Eyes on Surfside
The collapse of a condominium building in South Florida pulled attention from federal officials. As of Friday morning, there were 159 individuals unaccounted and feared to be in the rubble of Champlain Towers South after a wing of the 12-story condominium pancaked to the ground early Thursday.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents the community, posted updates on Facebook as they came in. She told CNN’s Anderson Cooper the disaster was “bizarre” and “unbelievable.” Until a search and rescue is complete, she said authorities can’t begin to explore the cause of the building’s collapse but that the federal government will seek those answers out. Meanwhile, her office is connecting family members with proper channels for support.
“My staff and I are working with local officials and the Biden White House to bring federal resources to those impacted by this tragedy and make sure a whole-of-government effort is fully underway,” she wrote on Facebook.
To watch a video of the Surfside collapse that was captured by surveillance video, click on the image below:
Sen. Marco Rubio, like Wasserman Schulz, traveled to Surfside and be seen alongside Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava in briefings about the disaster. His nearby office served as a Family Reunification Center for families, though one where people have ended up waiting distressingly long periods for news. At this point, four have been confirmed dead, dozens have been pulled from the rubble alive, and information remains uncertain for a great many more.
“Horrible images emerging the partial collapse of a condo building in Surfside, Florida last night,” Rubio, a Miami Republican, wrote on Twitter. “Miami-Dade Fire Rescue has one of the best urban search and rescue teams in the world, and they have been on the scene for hours searching for victims and survivors.”
“The Governor is going to have to — they’re down there inspecting what they think is needed. But I’m waiting for the Governor to ask or to declare an emergency. Especially as we learn more about what might happen with the rest of the building,” Biden said midday. The request ultimately did come.
Other South Florida members continued to offer support for their communities and those impacted directly.
Rep. María Elvira Salazar, a Miami Republican, wrote, “This is truly devastating. My prayers are with all of the families and our brave Miami Beach Police and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue who are fighting around the clock to save lives.” She followed with a similar tweet in Spanish.
Elsewhere within the delegation, Rep. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, said Congress needs to turn its attention to also getting answers. “I’m heartbroken over the tragic collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo — where many are still unaccounted for,” he said. “As brave first responders race against time to save lives, we need a full, thorough, and transparent investigation to get to the bottom of how this happened, and quickly.”
West Point CRT
A push by a pair of Florida Congressmen on the teaching of critical race theory in military academies led to an aggressive, viral response from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley. While testifying to the House Armed Services Committee, the decorated Army leader testified why the institutions shouldn’t censor unpopular schools of thought.
“I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read,” he said. “The United States Military Academy is a university, and it is important that we train and we understand.”
Please stop for a moment and watch this, with the sound on. Share with others. An unflinching rebuttal to all those who are politicizing studies of race and injustice courtesy of Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) June 23, 2021
The exchange followed up questions by Rep. Michael Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican and committee member. He submitted a letter from the head of West Point Academy that countered a statement from Milley initially suggesting no military academy taught critical race theory.
“There is one course that has this theory as part of the syllabus; there are two lessons on critical Race Theory, there is a book on Critical Race Theory entitled ‘Critical Race Theory: An Introduction,’” Waltz said.
“I want to emphasize this isn’t something we’re raising. This came to me from cadets, from families, from soldiers with their alarm and their concern at how divisive this type of teaching is, that is rooted in Marxism, that classified people along class lines, an entire race of people as oppressor and oppressed. I cannot think of anything more divisive and more destructive.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican who also serves on the committee, characterized the exchange as exposing the academy for teaching a theory after initially expressing no knowledge of its place in the curriculum.
“Our military leadership denied teaching Critical Race Theory,” Gaetz tweeted, “right before admitting to teaching Critical Race Theory … and then defending Critical Race Theory. Now, we must legislatively prohibit CRT to protect our service members from this hate.”
Waltz was troubled by a seminar presented on “Whiteness and White rage” attended by more than 100 cadets. But there, Milley addressed concern head-on.
After noting he and Waltz both served as Green Berets, the general challenged the assertion that any philosophy was too controversial to explore in an academic setting. He turned the discussion toward the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, where former President Donald Trump supporters stormed the building to disrupt certification of President Biden’s electoral victory in November.
