A new holiday
Saturday marks 156 years since slaves in Texas learned that they were finally free — two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
And today brings the first time the federal government will formally recognize Juneteenth as a moment to acknowledge and celebrate history.
President Joe Biden signed legislation on Thursday recognizing June 19 as a federal holiday, one of 12 and the first passed by Congress since 1983 for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Since Juneteenth falls on a weekend this year, federal workers enjoy a holiday day off today.
The measure passed unanimously in the Senate. It did draw 14 no votes from Republicans in the House, with another two skipping the vote. But every member of Florida’s congressional delegation voted “yea” on the legislation.
“Yesterday, I was proud to stand alongside 415 of my fellow Republican and Democrat colleagues in making Juneteenth a national holiday,” tweeted Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican and one of two Black Republicans in the House. “Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States and the beginning of a long journey for freedom and justice for African Americans.”
“This meaningful acknowledgment took far too long,” tweeted Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat. “But it’ll be a powerful reminder of our commitment to learning from our past so we can build a more inclusive and prosperous future for everyone. I was proud to support it.”
Republican Marco Rubio served as an introducing sponsor to Senate legislation in prior Sessions. “The end of slavery was one of the most meaningful and significant events in the history of our republic, and Juneteenth is the most appropriate day to commemorate it,” Florida’s senior Senator said last year.
Democrats in the delegation were anxious to mark the designation as a turning point for Black Americans — and a starting point for policy fights ahead.
“This legislation is a critical step toward recognizing the wrongs of the past, but as recent state efforts to suppress voters’ voters have illustrated, we still far to go,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Hollywood Democrat and longtime member of the Black Congressional Caucus.
Meanwhile, Rep. Charlie Crist took a not-so-subtle jab at Florida’s recent ban on teaching critical race theory in schools. The St. Petersburg Democrat is challenging Gov. Ron DeSantis’ reelection next year.
“In voting to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, we are urging Americans to study our past, including the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow, alongside the joys of civil rights and freedom,” he said. “We will continue telling the truth about the sins of our past and the lingering effects of those sins today. And we will also celebrate the capacity of our nation to change, to right past wrongs, and to reach for our founders’ vision that generations to come would continually build a more perfect union.”
Delegation members cheered Department of Defense decisions to boost presence in the Florida Panhandle.
Among those decisions is establishing a Science Technology Academies Reinforcing Basic Aviation Space Exploration (StarBase) program at Naval Air Station Pensacola to boost science and engineering offerings at local schools.
“Our service members deserve to have access to high-quality educational opportunities for their children, and STARBASE will help make that a reality for these families,” Sen. Rubio. “I remain committed to ensuring students in Escambia County, and throughout the State of Florida, have access to the educational opportunities they need to flourish.”
Lawmakers this week also welcomed a decision to make Eglin Air Force Base home to three new squadrons of the F-35A Lightning II, an aircraft Panama City Republican Neal Dunn called “the future of the U.S. Air Force.”
“Tyndall was hit hard by Hurricane Michael in 2018, and I’m grateful to the U.S. Air Force for committing to rebuilding the base immediately following the storm,” he said. “This addition is exactly what the base and the surrounding area need to further recover and thrive. Not only will building these new squadrons bring new jobs to the community, but thousands will soon call Florida’s Second Congressional District ‘home.’”
Added Rubio: “The men and women who bravely serve our country at Eglin Air Force Base are on the front lines of maintaining U.S. air superiority against near-peer adversaries such as Russia and China. We must continue to modernize our armed forces and ensure we are ready for any situation.”
Sen. Rick Scott heavily criticized the Biden administration for what many GOP members consider an aimless border strategy. Now, he’s demanding evidence whether there’s any direction in place at all.
This week, the Naples Republican added his name to a letter from GOP Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas calling for the public release of any policy blueprint on immigration policies within the administration. Scott’s office took note of the issue when The New York Times reported on a strategy document apparently leaked to the newspaper.
“It is disturbing that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would keep this kind of information hidden from Congress and the public, yet share it with the media,” the letter reads.
