Delegation for 8.27.21: Afghanistan — COVID — evictions — PAWS — crypto

u.s. capitol GREEN
America's longest war ends much like it started — with a terrorist attack.

Mourning in Afghanistan

At least 13 U.S. service members in Afghanistan died Thursday, turning an already heated debate into a scorching one.

Republicans in the delegation had already universally criticized President Joe Biden, whether for engaging in a troop withdrawal at all or simply for apparent poor planning leading to the nation’s exit from a 19-year conflict. But the loss of U.S. soldiers to suicide bombings outside an airport in Kabul escalated the rhetoric.

America’s longest war ends much like it started — with a terrorist attack. Image via AP.

“It’s impossible to express my sorrow over these fallen warriors, or to find a word that could alleviate the grief of their families or describe the rage I have toward those who have killed my brothers and President Biden who enabled them,” said Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican who lost both legs working as an Army bomb disposal specialist in Afghanistan.

Rep. Greg Steube called for Biden’s resignation, Rep. Matt Gaetz seemed to imply a host of administration departures was in order. “The Biden Administration’s plan to force [critical race theory] and vaccines in the military was more comprehensive than their plan to get Americans safely out of Afghanistan,” Gaetz tweeted. “The American people demand their resignations immediately.”

Ironically, both Republicans supported the removal of troops when former President Donald Trump negotiated a U.S. withdrawal with the Taliban.

Meanwhile, Rep. Michael Waltz, once counterterrorism adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, argued that completely leaving Afghanistan never made sense. The Saint Augustine Beach Republican warned the situation had turned more desperate and advised the Democratic President “needs to move decisively to alleviate the situation.” That includes making clear to the Taliban there will be no Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw troops, and there will be a U.S. presence until all Americans are out, then support in-state sanctuaries for at-risk Afghan allies the U.S. can’t get out.

Waltz suggested the U.S. military retake and secure the Bagram Airfield, which had been left behind in early July, by force and authorize special forces to retrieve any Americans unable to leave freely. And he said to stop relying on the Taliban to secure any facilities.

“Stop relying on terrorists to screen for other terrorists,” he tweeted.

Democrats in the delegation used a more measured tone but also spoke with heightened urgency on the events unfolding overseas.

For Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who fled with family from Vietnam four years after the Fall of Saigon, the events in Afghanistan proved all the more alarming. “What I’m watching happening is heartbreaking, not just as a refugee but also as an American,” she told Spectrum News. She discussed how church groups in the U.S. embraced and aided her family when they fled a regime persecuting those who aided Americans. Now her office is working with interpreters and other allies, trying to bring people home before they face persecution so they may come “to this country with hope and a dream.”

Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, took a somber tone after news of soldier deaths.

“My prayers are with the families, and team members of the U.S. Service Members killed and injured in the line of duty today,” she said. “Those we lost today will not be forgotten, and we will do all in our power to ensure the recovery of the wounded. I know that the rescue mission that they gave their lives to protect will continue.”

Notably, that came right after Demings heavily criticized Sen. Marco Rubio, who she’s challenging in next year’s midterm, for second-guessing the administration at a critical moment.

“I know it’s tempting to want to criticize and Monday morning quarterback when you’re sitting in your nice office. And there will be plenty of time,” she said. “And we should as a nation ask questions, critique, do after-action reports, so that we can clearly understand what has gone on in the last 20 years, including the evacuation. But now is not the time.”

Rubio, for his part, clearly disagreed.

Florida’s senior Senator, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, demanded Biden and the administration recalibrate its strategy.

“Coordination with the Taliban was a colossal mistake. We have Americans stranded, our forces under siege at the airport, and even more sinister terror plots in the works,” he tweeted. “President Biden must now implement a new evacuation strategy or more horror lies ahead.”

COVID intel

On a quite different war front, Rubio said it’s time the Senate intelligence learned everything the administration knows about the origins of COVID-19. He urged the complete declassification of an inconclusive report on the coronavirus while promoting his COVID Act of 2021, which would impose sanctions on China for failing to allow an independent and credible investigation on labs in Wuhan, the region where the virus first surfaced.

