Delegation for 9.21.21: Regeneron — cheap drugs — lost followers — immigration — Big Tech

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Florida is ground zero — again — in the fight for monoclonal antibody drugs.

Regeneron gone

A federal change in the rationing of monoclonal antibody drugs instantly created friction between President Joe Biden’s administration and those states heavily promoting Regeneron treatments. There may be no greater example than Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has opened clinics around the state and centered his coronavirus response on urging those who contract COVID-19 to seek prompt treatment.

Now fewer MAB supplies will ship to the Sunshine State, leaving several members of the delegation seething. Miami Republican Sen. Marco Rubio led a letter from several Republican delegation members demanding Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra reverse course and continue shipping doses that meet demand in the state.

“On Sept. 13, 2021, with no prior warning, HHS established new allocation procedures that will cause the State of Florida to face a deficit of tens of thousands of doses per week,” the letter states. “While these therapies are not a substitute for vaccines, they have prevented thousands of hospitalizations, including in breakthrough cases.”

Co-signed by Sen. Rick Scott and Reps. Neal Dunn, Bill Posey, Gus Bilirakis, Scott Franklin, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Giménez, the letter contrasts the reduction in drugs to Biden’s apparent enthusiasm for the treatment.

On Sept. 9, Biden boasted about the success of MAB treatment. “The monoclonal antibody treatments have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by up to 70% for unvaccinated people at risk of developing severe disease.,” he said in remarks at the time. “We’ve already distributed 1.4 million courses of these treatments to save lives and reduce the strain on hospitals. Tonight, I’m announcing we will increase the average pace of shipment across the country of free monoclonal antibody treatments by another 50%.”

But the issue in Florida is how that increased shipment has deployed. To date, seven states used about 70% of MAB drugs in the nation, The Washington Post reports. In Florida, officials say supplies sent to the state dropped by half last week, after treating 90,000 with MAB since August. Now hospitals in the state say demand exceeds supply.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back on accusations the administration had slashed drugs for red states. First, she said the administration indeed boosted weekly shipments from 100,000 doses to 150,000. But low vaccination rates in states like Florida and Texas have led to higher numbers seeking treatment. The federal government, she said, must balance the needs of all.

“Our supply is not unlimited, and we believe it should be equitable across states across the country,” Psaki said. “Our role overseeing the entire country is to be equitable in how we distribute. We’re not going to give a greater percentage to Florida over Oklahoma.”

Delegation members, though, said while treatments aren’t a substitute for improving vaccination rates, the need for help exists, and the Regeneron drugs will save lives. It’s wrong for the federal government to cut supply and do so without even consulting Florida’s health officials.

“State Departments of Health cannot develop procedures or plan for problems they are not aware of,” Rubio’s letter reads. “In the absence of clear, consistent communication, Florida and other states are now facing a situation where they have been denied the opportunity to develop an equitable, efficient state coordinated distribution system. At a time when Florida’s hospitalization rates are rapidly declining, in part because of the State’s successful MAB deployment infrastructure, this is a dangerous reversal of the Department’s stance.”

Concordia Summit

Scott, a regular critic of China’s communist leadership, spoke in New York City on the topic as part of the 21st Concordia Summit there. The Naples Republican talked of problems with the sitting regime and also how America could collaborate with allies in Asia.

“We ought to be a partner with Japan, Taiwan, and Korea because they believe in what we believe,” the Senator said, “They believe in human rights.”

Rick Scott talks collaboration with Asia at the 21st Concordia Summit.

Scott spoke onstage with Paula J. Dobriansky, an ambassador to North Ireland under President George W. Bush and a Senior Fellow in the Future of Diplomacy Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. The hybrid event attracted experts on diverse topics, including Singapore Communications Minister Tan Kiat How, Google Global Affairs Senior Vice President Kent Walker and Kate Wilson, CEO of the Digital Impact Alliance at the United Nations Foundation. Scott was among the in-person speakers at the summit.

“I was honored to join the #Concordia21 Summit in NYC this morning and speak with Ambassador Paula Dobriansky about the global threats posed by Communist China and how America must respond to protect democracy and our interests across the world,” he tweeted.

Debt plan?

