Demings v. Rubio
The battle for the Senate is on. The sides became apparent as one member of the delegation came for another’s job. Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, announced she’s challenging Sen. Marco Rubio’s reelection.
The third-term Congresswoman unveiled a launch video on Wednesday confirming what she’d signaled weeks prior. Rather than run for another term in Florida’s 10th Congressional District, she will try to deny the Senate incumbent another six years representing Florida in the upper chamber. With images of Demings walking by the Jacksonville church where she was raised and images of her days dressed in an Orlando Police Chief uniform, she pressed forward at last.
A fast-paced three-minute clip tells a tale of a Black girl growing up poor, spending 27 years with a badge, and eventually becoming an impeachment manager against a President. “Can my unlikely story of opportunity expand to more Americans and more Floridians?” she asks at the video’s close as her campaign message of “Never Tire” appears in a diversity of typefaces.
To watch the clip, click on the image below:
In press conversations throughout the day, she hit another talking point, that Rubio was “desperate” and willing to say anything to diminish her candidacy.
Of course, it may yet be presumptuous to predict Demings will be the nominee. Earlier in the week, former Rep. Alan Grayson announced he was running. In addition, Allen Ellison, a Wauchula Democrat who has run for Congress twice, has also filed and raised six figures for the seat.
But a wave of endorsements Thursday showed Demings to be the candidate whom many awaited. The Congressional Black Caucus PAC and Higher Heights PAC, which both seek out Black candidates of quality, put their strength behind Demings. So did EMILY’s List, which backs Democratic women.
Rubio, meanwhile, sprung into action rallying the GOP base and immediately trying to define Demings as a “far-left extremist.” He vowed to expose the “real Val Demings” in a string of interviews.
“I think if you think someone who votes, for example, against a ban deporting gang members, if you think that’s in the center,” Rubio told Spectrum News, “if you think voting for a bill that prohibits states from asking for ID’s from voters is in the center if people think that’s in the center, I don’t know what the center is.”
For the record, survey results released by Mason-Dixon Polling in March showed the incumbent in declining, though far from stellar, shape politically as he seeks reelection. About 46% of Florida voters thought he deserved reelection, while 40% did not. That poll compared him only to a generic Democrat. “Looking ahead to the 2022 U.S. Senate race, Rubio enters the campaign in decent shape, but not with an overwhelming advantage,” an accompanying memo stated.
That poll found Rubio least popular with Black voters, possibly energized now to elect Florida’s first Black Senator. But, overall, the numbers suggest Rubio starts as the favorite. So does conventional wisdom in a state where Republicans enjoyed better-than-polls-indicated successes in the 2020 and 2018 cycles.
While Florida’s top-of-ballot contest developments had delegation members conspiring against one another, it’s notable this week also saw members from both parties, including Rubio and Demings, work in unity to honor victims of a Florida tragedy.
Five years ago today, 49 individuals in Orlando were making plans to go to Latin Night at a club outside downtown. Meanwhile, a radicalized man in Fort Pierce loaded up ammo as he prepared to implement a terrorist attack in the name of ISIS. Saturday brings a five-year milestone since each of their deaths at Pulse nightclub.
“It was an unspeakable tragedy. An evil act of terrorism designed to divide us as a nation and strike fear in our hearts and minds,” Sen. Rick Scott, Florida’s Governor at the time of the shooting, said during a speech on the Senate floor. “But instead, we came together, and supported each other through heartbreak and darkness, to preserve and rebuild.”
The Senate this week passed a resolution introduced by Scott and Rubio that recognizes the tragic anniversary and the 49 victims lost. In addition, another piece of legislation sponsored by Florida’s Senators with California Democrat Alex Padilla officially designated the National Pulse Memorial.
“The terrorist attack at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was a heinous act of violence and hatred against members of the LGBTQ community,” Rubio said. “Forty-nine innocent lives were lost on that horrific day. As the fifth-anniversary approaches, we must continue to honor the memory of those who were taken far too soon. And while work still remains to root out evil, I am inspired by Orlando’s continued resiliency, pride and strength.”
