Delegation for 7.20.21: Dreamers — Cuban boat lift? — bye Gitmo — save the whales — money race

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From Cuba to Dreamers, immigration moves front and center this week.

Florida foreign policy

From a visit to the border to a ruling against Dreamers, immigration issues dominated headlines in Florida media this weekend. Combined with a bevy of developments in Caribbean nations, which could spur more to come to Florida from abroad whether granted permission or not, it seems all border security and immigration status matters could play a significant role in policy and politics for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps most consequential for sitting delegation members, a federal judge in Texas ruled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program illegal and said it inflicts hardship on states. The Barack Obama era program withstood a challenge by the Donald Trump administration last year in front of the Supreme Court, but on a 5-4 ruling. Since then, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and Donald Trump-nominated Justice Amy Coney Barrett took her place on the bench.

From Cuba to Dreamers, immigration moves front and center this week.

The latest ruling won’t impact the 826,000 individuals accepted into the DACA program already, including the 170,000-plus Dreamers living in Florida. But if the high court upholds the latest ruling, it will take an act of Congress to accept any further participants. Some members already made clear they want a permanent solution enshrined in statute.

“Immigrants make our country stronger, not weaker,” said Rep. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat. “They are our friends, neighbors and colleagues, with many DACA recipients only ever knowing America as their home. Barring future applicants is a mistake and misaligned with the values our country was founded on — hope and opportunity. Congress should respond to this misguided ruling by passing immigration in the upcoming reconciliation bill.”

One person yet to weigh in is Sen. Marco Rubio. The Miami Republican rather infamously worked with the Gang of Eight on a path to citizenship, only to abandon the effort amid uproar on the right. While he hasn’t commented on the recent ruling, the Senator made clear last year he thinks Congress needs to pass legislation rather than setting immigration policy by executive fiat.

“There’s a lot of support for doing something for these young people,” he said after last year’s Supreme Court decision. “Everyone knows what it would require, and that is doing something pretty expansive and generous on DACA in addition to a real enduring commitment to border security.”

Which brings up the border with Mexico. Gov. Ron DeSantis made an official trip to Texas, where he earlier this year dispatched Florida law enforcement to stop illegal crossings. During his visit to the Lone Star State, DeSantis said Florida has a more direct interest in securing the Mexico border than may be obvious looking at a map.

“Seventy percent of the people they have interdicted said their ultimate destination is the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “This is something that every time there’s a wave across that border, I’m not saying it’s 70% in every single part of the border, but for here, it’s the majority.”

However, it’s hard to ignore the different stance many Florida pols take regarding immigration from nations much closer to Florida. There was bipartisan support for temporary protected status being extended by President Joe Biden for displaced Haitians. That could become a hot-button issue again as turmoil grips the island in the wake of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

That’s to say nothing of unrest in Cuba, where the government this week pushed back more assertively against protests. Regardless of whether pro-democracy forces or the status quo prevails there, it seems likely there will be an increase in migration to the U.S. from a nation 50 miles from Key West, and rules on the welcoming of refugees from that island have changed dramatically as U.S. policy on normalization of relations shifted with administrations.

At least for the moment, Florida politics extends well beyond the shore.

Avoiding a Mariel

In a Spanish-language op-ed published by Diario Las Americas, Sen. Rubio said the unrest in Cuba must not result in a repeat of the Mariel Boatlift.

Florida’s senior Senator beats up the administration, particularly State department officials who attributed the protests solely to rising COVID-19 infections and a shortage of medical supplies.

“The administration can correct this error,” Rubio wrote, “first, by unequivocally conveying that mass migration will not be allowed to occur, like what we saw during Mariel in 1980, and that any such action will be treated as hostile.”

The Senator said it’s also essential the U.S. not provide refuge to any individuals involved in the ongoing repression of the Cuban people now.

Marco Rubio fears the return of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift. Image via History.com.

The boatlift took place when the late Cuban President Fidel Castro encouraged an exodus of dissidents by boarding them on boats at the port of Mariel. About 125,000 Marielitos left Cuba on 1,700 vessels and landed in Florida shortly afterward.

