Delegation for 5.28.21: Lab leak — red flip — Prez Gaetz? — island vax — beached

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
COVID-19 started in a lab? The idea was absurd — until it wasn't.

Lab leak?

In a week, a remarkable shift occurred in Washington regarding theorizing about the origins of COVID-19. Since The Wall Street Journal reported on intelligence that workers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology showed symptoms consistent with the coronavirus in Nov. 2019, the idea the pandemic could have been born in a laboratory found new legs in public discourse.

That went on full display Monday as Sen. Marco Rubio questioned Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, about why the public health researcher so ardently dismissed the theory in the past.

“We know that China has a history of lab accidents,” Rubio said. He also noted prior coronavirus-related pandemics when infections were traced back to particular host animals within months. That has yet to occur here.

The idea that COVID-19 began in a Wuhan lab is gaining traction again. Image via AP.

“This outbreak happened in a city that happened to be the home — coincidentally — of a lab, which we know is involved in extensive research, and what they do is they take this naturally occurring virus, and they manipulate it and then change it to make it infectious to humans,” Rubio said. Why, the Senator asked, would Fauci dismiss the possibility of a lab leak?

“The historical basis for pandemics evolving naturally from an animal reservoir is extremely strong, and it’s for that reason that we felt that something similar like this has a much higher likelihood,” Fauci responded. “But again … no one knows — not even I, 100% at this point — which is the reason why we are in favor of further investigation.”

Rubio’s not the only one giving Fauci a tough time. Sarasota Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan took to Twitter to express frustration.

“A growing body of evidence now indicates that the virus did not come from animals at a ‘wet market’ but from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the only level 4 bio-agent lab in China,” Buchanan said. “Here’s the disturbing part: America apparently helped fund this lab. And according to reports, the Wuhan lab is still eligible for funding from the National Institutes of Health. I just co-sponsored legislation to make sure that American taxpayers do not contribute a penny toward research at this facility. Whoever was responsible for allowing this to happen should be fired.

“Are you listening, Dr. Fauci?”

Sen. Rick Scott said it’s time for President Joe Biden to get tough on China and demand more information about the emergence of the virus. “Communist China clearly covered this up,” Scott said this week. “We don’t know how it got created, whether it was intentional or unintentional, but clearly, China has not been transparent.”

Sidelined

Sen. Scott plans to work across the country to ensure Republicans pick up Senate seats in 2022 as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. But he’s made clear he won’t pick favorites in open primaries. This week, he clarified his policy even if a friend runs and party leaders want to avoid a messy intraparty fight.

The Naples Republican told The Arizona Republic that while he’s optimistic Republicans can flip a Senate seat red there, it’s not his choice who runs. That’s despite a working relationship with Gov. Doug Ducey, the kind of proven statewide winner the NRSC would usually woo into a race.

Rick Scott is staying out of the Republican primaries. Image via AP.

“I talk to everybody that has an interest,” Scott told the newspaper. “I know Doug Ducey because he served as a Governor when I did. I think he’s a successful Governor. I think he’d be a successful Senator. But I think you’re going to have a lot of other people; whether Doug gets in the race or not, you’re going to have a lot of other wonderful candidates that are in the race.”

Arizona, once a reliably red state, narrowly elected Democrats during the last two election cycles. One of those Democrats, Sen. Mark Kelly, will appear on the ballot again next year after being elected to fill the remainder of the late Sen. John McCain’s term. Republicans hope to bring the state back into the GOP column. The prospect of a Republican Governor in a narrowly divided state unseating a Democratic incumbent who touts time in space as a credential seems like a story Scott could get behind.

But the GOP in Arizona also remains fractured, with former President Donald Trump supporters fixating on an audit of presidential election results after Biden flipped the state by a thin margin in 2020.

That’s not a brawl Scott wants to mediate. “I’m not spending time to recruit a specific person to a race,” he stressed.

Standing with Colombia

As protesters alleging human rights abuses in Colombia incite unrest there, Sen. Rubio said the U.S. must support the sitting government. Florida’s senior Senator spoke on the phone with Columbian President Ivan Duque this week and voiced commitment.

“I told him we are with them, our strongest ally in South America, during this time when external forces seek to destabilize his country and damage the U.S.-Colombia relationship,” the Miami Republican tweeted.

It’s a strong statement from a Senator in the minority caucus who, while wielding significant influence on Latin America under Trump, now represents a party out of power. Rubio’s rhetoric also sounded notably different from his stance on protester-led unrest in Venezuela and China.

