Build Back Better
The House Energy and Commerce Committee started its markup of a $3.5-trillion budget reconciliation bill, drawing polarized reviews from both sides of the aisle. That included Florida committee members involved in the process of shaping the legislation.
“Making these historic investments will help us close the Medicaid gap in Florida, expand Medicare, make CHIP permanent, and so much more,” tweeted Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat on the panel. “When Republicans were in the majority, they passed a tax cut for the top 1%. Now, House Democrats are working to improve the lives of the other 99% of Americans. This week, I look forward to passing key investments out of Energy and Commerce that will help us ‘Build Back Better.’”
The legislation — with that branding — has been a top agenda item for President Joe Biden since the Democrat took office in January. But the hefty price tag has Republicans in the delegation balking. The partisan nature of lawmaking in the closely divided House left GOP members feeling frozen out as well. Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican on the committee, offered a different title for the bill.
“The Build More Inflation Act was drafted in secret and released to members of the House Energy and Commerce late last week. Additionally, changes to the bill in the form of Amendments were only made public yesterday,” Dunn tweeted. “The Build More Inflation Act will spend trillions of dollars of taxpayer money in an attempt to drastically change the future of our country. Over the last year, Americans have seen the value of their savings and their wages diminished by inflation. The bill House Energy and Commerce is currently discussing will accelerate this for years to come.
“This is no way to run a country — let alone a democracy. I am strongly opposed to the Build More Inflation Act and strongly opposed to a socialist vision for America.”
So, what’s in the controversial bill as of now? There’s $10 billion set aside for supply chain security and new funding for emergency broadband, according to MeriTalk. About $456 will go to combating climate and greenhouse gas emissions, E&E Daily notes. That includes a natural gas tax drawing particular criticism from GOP leaders.
But Rep. Kathy Castor, a member of the committee and chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, welcomed investment in the environment.
“We are all dealing with the devastating consequences of a rapidly warming planet,” the Tampa Democrat said. “We know this, but here are a few facts. July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded. The past decade made up the hottest decade in history. The last seven years were the hottest in history with the 10 hottest years on record, they’ve all occurred in the last two decades according to NOAA, and it’s become very personal for so many Americans.”
News that the SolarWinds hack affected most of the Microsoft-hosted email addresses in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York has members of the delegation worried about any unspoken impact in Florida’s courthouses. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Miami Republican, led a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland co-signed by a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers demanding information on whether any investigations in Florida may have been compromised by the Russia-linked cyberattack.
“The DOJ confirmed the breach affected 80% of Microsoft email accounts used by USAO employees in New York, but did not provide additional information on the extent of the hack or its effect on Florida USAOs or offices in other identified states,” the letter reads. “This announcement is alarming as USAO email servers contain highly sensitive information. Florida USAOs are responsible for the prosecution of some of the most significant federal crimes, including crimes related to drugs and trafficking.”
Sen. Rick Scott, a Naples Republican, joined the letter. Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy also co-signed with Republican House colleagues Dunn, Kat Cammack, John Rutherford, Michael Waltz, Bill Posey, Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar.
“We are confident that the DOJ and other involved federal agencies are working tirelessly to prevent cyberattacks,” the letter reads.
Still, before Oct. 1, the delegation members want several questions answered. Was witness or victim information compromised? Was USAO information compromised? Most important, members wanted to know the vulnerabilities that allowed the hack and the specific steps that would be taken to shore up the system.
“During your confirmation hearing, you committed to a whole-of-government response to cyber threats,” the letter reads. “Please describe the current collaborative framework within the federal government for interagency coordination on cyber threats. Please describe the President’s strategy for a whole-of-government coordinated response to responding to and preventing cyberattacks, including which individual is leading this effort.”
Centuries of San Juan
Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898, but its capital city has stood longer than that. It’s now been around more than twice as long as the United States. As San Juan celebrates its 500th anniversary, Florida’s Senate delegation introduced a resolution to commemorate the occasion. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting Resident Commissioner, co-introduced companion legislation in the House.
“As Governor of Florida and now as Senator, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Puerto Rico several times and see firsthand the rich culture, wonderful people, and beauty the island has to offer,” said Scott. “I’m proud to be a voice for Puerto Rico in the United States Senate and join Congresswoman Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon and Sen. Marco Rubio to celebrate this important milestone for our brothers and sisters on the island. I’ll keep fighting every day to ensure that Puerto Rico is treated fairly, families on the island have their shot at living the American dream, and Puerto Rico can continue to thrive for future generations.”
