision, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Bilirakis invoked the men as well in support of two bills he’s co-sponsoring, the Back the Blue Act and the Protect and Serve Act of 2021, which respectively increase penalties for targeting law enforcement officers and provide resources to police departments. He criticized proponents of Defund The Police movements for unfairly politicizing the work or law enforcement.
“This is a dangerous and destructive proposition and has only increased violence in the communities that implemented this policy,” Bilirakis said. “We should, in fact, be increasing support and funding for law enforcement. I respect the service and sacrifice of our first responders, and I will continue to do everything I can to support them.”
Brain cancer awareness
Stuart Republican Mast this week filed a bipartisan resolution raising awareness of a brain cancer appearing with alarming frequency in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. He and Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky introduced a resolution designating July 21 as Glioblastoma Awareness Day.
“Glioblastoma is a terrible disease that has impacted the lives of so many in our community. This resolution is about giving hope to every individual who is fighting this disease and honoring the lives of those we’ve lost at its hands,” Mast said. “By raising awareness of this disease, I’m hopeful that we will continue finding new ways to treat Glioblastoma and ultimately find a cure.”
Moffitt Cancer Center describes glioblastoma as a type of brain cancer that develops in the astrocytes, small, star-shaped cells found in the brain’s supportive tissue.
“Thousands of Americans are diagnosed each year with glioblastoma, a very aggressive and fatal brain cancer, including a dear friend of mine and the father of one of my staff members. Tragically, this is a cancer for which there are no early screening or detection methods,” Schakowsky said.
It’s also a type of cancer that hit Mast’s district particularly hard. He pointed to a report from 2018 that St. Lucie County had seen 50 cases in five years. That’s not entirely out of the norm, but many were concentrated in an area of a few blocks. Mast has continued to call on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research a cause.
Seven Senators, including Sen. Rubio, also filed a companion resolution in the Senate.
Naples Republican Donalds took to the House floor this week for an impassioned speech on free expression.
“The one thing that must remain in our public is tolerance,” he said. “We have to adopt a standard, not a subjective one but an objective one. But here’s the truth. We already have that standard. We’ve already adopted it. It is the objective standard you are free to speak in the United States of America.”
He defended journalist Alexi McCammond, who lost her job at liberal publication because of decade-old Twitter posts. The 27-year-old Axios veteran had been named an emerging journalist of the year by the National Association of Black Journalists. But she resigned as incoming editor of Teen Vogue, The New York Times reported after tweets resurfaced, including one of her criticizing her “stupid Asian T.A.” for a bad chemistry grade.
Rep. @ByronDonalds: "Whether it's Twitter, Facebook or Instagram or YouTube or Snapchat or TikTok or The Washington Post or The Washington Times, whether you want to talk about The New York Times…we must be free to speak at all times." pic.twitter.com/WW5fZJaWFP
— ForAmerica (@ForAmerica) May 12, 2021
“She was on MSNBC and an NBC contributor. I don’t think she would probably like politics too much,” he said. “But because of something she said when she was a freshman in college on social media, she was targeted. She was canceled.
“We cannot continue as a society if we are quick to shut each other down before we actually decide to open up our ears and listen.”
He said American society builds upon the notion all opinions can be expressed without consequence, whether on social media, in The York Times, or Fox News.
“We must be free to speak at all times,” he said.
A former staffer for Bilirakis will be back in the House. Lou Hrkman, who worked as a legislative fellow for the Pinellas Republican and the House Energy & Commerce Committee in 2014 and 2015, will now serve as senior policy adviser for the Climate Crisis, LegiStorm reports.
Hrkman will work directly for Louisiana Republican Garrett Graves, the Ranking Member on the committee. Notably, Castor serves as the select committee chair and top-ranking Democratic member, so knowledge of Tampa Bay’s environmental challenges may yet prove helpful in any work across the aisle.
Most recently, Hrkman worked as deputy assistant secretary for Clean Coal and Carbon Management at the Department of Energy for the past two years. He also worked for several years for West Virginia Republican David McKinley.
On this day
May 14, 1787 — “Constitutional Convention delegates begin to assemble” via History.com — Delegates to the Constitutional Convention begin to assemble in Philadelphia to confront a daunting task: the peaceful overthrow of the new American government as defined by the Article of Confederation. Although the convention was initially supposed to begin on May 14, James Madison reported a small number only had assembled. Meetings had to be pushed back until May 25, when a sufficient quorum of the participating states — Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia — had arrived.
May 14, 1991 — “President George H.W. Bush selects Robert Gates to lead CIA” via The Associated Press — After careful soundings on Capitol Hill, President Bush is gambling that his nomination of Gates to run the CIA will not reopen a full-blown inquiry of the Iran-Contra affair — or raise embarrassing questions about his role in it. White House aides say Bush was so impressed by Gates’ performance as deputy national security adviser that he was willing to take a political risk to put him in charge of the CIA — the same job he was nominated for four years ago only to be forced to withdraw because of Iran-Contra questions.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Scott Powers.