The Senator’s call also came as the fiscal crisis left Duque begging financial institutions to reevaluate the nation’s bond rating and protesters demanded the withdrawal of tax reforms. National strike committees in Columbia pressured the government for a moratorium on mortgage and utility payments as the pandemic continues to ravage the country, Reuters reports.

Authorities in Colombia report weeks of protests, which resulted in two police officers and 17 civilians killed.

Roughly 31% of Colombians in the U.S. live in Florida, according to Pew Research Centers.

President Gaetz?

What politician would let something like a sex trafficking investigation slow their ambition? Not Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz, who told the New York Post he’s considering seeking the highest office in the land. Indeed, the only thing he said would preclude a run is if another Florida politician, former President Donald Trump, gets in the race.

“I support Donald Trump for President. I’ve directly encouraged him to run, and he gives me every indication he will,” the Florida Republican told the Post. “If Trump doesn’t run, I’m sure I could defeat whatever remains of Joe Biden by 2024.”

President Matt Gaetz? Image via AP.

Such forward-looking rhetoric will surprise some, considering a recent plea deal by former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg and reported cooperation with investigators by a Gaetz ex and the woman Greenberg pleaded guilty to having sex with when she was 17, That has many court and political watchers believing Gaetz risks indictment.

Then again, it’s been months since the news first broke that federal investigators were also targeting the Congressman, and no charges have come down yet. That has allowed Gaetz to repeatedly cast himself as the victim of a vindictive Department of Justice, perhaps another arena where he’s taking his cues from Trump. The ex-President this week called a New York investigation of his business dealings “purely political,” and that’s after years of dismissing investigations as a “witch hunt.”

All the while, as Gaetz denies accusations against him, he’s continuing to tour the country alongside Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, energizing supporters of his “America First” platform.

Long game

The COVID-19 exposed how a health crisis in China could impact the globe and how reliant on China the American health care system has become on suppliers based in Asia. Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack c-sponsored legislation (HR 3264) to evaluate ways to change that.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Examiner, Cammack made a case for a top-to-bottom evaluation of supply lines between China and the U.S.

“We can no longer assume that any product, no matter how high- or low-tech, is not critical or that the supply of those items is assured,” she wrote. “If our collective experience with COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that many of our medical and critical technology supply chains are entirely dependent on a nation that does not share our values. Building domestic resilience in these supply chains is a vital homeland security mission.”

Kat Cammack wants a top-to-bottom review of the U.S.-China supply chain. Image via Twitter.

She wants the Department of Homeland Security to produce annual reports to Congress on how sectors of the economy rely on imports from the East and find ways to assess the risks of those compromised and develop solutions for such scenarios.

“Florida and our municipalities must be honest about the threats we face from China via partnerships, financial transactions or business acquisitions. Most importantly, we need to recognize that the decisions we make now will have effects down the road,” she wrote.

“China is playing the long game. We need to play the long game, too.”

Caribbean vax

Can the U.S. help neighboring nations in the Caribbean and Latin America vaccinate their populations? Democratic delegation members say the country can and should do more to help.

In a letter led by Charlie Crist and Frederica Wilson, all 10 Democrats representing Florida in Congress argued it’s in America’s interest to fight COVID-19 within our borders and beyond. The Biden administration already announced it will export some 80 million vaccine doses to other countries (60 million of those AstraZeneca shots not approved for use in the U.S.). Florida members say nations both geographically nearby and closely aligned with U.S. interests should be on the receiving side of that effort. That means helping those neighbors with fewer economic and medical resources at the ready.

Charlie Crist argues that it is in America’s interest to make sure the Caribbean is vaccinated.

“Here in Florida, we are blessed to have extremely close ties with the Caribbean and Latin America,” Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said. “For many Floridians, it is where they were born, where close friends and family call home, or where they love to travel. I join my colleagues in urging President Biden to distribute lifesaving vaccines to Latin America and the Caribbean. Doing so is not just in our national interest; it is the right thing to do.”

Wilson, a Hollywood Democrat who represents some of the nation’s largest populations of Caribbean Americans, suggested vaccinating the islands remains an important domestic issue impacting South Florida.

“As the representative of the largest Haitian American communities in the United States and the only Bahamian American member of Congress, my constituents and I are deeply concerned about the spike in COVID-19 cases in the Caribbean, including the Bahamas and Haiti,” Wilson said. “For more than a year, Haiti experienced a miraculously low level of cases, which I was grateful for given the nation’s problems addressing basic health care issues. Now it is more important than ever to send vaccines to Haiti, where not a single shot has been received, which I pray will help prevent the kind of horrific pandemic that the United States and nations around the globe are finally emerging from.”

