Delegation for 7.13.21: Cuba — liberty — defunding police — statue en route — natural beauty

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
The fight for Cuban freedom heats up.


A search for the term Cuba on Twitter anytime in the past 48 hours delivered stunning images of protesters marching through the streets — of Havana, of Miami or Tampa, of smaller towns across the Caribbean island.

It also delivered Sen. Marco Rubio.

Florida’s senior Senator did more than weigh in on the potential for democratic revolution in his ancestral homeland. He presented a pointed play-by-play, cheering the marchers and decrying Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and the communist regime. He threatened individual accountability to government police and enforcers, labeling them ‘communist thugs.’ 

Thousands of Cubans march against an oppressive government; the U.S. stands ‘firmly’ behind them. Image via AP.

Sharing videos and pointed critiques, it immediately became clear whatever happens in the near future, the Miami Republican intends to be among the most critical voices on Cuban American relations in the world.

From the Senate floor, Rubio demanded President Joe Biden and his colleagues turn their attention to the nation where the Cuban American Senator’s parents were born.

“In 62 years of communist tyranny on the island of Cuba, we have never seen, there’s never been, what now is up to 40 cities in which people took to the streets organically, unorganized, grassroots, to ask for the end of that tyranny. And I think it’s important for a lot of people that are new to the issue to understand what that means and what it’s all about,” Rubio said.

“The first lesson we need to take away from it is that Marxism, socialism, doesn’t work. The way socialism, the way Marxism has always worked, the way it’s always empowered itself, is it goes to the people and immediately divides them. It says there is an oppressor class and that there is this victim class and these evil oppressors, capitalists, in the case of socialism or traditional Marxism, they oppress the victims … But socialism can’t deliver the security. And when it can’t deliver the security, you don’t get your freedom back. And in fact, when you start to complain about that, that is when the repression comes. That’s what’s happened in Cuba.”

Rubio, through the day, offered education on current events, explaining how the song Patria y Vida had sparked political passions so great the Cuban government banned it from being played. He offered sharp copy-edits on Biden’s statement of support of the Cuban people, daggering the President for failing to mention “communism” anywhere in the text. He presented a rapid response to Diaz-Canel’s assertions that U.S. policy explained the poverty and inadequate COVID-19 response by Cuba’s government more than any foundational failures of socialism.

The weight of the moment seemed not to burden the Senator so much as inspire his flex and deep awareness of the symbolic role he must play. A child of immigrants who left Cuba for American democracy, a prodigy of Miami’s Cuban American political community, one of 100 leaders in America’s most prestigious legislative body and boasting a future that may yet include leading the free world if the voters grant him the chance.

Unrest in the Latin American world has seemed more the norm in recent years, and often it’s stopped short of bringing the change lovers of democracy so lusted for. Coming days will reveal the outcomes of protests in Cuba. But there’s little chance Rubio’s voice will go unheard, a fact that in and of itself shows the access to the conversation afforded in America and hungered for on shores just 90 miles away.

To watch Rubio’s Senate speech, click on the image below:


As the world reacted to protests in the street against the communist government there, members of Florida’s delegation fell loosely into two groups, those who demand the U.S. put its full support behind the Cuban people and those who demand that be done more forcefully than has happened to date.

Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar, the three Cuban American members representing Florida in the House, issued a joint statement in English and Spanish to support those marching in the streets.

“Now more than ever, the United States and the international community must support the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom,” the statement reads. “The humanitarian crisis Cuba faces right now is yet another symptom of the incompetence and absolute cruelty of the Cuban tyranny. We know what freedom means for the Cuban people, and now, while the regime uses savage violence against the people peacefully demonstrating in the streets, the world has the obligation to stand with the brave Cuban people.”

Cuban Americans Mario Díaz-Balart, María Elvira Salazar and Carlos Giménez each called to support the Cuban people.

Democrats, too, spoke up in favor of a change in government.

I salute the brave protesters in Cuba who march for vaccines, march for food and powerfully march for freedom from tyranny and communism,” tweeted Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, again in both English and Spanish. “America stands with the people of Cuba.

Sen. Rick Scott, a Naples Republican, called the protesters “freedom fighters.” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic co-chair of the delegation, dissed Cuba’s leadership as a “repressive regime.”

Some Republicans certainly took the potential collapse of a communist nation as a chance to thrash the rise of democratic socialism within the U.S. “Democratic socialists want the U.S. to be more like Cuba, and supported protests and riots across OUR country,” tweeted Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican. “Their silence on the communist crackdown is deafening.