That came a month after the House passed a similar measure, co-sponsored by Orlando Reps. Demings, Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy.
Demings’ husband, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, served as Orange County Sheriff at the time of the shooting as the now-Congresswoman fought her first successful campaign for House. Even as she launched a campaign against Rubio, she took a moment to celebrate the Senate bill’s passage this week, though a tweet mentioned her House co-sponsors and not the senators by name.
“The memorial will serve as a national symbol of hope, love, and unity,” she posted.
Until April 2020, much of China’s citrus could not be legally imported into the U.S. Sens. Rubio and Scott want that since-lifted prohibition put back in place.
Florida’s entire Senate delegation sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack calling for a ban on importing five varieties of fruit.
‘In recent years, Florida’s citrus growers have suffered the impacts of hurricanes, unfairly priced imports, and from citrus greening, a disease which originated in China, and spread to the U.S. from imported citrus,” the senators wrote. “Citrus greening has devastated Florida’s citrus groves, decreasing our state’s citrus production capacity by approximately 70% since 2000.”
Fundamentally, importing Chinese produce brings a risk of further biological threats,
“The department’s April 15, 2020 notice included details of the Pest Risk Assessment (PRA) of allowing imports of these citrus products from China, including a list of species that are likely to enter the United States,” the letter notes.
“The PRA identified 15 pest species of mites, fruit flies, and moths and two pathogens, including those that cause citrus canker and citrus black spot diseases, which could ‘cause unacceptable impacts’ if they enter the U.S. via imports of these Chinese citrus products. Risking the introduction of invasive species and diseases into the U.S. is irresponsible, especially given our knowledge of how citrus greening previously entered our country by imported citrus and is spread by an invasive pest species, the Asian citrus psyllid.”
All that provides a reason for the USDA to reverse course on import rules. “The federal government and the State of Florida have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to research citrus greening and to slow its spread and find a cure. Continuing to allow citrus imports from China could further harm Florida’s citrus growers and risks undermining the progress that has been made through these investments,” the letter reads.
Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack at a Tuesday subcommittee hearing said it’s crucial Congress remain focused on the impacts of climate as they relate to matters of homeland security.
As the Homeland Security Subcommittee ranking member on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery, the Congresswoman presented opening remarks. She reminded how weather events from lightning fires on the West Coast to ice storms in Texas impacted the nation in disruptive ways.
“In my home state of Florida, we are certainly no stranger to intense weather events. Just last year, Hurricane Sally flooded Florida’s Panhandle — dropping four months of rain in just four hours,” she said, “And in 2018, Hurricane Michael, that devastated Florida’s Gulf Coast, was the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in mainland U.S. since 1992.”
She noted FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program helped with Florida’s 2018 State Hazard Mitigation Plan. “The Hallandale Beach Drainage Project was recently completed using Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds to address drainage issues that caused flooding throughout the city during storms,” she said. “ A new drainage project was also completed in Oakland Park using HMPG funds. Despite high tidal surges and high canal levels from Hurricane Irma in September 2017, no floodwaters entered homes in Oakland Park communities served by the new system.”
Cammack said she was encouraged by the introduction of the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities Grant Program and other changes.
“The reality is that natural disasters have always occurred and will continue to occur. We should use every disaster as an opportunity to learn and improve our mitigation capabilities and strategies to decrease loss of life and damage to our homes and infrastructure, and to lessen the economic strain that disasters present,” she said, “I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on how to continue to improve our preparedness and resilience in the face of the unpredictable nature of disasters and all-hazard emergencies.”
Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford and Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson joined forces to introduce a House resolution spotlighting child abuse. The measure designates the period from June 6 to 12 as National Child Abuse Prevention Week. In addition, the legislation includes a shoutout to a Florida nonprofit, the Monique Burr Foundation for Children of Jacksonville.