Rubio said the administration must help people on the island access internet and vaccines to avoid such a refugee crisis — but should deliver help without the Cuban government. “Food and vaccines must be administered by an independent, trustworthy, nonprofit organization or by a mission led by the Organization of American States,” Rubio said. “This is a safeguard to ensure that the regime does not steal the assistance or use it to continue exploiting the people.”

Above all, Rubio said Biden should hear Cuban Americans protesting in the streets about the communist regime and heed that cry over any who downplay the role of communism in the current turmoil.

“The White House must have heard the clamor of Cubans living in Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, Cape Coral, Tampa and many other cities in the United States,” he wrote. “What the Cuban people really want is freedom to live a normal life in the country they call home. They wonder if Cubans — like my own parents — can move abroad and achieve their aspirations, why can’t they do it in their own country?”

Leaving Guantánamo

The Biden administration’s decision to send a Guantánamo Bay detainee back to his homeland of Morocco drew instant rebuke from Sen. Rick Scott. The Naples Republican said it’s ironic Biden will help a suspected terrorist out of Cuba before offering material support to protesters there.

“Hey, President Biden … this isn’t the part of Cuba we were talking about,” Scott tweeted in English and Spanish. “We demand freedom for the Cuban people, not the terrorists.”

Abdul Latif Nasser is one of the first to be released from Gitmo. Image via AP.

The prisoner, Abdul Latif Nasser, had actually been cleared for repatriation during the Obama administration. Still, the Trump administration ended the policy of reviewing the necessity of detaining those at Guantánamo.

The State Department said the move to release Nasser into the custody of the Moroccan government had been carefully considered.

“The administration is dedicated to following a deliberate and thorough process focused on responsibly reducing the detainee population of the Guantánamo facility while also safeguarding the security of the United States and its allies,” reads a statement. “Morocco’s leadership in facilitating Nasir’s repatriation, alongside its past willingness to return its foreign terrorist fighters from northeast Syria, should encourage other nations to repatriate their citizens who have traveled to fight for terrorist organizations abroad.”

Save the whales

Saving the whales may sound like a cause from the 1980s, but Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford and Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy say the mission isn’t done. The two joined forces in a new effort to fund research and restore the North Atlantic’s right whale population.

The House members introduced the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered (SAVE) Right Whales Act.

Also known as black whales, the sea creatures have seen numbers dwindle to the point only 400 now live in the wild. Only 41 calves were born since 2017.

John Rutherford and Stephanie Murphy join forces to help save the whales.

“The North Atlantic right whale is in desperate need of our help,” Rutherford said. “With their calving grounds right off the First Coast, this legislation seeks to prevent another tragedy of a right whale washing up on our shores. I’m encouraged by the widespread support this bill has received in the past and I’m thankful to Rep. Murphy for joining me as we work together to rescue the North Atlantic right whale from extinction.”

Murphy said the species simply needs more protection.

“The North Atlantic right whale is critically endangered, with less than 400 left as a result of fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes,” Murphy said. “Floridians pride ourselves on our diverse wildlife, and these whales can often be seen off the coast of our state with their young. I’m proud to join Congressman Rutherford in this bipartisan effort to protect these majestic creatures.”

One more time

Add Crist to the bipartisan list of Florida Congress members going crazy about Britney Spears’ legal rights.

The St. Petersburg Democrat today introduced new legislation, along with South Carolina Republican Nancy Mace, that aims to provide legal remedies for victims of abusive conservatorships and guardianships. The Representatives participated in a news conference with Rick Black of the Center for Estate Administration Reform and Cassandra Dumas from Free Britney America.

Spears’ current financial situation — her father, Jamie Spears, makes all financial decisions for her, but she’s gone to court to challenge that — has created a circus around the issue, likely drawing greater attention to the subject than any expose on the defrauding of senior citizens.

Charlie Crist enters the ‘Free Britney’ fray. Image via AP.

In truth, Crist isn’t even the first delegation member to wade into the debate on whether Spears’ conservatorship turned toxic.

Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz attended a Free Britney rally in California this month demanding courts release the singer from the legal arrangement. As far back as March, well before his appreciation for teeny-bopper fare became well known, Gaetz said Spears’ situation should sound alarms over potential abuse in the system. He called for Congressional hearings at the time.