Rubio stressed the island’s history and culture are very much part of America’s treasures. “As we commemorate the 500th anniversary of the founding of the City of San Juan, I’m proud to join my fellow Americans in Puerto Rico as they celebrate the founding of the oldest city in our nation,” he said. “This resolution pays tribute to the city’s legacy, which remains a historic gem for all American citizens.”
And Gonzalez-Colon reminded of the economic vitality of the Caribbean territory. “Today, Puerto Rico’s capital city is a major economic and trade center, home to one of the Top 25 busiest container ports in the nation,” she said. “San Juan is also known for its rich culture and vibrant history, perhaps best encapsulated by its iconic cobblestone streets and the massive system of fortifications built by Spanish military engineers between the 16th and 18th centuries to defend the city.”
Biden last week announced he would mandate COVID-19 vaccines for companies with more than 100 employees and federal employees, igniting another battlefront between the Democratic Commander-in-Chief and Ron DeSantis, Florida’s regulation-averse Republican Governor. Unsurprisingly, Gainesville Congresswoman Cammack made clear she’s on the side of the GOP leader.
She spoke alongside DeSantis at an event in her district, where the Governor threatened local governments requiring vaccines with hefty fines. Boasting about being Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s least favorite member of Congress, Cammack promised to stop overreach at the federal level on personal medical health. As the wife of a Gainesville firefighter, she vowed to stand up for the rights of employees within the state.
I will not let tyrannical officials dictate life decisions of our first responders with unconstitutional mandates. Abusive government overreaches at all levels are intrusive, unconstitutional, and will not stand up in court.
— Congresswoman Kat Cammack (@RepKatCammack) September 13, 2021
“I watched all last year as our fire, law enforcement, nurses, lineman, everybody in our first responder family, responded day-in, day-out, not asking do you have COVID? Not asking, are you vaccinated? They were just doing their jobs,” Cammack said. “So, this is particularly close to home for me.”
Cammack’s office would not disclose her vaccination status. But she said she feels those workers, even those who decline to get vaccinated, deserve respect.
“As your federal representative, I’m used to dealing with overreach from federal officials and the talking out of both sides of their mouth, but I have absolutely had enough,” she said. “This isn’t anti-vaccine. We stand here today as anti-mandate.”
Of note, another speaker at the event sparked criticism — utility worker Darris Friend falsely stated from the podium, “the vaccine changes your RNA,” which it does not. None of the public officials corrected the record, and the Congresswoman offered no comment on the state.
Celebrating the frogmen
A memorial in Fort Pierce could soon be the national monument to fallen Navy SEALs.
Winter Park Democrat Murphy and Stuart Republican Brian Mast introduced legislation to recognize the Memorial, Memorial Garden, and K-9 Memorial of the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum already standing as the locale for federal recognition of one of the military’s most notable special units. Language from the bill since made it into the National Defense Authorization Act coming before the full House for a vote later this month.
Our community takes the responsibility of honoring our servicemembers seriously. I cannot think of a better place for the “National” SEAL Memorial than Fort Pierce. pic.twitter.com/9MfMuMIrgp
— Rep. Brian Mast (@RepBrianMast) September 9, 2021
Mast noted the bill’s inclusion at a special event last week. The Congressman stood alongside retired Navy SEALs Commander Grant Mann and Master Chief Rick Kaiser, the Museum Executive Director, and the Chief Operating Officer.
“Florida is proud to be the birthplace of the Navy SEALs and is honored that they are a part of our community’s history,” said Mast, who represents the district where the museum stands. “I can think of no better location for the national memorial than Fort Pierce. As we cope with the despair and chaos of the Afghanistan withdrawal, this recognition is an important message to all veterans and their families that their sacrifices were not made in vain, particularly those of our Navy SEAL teams. Honoring our veterans is the least that America can do for those who put their lives on the line for her.”
The museum dates back to 1985, beginning as the first training base for the famous frogmen who fought in World War II. The frogmen program evolved into today’s SEALs.