“There is now a considerable body of circumstantial evidence, both the Chinese Communist Party cover-up of the initial outbreak as well as unusual molecular features of the virus itself, to suggest that a laboratory leak origin is certainly plausible, if not even likely,” Rubio said. “Beijing blocked a forensic investigation into the origin of COVID-19, silenced whistleblowers, forced doctors and researchers to destroy early virus samples, and imposed political screening of publications to ensure that no research findings could emerge from China to shed light on the origin.”

Marco Rubio demands answers to the true origin of COVID-19.

China reported a minimal number of cases of COVID-19 in 2021, even as the delta virus surges globally. As of Thursday morning, China reports 122,777 confirmed cases and 5,677 deaths from COVID-19 since late 2019.

By comparison, Florida has reported 3,027,954 cases since the virus surfaced in March 2020, including 150,188 newly registered infections last week and tallied 42,252 deaths.

“The World Health Organization is calling on Beijing to allow the WHO to investigate the labs in Wuhan, and the United States must do everything in its power to ensure we get those answers,” Rubio said.

Proof of life

The death of a Cuban dissident fueled fresh outrage at the communist regime. According to Diario de Cuba, Cristian Pérez Carmenate, the coordinator of Unión Patriótica de Cuba, died in the government’s custody at a hospital in Las Tunas.

Sen. Rick Scott called on the Biden administration to hold Cuba’s government responsible for the death, demanding the regime provide “proof of life” for other protesters in custody now.

“This weekend, Cuban democracy activist Cristian Perez died at the hands of the communist Cuban dictatorship,” Scott said. “Cristian was reportedly cruelly and inhumanely denied proper medical attention to treat his cancer and clinical conditions. His crime? Fighting for democracy in Cuba. It’s disgusting and a stark reminder of the many horrific and inhumane crimes and abuses of the communist Cuban regime. My heart goes out to Cristian’s family and loved ones, and all of the brave Cuban people who put their lives at risk to stand up for freedom and democracy in Cuba.”

Rick Scott wants action on the death of Cuban dissident Cristian Pérez Carmenate.

Reuters reports that the Naples Republican specifically demanded information on Jose Daniel Ferrer, a pro-democracy advocate serving a sentence in home detention but forced into jail for the remaining four years after protests broke out on the island last month.

While criticizing the anti-democracy efforts on the island, Scott also took a swipe and self-described democratic socialists serving in Congress.

“For years, self-described socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders have defended the illegitimate communist Cuban regime. How can they possibly defend this disgusting oppression and suffering?” Scott said. “President Biden and the international community need to act NOW to amplify the voices of the Cuban people in their fight and hold the regime accountable. The Cuban people have been fighting for their freedom for the past 60 years, and they can’t wait any longer. As the regime continues to violate human rights and threaten security and peace in the Western Hemisphere, freedom-loving nations of the world must work together to end the genocide and oppression of Miguel Diaz-Canel and Raul Castro. We will always stand with the people of Cuba fighting for a new day of freedom, democracy, and patria y vida.”

Automatic moratoria

Disasters should not leave Americans homeless, according to Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson and Demings. The House members this week filed legislation to try and ensure that never happens. The Federal Disaster Housing Stability Act of 2021 (HR 5043) would automatically instate an eviction and foreclosure moratorium on federally backed mortgages for any properties impacted by a federal emergency declaration.

“I have seen firsthand the toll that natural disasters, most recently with Hurricanes Michael and Irma, has placed on families across North Florida,” Lawson said. “Implementing a temporary eviction moratorium is crucial for recovery for many low-income households. Residents should not be burdened with locating a place to sleep at night during an already stressful time. The Federal Disaster Housing Stability Act is an important step in safeguarding our most vulnerable Americans during moments of tremendous need.”

Low-income households ‘should not be burdened with locating a place to sleep,’ says Al Lawson.

The bill would impact both renters and homeowners who still owe money to a lender. The automatic moratorium would last six months regarding foreclosures for homeowners and 90 days for renters after a landlord receives federal disaster assistance or the landlord’s eligible for such help expires.

