An international crime generated instability in the Caribbean, which could have a significant effect on Florida. The assassination early Wednesday of Haiti President Jovenel Moïse at his home has thrust the island into confusion about who even leads the government there.
“During a State Department briefing for a bipartisan group of lawmakers, we all insisted that the U.S. must provide support and assistance to the people of Haiti during this challenging time,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Hollywood Democrat. “There’s an eerie calm in Haiti since news of the assassination broke, and we fear it won’t last.”
Next in Haiti’s line of succession should be Haiti’s Supreme Court president, but René Sylvestre, the last to hold that office, died of COVID-19 on June 23. Prime Minister Claude Joseph stepped into an interim leadership role but did so after he was supposed to be replaced in his position by Ariel Henry. He’s declared the country under a two-week siege.
Officials arrested two South Florida men for a suspected role in the assassination.
Even before Moïse’s death, there had been calls for him to resign as the island continued to struggle with economic calamity, and he faced accusations of corruption. Many demanded he step down in February, claiming his term of office already ended, and he’s governed by decree most of this year.
Political disruption is nothing new to Haiti, which saw violent coups in 2004 and 1991. Located less than 700 miles from Florida, political tension in Haiti tends to have impacts here. The Migration Policy Institute estimates 100,000 Haitians immigrated to the U.S. since a 2010 earthquake, and half the Haitians in America live in Florida. Expect the population to grow if another exodus from the island occurs.
First Lady Martine Moïse was transported with gunshot injuries to a hospital in Miami for medical treatment. On a grander scale, Florida’s federal officials from both sides of the aisle have called for the White House to become involved in the island’s affairs with promptness.
During a @StateDept briefing for a bipartisan group of lawmakers, we all insisted that the US must provide support & assistance to the people of Haiti during this challenging time. There’s an eerie calm in Haiti since news of the assassination broke & we fear it won’t last. pic.twitter.com/MIaidWJbeY
— Rep Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) July 8, 2021
Wilson, who represents the largest Haitian-American population in the country, attended a briefing with the State Department on Wednesday. In the meeting, she says she “reiterated my support for appointing a special envoy to Haiti who could play a vital role in facilitating the deployment of key diplomatic resources.” She has also called on Joseph to engage with the U.S. in this turbulent time.
“I call upon Haiti’s acting prime minister to reach out to President [Joe] Biden for additional U.S. security enforcement,” she posted on social media. “I also urge the Haitian people to remain calm during this international crisis and come together to save their nation.”
Sen. Marco Rubio called for swift justice in the assassination. “The cold-blooded murder of the President of Haiti in his home, in the middle of the night, has all the signs of a carefully planned contract killing carried out by foreign mercenaries,” he wrote on Twitter. “Those behind this grotesque crime should be identified and brought to justice.” To some degree, that appeared to happen Wednesday evening when Haitian National Police killed four suspects and arrested two in the murder. However, it suggested the hunt is still on others involved.
The House Haiti Caucus, co-chaired by Rep. Val Demings, issued a joint statement calling for “swift and decisive action to bring political stability and peace to a nation in crisis.”
“We also call for full transparency and an independent investigation into this criminal act. We remain committed, more than ever, to working diligently alongside the Biden Administration in support of ushering in an equitable, inclusive Haitian-led democracy,” the statement continued. “One that reestablishes rule of law, reinforces institutions of Haitian-led governance, and centers the safety and human rights of every Haitian citizen.”
United at the rubble
The tragedy at a condo collapse in Surfside has wrenched the South Florida Community for more than two weeks. It also put Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in front of the press alongside President Biden for a rare moment of unity. The two elected executives discussed the disaster where 78 (so far) have been found dead in the rubble, and another 62 are still unaccounted for and presumed lost.
In a somber moment, both Biden and DeSantis sought to assure the state and federal government work in tandem to complete a search of the rubble.
“You know what’s good about this?” Biden said during a press briefing. “The way we’re cooperating. We live in a nation that we can cooperate.”
DeSantis praised how the administration has eliminated any bureaucratic barriers to support. “When we’re dealing with FEMA, we’re literally getting requests routed from local to state to federal in no time, and the approval is happening,” the Governor said.
It’s a given the elected officials won’t always be so cordial. DeSantis frequently has been suggested as a GOP candidate for President in 2024, when Biden is expected to seek reelection. Outside of emergencies, the two have criticized one another on policy grounds with frequency.
But while first responders sift through the rubble, any signs of partisanship remain buried.
