Delegation for 7.23.21: Cuba — Schrodinger’s candidate — border battle — housing cash — rejected

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Cuba keeps Capitol Hill abuzz.

Cuban sanctions

Weeks of unrest in Cuba prompted President Joe Biden on Thursday to announce sanctions against the communist nation. Florida’s elected leaders pretty universally embraced the step, though plenty criticized the protracted time it took to reach a decision.

The administration’s actions in many senses implement recommendations from Florida’s delegation — whether shouted from the Senate floor, presented in talking points on Fox News specials, or blasted alongside the #SOSCuba hashtag on Twitter. The U.S. will deploy internet infrastructure to allow the people of Cuba to communicate online despite the Cuban government silencing dissent through an internet outage. New economic sanctions will go into effect in response to the treatment of protesters.

“The Biden Administration has sanctioned one operative of the tyranny’s many assassins,” tweeted Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Hialeah Republican. “While this is a start, it is clear that much remains to be done. The Cuban dictatorship has many murderers — Raúl Castro and [sitting President Miguel] Díaz-Canel foremost among them.

Indeed, the American political left has large pockets pushing for a different conversation, hoping instead to discuss ways to lift the economic embargo and renormalize relations with the island. But you couldn’t tell that based on the stances of Florida Democrats. Instead, the Sunshine State seems home to the most vocal supporters of Biden’s sanctions from left-of-center.

Cuban protests lead to new U.S. sanctions. Image via AP.

I love the Cuban people very much and have been a consistent advocate for families, human rights, and a better life for our neighbors,” tweeted Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, in Spanish. “Since the historic protests, I have urged President Biden to help empower the Cuban people and sanction communist oppressors. Thank you, President Biden, for identifying those responsible for the offensive against protesters and sanctioning the defense and interior ministers. Now we can focus on finding the technology to restore the internet and mobilize the international community for a Free Cuba.”

For the moment, this has also thrust many of Florida’s leaders into the national spotlight, particularly those of Cuban ancestries like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. María Elvira Salazar (see below). By any measure, the direction offered by those GOP voices hew closer to the outcome produced by the Biden administration than any suggestion out of self-proclaimed democratic socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York, or from Black Lives Matter.

Meanwhile, Democrats in line to challenge Cuba hawks like Rubio and Gov. Ron DeSantis in next year’s elections passed up any chance to contrast their views and instead kept up delegation-consistent criticism of the Cuban regime. 

Rep. Charlie Crist, a Democrat running for Governor, said the protests prove “communism and socialism don’t work anywhere.” And Rep. Val Demings, the lead Democrat challenging Rubio, praised sanctions. “The administration has answered our call to hold Cuba’s corrupt socialist regime accountable,” she tweeted. “Targeted sanctions against the oppressors in the regime are a strong step to support the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom.”

Cuba hearings

The continued unrest has also kept Florida’s senior Senator almost singularly focused on the communist nation located less than 100 miles from his Miami home. This week, Rubio sent a letter to New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch, chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee respectively. The letter asks them to schedule a full hearing on the events transpiring on the island nation.

As you know, the Cuban people have taken to the streets to voice their opposition to the brutal communist regime in Havana,” Rubio wrote. “Their courage has led to historic protests that has drawn the attention of the rest of the world. This is an important moment for the Cuban people and free peoples worldwide.”

Marco Rubio urges the U.S. to do more in the fight for Cuban freedom.

Rubio, who rose from the Miami Cuban American political community, has advocated for the U.S. providing internet support and vaccine access, but providing it independently without involvement from the communist regime. He said there’s much to do beyond Biden’s sanctions.

“As we watch the Cuban regime respond with violence, it is critical that the United States stand with the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom and liberty,” he wrote.

“I believe there is no more urgent time than now for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to hold a public hearing with government officials and private officials to highlight the gross human rights abuses of Cuba’s dictator, show our support for the Cuban people’s basic rights, and inquire as to what the administration’s plan of action will be.” 

Schrodinger’s candidate

Internal disagreements within the Federal Election Commission bubbled into view last week over Sen. Rick Scott’s management of a particular PAC leading into his election nearly three years ago. At issue was a complaint from End Citizens United that Scott violated soft money prohibitions by deploying resources from the New Republican PAC, which he chairs, to support his 2018 Senate campaign. The FEC ultimately split 3-3 on whether he and PAC treasurers violated federal law, resulting in the complaint getting dismissed.

A central question seemed to be at what point Scott was an actual candidate. Scott chaired the New Republican PAC in 2017, when he served as Florida Governor and was raising substantial amounts of cash, but didn’t officially file to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson until April 2018. It was evident in Florida political circles at the time that Scott would be the GOP challenger for the Senate seat.