“Florida is home to an incredible museum honoring the world-renowned Navy SEALs,“ Murphy said. “I’m proud to colead this bipartisan bill with Congressman Mast to designate the entire site as an official ‘national’ memorial, in order to pay tribute to the sacrifices this elite fighting force has made in defense of our nation. As the Vice-Chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee that oversees special operations forces, I’m proud to have our legislation included in the annual defense authorization bill.”
Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor took sides in another D.C.-Tallahassee rhetorical war between administrations, praising Biden’s Department of Education for probing DeSantis’ prohibition on school mask mandates.
“Keeping our children and educators safe in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is paramount,” Castor said. “The American Academy of Pediatrics, public health experts in Florida as well as the CDC recommend universal masking in K-12 schools, yet Gov. DeSantis is failing our students and our state by exacting retribution on educators and fighting in the courts to prevent local school boards from taking steps to keep kids and educators safe. Health experts have advised that Gov. DeSantis’s actions could lead to higher cases of transmission in the classroom as well as keep higher-risk students with disabilities out of the physical classroom for another school year — in opposition to a federal civil rights law. The Governor’s misguided actions against health protocols in schools come as August marks our state’s deadliest month of the pandemic with over 5,700 deaths.”
DeSantis’ state Department of Education has sought to withhold funding to school districts equal to the salaries of superintendents and school board members enacting mask policies with no parental opt-outs.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the delegation slammed DeSantis for allowing Florida to be the only state not to reenlist in a pandemic-era program to bring federal food aid to children in low-income homes. Officials in DeSantis’ administration say the funding is no longer necessary because in-school learning is available statewide in Florida.
“Instead of fighting local educators in court, Gov. DeSantis should be prioritizing getting out the billions in federal COVID-19 relief funding, that by law were mandated to be sent to local school districts months ago so that we can safeguard all of our students and educators’ health,” Castor said. “While the Governor focuses on punishing school districts that are prioritizing safety, U.S. ED’s Project SAFE will provide much-needed funds to keep our schools running, our children safe, and our incredible teachers and faculty on the job. I’m grateful to President Biden for standing up for our students and educators. This is a critical, all-hands-on-deck moment for all of us to listen to our public health professionals and our pediatricians.”
Backing the blue
Longboat Key Republican Buchanan, for 10 years now, has presented a special recognition to law enforcement officers operating in his district. He handed out this year’s honors at a special ceremony in Bradenton last week.
This time around, he renamed one honor for Gary Tibbetts, his longtime district liaison who died last year from complications with COVID-19. Before working for Congress, Tibbetts served 23 years in the Manchester Police, retiring as a sergeant.
“Gary was a consummate professional and true public servant in every sense of the phrase,” said Buchanan. “He coordinated the Congressional District Law Enforcement Awards for several years and took great pleasure in the task. I am honored to rename the Career Service Award in honor of Gary’s enduring legacy.”
This year, the Gary Tibbetts Career Service Awards from Buchanan went to Detective Eddie Howell of the Sarasota Police Department, Manager Valorie Knight of the Bradenton Police Department, Major Daniel Kaufman of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, and Joseph “Chris” Panichello of the Sarasota-Manatee Airport Authority.
Buchanan also issued Above and Beyond the Call of Duty Awards to Sergeant Aaron Bowling and Detectives Tyler Ackerman and John Jones, Jr., of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. The Associate Service Award went to Matoaya Wimbley of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. Preservation of Life Awards went to officers Paul Gagnon, Jared Lawhead, David Roberts and Cody Stanaland of the Sarasota Police Department, Sergeant Keith Noordzy and Deputies Keith English, Tyler Lewis, Donald Mays, Jacob Merrill, Deborah Perry, Jonathan Rubi, Todd Seillitto, and Patti Smith of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
Unit Citation Award went to Sergeant Daniel Weinsberg, officers Sean Carter and Matthew Hughes, and administrative specialist Tina Shumway of the Sarasota Police Department. He also issued Dedication and Professionalism Awards.
“Law enforcement is a noble and demanding profession that requires sacrifice, courage, and a dedication to serve others,” Buchanan said. “Every day, brave men and women put themselves in harm’s way to enforce our laws and protect the public. They deserve our gratitude and respect. I believe these awards are a fitting tribute to our officers and a reminder of the important role they play in our communities.”
President or kingpin?
Political instability in Latin America once again gripped the delegation’s attention as Yani Benjamin Rosenthal, a Honduran politician, wrapped up a drug trafficking sentence in the United States. Now the convict seems intent on returning to Central America and attempting to become President of Honduras.