Indeed, some of the national figures on the left who have taken Florid heat before for expressing any empathy for the Fidel Castro-led days in Cuba, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or California Rep. Karen Bass, That may be as great a sign as any of the isolation of Cuban leadership today with no Castro at the helm and the prospects of this latest disruption bringing actual democratic change to the island.

That’s certainly the desire of Florida representatives from across the political spectrum.

“The voices of the Cuban people must be paramount. It is their nation’s future being decided. It is my hope that Cuba’s path will be one of democracy and inalienable human rights,” said Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat. “ … The Cuban people, like all people, deserve democracy, liberty, health, security, and prosperity. U.S. policy must support the protesters, their safety, and their right to self-determination.

Losing Venezuelans?

Will the Venezuelan leaders who helped put Scott in the Senate abandon the Naples Republican?

In the Orlando market, William Diaz, a Venezuelan American talk show host, expressed displeasure to POLITICO Huddle about the GOP direction on immigration. He said if Scott won’t back more legislative efforts to help Venezuelan immigrants to the U.S., then the registered Democrats might lobby support for other candidates in the next cycle.

That’s important because Diaz not only endorsed but cut ads and provided access through Spanish-language media to Florida’s significant Venezuelan American population. That played a critical role in Scott’s razor-thin victory in 2018 over incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, where he won by just 10,033 votes.

Scott has supported temporary protected status for Venezuelans fleeing the Nicolás Maduro regime and supported President Biden extending that protection. But when he and Utah Sen. Mike Lee blocked a floor vote on the matter because of insistence Democrats drop TPS authority for refugees from other countries, it left many blaming him for stopping legislative action.

As the domestic disagreement comes to light, meanwhile, political turmoil continues in Venezuela, where Maduro on Monday arrested opposition politician Freddy Guevera, an ally of Juan Guaidó, the former assembly leader the U.S. still recognizes as the world leader for the South American nation.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

No turning back

Matt Gaetz’s defiance tour continued at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas. The Fort Walton Beach Republican spoke at an event organized by Look Ahead America, which also hosted former delegation member and Texas gubernatorial candidate Allen West at the same gathering.

Gaetz took to the mic to declare the Republican Party forever changed by former President Donald Trump’s America First movement. “I’m telling you this, I’m not going back,” Gaetz said. “Not to the Romneys or the McCains or the Bushes.”

Matt Gaetz takes his grievance tour to CPAC (unofficially).

The substance of the speech seemed notable not only for trashing the three most recent GOP nominees for President pre-Trump — Mitt Romney, John McCain and President George W. Bush — but because Gaetz in 2016 initially backed former Florida Jeb Bush for the job.

Those days are gone. But it’s possible Gaetz’s welcome at CPAC has also expired. CPAC volunteers told Salon the speech by the Congressman, who remains under federal investigation for alleged sex trafficking of a minor, was not sanctioned.

Defunded police

Even though the branding was used to bludgeon Democrats in legislative contests in 2020, Orlando Democrat and former Police Chief Demings says it’s the actions of Senate Republicans that has literally defunded police in the nation’s Capitol With a budget issue over the Capitol Police languishing in Congress, the force will furlough cops this August. 

“Today’s news that the U.S. Capitol Police may have to begin furloughing officers is a shameful consequence of Senate Republicans blocking the security funding that we passed in May,” Demings said. 

Val Demings reminds us that Republicans are the ones who ‘defunded the police.’

“Every single Republican in Congress voted against this police funding, which was put forward to secure the Capitol after over 150 police officers were beaten and bloodied on Jan. 6 by insurgents seeking to overturn the election. Republicans in Congress turned their backs and shut their doors on the families of Capitol Police Officers who lost their lives in our defense. Congressional Republicans’ support of law enforcement is a sham, and their ‘law and order’ rhetoric is a thin pretense to cover up their belief that they and their friends are above the law.”

While Demings never mentioned Sen. Rubio in her extended statement, the political undertones are clear. She’s challenging the incumbent in 2022.

Florida’s Senate seat will be critical for Republicans to hold, with Sen. Scott chairing the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. Scott has made abundantly clear that standing up for police will be a major GOP talking point through the cycle.

But as a veteran of the uniform, Demings said she wouldn’t tolerate that argument.

“Why won’t all members of Congress support the police officers who put their lives on the line to protect us on Jan. 6th?” Demings said. “Why did 21 House Republicans vote against recognizing those officers for their unwavering courage and heroism with the Congressional Gold Medal? Why did Senate Republicans block an independent, bipartisan investigation into the funders, inciters, and organizers of the Jan. 6 attack? Why didn’t a single Republican support the $350 billion in funding we passed for local police departments and other first responders?