“Disasters happen, but evictions during a disaster don’t need to,” Demings said. “We should not allow Americans to go homeless due to emergencies outside of their control. We can and must ensure that a natural disaster does not mean needless eviction for American families. This legislation would provide stability and certainty for millions of renters and homeowners during future federal emergencies. We know that Floridians will continue to experience future severe storms and other disasters, and we need to ensure that Floridian families are fully protected during these difficult times.”

PAWS passes

A new law championed by several Florida House members now allows veterans to be connected to canine helpers as needed. On Wednesday, Biden signed the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act (HR 1448). “It’s incredibly heartening that the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act passed in Congress with such overwhelming bipartisan support and has now been signed into law,” said Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican. “This bill brings us one step closer to providing the many veterans who have put their lives on the line for our country and have come home with invisible wounds with the full menu of treatment options that their trauma demands. I’ve seen firsthand the incredible healing power of service dogs — and that’s why I’m so pleased to see this bill make it across the finish line to help our veterans heal and save lives.”

John Rutherford has seen the power of service animals firsthand. Image via John Rutherford’s Office.

The PAWS Act will require the Department of Veterans Affairs to make grants available to service dog training organizations that can be used specifically to increase veteran access to the animals.

Waltz was one of three Florida delegation members who co-introduced the bill, with Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford and Tallahassee Democrat Lawson.

“Our servicemen and women sacrifice so much for our freedom, and we must do our part to assist those dealing with invisible illnesses,” Lawson said. “Through the PAWS Act, these trained Service Dogs will help our nation’s heroes with their mental wellness and make transitioning from active duty to civilian life an easier feat.”

“With 20 veterans taking their own lives each day, we must do more to help those with PTSD and other service-connected forms of trauma,” Rutherford said.

Tales from the crypto

From Bitcoin to Dogecoin, cryptocurrency increasingly circulates in the U.S. economy, with many buying it like day-traded stocks. Rep. Darren Soto wants extra measures to prevent price manipulation. The Kissimmee Democrat introduced two bills this week aimed at that goal.

The Virtual Currency Consumer Protection Act would direct the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to offer recommendations on regulatory changes to prevent price manipulation prevention procedures.

Darren Soto seeks stability in the crypto market.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Virtual Currency Market and Regulatory Competitiveness Act, co-sponsored by Minnesota Republican Tom Emmer, would kick off a comparative study by the CFTC on digital currency regulation around the globe, then help the U.S. better craft policy with regulatory clarity without stifling innovation.

“Virtual currencies and the underlying blockchain technology have a profound potential to be a driver of economic growth,” Soto said. “That’s why we must ensure that the United States is at the forefront of protecting consumers and the financial well-being of virtual currency investors while also promoting an environment of innovation to maximize the potential of these technological advances,” Soto said. “These bills will provide data on how Congress can best mitigate these risks while propelling development that benefits our economy.”

Soto introduced both pieces of legislation with Republican colleagues Ted Budd of North Carolina and Warren Davidson of Ohio and with Democrat Ro Khanna of California. The bills follow up on efforts from past Congresses, with $3 million budgeted in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget that already resulted in a cryptocurrency report by the CFTC. But Soto said steps still need to be taken to protect investors while retaining American competitiveness in an increasingly electronic world.

Debt restructuring

Florida Democrats and United Faculty of Florida agree: The national college loan system is broken, buries students in debt, and must change. A major way to address the problem, they said, is President Biden’s $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which would give Americans two free years of community college.

That would be “a game-changer” for students and Florida’s diverse economy, said Soto, who discussed the plan Thursday with Florida state Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa, state Rep. Tracie Davis of Jacksonville, UFF President Andrew Gothard and UFF organizer Adela Ghadimi.

As Washington edges closer to passing the most extensive infrastructure package in American history, he said, the Sunshine State’s workforce needs to be ready.

“We need to invest in young people,” he said. “We need to invest in workers to retrain, to retool, and make sure we have greater access to local colleges. It’s going to be absolutely critical.”