Rubio also wants justice in another Caribbean death, that of Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá. It’s been nine years since the human rights advocate died in a mysterious car crash where surviving passengers say someone ran the vehicle off the road and into a tree. Activist Harold Cepero also died in the collision.
Rubio on Wednesday joined with Republican (and fellow Cuban American) Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin, Ben Cardin, Bob Menendez and Mark Warner in urging the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to complete an investigation of the crash that has lasted almost a decade.
“We hope the Commission’s unique role in such matters will help advance such an accounting and continue to stand ready to assist with this important matter,” reads a letter from the bipartisan group of Senators, written to the newly-appointed Commission Executive Secretary Tania Reneaum Panszi.
Payá, during his life, stood out as an early critic of Fidel Castro’s reign in Cuba and formed the Christian Liberation Movement in 1988 to promote democracy and lead nonviolent protests against the communist government.
Sen. Rick Scott led efforts pushing back on Biden’s budget, specifically the less-than-robust boost to military spending. The administration has called for a 1.7% increase in the Department of Defense budget, lower than the expected increase in costs expected from inflation.
Scott introduced a resolution, along with fellow GOP Sens. Roger Wicker, Tom Cotton and John Cornyn, condemning the proposal. He also released a statement that says Florida facilities could suffer specifically.
“Florida has 20 military bases and three unified commands, more than almost any other state,” Scott said. “We know how important our military readiness is to our national security. President Biden’s weak and inadequate defense spending proposal is dangerous and weakens our standing on the global stage, especially as our greatest adversary, Communist China, has increased its defense spending more than sevenfold over the last decade. We will not stand by and let our military might be diminished. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will always fight for our men and women in uniform, and I’m proud to stand with my colleagues today to do everything possible to protect and serve the families of our nation.”
And while the Senators come from a minority caucus (though a bare one in a 50-50 Senate), they offer reminders that lawmakers ultimately set spending. “Congress ultimately holds the power of the purse, and we will see to it that the military receives the resources it needs to stay ahead of our enemies,” said Wicker, a Mississippi Republican.
What started as a theory in the Trump World commentator-sphere now has a champion in Congress. Fort Walton Republican Matt Gaetz made news at Donald Trump’s July 3 rally in Sarasota, promising to nominate the former President for the House Speakership after the 2022 election.
“After the next election cycle when we take back the House of Representatives, when we send Nancy Pelosi back to the filth of San Francisco, my commitment to you is that my vote for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives will go to Donald J. Trump,” the Congressman told the crowd.
He later squabbled on Twitter with a Washington with a journalist who took issue with the Congressman’s contention the former President even wants to be the next Speaker of the House. Punchbowl News’ Jake Sherman tweeted about the Panhandle Republican fundraising on the “Speaker Trump” proposition, casting aspersions on the idea Trump even desires the gig.
Sherman wrote that Gaetz “is now fundraising on nominating Trump to become Speaker. A reminder: only one person needed to nominate someone for Speaker. Two hundred eighteen votes to become Speaker. Trump world says he doesn’t want to be Speaker. (Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy) does want to become Speaker.”
“Who is ‘Trump World?’” Gaetz blasted in response. “I talk to Trump directly, unlike Fruitpunch News.”
Things got more heated after Sherman called out to a secondary source in Trump’s orbit, quoting outgoing spox Jason Miller saying Trump has “zero desire” to be Speaker.
“Jason Miller is misinformed on this point. (Or, since he left, maybe he has his own agenda?) There is but one governing voice in Trump World: TRUMP! Even Kevin acknowledged that Trump wanted to be Speaker,” Gaetz responded.
Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson made the first step in securing $4.6 million for the Gadsden County W.S. Stevens High School Disaster Shelter. The Congressman said the money was budgeted by the Homeland Securities Appropriations and was among the member projects he requested this year with the return of earmarks. He will still need to usher the item through the full Appropriations Committee and negotiations with the Senate.
“The experience of recent years has made clear the critical importance of having disaster relief facilities in place to support communities during times of crisis and natural disaster,” Lawson said. “This funding will ensure that Gadsden County residents are adequately supported and sheltered when disaster strikes.”
Lawson announced the funding as Topical Storm Elsa threatened north Florida, including passing through parts of Florida’s 5th Congressional District. The storm ultimately delivered rain and caused minor wind damage, but the first death in Florida so far associated with the storm was in North Florida; a Jacksonville man was killed when a tree branch was blown into a vehicle.