“The painful truth is, they use law enforcement as a political prop to disguise their contempt for equal protection under the law for every American. To my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, you may not be there for them, but if you need them today, the United States Capitol Police will be there for you. America deserves better, and the Capitol Police deserve better.”

Bethune en route

A statue of Mary McLeod Bethune started its international sojourn to the U.S. Capitol.

Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor’s office announced the sculpture is beginning its journey from Pietrasanta, Italy, to National Statuary Hall. The Congresswoman attended a ceremony overseas with master sculptor Nilda Comas, who crafted the statue. Also with her, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry and a group of Florida leaders, including many connected to the Bethune-Cookman University, the Daytona Beach institution founded by Bethune.

Mary McLeod Bethune is ready for her journey to Capitol Hill. Image via Kathy Castor’s Office.

The new statue will be one of two representing Floridian historical figures in the hall in Washington, D.C.

“The citizens of the State of Florida can take great pride in being represented by the great educator and civil rights icon, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune,” Castor said. “Her legacy and the sculpture will provide a symbol of unity, hope and reconciliation in a state and a country that continues to grapple with racial justice and equal rights for all. My heart swelled with pride as we unveiled the iconic statue of Dr. Bethune in front of Pietrasanta City Hall with music, a blessing, and inspirational speeches paying tribute to Dr. Bethune’s legacy.”

The Florida Legislature voted in 2018 to commission the statue to replace one of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. It’s unclear what happens to the Smith statue as Lake County leaders recently said they no longer want it to display at a Tavares museum.

Bethune will be the first Black American represented by a statue in National Statuary Hall. Comas, who splits time in Fort Lauderdale and Italy, will be the first Hispanic female artist to create a figure on display in the federal institution.

Wild and Scenic

Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan wants the Little Manatee River treated as the national treasure it is. He reintroduced legislation to have the National Park Service designate the waterway as a Wild and Scenic River.

“Protecting Florida’s beautiful lands and pristine waterways should always be a top priority,” said Buchanan. “Southwest Florida is blessed with many natural treasures, including Sarasota Bay, Emerson Point Preserve and Myakka River State Park. Designating the Little Manatee River as ‘scenic’ will ensure that it is kept in its current pristine condition for future generations to enjoy.”

Vern Buchanan wants the Little Manatee River to get recognition as a national treasure. Image via Florida State Parks.

Should Buchanan’s bill become law, it means there will be no intrusive development allowed along the waterway, which will instead be reserved for recreational activity, including boating and fishing.

Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto, who is championing a similar designation for the Kissimmee River, serves as an original co-sponsor on the legislation, bringing a rush of bipartisanship. Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh and Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White, both Republicans, offered their support for the bill.

Only two Florida rivers, the Loxahatchee and Wekiva, enjoy the federal designation to date. 

Filibuster beef

Leaked video of a Republican organizing meeting sparked a brief beef last week between Naples Republican Byron Donalds and New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A clip, first published on Twitter Friday by The Undercurrent founder Lauren Windsor Friday and already viewed more than 2.7 million times, showed the Florida Congressman discussing how to turn internal Democratic squabbling into fuel for obstruction.

“I like it when AOC is going after Joe Manchin,” Donalds told GOP activists. “Like, this is great for me … It makes my job easier as a conservative because, you know, I can go to Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema and be like, ‘Hey guys, you know I’m really sorry you’re having to go through that. That’s just a shame. Nobody should be treated like this. I just really thank you for standing for the country.’”

Donalds referenced the Democratic Senators from Arizona and West Virginia who have most adamantly defended the filibuster, which many progressives say has so far prohibited reforms on voting access, LGBTQ rights, and other Democratic priorities from moving forward. Ocasio-Cortez specifically called out Manchin for his defense of the Senate procedure and accused him of prioritizing the needs of center-right groups.

Donalds said that’s good news because it stops “the worst things that the left wants to do” from becoming law.

But Ocasio-Cortez, who arrived in Congress by defeating a high-ranking Democrat running from his left, didn’t appreciate being used as a foil by Donalds.

“Ah, Washington: where Republicans feel it’s normal to call me a ‘f — ing b — ‘ and stalk me at work,” she tweeted, “but when I calmly fact-check a Sen’s a historic, specious arguments upholding an unjust loophole it’s ‘I’m so sorry she’s doing that to you man, no one should have to go through that.’”

HUD hire

The Department of Housing and Urban Development tapped Alan Williams, a former member of the Florida House of Representatives, for a critical post.

