Delegation for 8.17.21: Kabul falls — Reagan — bad meat? — mask up — Haiti

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
In 2001, the Taliban did not lose a war, just a battle. Twenty years later, Kabul falls again.

Fallen

The last time Kabul fell was Nov. 13, 2001. At that time, it seemed like a resolution to such a short conflict. Barely two months passed since planes struck the World Trade Center, and the Taliban had been defeated.

Except, as news cameras vividly documented through this past weekend, the Taliban may have lost a battle, but not a war.

Kabul falls again. Image via AP.

“Devastating news out of Afghanistan,” Rep. Lois Frankel tweeted Saturday. “We must act urgently to protect Americans, our Afghan partners, and all those fighting for women’s rights, human rights, and a better future for the Afghan people.” The West Palm Beach Democrat expressed alarm at news of how swiftly the Taliban moved to retake control as the U.S. withdrew its forces after almost 20 years of conflict.

Within 24 hours of Frankel’s tweet, other images seized the world’s focus. U.S. aircraft rolled down runways as American allies cried from the ground. Some clung to hatches and landing gear as planes lifted off undeterred. Critics immediately saw historical parallels. “The photos from Afghanistan are horrifically reminiscent of those from Saigon decades ago,” posted Rep. Daniel Webster, a Clermont Republican. “We’ve abandoned our allies and partners in Afghanistan and around the world, and yet the President is silent.”

For some time, most Democrats remained silent about the unfolding events. Frankel’s comment largely stood alone among Florida Democrats in the delegation through the weekend. But Republicans universally decried President Joe Biden for his administration’s handling of the withdrawal.

The critiques came in many tones. There was a chorus of “told-you-so.”

“I vividly recall a few months ago when a bipartisan group on Senate Intel told the administration (the) worst-case case scenario was the likeliest one in the Afghanistan withdrawal,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican who last year chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee. “ … They dismissed our warnings.”

Some brought righteous anger. Rep. Mike Waltz, a counterterrorism adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, lamented weeks of urging evacuations for interpreters and Afghan support had gone unheeded.

Waltz warned on Fox News: “al-Qaida 3.0 will emerge from the aftermath of this reckless withdrawal.”

Sen. Rick Scott, a Naples Republican, openly pondered if Biden should be discharged from office under the 25th Amendment and called for Congressional investigations.

Even Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican with a long anti-war record who repeatedly expressed support for Biden’s troop withdrawal, turned to attack mode against the administration. “The decision to withdraw was correct,” Gaetz said. “The strategy and tactics, horrific and incompetent. The fundamental error was ever believing that the Afghan ‘government’ and ‘military’ would ever fight for or win anything. They fled the country with whatever they could steal at the first whiff of the Taliban.”

Biden on Monday afternoon addressed the American people and said he’d inherited a withdrawal plan drafted under President Donald Trump but stuck with it. “I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces. That’s why we’re still there. We were clear-eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency. But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you.”

Such words don’t quell all concerns. Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican, issued a measured appeal for more significant action by the administration. “Our Afghan friends and allies have stood by our sides for 20 years. They helped us when we needed them most, and now we must help them,” he said. “I watched this end poorly when the U.S. left Vietnam, and we cannot leave our friends behind again. Let’s make this another Dunkirk moment, not another Saigon.”

By Monday evening, Biden dispatched 6,000 troops into Afghanistan to aid in transporting allies away from Taliban rule. Sometime after Biden’s address and as shock began to fade, more Democrats chimed in with the support of the administration’s decision.

“The time has come to end this endless war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,” said Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto. “If the Afghan Army is unwilling to fight, we will not sacrifice more American lives to fight for them. [Osama] bin Laden is dead. Now we must focus on rebuilding OUR nation.”

The Gipper

It’s been 40 years since the late President Ronald Reagan signed the Economic Recovery Act and changed the tax structure of the United States. Fiscal conservatives on the delegation marked the occasion with celebratory op-eds.

Scott, a Naples Republican, penned a piece in the Tallahassee Democrat contrasting Reagan’s economic policies to Biden’s, obviously demonstrating a preference to the Gipper.

Rick Scott prefers the economic policies of Ronald Reagan to those of Joe Biden. Image via AP.

“In Florida, we’ve shown that less government works. We’ve shown that lower taxes can lead to bigger investments,” the Senator and former Governor wrote. “As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of President Reagan’s signature economic policy, we must commit to return America to the position of financial strength we once held, free the American people of government overreach and breathe new life into the opportunity for every Floridian to live the American dream.”

Meanwhile, delegation co-chair Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, wrote a piece in the Washington Examiner similarly favoring Reagan’s approach.

“Lower-wage workers won big under Republican tax cuts, whose wages increased 50% more than high-income workers. Tax reform also achieved the lowest poverty rate in almost a generation,” Buchanan wrote. “The results were stunning, but not surprising to anyone who has run their own business. President Biden has proposed to raise the corporate tax rate to 28%— one of the highest in the industrialized world. We’ve learned the hard way that higher taxes ship American companies to foreign countries with lower rates — like China. And despite claims that Democrats are attempting to ‘tax the rich’ and dismantle megacorporations, their policies will devastate small businesses and job creators who won’t be able to afford to do business here.”