Local energy

Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor weighed in on Florida state legislation she said could impact the global climate. She’s encouraging House colleague-turned-Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto a bill preempting local environmental regulations.

“HB 919 would preempt and prevent cities, counties and citizens from limiting dirty energy sources like fracked gas and throw a wrench into expanding solar power and updating building codes to provide cost-saving energy efficiency savings to Floridians,” Castor wrote in a letter to DeSantis.

Kathy Castor is urging a veto on local preemption legislation. Image via AP.

The legislation passed in response to an energy crisis in Texas this year, with lawmakers saying local regulation on fuel and energy could create a fractured power network in Florida. Castor, though, said this just gives outsized influence to energy companies.

“There is no time to waste. Our planet is dangerously warming due to the burning of fossil fuels,” Castor said. “Climate change is increasing costs and exacting a toll on Florida families and businesses. Flooding, more intense hurricanes, and prolonged days of extreme heat are growing in frequency in Florida. Agriculture in Florida is being stressed and looking for leadership to help them.

“The good news is that communities, states and countries across the world are banding together to expand renewable energy and cost-saving energy efficiency measures. St. Petersburg, Orlando, Tampa and other local communities wisely are planning ahead. The State of Florida could be a leader in creating jobs in clean energy, innovation and efficiency, but not if you tie the hands of local communities and take our state backward.”

RIMPAC rejection

So long as China continues genocide against the Uyghur people, Lakeland Republican Scott Franklin doesn’t want to participate in international war games with the nation. This week, he filed legislation in the House that would bar China from participation in the Pacific Rim. RIMPAC remains the world’s largest maritime military exercise, and China has taken part in it since 2014.

“The People’s Republic of China’s continued oppression of the Uyghur Muslims is one of the most repugnant human rights abuses in modern history,” Franklin said. “As the world leader in standing up for human dignity, the United States must do everything in our power to pressure the PRC into ceasing its horrific behavior. My bill will hold China accountable for their actions against the Uyghurs as a condition for being allowed to participate in the Rim of the Pacific military exercise.”

Scott Franklin is refusing to allow the U.S. to participate in international war games with China. Image via Scott Franklin.

Franklin’s bill is part of a bundle of legislation advanced by the Republican Study Committee to criticize China. Sarasota Republican Greg Steube joined other RSC members endorsing the legislation and calling for a stricter stance against the Middle Kingdom.

“It should be common sense that we shouldn’t be engaging in military exercises with China while they actively commit genocide against the Uyghur people,” Steube said.

Continuing to allow China to engage in RIMPAC, Franklin said, reads as a stamp of credibility for China in the international community, something the communist government does not deserve. That doesn’t even factor in the possibility the U.S. and China could engage in real-life conflict, and there’s no reason to reveal American’s military capability in advance.

“As the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise, RIMPAC gives participating nations the opportunity to increase their tactical proficiency through military-to-military relations and interoperability,” he said. “Participation in RIMPAC provides a certain amount of international legitimacy that the PRC does not deserve. The U.S. and its allies should not allow an adversary with a clear track record of aggression and human rights abuses to gain knowledge on maritime operations that could be used against it in the future.”

Fighting fentanyl

Legislation filed by Buchanan to fight the opioid crisis picked up some key Florida supporters this week. All three sheriffs in Florida’s 16th Congressional District — Manatee County’s Rick Wells, Hillsborough’s Chad Chronister and Sarasota’s Kurt Hoffman — endorsed Buchanan’s Federal Initiative to Guarantee Health by Targeting (FIGHT) Fentanyl Act.

The legislation would permanently classify the synthetic drug as a Class I narcotic.

“Illegal fentanyl continues to pour into our country and claims the lives of too many Americans each and every day. My bill will provide law enforcement another critical tool in their arsenal to help combat the opioid epidemic and keep illegal fentanyl out of our communities,” Buchanan said. “I’m honored to have the support of our local law enforcement for this important legislation and am hopeful it will help save countless lives across the country.”

Vern Buchanan wants Congress to crack down on fentanyl. Image via AP.

Hoffman said the legislation was important with such a deadly narcotic on the streets. “Fentanyl, unlike other drugs, often kills people the first time they use it. It is deadly plain and simple.”