“I want to understand White rage, and I’m White,” he said. “What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America? What caused that? I want to find it out.” He also said learning about any historical theory won’t turn students into adherents of a philosophy any more than reading Vladimir Lenin or Karl Marx turns one into a socialist.
Scamming veterans is a special type of crime, and Sen. Rubio wants Congress to recognize that. Florida’s senior Senator reintroduced the Preventing Crimes Against Veterans Act (S 2141), which would create a federal law explicitly outlawing defrauding individuals of their veterans’ benefits. Individuals convicted could face fines or prison time for as long as five years.
“It is unacceptable and sickening for scammers to rip off the men and women who served our country,” Rubio said. “We need to crack down on these despicable criminals who prey on our veterans and their hard-earned VA benefits.”
Rubio represents a substantial number of veterans among his constituency. The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs estimates more than 1.5 million vets call the Sunshine State home, the third-highest number in the country behind only California and Texas — and the individuals make up a higher percentage of the population here than either of those states.
A companion bill was introduced in the House by Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch and Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick.
Waiting for Guaidó
Members of Florida’s delegation from both sides of the aisle personally met this week with Juan Guaidó. The Venezuelan opposition leader, recognized by the U.S. since 2019 as interim president of the South American country, arrived in Washington, D.C., with a delegation of his own.
Sen. Rick Scott described a meeting with the “interim government of Venezuela,” even though President Nicolás Maduro remains uninterested in stepping aside.
“Nicolas Maduro is a dictator that is committing genocide in Venezuela. The only thing we have to negotiate with Maduro and his thugs is when and how they are stepping down from power,” Scott said.
“I met with the Venezuelan Delegation of interim President Juan Guaidó to discuss a path forward away from Maduro’s dictatorship and achieve a democratic and peaceful transition of power. We can never let up in the fight for freedom and democracy in Venezuela, and we cannot go back to the Obama-Biden appeasement policies, that only empower the dictatorship. All of my efforts will continue to focus on ending Maduro’s regime, protecting human rights, and helping the Venezuelan people achieve freedom and democracy.”
The group visiting from the South America nation included Ambassador Carlos Vecchio, opposition leader Leopoldo López, Congresswoman Nora Bracho and Congressman Luis Emilio Rondón Hernández.
House members also sat down with Guaidó’s team. Weston Democrat Wasserman Schultz shared a picture of a meeting with the Venezuela Democracy Caucus, a group she launched in 2019 with Hialeah Republican Mario Diaz-Balart. St. Petersburg Democrat Crist attended the meeting as well.
“The Venezuela Democracy Caucus had a productive meeting today with Amb. Carlos Vecchio and members of President Juan Guaido’s Interim Government,” Wasserman Schulz wrote on Facebook. “We are united in our commitment to free and fair elections for the people of Venezuela! It was an honor to finally meet Leopoldo Lopez, who was imprisoned by the Maduro regime on fabricated charges and is finally free.
“Algún día espero ver a Venezuela, libre y democrática!” she closed, which translates to “One day I hope to see Venezuela, free and democratic!”
Guaidó previously led the National Assembly in Venezuela, but lost control in December after an election Maduro called, and the opposition boycotted.
Fort Walton Beach Republican Gaetz demanded that Twitter release evidence he believes will provide the tech giant allowed Democrats to censor Republicans. In a letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the Congressman cited a lawsuit from conservative social media user Rogan O’Handley that alleges such “collusion.”
“It is alleged that in the months leading up to the 2020 election and in the months following it, Twitter and the California Office of Election Cybersecurity operated as an Orwellian Ministry of Truth, collaborating to censor and remove tweets from Republicans deemed by the office to be at odds with the talking points of the Democratic Party,” Gaetz wrote. “Along with millions of Americans, I am deeply concerned that collusion between the gatekeepers of information and the Democrat political machine threatens our election integrity and undermines our democracy.”
O’Handley, who posts stories and memes about liberal celebrities and politicians on the Instagram account dc_draino, filed his complaint against former California Secretary of State-turned-Sen. Alex Padilla. Since then, Gaetz has talked with right-wing outlets about emails included as evidence in the case the office would report his tweets on an account with the same name as violating Twitter terms, and Twitter took them down.
In one complaint sent to Twitter, according to documents filed by O’Handey’s legal team, a message from the Secretary of State’s office accused O’Handley of spreading “disinformation and distrust” by wrongly saying the state never audits votes. The tweets in question were taken down.