Meatpacking

An increase in Brazilian meat markets in Florida and the U.S. represents more than new flavors to sample. Rubio worries it also provides an avenue for corrupt practices by an international business. He and Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, sent a letter this week to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen calling for the investigation of JBS S.A. and holding company J&F Investimentos.

The Senators want the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to look at U.S. acquisitions by the Brazilian meatpacking conglomerate, controlled by Wesley and Joesley Batista.

Increasing Brazilian meat imports are causing some in the delegation to worry about corruption.

Earlier, the company pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges following Justice Department investigations and had agreed to pay hundreds of millions to the U.S. to resolve bribery cases. Rubio and Menendez question if criminal activity has stopped.

“JBS S.A. has repeatedly used its significant presence in the U.S. meatpacking sector to inflate its profits at American families’ expense,” the letter reads. “On Feb. 24, 2021, Pilgrim’s Pride, which is majority-owned by JBS S.A., pleaded guilty to conspiring to increase chicken prices and pass the costs on to consumers and agreed to pay a $107.9 million fine. On April 20, 2021, JBS USA agreed to pay $12.75 million to resolve a series of civil antitrust cases involving similar alleged price-fixing in the pork industry. With 35 million Americans facing hunger on a daily basis, inflating the prices of basic goods to boost profits is unacceptable.”

The greatest concern is that the U.S. government hasn’t yet developed a complete list of investments made by the Batistas, the senators wrote.

“Only once we know the full extent and details of JBS S.A.’s acquisitions, after a thorough CFIUS review, will American businesses and consumers be safe,” the letter states.

Bill the room

Soto last month was part of a bipartisan delegation of members of Congress to travel to South Korea and rack up an eyebrow-raising bill. Legistorm reports just eight members joined the six-day trip, funded by the U.S. Association of Former Members of Congress, but it cost a little shy of $151,000.

Soto was the only Florida delegation member to make the sojourn, and it’s unclear if he was among the members traveling with a spouse.

The trip ran from July 5 to 11, and Soto never shared any messages on his social media platform during that time, likely due to security concerns for the band of House members on the trip. But Texas Republican Tony Gonzalez, a House colleague on the trip, shared photos on his Instagram.

Clearly, the members did plenty of official work on the trip. The group met with Korean officials and with defectors who fled the North Korean regime. They met with service members in the U.S. demilitarized zone, visited Camp Humphreys, and toured manufacturing facilities run by Hyundai and Samsung.

Mask wars

St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist urged federal officials to intervene in Florida’s ban on school mask mandates, citing the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a letter sent to U.S. Department of Justice Secretary Merrick Garland and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Crist pushes for the enforcement of disability rights laws and requests guidance for school districts trying to enforce a mask mandate amid the surge in COVID-19 cases across the state.

Crist has filed to challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis in the race for Governor in 2022.

“Gov. DeSantis has not only refused to lead throughout this pandemic, he is making it worse,” Crist said in a statement. “His ‘defund the schools’ Executive Order is failing to keep our schools open and safe and illegally depriving students with disabilities equal access to the classroom.”

Charlie Crist seeks federal help with Florida mask mandates. Image via Facebook.

Crist’s letter pushes back against a recent state Board of Education emergency rule prohibiting mask mandates in schools, which follows up on an order by DeSantis. The Congressman argues such a direction violates the rights of students, particularly those with disabilities who may not be able to attend school because of the virus’ continued spread.

“I write with concerns about the right of children with disabilities in Florida to attend school safely,” Crist wrote in the letter. “According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children with intellectual or developmental disabilities, like Will, have a greater susceptibility to COVID-19 and statistically suffer more severe consequences from becoming infected with this virus … Any policy that gives individual parents the right to make students with disabilities unsafe at school would appear to violate Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as it would either shut these children out of school or force them into isolated environments.”

Standardizing AI

As artificial intelligence plays a more critical role even in the small business world, Lakeland Republican Scott Franklin wants fair requirements to guide any expansion. He co-introduced bipartisan legislation that would allow the development of global AI standards. If approved, the bill would allow the Small Business Administration to award grants to businesses that would work on the matter with the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Advances in artificial intelligence will play an increasingly defining role in U.S. global competitiveness. That’s why we need to create an environment that allows American small businesses on the cutting edge of technological innovation to participate in creating global standards and regulation in the AI field,” Franklin said.

Scott Franklin wants artificial intelligence, but responsibly.

It’s not just about bringing business owners into the fold. The Congressman presented American leadership in the field as a matter of international importance.

“This bill promotes economic prosperity by making sure AI standards are more aligned with American business standards,” he said. “From a national security standpoint, the Chinese Communist Party has openly stated its desire for China to dominate the AI field by 2030. The U.S. must take a leadership role in ensuring China does not set the standards on AI. Our bill is a bipartisan, common-sense solution that will keep the U.S. at the forefront of the technological frontier while simultaneously countering undue Chinese influence in the AI technology sector.”