“When I was Sheriff of Duval County, I worked to support countless victims of child abuse and put their abusers in jail,” Rutherford said. “Sadly, too many children are still at risk of mistreatment, neglect, and sexual abuse. Combating this begins with raising awareness of the problem. That’s why I’m proud to join my friend and colleague, Congressman Al Lawson, in designating June 6—12, 2021, as National Child Abuse Prevention Week.”
Lawson said violence against children affects families throughout Florida and the nation, and officials should work across the aisle to help solve that problem. Approximately 7.9 million children were referred to Child Protective Services agencies for mistreatment or abuse allegations nationwide in 2019 alone.
“Children thrive when they grow up in a safe and loving environment, yet, too many children across our nation are often victims of abuse,” Lawson said. “During this pandemic, there has been a rise in reports of domestic violence and child abuse. We must take a proactive approach to protect our most vulnerable and work to ensure they can lead happy and healthy lives.”
Slamming the books
The fight over critical race theory has reached West Point. While the military academy isn’t seen as an ivory tower of leftist thought, St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz took exception to recent lectures at the institution. He questioned the appearance of Emory University’s Dr. Carol Anderson in a letter to Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, West Point Academy’s superintendent.
The Academy invited Anderson to teach courses on “Race, Ethnicity, and Nation” and “Civil Rights Movements.” Answering a request from Waltz, Williams confirmed Anderson “described, in subtle ways,” how American policy disadvantaged Black Americans throughout history.
That undersells the curriculum, according to the Congressman.
“In a screenshot of a slide obtained by me, as described in my previous letter, the title ‘Understanding Whiteness and White Rage’ is depicted,” Waltz wrote in his letter. “This title is an incendiary overview that is by no means subtle, as are her highly politicized public statements. Why was a guest lecturer who characterized the former Commander-in-Chief as a ‘White nationalist’ and the Republican Party platform ‘white nationalism’ invited to teach cadets who should aspire to lead an apolitical military? Was there a vetting process and review of her statements made on social media and in media prior to extending her an offer to teach Military Academy cadets?”
He also objected to the book “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” being included in materials for a political science course, saying the philosophy offers a framework “rooted in Marxism” and inappropriate for use.
‘As a nation, we are on incredibly perilous ground if any of the future leaders of our military are taught that the civilian institutions and structures with ultimate authority over them — our courts, elected officials, our laws — are systemically oppressive and that they, therefore, have a duty to oppose them,” Waltz wrote.
Taking the bait
A group of Tampa Bay area Congress members reintroduced legislation seeking tax relief for Florida anglers.
The bill, known as the Fishing Equipment Tax Relief Act, would equalize the tax rate for portable, electronically aerated bait containers with the parts used to assemble them. The legislation is a bipartisan effort, sponsored by Stephanie Murphy, Gus Bilirakis, Charlie Crist, and Vern Buchanan.
“Florida’s dynamic recreational and commercial fishing industry is vital to our economy and an essential part of the Florida way of life,” said Bilirakis, a Tarpon Springs Republican. “The industry has faced many challenges over the past few years. Our bipartisan bill will offer important tax-equity in the fishing business and represents an important economic boost as the recreation industry continues to recover.”
Currently, portable, electronically aerated bait containers are taxed at 10% if sold assembled, but the parts used to make the containers are taxed at a rate of only 3% if sold separately. The lawmakers supporting the bill argue that this tax rate penalizes small businesses that manufacture bait containers.
“The Sunshine State is the fishing capital of the world,” Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said. “As an avid boater and fisherman, I know just how important fishing is to our economy, culture, and way of life. This bill will provide much-needed tax relief to Florida’s fishing industry, safeguarding our small businesses and keeping our economy strong and vibrant.”
The bill would rectify the different tax rates by changing the tax rate on assembled portable, electronically aerated bait containers to a uniform 3%.