So, when did Rick Scott become an official Senate candidate? The FEC wants to know. Image via AP.

Scott ultimately defeated Nelson — by a historically close 10,033 votes.

FEC staff characterized Scott’s pre-candidacy PAC chairmanship as “testing the waters” in a written report. That’s allowed for the candidate to consider a run for office, but it’s also clear some officials within the FEC think he kept testing the waters longer than needed. A report suggests that he went further than the allowed bounds for a PAC exploring a candidacy and filed later in the cycle than he should have. 

“The testing-the-waters exemptions are not available to individuals who have made a decision to become a candidate,” a memo reads.

But the shaky ground on what counts as measuring the prospects of a Senate run and the support for a campaign that doesn’t yet exist appears to have spared the Senator of any fines or findings that he broke the law. The FEC Commission split 3-3 on whether he broke the law and thus dismissed the complaint.

FEC Chair Shana Broussard and Commissioner Ellen Weintraub criticized the decision and said it was clear 97% of the funds spent by the PAC ahead of Scott’s candidacy were in support of his run for Senate.

Border battle

In what has become a popular trip for many Republicans in Congress, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz visited the border with Mexico to spotlight trouble with illegal crossings.

After touring the San Ysidro Port of Entry in Southern California with Arizona Republican Andy Biggs and Texas Republican Louie Gohmert, Gaetz sent a letter to the Inspector General’s Office demanding an investigation of the administration’s failure to help local law enforcement protect the border.

Matt Gaetz joins other conservatives to blast the border crisis.

Many Americans have been killed by dangerous illegal aliens who should never have been in this country, much less permitted to remain,” Gaetz wrote. “Border protection and the right to exclude are necessary to the security and sovereignty of a free state.”

He also took a swipe at a group of immigrants who didn’t cross illegally recently and have lived in the U.S. since childhood. “All illegal aliens must be deported in accordance with our laws, including DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] illegal aliens,” Gaetz said.

Last year, the Supreme Court blocked former President Donald Trump’s efforts to dismantle DACA, but a federal judge in Texas last week ruled no more applicants should be allowed into the program. Gaetz’s posture this week shows he would like the courts to go a step further and require sending DACA recipients to their country of origin.

HUD cash

Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson completed the first step in bringing $7 million for Housing and Urban Development projects in Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

That includes $2 million for a Community and Veterans Empowerment Center and another $2 million for the White Harvest Farms and Market Project in Duval County, $2 million for the Eugene Lamb Recreation Center, and $1 million for the Concord School Restoration in Leon County. The funding is part of the 2022 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee budget.

Al Lawson successfully guides $7M in housing money to his home district.

“I am proud to have secured the inclusion of these four important projects in the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Subcommittee appropriations bill that are critical to North Florida,” Lawson said. “Each of these projects will have a significant, positive impact on our community and improve the lives of families in Florida’s Fifth Congressional District.”

It’s still not a sure thing the spending will make it to President Biden’s desk. The full Appropriations Committee must include the line items in its entire budget before a vote of the whole House, and then the House enters negotiations with the Senate. But the critical first step means the funding requests have a place in budget proposals, and Lawson just needs to defend them through the rest of the process.

Rejected

This week, the makeup of a select committee on The Capitol riot generated new friction in the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two members, Ohio Republican Jim Jordan and Indiana Republican Jim Banks, who had been named by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to the commission.

Orlando Democrat Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, was named to the panel by Pelosi, ardently defended the Speaker’s decision.

“Minority Leader McCarthy’s crocodile tears over the rejection of his hyper-partisan picks for the Select Committee would be more credible if he’d supported an independent commission,” she tweeted. “He didn’t. Instead, he has sought to obstruct a serious, bipartisan investigation at every step.”

Nancy Pelosi is not playing around. Image via AP.

That references a bipartisan effort that seemed to move forward in the riot’s immediate aftermath but scuttled ahead of a vote after McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell deemed it a partisan effort.

Murphy said had that effort gone forward, House leadership collectively would have chosen the membership. Instead, there will be a House committee established with the Democratic Speaker ultimately holding control.

The choice of Banks and Jordan, who voted against certifying President Biden’s electoral win and continue to support former President Trump’s inaccurate assertion the election was stolen, could potentially undermine the committee’s work, Murphy said

Blocked shot

While the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus brings the threat of a worsened pandemic in many nations with low vaccination rates, Sarasota Republican Greg Steube balked at suggestions military deployed abroad should be required to receive shots.