He introduced House legislation, joined by Colorado Democrat Jason Crow, California Republican Jay Obernolte and California Democrat Jerry McNerney.

“Artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will shape the future in profound ways, and it is important that American companies have a voice in the process,” Crow said. “This bipartisan legislation would implement key recommendations from the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and enable American small businesses to play a role in setting international technology standards.”

Optimizing the plan

Stuart Republican Brian Mast, in an interview with local radio host Brian Mudd, said there’s a give-and-take he is ready to discuss regarding the new discharge plan for Lake Okeechobee. But he’s still girding for a fight.

He said it’s fundamentally good the Army Corps of Engineers will move ahead with a variation of “Plan CC,” a foundational plan that dramatically reduces discharge into the St. Lucie River that runs through Florida’s 18th Congressional District. But as that plan evolves amid pressure from other communities, constituents need to keep their guard up, he said.

Brian Mast is girding for a Lake O discharge battle. Image via Brian Mast Office.

“You have to fight some more,” Mast told the Southeast Florida listening audience. “They’re now optimizing Plan CC trying to make it for other people. And some places it can be better for, like the Caloosahatchee. But you have to be careful in what you do.”

He singled out efforts by locals like Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinley to keep levels of Lake Okeechobee higher, something Mast feels will lead to more discharges and the release of blue-green algae into the St. Lucie.

Overall, he gives the plan as is a B-plus to an A-minus. But he’s still concerned changes could shift the strategy too far in the wrong direction.

Haiti heat

In a year of international crises, Hollywood Democrat Frederica Wilson’s eyes fixed once again this week on the island of Haiti. Florida’s 24th Congressional District includes more Haitian American constituents than any other in the United States. When an earthquake killed more than 1,300 people and left some 5,700 displaced from homes, Wilson’s concern turned to the island.

“My heart breaks for the people of Haiti, who have endured so much devastation this year and now another earthquake,” Wilson tweeted. “As always, I stand ready to help and implore others to do so as well.”

Frederica Wilson turns her attention again to Haiti. Image via AP.

Orlando Democrat Val Demings, a co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus, also promised her focus.

“Reports from Haiti are devastating. Already racked by political turmoil and the COVID-19 pandemic, this morning’s 7.2 earthquake is heartbreaking,” she tweeted Saturday. “I continue to pray for Haitians and will work with my Haiti Caucus Co-Chairs to ensure Haitians have the full support of the U.S. government and regional allies during these challenging times.”

The nation earlier this year entered a state of political flux following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Florida residents have since been tied to the plot, revealing connections even in societal underbellies between the Sunshine State and the Pearl of the Antilles.

Since the killing, delegation members have focused on bringing stability to the island. Now, expect attention to turn to humanitarian aid.

Trump trauma

The arrival of one prominent member of Trump’s administration at a Florida school hasn’t been universally celebrated.

A government watchdog group will unveil a billboard in South Florida Tuesday, blasting the University of Miami for hiring Alex Azar, the former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under Trump. Accountable.US accuses the University of Miami of violating its “core values” such as diversity, compassion and responsibility with the hire.

Azar, who oversaw the launch of Operation Warp Speed and the migrant reunification effort in Homestead, served as health secretary from 2018-2021.

Alex Azar’s new gig is causing dismay among South Florida Democrats. Image via AP.

“Former Trump officials like Alex Azar who played critical roles in enacting cruel and inhumane immigration policies like family separation have no business being rewarded with cushy teaching gigs — full stop,” Accountable.US President Kyle Herrig. “Azar’s hiring goes against the University of Miami’s proclaimed values and runs afoul of its own immigration advocacy.”

Azar — a Yale Law graduate former and former pharmaceutical executive — will assume a teaching and policy research position as an adjunct professor this fall. He will also serve as a senior executive in residence at the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School.

On this day

Aug. 17, 1998 — “Bill Clinton admits to ‘wrong’ relationship with Monica Lewinsky” via CNN — Breaking seven months of near-silence, President Clinton admitted that he did have an inappropriate relationship with the ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky, but insisted he did nothing illegal. “I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife,” Clinton said, his voice breaking slightly. “I deeply regret that.” Clinton’s four-minute address to the nation followed an afternoon of closed-door testimony for a federal grand jury looking into how Clinton answered questions about his relationship with Lewinsky in a deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case last January.

Aug. 17, 1864 — “The Battle of Gainesville” via Explore Southern History — The raid began when Col. Andrew L. Harris of the Seventy-Fifth Ohio Infantry left Baldwin near Jacksonville on Aug. 15. His command included 173 officers and men from the Seventy-Fifth Ohio Volunteer Infantry (mounted); 12 men with one cannon from Company A, Third Rhode Island Artillery, and 15 cooks, blacksmiths, wagon drivers, etc. After destroying a fortified picket post on the New River, the raiding party advanced to Starke, joined by 90 officers and men from the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry. A party of 12-15 Florida Unionists also turned out to help, raising the total strength of Harris’ command to around 310 men.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Kathy Castor, who turns 55 on Friday, Aug. 20.

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Editor’s note: There will not be an Aug. 20 edition of Delegation. It will return on Aug. 24.

Staff Reports



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