Manatee County, at times, has been the epicenter of opioid overdoses in Florida, so law enforcement there wants as many tools at the ready as possible to fight the epidemic. “Fentanyl is a deadly drug that destroys lives and breaks up families,” Wells said. “I commend Congressman Buchanan for his tireless fight to keep our communities safe and to hold those responsible for the sale and distribution of this highly addictive narcotic.”

And the problem, while no longer seizing daily headlines, continues to plague the region, Chronister said. “Fentanyl continues to be a significant public health and safety issue in Hillsborough County with 120 fentanyl-related deaths in 2020, an increase from 2019 with 58 fentanyl-related deaths,” he said.

Beach trip

Steube this week took a tour of coral restoration areas in Florida’s 17th Congressional District. He visited a site in Casey Key to review progress on a shoreline resilience project.

“Especially as we approach another hurricane season, Casey Key’s restoration efforts will be critical in achieving long-term coastal resilience in Sarasota County,” he said. “These coastal resilience efforts will serve our environmental and economic interests for decades to come, and our team is committed to working with all of our federal, state and local partners to help advance these efforts.”

Greg Steube hits the beach.

The barrier island is the only one in Sarasota County without a program in place to address beach erosion, which Steube said poses a threat to public safety and the economy there as well. The Congressman noted long-term resilience efforts must begin to protect homes, businesses and local infrastructure.

Reproductive rights

West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel will serve as one of the leads in the House for the Reproductive Rights are Human Rights Act. A House leadership priority, the legislation will direct the State Department to include an evaluation of reproductive rights in its human rights reports on nations.

“If women are to have healthy lives, they must have access to quality reproductive health care including safe, legal abortion, contraception and prenatal care as well as accurate information,” Frankel said. “Reproductive freedom is basic to dignity, self-determination, and equality and should be included in the State Department’s annual human rights report in order to facilitate U.S. leadership on the advancement of women and girls around the world.”

Lois Frankel believes reproductive rights are an important part of women’s health.

The legislation clearly defines the expectations of House Democrats now that a pro-choice administration leads Washington once again. The standards defined in the bill include reporting on access to abortion services, birth control and medical care for expectant mothers, and data on maternal deaths around the globe. It’s not only about making sure women who want abortions have access but also to make sure foreign powers are not forcing other women to force abortions or involuntary sterilizations.

Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat, filed the bill, but Frankel will be one of six House Democrats running the legislation on the hill. She will work with California Democrats Barbara Lee, Norma Torres and Sara Jacobs and with New York Democrats Gregory Meeks and Grace Meng.

Little Haiti

Days after Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced an extension of temporary protected status for Haitians in the U.S., Hollywood Democrat Wilson hosted him for an event in Miami helping residents navigate the process.

“There has been a lot of advocacy for a Haiti TPS designation,” Wilson tweeted. “The Biden administration not only listed but acted.”

The Tuesday event took place at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. “It is not lost on any of us, of course, that we are in the midst of Haitian Heritage Month and we celebrate and recognize the dignity of the Haitian people,” Mayorakas said, according to the Miami New Times.

As roughly half the Haitian migrants in the U.S. live in Florida, most of them in South Florida, the TPS news will likely impact more individuals in the Miami area than anywhere else. Haitians first received TPS protections after a 2010 earthquake, and they stayed in place as human rights abuses and economic disruption continued to plague the island. The Trump administration dropped the status, but the Biden administration allowed an extension as the COVID-19 pandemic affected the island once again.

On this day

May 28, 1830 — “Andrew Jackson signs Indian Removal Act, leads to Trail of Tears” via Constituting America — President Jackson first attracted national attention during the War of 1812 when his forces decimated the Creek Indians and later successfully defended New Orleans against the onslaught of an experienced and well-trained British army. He signed the Indian Removal Act 14 months after assuming office. The act, consisting of eight sections, broadly outlined the conditions under which Native Americans would relinquish claim to their tribal land within the United States in exchange for territory west of the Mississippi River.

May 28, 1923 — “Who’s wearing the trousers” via the Adam Smith Institute — The U.S. Attorney General declared that it was legal for women to wear trousers anywhere. The prohibition of trousers for women was enforced in most U.S. states not only by social custom but by laws that punished transgressors. Several women defied this ban, not only for freedom of movement but for disguise, especially for runaway slave women, and in some cases to earn much more than women could earn. Several prominent women activists were arrested and sentenced for wearing clothing that was deemed appropriate only for men.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Sen. Rubio, who turned 50 today, May 28.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles.

Staff Reports



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