This week, he sent a letter to President Biden opposing any type of mandatory program. An Army veteran, he saw up close the problems the last time such an effort went into effect, namely the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program.

“As a former Airborne Infantry Officer and a JAG Corps Officer, I witnessed firsthand the negative consequences of mandating vaccines in our military with the Anthrax Vaccine Immunization Program,” Steube said. “Forced COVID-19 vaccinations would threaten our military readiness and would even cause military members to exit service, all while taking away rights from troops who are risking their lives to protect our freedoms.”

Greg Steube bristles at the idea of forced vaccinations for members of the military. Image via Getty.

Under the anthrax shot mandate, troops were required to take a series of doses, and those who refused faced penalties. Years later, some expressed the concern the vaccines contributed to Gulf War Syndrome.

Even in the short term, Steube said many soldiers report severe reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine that can sideline them while on active duty. While the vaccines have been widely administered to more than half the U.S. population at this point, Steube noted it has yet to go through the complete approval process with the Food and Drug Administration.

Steube has not disclosed if he received a COVID-19 vaccine, and his office declined to “publicly discuss the Congressman’s medical history or choices.”

Troubled water

Steube leads a group of five Republican delegation members asking for adjustments to the new Lake Okeechobee regulation schedule announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this week.

The Corps selected Plan CC Monday out of a group of five regulation proposals. Steube and his four co-signers — Reps. Kat Cammack, Mario Díaz-Balart, Byron Donalds, and Daniel Webster — praise parts of the plan.  But in a letter sent to Col. Andrew Kelly of the Army Corps, they also raise concerns that not enough water will be sent to municipalities and farmers who rely on Lake O’s water.

Regulating Lake O water is high on Greg Steube’s to-do list.

“In the case of water supply, more than 7 million Floridians and thousands of businesses tied to tourism, agriculture, health care and construction depend on water supply from Lake Okeechobee, and expected that LOSOM would result in a plan that meets the water supply purpose by restoring the water supply performance that existed prior to the current schedule,” the letter reads.

“As such, prior to the final selection of a LOSOM plan, we are requesting that the Corps explain how Preliminary Preferred Plan CC will be adjusted to restore the water supply function on which we depend, and how optimization will be performed to meet this serious deficit.”

Environmental groups largely praised the Army Corps’ announcement this week, a big step in its Lake Okeechobee Systems Operation Manual (LOSOM) development process. Another Republican member of Florida’s congressional delegation, Rep. Brian Mast of Florida’s 18th Congressional District, also approved the Army Corps’ selection.

Plan CC will see reductions in discharges to the Lake Worth Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary. Algae grow inside the lake. But discharges to the Caloosahatchee estuaries are set to increase, and Steube and fellow cosigners argue that balance is now out of whack.

“We strongly urge you to correct these disparities as the plan is optimized,” the lawmakers wrote.

It’s unclear what adjustments, if any, the Army Corps could make to the proposed Plan CC. But Steube and his cohorts push for changes before the Army Corps finalizes the regulation schedule in November.

Hacking sack

With cyber-crime on the rise, Naples Republican Byron Donalds said more must be done to protect U.S. businesses. The Congressman filed bipartisan legislation with New York Democrat Nydia Velázquez, chair of the House Small Business Committee, to create partnerships between the federal government and business owners to stop hackers.

“The rise in criminal cyber-attacks occurring across the country is deeply concerning. A partnership between the federal government and American small businesses based upon information sharing is critical to ensure the data protection of consumers, while also providing the necessary resources for these small firms to compete in a multi-faceted global economy,” Donalds said. “This bill encourages small businesses to engage and interact with the federal government to increase transparency, establish collaborative partnerships, and to ultimately provide additional security measures to potentially vulnerable small businesses.”

Byron Donalds is hacked off by U.S. businesses getting hacked.

The Small Business Advanced Cybersecurity Enhancements Act of 2021 would create a federal development center for data information sharing, equipping small firms with more significant resources to prevent cyber-attacks. The legislation also creates liability protections for businesses who work in good faith with the federal government, something the lawmakers hope cuts down the reluctance for businesses to report hacks.

“With the risk of cyber-attacks rising every day, proactive collaboration and information sharing between the federal government and business is critical to protecting against malicious cyber actors,” Velásquez said.

Uncovered

Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz once hid her chest drains beneath a boxy jacket at fundraisers to conceal her breast cancer ordeal. 

Now she cites that experience as proof women younger than 50 should not have any barriers to routine screenings.