Williams was named deputy assistant secretary for Intergovernmental Relations, Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations.

Alan Williams is heading to D.C. for a federal gig. Image via Florida House.

It is not every day that you get to answer the call to serve your country,” Williams said. “I am truly honored to have the trust and confidence of both President Biden and HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge to assist in carrying out the mission and the administration’s vision as it relates to housing policy in the United States.”

The Tallahassee Democrat was among 19 staff appointments announced.

Williams served in the Legislature from 2008 to 2016, at which point he was term-limited. During his time in the House, he chaired the Florida Legislative Black Caucus and worked as House Democratic Whip from 2012 to 2016.

He later ran unsuccessfully for Leon County Supervisor of Elections. He’s worked since 2017 as a government relations consultant for Meenan Regulatory and Legislative Attorneys.

During his political career, Williams has served as the Secretary of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, a member of the White House Legislators Working Group on Middle-Class Economics. The National Black Caucus of State Legislators in 2014 named Williams as the National Legislator of the Year.

Murphy staff change

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy’s longtime communications director Jonathan Uriarte has moved to the other chamber to become Hispanic media director for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats.

Murphy promoted MacKensie Kvalvik to replace Uriarte as communications director. She came into Murphy’s office in Jan. as press secretary/digital director.

In staff moves at Stephanie Murphy’s office, MacKensie Kvalvik moves up. Image via Facebook.

“We were sad to see Jonathan go but excited for his next adventure,” Kvalvik said.

Becker brings Berardini

Law and lobbying firm Becker welcomed Chris Berardini to its federal lobbying practice this week.

Berardini comes to the firm from Iron Bridge Strategies, a boutique government affairs and political intel firm he founded. Before that, Berardini spent 13 years working as a Chief of Staff in Congress, including New York Republican Michael Grimm and South Carolina Republican Henry E. Brown.

During his tenure in the Capitol, he gained experience in foreign affairs, financial services, fintech, insurance, housing, tax, international trade, energy and environment, appropriations, commerce, transportation and infrastructure, agriculture and organized labor. 

Chris Berardini heads to the Becker D.C. team.

“We are very excited that Chris has joined our team. We know that our clients will greatly benefit from his international, legislative, and corporate experience,” said Omar Franco, head of Becker’s federal lobbying practice.

Berardini played a crucial role in the passage of The Terrorism Risk Insurance Act Reauthorization Act, The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, and The Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Act.

Following Hurricane Sandy, Berardini worked with the New York and New Jersey congressional delegations to pass the 2013 Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, which secured over $50 billion in disaster aid for coastal communities in those states.

“I am proud to become a part of Becker’s lobbying practice, which has a strong reputation. I know I can contribute and collaborate with Becker’s group of top-tier, skilled lobbyists who have served at high levels of federal government,” Berardini said.

On this day

July 13, 2013 — “Hashtag #BlackLivesMatter first appears, sparking a movement” — Outraged and saddened after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the Florida man who killed a Black teenager in 2012, Oakland, California resident Alicia Garza posted a message on Facebook. Her post contained the phrase “Black lives matter,” which soon became a rallying cry and a movement throughout the United States and worldwide. Garza said she felt “a deep sense of grief” after Zimmerman was acquitted. She was further saddened to note that many people appeared to blame the victim, Trayvon Martin, and not the “disease” of racism.

July 13, 1960 — “John F. Kennedy secures Democratic nomination for President” via The Nation — Sen. Kennedy, his family, his friends, and his superb organization have scored a resounding triumph in Los Angeles where, despite the smog, you can still see Catalina Island on a clear day. The Senator is an excellent campaigner, his attractive family constitutes a distinct political asset, and his organization is a thing to marvel at. But while the Kennedys have scored a personal family triumph, they have also filled an enormous leadership vacuum in the Democratic Party. The house was not vacant, but it was not defended; the Kennedys, all of them, led by Jack and Bobby, simply moved in and took over.


Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Scott Powers and Drew Wilson.

Staff Reports

One comment


    July 13, 2021 at 3:30 pm

    Your coverage is admirable. Cuban street presence is an iconic democratic happening. Responding to the turmoil is Playwright/drama therapist/Dr. Larry Myers who dedicates a Living Theater influenced stage piece to his late frien, Cuban Playwright Marie Irene Fornes. Renowned dramatist & lover of Susan Sontag, Fornes was on bills with Myers at Theater for the New City. Myers own contribution to theater history is service/learning theater. His “Santeria Street Theater” is a response to mayhem & expressiveness of the new Cuban rebellions.

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