“Florida is the fishing capital of the world,” Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, said. “This bill levels the playing field for small businesses that manufacture bait containers and provides relief to Florida’s fishing industry. As a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, I look forward to advocating for this important legislation.”
“As an avid angler, I know fishing is a critical part of the Florida way of life and vital to our state’s economy,” Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, said. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bipartisan bill to ensure that Florida small businesses that manufacture bait containers and Florida fishermen who use these containers are treated fairly under the federal tax code.”
Americans for Prosperity put fresh pressure on Winter Park Democrat Murphy as she considers her vote on an infrastructure bill. A new campaign-style flyer urges constituents in Florida’s 7th Congressional District to demand the Winter Park Democrat vote “no” on one of President Joe Biden’s priorities.
“Ask Rep. Stephanie Murphy to oppose President Biden’s Wasteful $4,000,000,000,000 ‘infrastructure’ proposal,” language on the flyer reads.
The libertarian advocacy group opined on the bill known before announcing in May it will reach out to voters in 27 congressional districts, including Murphy’s. According to spokespeople for AFP-FL, the new mailer follows up on the group’s “End Washington Waste” campaign, the Florida chapter for the group.
As co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, Murphy has built a reputation for remaining fiscally disciplined. But she helped to lead bipartisan negotiations around the infrastructure package that AFP now derides as waste. When the first round of AFP mailers went out, Murphy responded by questioning the fiscal commitments of Republicans who ran up deficits during former President Donald Trump’s tenure.
“Unlike Congressional Republicans, who voted to dramatically increase the debt by cutting taxes for their wealthy donors,” Murphy said, “I remain committed to working to secure a bipartisan compromise that invests in our nation’s infrastructure, helps rebuild our economy, and brings good-paying jobs to our community without raising taxes on hardworking middle-class families.”
As the House Energy and Commerce Committee marked up bills this week, Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor characterized it as a chance for the Democratic majority to correct bad moves by the Trump administration.
“Let’s join together to reduce methane pollution, a greenhouse gas that traps immense (amounts) of heat on Earth,” she tweeted. “It’s a crucial step in solving the climate crisis. Plus plugging leaks from wells and pipelines is a job creator & would reduce air pollution- win, win, win!”
🏭Let’s join together to reduce methane pollution, a greenhouse gas that traps immense amts of heat on🌎 It’s a crucial step in #SolvingTheClimateCrisis.
Plus plugging leaks from wells&pipelines is a job creator & would reduce air pollution- win, win, win!https://t.co/fIeko6WCv1
— US Rep Kathy Castor (@USRepKCastor) June 10, 2021
After Democrats reclaimed the majority after the 2018 elections, Speaker Nancy Pelosi tapped Castor as chair for a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. She is also a member of the Energy Committee and tied that environmental mission to the work.
“Today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is working to reverse misguided Trump policies that empowered polluters and allowed harmful contamination in our local communities,” Castor posted. “As methane pollution surges, even big oil companies are in favor of new safeguards to protect Americans.”
Breaking the chain
Sarasota Republican Greg Steube filed legislation this week aiming for chain migration. The Congressman filed the Break The Chain Act as historic numbers of unaccompanied children crossed the Mexican border in March and April.
“While the Biden Administration recklessly opens up our southern border and overwhelms [Customs and Border Protection], Congress must work toward common-sense immigration reforms that will end irresponsible policies, like chain migration,” Steube said. “Not only will this legislation create a level playing field for legal immigrants applying for citizenship, but it will also help the federal government control the number of people we have entering our country each year.”
His bill would get rid of the F1 (student), F2B (adult children of green-card holders), F3 (for married children of citizens), and F4 (sibling petition) visas, all family-sponsored programs.
The legislation would leave the F2A visas for unmarried children and spouses of green card holders, a program he has proposed be run by the Agriculture Department, but make the age of recipients be a factor in deciding to grant the visa.
He’s a Congressman. He’s Black. But so far, Naples Republican Byron Donalds has not been allowed membership in the Congressional Black Caucus.