Remembering a SEAL
A Navy SEAL who gave all could soon be honored with the renaming of a Veterans Affairs clinic. Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack led Florida’s entire House delegation in sponsoring legislation (HR 1960) designating a Middleburg facility as the A.K. Baker VA Clinic, named for Antisubmarine Warfare Chief Andrew Kenneth Baker.
The soldier died in 1997 during a SEAL training event in which the H-60 Seahawk he was aboard crashed into the sea near Cape Hatteras. Three of the four who perished in the crash were Florida service members.
“It’s very special to be able to introduce this bill as one of my first legislative initiatives during the 117th Congress,” said Cammack. “I’ve come to know Ms. Tina Baker, Andrew’s widow, well over the last decade, and it’s my honor to recognize her husband’s distinguished legacy by enshrining his name on a community resource that has become a seminal part of the Middleburg area.”
Sens. Rubio and Scott sponsored a companion bill in the upper chamber.
“The new VA clinic in Clay County will be instrumental in providing quality care to our veterans who have dedicated their lives to serve, like Chief Petty Officer Baker,” Rubio said.
“Chief Baker served as a search and rescue swimmer, helping train hundreds of service members before his passing in a tragic training accident,” Scott added. “This designation will pay tribute to his incredible service.”
Cammack, who represents Middleburg, said having the local hero’s name on the walls of a clinic in his hometown seems a fitting tribute. “The clinic is a tremendous beacon for our veterans’ community, offering lab work, primary care, telehealth services, and mental health counseling,” she said. “I can think of no better way to honor Chief Baker and his family than to ensure he will always be remembered.”
Who run the world
St. Augustine Republican Waltz and West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel joined forces to keep school doors open to girls worldwide. The two reintroduced the Keeping Girls in School Act, which would direct the U.S. Agency for International Development to address barriers young girls face accessing secondary education in other nations.
Frankel, who has carried the bill in prior congresses as well, said it’s crucial to commit to this effort in the wake of school closures amid the pandemic.
“When girls are educated, their futures are brighter. This means greater prosperity and security for their families, communities, and the world,” Frankel said. “11 million girls are at risk of never returning to school around the world right now, which means there are 11 million reasons that we need to care about this issue. This bill will tackle the barriers keeping girls out of school, and help build a more peaceful, prosperous, and equitable world.”
Waltz said maintaining equality in education will make the world a safer place.
“As a Green Beret who has operated all over the world, I have seen firsthand that in societies where women thrive, extremism doesn’t,” Waltz said. “Adolescent girls are disproportionately at risk of dropping out of school than boys. The Keeping Girls in School Act will help ensure girls can safely access the proper education they deserve. Girls’ education is essential to our national security, and this legislation will help make the United States and the world safer places.”
The legislation would mandate a strategy to strengthen U.S. investment globally in teaching skills and improving professional capacities for adolescent females the world over.
Delegation chair Vern Buchanan doesn’t want a trade moratorium to hurt America’s small businesses. The Sarasota Republican, along with House Ways and Means Committee Ranking Republican Kevin Brady of Texas, introduced the Trade Preferences and American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act to protect domestic businesses.
The move comes as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement swings into full effect. Buchanan served as the House’s trade liaison to the White House when the Trump Administration negotiated that deal, replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Congressman remains bullish about the USMCA’s future. But he said we must take careful steps, so America’s businesses don’t end up hurt by unfair practices, on this continent or anywhere in the world.
The legislation he and Brady introduced reauthorizes two programs, the Generalized System of Preferences and the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill, and extends the American Manufacturing Competitiveness Act.
“American workers and businesses are in a race against China’s manufacturing infrastructure,” Buchanan said. “The Generalized System of Preferences and Miscellaneous Tariff Bill are two of the best tools we have to maintain our economy’s competitive edge and help us remain a global leader on trade. As our economy slowly recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, reauthorizing these valuable programs will put American workers and businesses first, encouraging growth and job creation.”
While both sponsors behind the new bill serve in the minority on the Ways and Means Committee, they said the ideas within the bill must be considered.
“House Democrats’ ideological go-it-alone approach has already cost American businesses more than $450 million in duties at a time when they already face a severe worker shortage, higher production costs, and the prospect of crippling tax hikes,” Brady said. “Given strong Senate support, let’s work together to build on the bipartisan agreements in this bill.”