“These proposals have the potential to compromise the integrity of our immigration vetting system at the expense of national security and public safety. The fact this is being withheld from Congress and the American people is particularly troubling given the ongoing crisis at the southern border. The policies allegedly proposed in this document would double down on erasing successful policies during the (Donald) Trump administration that secured the border and restored the rule of law. We are deeply concerned that these policies will act as a pull factor to continue drawing illegal immigrants to the country — much like the policies already being implemented by the Biden Administration.”
Twelve senators, all Republicans, signed onto the document.
Coming for the FBI
Hours after Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in the Jan. 6 riot, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz blamed antifa. Now, he’s pointing at the FBI.
The Congressman led a group of hyper-Trump partisans in accusing Florida’s top law enforcement energy of having a role in instigating the failed insurrection. That came after being one of a small number of Republicans to vote against awarding medals to Capitol Police for keeping Congress members safe from violence.
The letter to FBI chief Christopher Wray demands answers on the agency’s incognito surveillance conducted in right-wing extremist groups.
“In the year leading up to the events on 1/6 and during 1/6 itself, to what extent were the three primary militia groups (the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the Three Percenters) infiltrated by agencies of the federal government (including the FBI), or informants of said agencies?” the letter asks.
“Exactly how many federal undercover agents or confidential informants were present at the Capitol or in the Capitol during the “siege” and what roles did they play (merely passive informants or active instigators)?”
Gaetz, who remains under federal investigation himself, has publicly entertained suggestions that rioters were “political prisoners,” continuing to claim the presidential election was “stolen” from Trump.
In the letter, Gaetz blasts a Senate investigation into the origins of the violent insurrection on January 6, focusing on details that could implicate anyone other than Trump and his supporters.
“Of all the unindicted co-conspirators referenced in the charging documents of those indicted for crimes on 1/6, how many worked as a confidential informant or as an undercover operative for the federal government (FBI, Army Counterintelligence, etc.)?” Gaetz wrote. He imposed a deadline of Aug. 1 for answers.
The letter was co-signed by fellow delegation Republican Bill Posey and Republicans Paul Gosar of Arizona, Louis Gohmert of Texas, and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
Port of heritage
Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford made a case for his bill designating the Nation’s Oldest Port region as a National Heritage Area during a committee meeting this week.
He and St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum director Kathy Fleming testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands in support of H.R. 2107, legislation (HR 2107) Rutherford reintroduced this year.
“I greatly appreciated the opportunity to testify before the House Natural Resources Committee to discuss my bill to protect Northeast Florida’s important history and culture,” Rutherford said. “I am optimistic the Committee will soon take a vote on HR 2107 and send it to the House floor for final consideration.”
NHAs recognize significant natural, cultural, and historic landscapes and help celebrate the nation’s diverse heritage.
The Nation’s Oldest Port region of Northeast Florida is home to a mosaic of cultures and maritime heritage, including Indigenous Floridians, African slaves, European and American explorers and settlers. The proposed NHA recognizing it would span portions of Nassau, Duval, St. Johns and Flagler counties.
“The Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area Act would protect a nationally significant and special place in the American landscape,” Fleming said. “It is special not only for its great diversity of peoples sustained by connection to the land and to the sea, but also for its unique ability to last as a community for centuries despite many obstacles.
The designation could be a boon for the region. A 2012 study by the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and the National Park Service showed NHAs contribute nearly $13 billion annually to the national economy and support 148,000 jobs.
As the United States draws down its presence in Afghanistan, St. Augustine Beach Republican Mike Waltz said it’s important not to repeat the mistakes of Saigon. In a Wednesday news conference alongside Colorado Democrat Jason Crow and members of the American Legion, Waltz called for the Biden administration to evacuate Aghan interpreters who helped the U.S. combat the Taliban in the last 20 years.
“How many future Afghan families, how many great American contributions will we not have if President Biden does not act, and act now,” Waltz said. “If he does not act and does not get these people out, blood will be on his hands and his Administration’s hands.”
He said that leaving those who helped the military after the U.S. invasion after 9/11 would mean they could be hunted and killed by Taliban forces still present.
“The time for talk and debate is over,” Waltz said. “The Defense Department is accelerating its withdrawal and plans to be out far sooner than Sept. 11. We are closing our only air base in just a few weeks, which I believe is a strategic mistake.
“We have a moral and national security obligation to get these people out. Evacuate them now. We’ve done it before; we can do it again.”