The Congresswoman was just 41 and two years into her tenure at the Capitol when she learned she had the BRCA2 gene mutation that made it seven times more likely to develop breast cancer. Legislation she filed Wednesday aims at ensuring mammograms are available with no copay for women in their 40s and the same for older women who want mammograms every year.

“I know firsthand the importance of ensuring young women have access to the tools and information they need regarding their breast health,” she said.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a cancer survivor, wants the ACA to help cover more cancer screening for women over 40. Image via Glamour.

The way things stand now, after Jan. 1, 2023, insurers — under certain circumstances — do not have to provide 100% coverage for mammograms for women in their 40s or annual exams for those older than 50.

It’s because the Affordable Care Act requires that insurers fully cover just those screenings that get at least a “B” from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Mammograms for women in their 40s get a “C” from the USPSTF, a panel of experts that gives evidence-based recommendations for what screenings are worthwhile. The board provides a “B” to screenings every two years for women 50 and older.

A lobbying effort extended 100% coverage for breast screenings for those age groups until 2023. Wasserman Schultz and Michigan Republican Fred Upton are hoping to make that permanent. They reintroduced the Protecting Access to Lifesaving Screenings (PALS) Act in the House. 

It’s all too personal for Wasserman Schultz.

“Beating cancer is only the beginning of the journey of cancer survivorship, and for me, it was also the beginning of a mission to translate my experiences into something greater than myself,” she wrote for Glamour magazine in 2019. “I wanted other young women to have better access to information and the tools to detect, fight, and survive breast cancer.”

‘No’ socialism

Miami Republican María Elvira Salazar continues her crusade against the Cuban government, introducing a resolution along with several Republican House colleagues to denounce socialist autocracies.

The Congresswoman’s push comes just over a week after protests erupted in the Island nation against the communist government. Protesters are pushing back against decades of repression and say the government fails to meet basic needs such as providing food and health care. Salazar herself was born in Miami to two Cuban exiles.

“Over the past week, the world has borne witness to the brutality of the 62-year socialist Castro dictatorship in Cuba,” Salazar said.

For Maria Salazar, rejecting Cuban socialism is non-negotiable.

“The Cuban people have taken to the streets chanting ‘FREEDOM!’ ‘DOWN WITH COMMUNISM!’ because socialism has failed everywhere it has been imposed. As the daughter of political refugees, I understand firsthand how socialism only leads to hunger, misery, oppression and exile. I’m introducing this resolution condemning the horrors of socialism because America was built on freedom, and we must never allow our country to go down the path of socialist tyranny.”

While a minority of Democrats have advocated for a democratic socialist form of government like that seen in Europe, Republicans repeatedly tried to falsely tar Democratic candidates as full-blown “socialists.” That strategy worked particularly well in Miami-Dade County, a part of South Florida that’s home to many political refugees from Central and South American autocracies.

Joining Salazar is Republican Whip Steve Scalise and California Republican Devin Nunes on the resolution. In addition to Cuba, the measure also references other examples of socialist governments such as Cambodia, China, North Korea, the former Soviet Union and Venezuela.

“I am proud to support Congresswoman Salazar’s resolution outlining the horrors of socialism because this harmful ideology is opposed to everything the United States stands for and the Founding Fathers’ belief in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Scalise added.

On this day

July 23, 1973 — “Richard Nixon refuses to release tapes” via The New York Times — Nixon refused to release tape recordings of his conversation about the Watergate case. Both his special prosecutor and the Senate Watergate committee moved at once to subpoena the tapes. Three subpoenas — one each from the prosecutor, Archibald Cox, and the Senate committee covering the tapes and one from the committee covering other documents—were served shortly after 6 p.m. They were accepted by Leonard Garment, the acting White House counsel, and Fred Buzhardt, a special counsel. Gerald Warren, deputy presidential press secretary, said he could not predict whether they would be honored. Still, other White House officials said the decision had already been made to ignore them.

July 23, 2020 — “AOC slashes Ted Yoho for illegitimate apology” via Florida Politics — Ocasio-Cortez slammed Gainesville Republican Yoho on the floor of the House of Representatives. The New York Democrat, who had already said Yoho’s attempted apology for a confrontation earlier this week fell short, expanded her criticisms of the apology and Yoho himself. “Yesterday, Rep. Yoho decided to come to the floor of the House of Representatives and make excuses for his behavior. That I could not let go.” Yoho, who one report claimed called Ocasio-Cortez a “f***ing b**ch,” denied he said that.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Charlie Crist, who turns 65 on Wednesday, July 24.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Anne Geggis and Ryan Nicol.

Staff Reports



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