“If the conservatorship process can rip the agency from a woman who was in the prime of her life and one of the most powerful pop stars in the world, imagine what it can do to people who are less powerful and have less of a voice,” Gaetz said. “I’ve heard the story of those people in Florida, and I am concerned about access to due process forward.”

Breakthrough infection

Another member of the delegation has tested positive for COVID-19. Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan tested positive for the coronavirus, despite being vaccinated since an allotment of shots was available to members.

“I look forward to returning to work as soon as possible,” Buchanan said. “In the meantime, this should serve as a reminder that although the vaccines provide a very high degree of protection, we must remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19.”

Vern Buchanan tests positive for COVID-19 after experiencing ‘very mild flu-like symptoms.’

Of note, Buchanan’s office has been touched by the pandemic before. Gary Tibbetts, Buchanan’s field representative in Florida’s 16th Congressional District, died last July after contracting the virus. Tibbetts, 66, was the first Congressional staffer in the country to die from COVID-19. He had worked for Congress since 2008 and as a special assistant to Buchanan beginning in 2010.

At least 71 members of Congress have previously tested positive for COVID-19, according to GovTrack. The first was Mario Diaz-Balart, a Hialeah Republican, and since that time, Scott in the Senate and Gus Bilirakis, Neal Dunn and Mike Waltz in the House all tested positive. Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, tested positive for antibodies.

Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, tested positive before his election to the House in November. Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar, both Miami Republicans, tested positive after their election in November but before being sworn in.

The means 10 of the delegation’s 29 members have contracted (or, in Gaetz’s case, likely contracted) the virus since the pandemic began. But Buchanan, at age 70, is the first member of Congress to test positive after vaccination.

LOSOM Choice

Rep. Brian Mast’s choice for a water management plan at Lake Okeechobee is now also that of the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Army Corps this week reviewed five plans for an update to the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual. On Monday, it announced Balanced Alternative CC as its preliminary preferred alternative.

That was welcome news to Mast, a Stuart Republican and longtime critic of current Army Corps practices regarding the lake.

Brian Mast’s Lake Okeechobee plan has been adopted by the Army Corps of Engineers. Image via Facebook.

“Today is the outcome we’ve been working toward for years, but it’s far from a checkered flag, and we can’t let our foot off the gas,” Mast said. “Optimization can’t be used as code for ‘bait and switch.’ The east coast has made compromise after compromise, and we will not accept more discharges that harm our communities while we receive no benefits.”

The discharges of water from the lake, which ensure homes and agricultural land around the Lake do not become flooded, often end up accompanied with blue-green algal blooms. Mast’s district includes communities abutting the St. Lucie River, and he has said his constituents live under toxic conditions. He recently brought a jar of lake water to a House hearing and began to open it but faced objection from colleagues in the room.

Labor visit

Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch hosted Labor Secretary Marty Walsh in South Florida for a Boynton Beach roundtable where constituents discussed Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan for economic recovery.

Frankel considered it a solid opportunity for residents of South Florida to explain their needs to a leader within the administration.

“Parents need child care in order to return to their workplace with peace of mind, and we need to pay child care workers a livable wage for their important work,” Frankel tweeted.

“Thanks, Secretary Marty Walsh and Rep. Ted Deutch, for joining me today for an important discussion with advocates from our community on the Care Economy and how we Build Back Better while keeping working families in mind.”

Walsh said the administration’s plans would address local concerns.

“Today, Rep. Lois Frankel and I toured the Little Cubz Learning Center in Boynton Beach and met with local child care providers, parents and experts,” Walsh tweeted. “Through President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, high-quality child care facilities like this one will become accessible to more families.”

Eight months

The first participant in the Capitol riot convicted of a felony, Tampa man Paul Allard Hodgkins, received his sentence Monday. He will serve eight months in prison after expressing remorse in court.

“This was a foolish decision on my part,” he told Judge Randolph Moss, according to The Associated Press.

Paul Allard Hodgkins gets eight months for his role in The Capitol riot. Image via AP.

It’s the most serious legal fallout to date for participants in the Jan. 6 riots who disrupted certification of President Biden’s victory over Trump. Hodgkins copped a plea and faced no conspiracy charges, unlike many still awaiting their day in court. National legal experts kept their eyes trained on his case to see the bar set for consequences for other participants.

Prosecutors in the case recommended an 18-month sentence.