In addition to signing Gaetz’s letter, Rockledge Republican Posey asserted President Biden’s “minions” employ the tactics of former East Germany to suppress political dissent.
“Seems someone has walked on to the world stage and smeared half of America as domestic terrorists,” Posey posted on Facebook, “and here at home, his minions have spawned a new American Stasi to oppress them.”
The comments came as Biden traveled abroad to summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva.
Posey’s message included a link to a Britannica entry on the history of the Stasi, which formed in 1950 after World War II. Soon after its formation, the government of East Germany created the secret police force, a forerunner to the KGB, in the county’s Soviet-occupied portion.
Known internationally for punishing dissenters of the ruling socialist party, the force disbanded in 1990, shortly after the 1989 reunification of Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
It’s my party
Gus Bilirakis plans to kick off his reelection campaign for Florida’s 12th Congressional District on July 3. His campaign launch will be at Theophilos Hall at Spanos Pappas in Tarpon Springs.
The Palm Harbor Republican served Florida’s 12th Congressional District since 2013 and has already filed for reelection with the Federal Election Commission.
So far, he faces two Democratic opponents: William VanHorn and Kimberly Walker.
However, it’s a red-leaning district, at least ahead of redistricting by the Florida Legislature. Cook Political Report recently gave it an R+11 partisan voting index.
And his last name carries extra weight in Pinellas County politics. Bilirakis succeeded his father, Michael Bilirakis, who held the district from 1983 until passing the torch to the younger Bilirakis.
Between the two, a Bilirakis has represented the area for nearly four decades.
Birth control block
Republicans haven’t been able to stop much progressive legislation from clearing the House. Still, a bill that would cover contraception for women soldiers through the Veterans Affairs Department failed to get a required two-thirds vote for passage in the lower chamber.
The Equal Access to Contraception for Veterans Act (HR 239) fell short this week, securing only a near-party-line 240-188 vote. Among the delegation, Miami Republicans Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar voted in favor of the bill, as did all Florida Democrats; all other Republicans voted against it.
Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor, a co-sponsor on the bill, slammed the outcome.
“In an affront to female veterans, House Republicans blocked common-sense legislation that would treat female veterans the same as women in uniform and civilians when it comes to access to health care. GOP members in Congress have become more out of touch with mainstream America and also voted to block the Congressional Gold Medal for the Capitol Police and the bipartisan Commission to Investigate the January 6 insurrection.
“In fact, most Republican members supported the female veterans’ legislation last year, but have taken a radical turn this Congress. Women veterans have served our country with honor and deserve equal access to health care once they return home. Our veteran neighbors in Tampa can rest assured that I’ll continue to work to pass this legislation and meet their needs in the days ahead. We owe them the best for their service and sacrifice for our nation.”
Last year, the bill passed in the House without objection, then died in the Senate. But of note, Panama City Republican Dunn at the time criticized the handling of the bill. According to Stars and Stripes, he complained the legislation had been pushed through committee without input from the minority.
“It runs somewhat counter to the past practices of this subcommittee,” he said then. “VA and its subcommittees have uniquely been bipartisan, and I sincerely hope we continue to conduct it that way.”
Trade deals with Mexico left Florida farmers frustrated for years. That frustration continued after the negotiation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Now a bipartisan group of lawmakers wants relief for the state’s vital agriculture industry. Sens. Rubio and Scott in the Senate and Reps. Vern Buchanan and Al Lawson sponsored the Defending Domestic Produce Production Act to provide it.
“We must ensure the viability of Florida’s fruit and vegetable growers, who for years have struggled to compete with dumped and unfairly priced Mexican imports,” Rubio said. “I firmly believe that food security is national security and that to ensure our nation’s food security, we must defend our food producers from malicious trade practices that are intended to undermine our self-reliance.”
Florida officials pushed for provisions for seasonal crops since the USMCA was signed.
This legislation aims to guarantee that through statute. Specifically, it would make certain U.S. trade law applies to seasonal fruit and vegetable growers to petition the Commerce Department and International Trade Commission to secure relief from unfair trade practices. The law now requires petitioners to demonstrate year-round damage for help.