The national college loan system is broken, and Darren Soto has an idea to fix it.

Some 43 million U.S. students collectively owe $1.73 trillion in college loans, per statistics aggregation site EducationData.org, which calculated student debt rose 415% from 2003 to 2020, far outpacing national GDP growth.

Biden says funding for the plan will come by taxing those earning more than $400,000 yearly. An analysis by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania projected the plan would raise $3.375 trillion in new revenue through 2030 while increasing spending by $5.37 trillion.

For students attending historically Black colleges and universities, whose graduates on average owe $25,000 more in student loan debt but have less net worth than their white counterparts, it would be a godsend, Davis said.

“A lot of our students at HBCUs struggle with the cost of tuition,” she said. “We can wipe all that (debt) out with this bill (and) create a level playing field.”

Full circle

Former Congressman Andy Ireland served 16 years representing the greater Lakeland area in Congress. During that time, he wrote his share of recommendations for students seeking entry to military academies. It turns out, one of those was for a constituent who would later follow him to Washington.

Lakeland Republican Scott Franklin, who won election to the House last year, entered the Naval Academy in July 1982 thanks to a letter from the Congressman. Now Franklin serves in the House representing now-retired Ireland and recently had an opportunity to sit down with his constituent for some advice.

Scott Franklin gets advice from a VIP constituent.

“Rep. Andy Ireland was effectively the catalyst for my careers in both the Navy and in public service,” Franklin said. “Forty years ago, he recognized me with a congressional nomination to the U.S. Naval Academy, where I would later pursue a 26-year career as a naval aviator. It was during my time in the Navy that I gained a passion for public service. That passion inspired me to run for Lakeland City Commissioner and for Florida’s 15th District Congressional seat — the same district Rep. Ireland once represented. None of it would have happened had he not put his faith in me many years ago, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.”

Ireland took a similar political path, serving on the Winter Haven City Commission before seeking federal office. He started his Congressional career as a Democrat when elected to the House in 1976 but changed parties to Republican in 1984.

On Franklin’s House website, staff shared a photo of the recommendation letter from Ireland that the sitting Congressman still keeps in his office.

House call

The pandemic led many Americans with existing health conditions to seek out house calls over visits to doctors’ offices.

Vern Buchanan wants patients with certain conditions to enjoy that option permanently.

The Longboat Key Republican introduced bipartisan legislation (HR 5067) to guarantee those with severe infections, heart failure, immune system compromise, cancer, and other conditions can receive intravenous medication at home.

Under a Vern Buchanan proposal, certain medical conditions could be treated at home.

“As we have learned from the coronavirus pandemic, home health services have proved to be invaluable for seniors in my district and across the country,” Buchanan said. “The aptly-named Preserving Patient Access to Home Infusion Act will ensure that Medicare recipients are able to continue to receive lifesaving drugs in a safe and effective way from the comfort of their own home.”

Buchanan represents one of the most senior populations in the country in Florida’s 16th Congressional District. He’s carrying the bill, co-sponsored with Alabama Democrat Terri Sewell; Michigan Representatives Fred Upton, a Republican, and Debbie Dingell, a Democrat.

“With the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more critical to ensure that patients continue to receive this care safely in their homes,” Sewell said. “I’m so proud to introduce this bipartisan bill and urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to give it their full support.”

Galactic burn

Mast appears to have missed a deadline to report the purchase of up to $100,000 in Virgin Galactic stock, reports Business Insider.

The outlet notes that purchase came weeks after Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses testified in front of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. Mast sits on that committee, though he appears to have been absent from the portion of the hearing where Moses testified. That hearing was also public.

But Virginia Canter, chief ethics counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, argued the purchase still poses ethical questions given Mast’s role in overseeing the company as part of that subcommittee.

Brian Mast may have made a serious clerical error. Image via AP.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see this conflict of interest,” Canter told Business Insider.

Moses testified in front of the subcommittee on June 16. On July 19, Mast made two purchases of the company’s stock. Each buy was worth between $15,001 and $50,000.