“The Congressional Black Caucus has a stated commitment to ensuring Black Americans have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream,” Donalds said.
“As a newly elected Black Member of Congress, my political party should not exempt me from a seat at the table dedicated to achieving this goal. As a young Black man who grew up in the inner city of Brooklyn in a single-parent household, my achieving of the American Dream would be a valued addition to the CBC and one that should transcend politics.”
But the caucus won’t allow the Naples Republican to join its ranks, according to Buzzfeed News. That’s despite the freshman Congressman expressing his interest in membership. Representatives from his office said Donalds has spoken to at least three members about the possibility of joining.
Florida’s CBC members — Lawson, Demings and Frederica Wilson — have yet to comment.
The caucus had Republican members before, including provocative former West Palm Beach Congressman Allen West when he served from 2011 to 2013, but appears to be excluding Donalds now.
The reasoning, sources from the caucus told Buzzfeed, stems from Donalds’ voting against certifying President Biden’s electoral victory. Those votes were the first Donalds cast as a member of the House. He held to the objections to multiple slates of electors even after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol disrupted the certification process.
No to Omar
A dozen House Democrats, including delegation members Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, issued a statement Wednesday slamming Minnesota Republican Ilhan Omar. The rebuke followed committee testimony where Omar equated violent attacks by Hamas in Israel to military actions by the Israeli and U.S. governments.
“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided,” read the statement released through the office of Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider. “Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument, and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice.”
The intra-caucus argument comes weeks after violence erupted in Israel after Hamas rocket attacks spurred a response from the military that included hitting civilian targets in Palestinian areas. Omar on Monday told Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”
The Florida members signed on to the statement critiquing Omar all have defended Israel’s military response to Hamas and say the conflict is about the difference between terrorist activity and sovereign governments.
“The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups,” the statement concludes. “We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the U.S. and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban.”
St. Petersburg Democrat Ben Diamond, a state lawmaker running in Florida’s 13th Congressional District to succeed Crist, raised more than $250,000 for his congressional bid in just four weeks, his campaign announced Thursday.
Diamond’s campaign said most of the four-week earnings came from Pinellas County residents, the location of a majority of his district. He so far faces Eric Lynn, a former staffer in the Barack Obama administration, in the Democratic Primary for CD 13. Republican Anna Paulina Luna, who lost to Crist in 2020, is also running. More candidates are likely to run for the open seat.
Meanwhile, prominent data scientist Rebekah Jones has now largely backed off a potential challenge against embattled Panhandle Republican incumbent Matt Gaetz. “I was pointing out the hypocrisy in [Gov. Ron] DeSantis writing a law to prevent the silencing of government critics, while simultaneously celebrating my suspension for sharing a news article that exposed the lies he made that cost so many Florida lives,” the Maryland resident wrote in an Instagram post.
On this day
June 11, 1963 — “George Wallace blocks students at University of Alabama” via U.S. News & World Report — The staunch conservative demonstrated his loyalty to the cause of segregation when black students Vivian Malone and James A. Hood showed up at the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa to attend class. In what historians often refer to as the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door,” the Governor stood in the doorway as federal authorities tried to allow the students to enter. When Wallace refused to budge, President John F. Kennedy called for 100 troops from the Alabama National Guard to assist federal officials. Wallace chose to step down rather than incite violence.
June 11, 1971 — “Richard Nixon ends 21year embargo on Peking trade” via The New York Times — Nixon ended a 21‐year embargo on trade with Communist China. He authorized the export of a wide range of nonstrategic items, and he lifted all controls on imports from China. At the same time, he announced a decision to suspend certain shipping requirements that have inhibited the export of wheat and other grains to the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries and China. Officials refused to speculate on what the embargo lifting would mean in dollar terms to American industry. Still, the list released at the White House set forth 47 categories of exportable, nonstrategic items.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Kelly Hayes.