Buchanan, a Sarasota Republican who chairs the Florida delegation, served as a liaison from the House to the Trump administration when they announced the USMCA. Promising the concerns of seasonal growers would be addressed, Buchanan and Rubio have pushed a legislative fix since 2018.
“Illegal seasonal dumping and unfair Mexican trade practices are crippling Florida’s fruit and vegetable growers,” Buchanan said. “It’s time to level the playing field and protect hardworking Florida farmers. Our bill would do just that.”
Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, is joining in the effort, making it a bipartisan bill in this Congress when Democrats control both chambers.
“Mexico’s dumping into our nation’s agriculture market is a problem, and below-cost produce has put Florida’s farmers at a disadvantage,” Lawson said. “This issue is crippling our state’s agriculture industry and threatening its place as one of the top agricultural producers in the country. The Defending Domestic Produce Production Act will work to protect Florida’s farmers and make sure they have a fair chance in the marketplace.”
Scott has also supported the fix, which was previously sponsored by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
“Florida’s seasonal produce growers work incredibly hard to succeed and support their families, but they’ve been faced with hardship amid the pandemic and unfair competition from Mexico,” Scott said. “This legislation will help defend and protect our hardworking domestic growers from the impacts of these unfair trade practices and support their continued success.”
Naples Republican Donalds wants a tabulation of what the border crisis has already cost the Health and Human Services Department.
“There is a crisis at our Southern Border, whether or not the Biden Administration would like to acknowledge that or not,” the letter reads. “If the President, Vice President, or Democrat leader in Washington traveled to our border, they would see firsthand the ongoing humanitarian and national security crisis at our Southern Border.”
Notably, they used “Democrat” as an adjective — lest the letter reads like anything other than a slight. But Donalds said his priority remains on informing citizens where taxpayer dollar revenue gets spent.
“American taxpayers are entitled to transparency regarding the use of their hard-earned tax dollars,” the Congressman tweeted.
The letter outlines their concerns over money that hasn’t been used as budgeted.
“We are deeply concerned about reports that the Department of Health and Human Services has diverted more than $2 billion that Congress appropriated for COVID-19-related health initiatives toward covering the cost of housing and transportation of unaccompanied immigrant children,” he wrote.
“Every child on earth deserves dignity and a safe place to live and grow, but it is the Biden Administration’s policies that are encouraging children to make the dangerous trek to our Southern Border.”
Help for hostages
Ted Deutch helped launch a congressional task force aimed at assisting individuals wrongfully arrested or held hostage abroad, as well as for those victims’ families.
The Boca Raton Democrat joined Arkansas Republican French Hill to set up the task force. Deutch chairs the Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and has been a vocal advocate for Americans held overseas.
“This is about the over 50 Americans who are currently being held,” Deutch said. “But it is also about the commitment of this Congress on behalf of the entirety of the American people to recognize that when there is an American who is being held wrongfully in another country anywhere in the world, that American must be viewed by all of use as our family member, as our neighbor, as our loved one and that we will not rest until they come home.”
Added Hill, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to know a loved one was overseas and learn they’d been wrongfully arrested by a corrupt government or held hostage by a non-state actor, and it’s in this regard that Ted Deutch and I got together to create this task force.”
Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, which Deutch represents, is home to the family of Robert Levinson, who was taken while in Iran back in 2007. His family announced last year they believe he has died.
In 2020, Deutch backed the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, which aimed to help strengthen America’s ability to return captured citizens safely.
Family members who have seen loved ones taken overseas have often expressed frustration with different presidential administrations in the past. With Congress establishing a task force, Deutch said he hopes to keep the American government’s response consistent across various presidential administrations.
“If what we’re doing not only helps to bring them home but in the meantime gives their families (hope), and most importantly gives them hope, that’s something we owe to them,” Deutch said.
ACA wins (again)
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court shot down the latest legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the ACA court win preserves insurance availability for millions of Americans, including about 2.1 million Floridians who signed up for insurance through the health marketplace.
It also offered plenty of reason for Democrats to gloat; they had questioned states, including Florida, that continued taking the matter to court 10 years after the Barack Obama administration’s signature achievement became law.
“The Supreme Court rejected the latest Republican attack on the Affordable Care Act — a big win for the health and economic security of Americans across the country, including those with preexisting conditions,” tweeted Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat.