The Gadsden County shelter will be able to serve 150 to 200 people. It will also be available to FEMA as a staging area and distribution of supplies and information on storm relief. The county has no stand-alone shelters.
Biden’s announcement Thursday that a 20-year presence in Afghanistan would end August 31 with America’s military withdrawal included what St. Augustine Beach Republican Mike Waltz wanted to hear:
The U.S. would provide visas for Afghan interpreters who’ve been aiding America for years, putting themselves in very likely danger in Afghanistan once America pulls out.
Waltz, an Army Green Beret who fought in Afghanistan, praised Biden’s pledge even while cautioning that it might be too late for some and implying that Biden is not telling the truth about interpreters.
“It is encouraging to see the Biden Administration finally begin to focus on evacuating Afghan interpreters from Afghanistan so they can be processed through the Special Immigration Visa program safely, but I fear time has run out,” Waltz declared in a news release.
“Thousands of Afghan interpreters and their families eagerly await their fate while the clock ticks. As the Taliban continue to gain strength and ground, they are hunting down those who stood with America in our fight against global terror,” he continued.
Waltz did not stop there. He questioned Biden’s assertion that about half the Afghans approved for the SIV program had declined.
That statement, he charged, “does not comport with what we are hearing on the ground.”
When Pelosi announced the first eight appointments to the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy landed one of the spots.
“I am honored to have been appointed to the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol, and I pledge to fulfill this solemn responsibility to the best of my ability,” she said. “My goal is simple and straightforward: to find the truth of what happened, and why it happened, so we can ensure that it never happens again. I will follow the facts wherever, and to whomever, they lead — without preconceived conclusions and through a strictly nonpartisan lens.”
So far, there are seven Democrats on the panel and one Republican, Wyoming’s Liz Cheney. But five spots remain, which will be filled by McCarthy in coordination with Pelosi’s office. At that point, more Florida members may make the cut, but Murphy is it for now.
Murphy said her background as a Vietnam War refugee saved by the U.S. military at sea instills strong patriotic values and a commitment to preserving democracy.
“When I was a baby, my family fled an authoritarian country,” she said. “We were rescued by the U.S. Navy and given refuge in America. I love this country beyond words. To see the citadel of American democracy assaulted is a reminder that our democracy is not self-sustaining. It needs to be preserved and protected by American patriots of every political stripe.”
Bettering the USMCA
Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan went to bat for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement in a new op-ed in The Hill.
“USMCA is a 21st century, high standard trade deal that will benefit American workers, businesses, and our economy,” the Congressman wrote.
The replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement has its dissenters in Florida, particularly related to agriculture. But Buchanan, as the top Republican on the House Trade Policy Subcommittee when the Trump administration negotiated the deal, remains confident the treaty will be good for the Sunshine State.
“Importantly, trade between the United States, Mexico, and Canada supports nearly $1.3 trillion in economic activity and more than 12 million American jobs,” he wrote. “And in my home state of Florida, we export more than $12 billion worth of goods and services to Canada and Mexico annually, supporting over 700,000 jobs.”
He said the modernizations of customs and trade would ultimately benefit agriculture and numerous other areas of U.S. international commerce. But he said the agreement can be bettered if Congress moves on additional legislation to protect U.S. producers.
“In order to build on the success of USMCA with other new and ambitions free trade agreements, we need to pass the next iteration of Trade Promotion Authority legislation,” he wrote, noting a prior TPA agreement just expired. “TPA provides for an open and transparent process that helps protect American jobs and companies while paving the way for bold new trade agreements.”
Ultimately, he said free trade would benefit all involved in business. “I know from experience the value that free trade has on the American economy,” he wrote.
Defend the police
As House Republicans amplify messaging on the Biden administration regarding law and order, Sarasota Republican Greg Steube will play a key role. House Minority Leader McCarthy named the Congressman to serve on one of 14 GOP task forces in the House, the American Security Task Force.
“Our country is in crisis,” Steube said. “Since President Biden has taken office, violent crime has surged, our southern border has been overwhelmed, and our country has faced unprecedented cyberattacks. I am honored to have the opportunity to serve alongside my Republican colleagues as we navigate solutions to these problems and work toward the goal of keeping American families safe for generations to come.”
Since this appointment, Steube has taken to social media to peg increases in crime rates in cities on local Democratic leadership. “There were over 450 acts of violence in liberal cities whose leaders backed the defund the police movement over the holiday weekend,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “150 people were killed. The numbers speak for themselves: less police = more violence.”