The purchases also came days after Virgin Galactic’s founder, Richard Branson, flew to the edge of space with a crew during a televised event on July 11.

Mast did eventually report the purchase on Aug. 23. But that may have violated federal rules. The STOCK Act requires members of Congress to report such trades within 45 days, but that window shrinks to 30 days if the member of Congress is aware of the transaction.

Thin ICE

In July, Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz called for the closure of an immigrant detention center in Glades County. A newly filed federal lawsuit may bring to light accusations of sexual misconduct and abuse by guards that could expedite that process.

Seven women held at the Glades County Detention Center filed suit alleging male guards routinely watched women detainees shower and entered living areas unannounced for the sake of sexual voyeurism, all possibly violating the Prison Rape Elimination Act. The complaint alleges a psychiatrist also sexually harassed immigrant women detained at the facility. The lawsuit additionally documents the use of an HDQ Neutral disinfectant sanitizing spray and alleges this exposed the women to toxic chemicals. It also said the detention center recklessly violated COVID-19 protocols, allowing the coronavirus to spread among detainees.

Problems at the Glades County Detention Center have caught the attention of Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Some of the women also detail racist taunts and slurs used by guards. Defendants include women of Haitian, Mexican and Muslim faith who faced insults.

Advocacy groups called for the release of everyone currently held at the facility and for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to terminate its agreement with the county, according to a release from Freedom for Immigrants.

That follows a July 22 letter from Wasserman Schultz that criticizes the “troubling history of abuses.”

“For these reasons, we respectfully urge the Department to terminate its contract with Glades County and close this facility,” she wrote.

Co-signing the letter were seven other House Democrats, including Demings, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.

Tally power

Tallahassee native Adrianna Williams just landed an appointment in the Energy Department as a special assistant within the Office of Management. The Duke University graduate campaigned for Biden in 2020, serving as national co-chair for Black Students for Biden and a leader of National Students for Biden (and appeared prominently in an ad shot in Florida).

Williams previously worked in the North Carolina General Assembly for state Sen. Natalie Murdock, a Democrat.

With a degree in neuroscience, Williams focused on climate change, environmental justice, and infrastructure reform.

Congrats to Tallahassee native Adrianna Williams for landing a gig at the Energy Department. Image via Facebook.

Energy officials announced her hire, among other administration appointments. “DOE is thrilled to welcome these extraordinary individuals who are committed to championing climate solutions and delivering on President Biden’s promise of a more prosperous, equitable clean energy future,” said Chief of Staff Tarak Shah. “Their talent and innovative spirit are invaluable to our success and making our clean energy future a reality.”

Notably, the Biden administration earlier this year tapped Williams’ father, Alan Williams, for a role in a different federal agency. He serves in the Housing and Urban Development Department as deputy assistant secretary for intergovernmental relations in the Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations Office.

On this day

Aug. 27, 1942 — “Eleanor Roosevelt welcomes the Soviet Sniper” via Smithsonian magazine — As a battle-tested and highly decorated lieutenant in the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division, Lyudmila Pavlichenko had come to Washington D.C. on behalf of the Soviet High Command to drum up American support for a “second front” in Europe. Josef Stalin desperately wanted the Western Allies to invade the continent, forcing the Germans to divide their forces and relieve some of the pressure on Soviet troops. She visited with President Franklin Roosevelt, becoming the first Soviet citizen to be welcomed at the White House. Afterward, Eleanor Roosevelt asked the Ukrainian-born officer to accompany her on a tour of the country and tell Americans of her experiences as a woman in combat.

Aug. 27, 1984 — “Ronald Reagan announced teacher to be first space passenger” via Ed Week — President Reagan, in a move he said was designed to exemplify the importance of education in America, announced an elementary or secondary school teacher would be the first private citizen to fly on a space shuttle mission. “When the shuttle lifts off, all of America will be reminded of the crucial role teachers and education play in the life of our nation,” the President said during award ceremonies here for the 262 winners of the Secondary School Recognition Program. “I can’t think of a better lesson for our children and our country.”

___

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

Staff Reports


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