Q2 reports

The time for fundraising in 2021 is half over, and 2022 will arrive in no time. The close of the second quarter offers a greater glimpse of where things stand today.

In Florida’s marquis federal race, Democratic Rep. Val Demings raised $4.7 million in the quarter in her quest to oust Sen. Rubio. The incumbent raised just $3.7 million in the quarter but wrapped the period with $6.3 million cash in hand to Demings’ $3.1 million.

The ongoing special election to replace the late Alcee Hastings in Florida’s 20th Congressional District saw Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick add $2.4 million mainly in self-funding. Behind her on the cash charts is Dale Holness, who raised $305,000. Perry Thurston raked in $280,000. Bobby DuBose reported $227,000. Barbara Sharief collected $185,000, also mainly in a self-loan. Omari Hardy pulled in $95,000.

In another open blue district, Democrat Randolph Bracy reported $166,000 raised in his effort to succeed Demings in Florida’s 10th Congressional District. By comparison, Aramis Ayala raised $74,000, and Natalie Jackson reported $51,000.

Surprisingly (perhaps), Matt Gaetz takes the biggest Q2 haul among Florida’s delegation. Image via AP.

In the decidedly purple race in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, where Democratic Rep. Crist is running for Governor, Democrat Eric Lynn raised $368,000 in the quarter. Ben Diamond reported $250,000 coming into his coffers. Michele Rayner-Goolsby raised $72,000. Meanwhile, Republican Anna Paulina Luna raised almost $233,000, but more importantly, saw the primary field clear a little as William Braddock dropped out. That said, Republican Amanda Makki today jumped into the contest.

Florida’s freshman as a group had an eye-popping quarter as they prep for their first reelection runs. Most notable was Naples Republican Byron Donalds, who raised $1.1 million. Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack tallied $505,000. Miami Republicans Salazar and Giménez respectively reaped $676,00 and $436,000 as they prep to run in tough districts they flipped red last fall. Lakeland Republican Scott Franklin raised a modest $82,000.

Other notable incumbent hauls include St. Augustine Beach Republican Waltz’s $499,000 in receipts and Winter Park Democrat Murphy’s $800,000 intake.

But the biggest quarter went to none other than Gaetz, who, despite making headlines for all the wrong reasons, collected $1.45 million in three months. Sure, massive spending during the quarter means he still saw a net loss in cash on hand.

On this day

July 20, 1921 — “Oklahoma Rep. Alice Robertson first woman to preside over U.S. House Chamber” via McAlester News-Capital — When she stepped to the rostrum, Robertson of Oklahoma became the first woman to preside over a session of the U.S. House. Members had just concluded deliberations for appropriating $15,000 to send a United States delegation to observe the centennial celebration of Peru’s independence. Speaker Pro Tempore Joseph Walsh of Massachusetts called Robertson to the chair to preside over the roll call vote on the measure. Robertson was elected to Congress from the 2nd District as a Republican in heavily Democratic eastern Oklahoma.

July 20, 1969 — “Two U.S. spacemen walk on moon” via The Miami News — It was the longest step in human history, bridging two worlds and opening a new era. While hundreds of millions of people watched, U.S. astronauts Neil Armstrong carefully put his foot on the surface of the moon at 10:56 p.m. and stepped into history. Then, joined by astronaut Edwin Aldrin Jr., he staked out man’s claim to a share of the universe outside his tiny birthplace. For more than two hours, the two Americans moved about the surface of Earth’s nearest neighbor, gathering rocks, installing scientific equipment, and learning how to walk in an alien environment.

Staff Reports


One comment

  • DR LARRY MYERS

    July 20, 2021 at 1:53 pm

    iN MANHATTAN PLAYWRIGHT DR LARRY MYERS after volunteering time at the condo collapse area at Surfside Miami plans a nyc opening of his play “Towers Fall” honoring the dead missing families friends volunteers after showings of his
    “Immigration Braille” & “Santeria Street Theater.”
    Both the latter are salient issue dramatic pieces. Time must pass and silence after the Surfside tragedy. Thus they are in no means exploitative but are reverent. Myers is 30 years Catholic professor at St/ John s U. Both are informed by involvement with DACA protest & many Manhattan uprisings in NYC for Cuba & all immigrants.

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