Notably, Steube’s father, Brad Steube, served for years as Manatee County Sheriff, giving the Congressman a background and credibility with law enforcement.
Voice against CRT
As critical race theory takes center stage in the national dialogue, Naples Republican Byron Donalds has enjoyed a more prominent national stage. One of just three Black Republicans in Congress, he’s been outspoken in criticism of the educational philosophy and supportive of efforts by GOP Governors, including DeSantis, to ban the subject in school curricula.
This week, he suggested in a Washington Times op-ed that any presentation of critical race theory proved problematic in dealing with mixed-race families, like his own.
“The essence of critical race theory would teach my three biracial children that I, their Black father, am oppressed by America’s history of White supremacy and that their mother, my wife, is my oppressor,” he wrote. “But, what does that mean for my children? Does half them qualify as oppressed, and the other half count as the oppressor? Unfortunately, the jury is still out on answering these obscure questions.”
He also ended up in a public tiff with Missouri Democrat Cori Bush after she posted in a since-deleted tweet: “When they say that the 4th of July is about American freedom, remember this: the freedom they’re referring to is for white people. This land is stolen land, and Black people still aren’t free.”
Donalds appeared on outlets like Fox News and Newsmax to counter that.
“Black people are FREE in America, Rep. Cori Bush,” he responded with his own tweet. “We live in the greatest nation in the world——Black people have accomplished more and achieved more wealth in the U.S. than any other country in the world. We should celebrate the birth of the greatest nation man has ever known!”
Miami-Dade Republicans are backing a bill to ensure COVID-19 vaccines shipped from the U.S. reach Taiwan and Latin American allies. Mario Díaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar pushed the legislation as a way to combat China’s vaccine diplomacy efforts.
“This important legislation helps to counter Communist China’s malevolent influence in our hemisphere, while simultaneously assisting our friends in the region and a close ally, Taiwan,” Díaz-Balart said.
“When Communist China provides vaccines, extends predatory loans, or invests in other countries, it typically does so in direct opposition to key U.S. interests and with significant strings attached. The United States must confront the expanding Communist China threat with an unyielding, determined, and comprehensive strategy.”
The legislation requires that at minimum, 25% of vaccines intended for international distribution are sent to Taiwan and Latin American allies. That requirement will remain in effect until those nations have reached a 40% vaccination rate.
The bill also blocks the shipment of vaccines to countries with documented human rights abuses.
“While vaccinating Americans continues to be our focal priority, Taiwan and our Latin American allies continue to be negatively impacted by COVID-19-related deaths and vaccine shortages. China has taken advantage of this reality by offering shipments of SINOVAC to several democratic countries in exchange for political favors, including renouncing any recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign nation,” Giménez said.
“As such, we must ensure Taiwan and Latin American countries are not persuaded into entering agreements proposed by our adversaries that could undermine the interest of the United States abroad. Advancing vaccine distribution in Taiwan and Latin America is critical in safeguarding our national security and protecting our strategic interests across the Western Hemisphere and in the Indo-Pacific.”
Reports have shown America lagging in the vaccine diplomacy race. Republicans have directed particular ire at China over concerns the coronavirus may have escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan. Those reports are unconfirmed, though Biden has said his administration would look into the theory.
“America must have a vaccine diplomacy strategy that prioritizes our friends who are in much need of the lifesaving vaccines,’ Salazar added.
“I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this bill to counter the perverse influence of the Chinese Communist Party that is trading vaccines for power across our region and the world.”
On this day
July 9, 2018 — “Trump names Brett Kavanaugh as nominee for next supreme court justice” via The Guardian — Trump has named Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, lighting the fuse of an acrimonious political battle and potentially setting the court on a more conservative course for decades to come. The selection of the federal appeals court judge was the cue for euphoria on the right and confirmed many progressive fears. If rubber-stamped by the Senate, it would represent one of the most consequential decisions of Trump’s presidency.
July 9, 1918 — “Congress creates the Distinguished Service Medal” via Code of Federal Regulations — It is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Army, has distinguished himself or herself by exceptionally meritorious service to the Government in a duty of great responsibility. The performance must be such as to merit recognition for service, which is clearly exceptional. Exceptional performance of normal duty will not alone justify an award of this decoration. For service not related to actual war, the term “duty of great responsibility” applies to a narrower range of positions than in time of war and requires evidence of conspicuously significant achievement.
Best wishes to Rep. Brian Mast, who turns 41 on Saturday, July 10.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by A.G. Gancarski, Ryan Nicol and Scott Powers.