Stuart Republican Brian Mast brought a toxic stir to a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing. Specifically, he brought a mason jar of slimy water from Lake Okeechobee, which he briefly promised to open for all in the room to inhale.
“I don’t take anything more serious than the safety of people in my community and my brothers and sisters in arms,” said Mast, as he showed a picture taken last weekend of cyanobacteria built up at the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam.
That water on Monday tested 127 parts per billion of Myocystin, about 15 times the threshold where the Environmental Protection Agency says it’s too toxic to ingest. Mast expressed dismay there’s no readily available EPA data on when the toxins released in the air by harmful algae are too dangerous to breathe. The University of Florida has conducted its studies that say blue-green algae threatens anyone breathing air within 10 miles.
Mast said the algae present a risk to the Army Corps of Engineers at the lock and any residents living downriver during discharges.
While pressing Army Corps leadership on the risk it posed, Mast asked if anyone objected to having his jar opened at the committee hearing. Those on the Zoom call said that was fine, but a colleague in the room voiced a protest.
“That means about to open that toxic algae, and we’re within 10 feet here,” said California Democrat John Garamendi. “Stop it, Mr. Mast.”
“My people have to breathe this every day,” Mast quipped back. But ultimately, the military veteran said he couldn’t unscrew the jar.
“We appreciate whoever closed it and sealed it,” Garamendi said.
American Music Fairness Act
American musicians say it’s time for some R-E-S-P-E-C-T from FM radio stations, as new legislation will require large stations to pay royalties to artists when their songs are played.
Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch is behind the bill, dubbed the American Music Fairness Act.
“We all deserve to get paid for the work that we do,” Deutch said at a Thursday presser announcing the bill. “But this fundamental principle in our country has not applied to recording artists when their songs are played on FM radio.”
Thursday, Deutch and California Republican Darrell Issa, co-sponsor for the bipartisan measure, appeared alongside music legends such as Dionne Warwick and Sam Moore of Sam & Dave to help advocate for the bill as it was introduced.
“The introduction is wonderful. I’m very happy about it. But we’ve got to keep going,” Moore said. “Pay us please.”
Deutch and Issa say the U.S. Copyright Office would be responsible for determining the proper royalty rates for artists. The measure aims to target the most prominent companies with hundreds or thousands across the country and contains exemptions for smaller stations, such as college stations.
“The status quo is deeply unfair. There is no possible way of saying that what we have now, the current system, is fair to American artists,” Deutch said.
“Radio pays the DJs. Radio pays talk radio hosts. Radio pays sound engineers. It’s only the performers who don’t get paid. That’s the problem that we’re trying to address today.”
Satellite radio stations and streaming services must pay per-play fees to artists, though they’re often small. Deutch said FM radio stations should face the same rules, especially in light of the effect of COVID-19 on the music industry.
“How can we look at music creators who have struggled through the pandemic, with the closure of venues and studios, and tell them that they don’t deserve to get paid for their work? These are brilliant people who add so much to our lives, especially during the pandemic when we counted on them so often to help us get through these really challenging times,” Deutch added.
“It is time for Congress finally to tell musicians that we will end this unfair deal that has been forced upon them.”
On this day
June 25, 1868 — “Florida readmitted to the United States” via Florida Memory — The Union victory in the Civil War ended slavery in the United States. The Union military occupied the Southern states until they complied with Congress’ requirements for readmission to the U.S. To rejoin the Union, Florida had to register all of its eligible voters, including Blacks, and approve a new state constitution that acknowledged the end of slavery and the right to equal protection under the law without regard to race or color. Thousands of African-American men voted in Florida for the first time and participated in the state’s political system. Josiah Thomas Walls became Florida’s first Black Congressman, taking office in 1871.
June 25, 1941 — “Franklin Roosevelt bars racial discrimination in military” via The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History — Almost six months before the United States enters into World War II, Roosevelt signed into law Executive Order 8802, prohibiting racial discrimination by government defense contractors. The order, which required defense contracts to include a “provision obliging contractors not to discriminate against any worker regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin,” was challenged in January 1942, when a U.S. merchant ship refused to take on 25 African American sailors. Roosevelt responded with a strongly worded letter stating that “questions of race, creed and color have no place in determining who are to man our ships.”
Delegation will be off until Friday, July 9.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Ryan Nicol.