“Democrats worked hard to defend protections for people with preexisting conditions. Republicans tried to dismantle them. Never forget that,” added Hollywood Democrat Wilson.
Nicaragua free trade?
Miami Republican Salazar is leading legislation — co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of delegation members — seeking to reevaluate the U.S. free trade agreement with Nicaragua.
The Nicaragua Free Trade Review Act of 2021 calls on the U.S. Trade Representative to “submit to Congress a report on the manner and extent to which Nicaragua (complies)” with the current free trade agreement, which went into effect in 2006. That deal allows for free trade between the United States and Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
Salazar set her sights on Nicaragua amid reports President Daniel Ortega is targeting opposition members ahead of the country’s November election.
“Under Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua has become a land of oppression,” Salazar said.
“Ortega’s thugs are jailing political opponents and violently silencing dissenting voices. I’ve introduced the Nicaragua Free Trade Review Act because trade with the United States is a privilege, not a right. We must show Ortega’s regime that they cannot continue repressing the Nicaraguan people while reaping the economic benefits of free trade with the United States. America should not be in the business of trading with dictators.”
New Jersey Democrat Tom Malinowski of New Jersey co-introduced the measure with Salazar. A bipartisan group of Florida delegation members also joined as co-sponsors, including Republican Waltz, Brian Mast, Donalds, Mario Díaz-Balart and Giménez and Democrats Murphy and Crist.
“I am saddened by Ortega’s aggressive dismantling of Nicaragua’s fragile democracy and hard-fought freedoms,” Malinowski added.
“I call on him to immediately reverse these actions and respect Nicaragua’s own laws and constitution. At the same time, there’s no reason the United States should reward his regime with preferential access to the US market — that’s why this bill calls for an immediate revision of Nicaragua’s compliance with our free trade agreement.”
Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee is also co-sponsoring the legislation, as are GOP Reps. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Mark Green of Tennessee, Nicole Malliotakis and Claudia Tenney of New York and Michelle Steel of California, along with Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón.
A handful of Florida members want to make sure no one forgets rock ’n’ roll, or R&B, or country, or anything else reliant on the pandemic-shuttered venues.
Eleven Florida members — seven Democrats and four Republicans — were in a bipartisan group of 64 House members who sent a letter to Small Business Administration Administrator Isabel Guzman to urge immediate action to stabilize and improve the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.
The Florida signatories include Democrats Murphy, Val Demings, Crist, Castor, Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Wilson, and Republicans Posey, Donalds, Mast and Salazar.
Demings and the others contend the SBA program has been plagued by technical challenges and persistent delays. Since it launched in April, the administration has approved roughly 400 grants out of more than 1,400 applicants.
The letter requests a detailed explanation of ongoing issues with the program and demands the administration expedite the release of relief funding to struggling venues across the country.
“The slow pace is becoming increasingly untenable for the small businesses in our districts. Their banks have threatened to call in the full amount of small business loans, they do not have the funds to pay their landlords full rent, and they cannot retain staff,” wrote the members. “We are hearing from venue operators who are days away from closing their doors if these funds are not sent soon. These small businesses not only provide good jobs and contribute economically to our local communities, they contribute to the spirit and local culture as well. We must act now.”
On this day
June 18, 1873 — “Susan B. Anthony found guilty of voting” via Feminist Majority Foundation — Anthony was found guilty of having “illegally” voted in the prior November’s General Election. She was never convicted by a proper jury of her peers because women couldn’t serve on juries. Nor was she able to eloquently make her own case to the all-male jury, because the judge ruled in favor of the prosecution when the District Attorney said that as a woman, “she is not competent as a witness in her own behalf.” Her conviction did not come after secret deliberations by an unbiased jury because Judge Ward Hunt, after hearing evidence, directed the jurors to find her guilty.
June 18, 2018 — “Donald Trump orders creation of independent space force” via Defense News — Trump’s executive order directing the Pentagon to create a new ”Space Force” was a move that could radically transform the U.S. military by pulling space functions variously owned by the Air Force, Navy and other military branches into a single independent service. “I am hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” Trump said during a meeting of the National Space Council.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Kelly Hayes, Ryan Nicol and Drew Wilson.