Sarasota Republican Greg Steube said the State Department must not look the other way as criminal attempts to ascend into high office on this continent. In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Congressman urged U.S. involvement.
“The President has established countering corruption as a core United States national security interest. The Attorney General has likewise called for action to address the threats posed by corruption in Central America,” Steube wrote. “Honduras’ corruption crisis is becoming increasingly acute with Rosenthal’s attempts to gain control over the country’s institutions. Rosenthal is a convicted felon and money launderer who returned to Honduras from U.S. federal prison last year. We urge the State Department to send clear signals that the U.S. Government will not tolerate lost progress in its anti-corruption fight as a result of Rosenthal’s return to Honduras.”
Steube stressed the importance of narcotics trafficking sanctions and noted Rosenthal’s launch of a presidential campaign came as he committed crimes for which he would later plead guilty in U.S. court. Even post-sentence, Rosenthal remains on a list of people blocked reentry into the U.S. by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control.
“We call upon the State Department to act on its commitment to fight corruption, stem the Honduran migrant humanitarian crisis, and support U.S. national security interests,” the Congressman writes. “For these reasons, we urge the State Department to clearly signal that OFAC’s sanctions will continue to be observed and that the United States will remain vigilant against the danger of corruption posed by Rosenthal’s efforts to gain power.”
Discussion of the Texas “heartbeat law” that forbids abortion after doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat elicited startlingly personal stories from two of South Florida’s congresswomen last week.
The country’s landmark Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal, Roe v. Wade, had not yet come down when West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel said she encountered a scene that left an indelible mark on her memory and thinking.
“I was 15 years old when I found a friend nearly bleeding to death from a botched abortion,” Frankel recalled. “She chose to put herself through the danger because she knew she was not ready to become a mother.”
Many have noted the sixth week of pregnancy when the Texas bill typically prohibits abortions is, in many cases, before a woman knows she is pregnant. Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz knows this for a fact; that’s what happened to her before her daughter, Shelby, came into the world. Doctors had told the Congresswoman and her husband that she could not conceive without undergoing in vitro fertilization, and that’s how her twins were conceived, she explained. Years later, it hadn’t dawned on her she might be pregnant until well after the six-week mark.
“It’s ridiculous that I have to explain biology to men, who purport to be champions of life,” Wasserman Schultz said. “But when you menstruate, usually if you miss a period, you don’t realize it until several weeks after you missed your period.”
According to an announcement last week, Jason Attermann, who has served in Deutch’s office for eight years, is moving on. Aviva Abusch will succeed Attermann in the press secretary role following Attermann’s final day on Thursday, Sept. 9. Attermann has served in several positions in Deutch’s office since joining the team in June 2013, including legislative aide, press secretary and policy adviser. Attermann says he’ll be stepping away from government for now, but that his work with Florida “likely won’t end.”
Abusch has worked as a legislative aide in Deutch’s office since Jan. 2020. She’s also worked as a staff associate on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism. Deutch currently chairs that committee.
Meanwhile, Madeline Holzmann will move from one delegation member’s office to another. She has started as deputy press secretary for Sen. Scott. She previously served as a press assistant to Rep. Scott Franklin, a Lakeland Republican.
On this day
Sept. 14, 1814 — “Francis Scott Key pens ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’” via History.com — The poem, originally titled “The Defence of Fort M’Henry,” was written after Key witnessed the Maryland fort being bombarded by the British during the War of 1812. Key was inspired by the sight of a lone U.S. flag still flying over Fort McHenry at daybreak, as reflected in the now-famous words of the “Star-Spangled Banner”: “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” Key watched the bombing campaign unfold from aboard a ship located about 8 miles away. After a day, the British were unable to destroy the fort and gave up.
Sept. 14, 1901 — “Theodore Roosevelt sworn in as President” via Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies — Roosevelt was sworn in as the 26th President of the United States upon the assassination of William McKinley. The latter was shot by Leon F. Czolgosz in Buffalo, New York, on Sept. 6. McKinley died on Sept. 14. The Honorable John R. Hazel, U.S. District Judge of the Western District of New York, administered the oath at the Ansley Wilcox Residence in Buffalo, New York. No Bible was used.
Best wishes to Rep. Murphy, who turns 43 on Thursday, Sept. 16.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Anne Geggis and Ryan Nicol.