Rubio doesn’t want to forgive all student loans but says it’s time to rebuild how it finances Americans’ higher education costs. In an op-ed published by The Florida Times-Union, Florida’s senior Senator decried liberal efforts to cancel out debts as “expensive, unsustainable, grossly unfair and counterproductive.’ But he promoted his Leveraging Opportunities for Americans Now Act, or LOAN Act, as an alternative.

Marco Rubio tells those who want to cancel student debt to take a hike. Image via AP.

“The legislation would reform our federal direct student loan system by eliminating interest and replacing it with a one-time, non-compounding financing fee paid out over the life of the loan. No more inflated, compounding interest rates that obscure the true cost of college loans,” Rubio wrote. “The LOAN Act would help borrowers by taking the unique financial circumstances of the borrower into consideration. With an income-based repayment (IBR) plan as the default option, new graduates would not suddenly be swamped with monthly repayments they cannot afford.”

Rubio said that the “simplified” system, with automatic triggers to address the ability to pay down loans, has support within the United Negro College Fund and the Bipartisan Policy Center. “We can have a more transparent system that does not trap Americans looking to pursue an education with exploding interest payments and unmanageable burden,” he wrote.

Lost followers

Twitter successfully defended itself from a federal complaint filed by Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz. In 2018, the Congressman filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the social media platform of purposefully “shadow-banning” him, blocking him temporarily from appearing in its interactive news coverage feeds on the midterms and effectively making an in-kind contribution to his political opponents.

Matt Gaetz is losing followers, and he doesn’t like it one bit. Image via AP.

“When Twitter was truly an ethical and ‘neutral’ platform, it would have had no cause to be concerned with election regulations,” the complaint reads. “At one point, Twitter considered itself to be the ‘free speech wing of the free-speech party.’ … However, Twitter recently decided that it would tinker with the marketplace of ideas — by favoring some ideas and some speakers over others.”

That may not be a legal problem most of the time, but Gaetz argued that when it came to silencing some political candidates while opponents enjoyed a free platform, which broke the law.

The FEC, however, feels different. In a unanimous 6-0 decision just made public, commissioners in executive session found no reason to believe Twitter was making unreported contributions, in-kind or otherwise. Twitter, for its part, maintains any disturbance in Gaetz’s reach was short-lived and came about not because of an active decision but because an algorithm found the Congressman closely aligned with nationalist and supremacist bodies the platform was trying to limit, Business Insider reports.

Gaetz never seemed damaged by any action. In 2018, he won a Republican primary with almost 65% of the vote and won 67% in a general election, defeating Democrat Jennifer Zimmerman. Gaetz today has 1.1 million followers on Twitter for his account and 1.3 million for his official Congressional account.

Cheap drugs

The markups conducted in the House have helped advance several Democratic priorities into budget bills. But Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto noted there’s also momentum in the process right now for an issue embraced by many voters on both sides of the aisle. During the markup for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, he highlighted the chance for Medicare to negotiate the price of prescription drugs.

“We Americans, by and large, pay more for prescription drugs than any other developed country in the world. Even as we make most of these drugs here in the United States,” Soto said. “I’ve been to town halls and pharmacy tours throughout my district in Orlando, Kissimmee, Haines City, Winter Haven, and seniors throughout the district — Democrats, Republicans, independents — all have agreed on two points over and over. They overwhelmingly are unable to pay for their medication, and they support Medicare lowering drug prices.”

Darren Soto gats behind a bipartisan issue — cheaper Medicare drugs.

Indeed, it’s an issue with the support of Republicans like DeSantis and Democrats like Biden. Soto noted it’s also a practice already employed by the Veterans Affairs Administration and Medicaid to negotiate lower prices, so why not allow it for senior-serving Medicare?

The path in the Senate remains unclear. Moderate Democrats like Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have expressed doubts about such a plan to the White House. There seems to be growing support for the plan in the House — and a White House signature waiting.

Immigration action

Following a decision by the Senate parliamentarian that the upper chamber can’t lump together comprehensive immigration reform and a budget reconciliation vote, Orlando Democrat Val Demings says it’s time Senate Democrats stop playing nice. On Monday, the Congresswoman said Senate leadership could no longer let Republican obstruction tactics halt the progression of all policy matters.

“Immigration reform to protect Dreamers, Florida farmers, TPS recipients and essential workers is critical for our economy and our future,” she said. “The Senate must move forward, and they should do so with the understanding that in a democracy, the majority should be able to pass legislation to serve the American people.”

Val Demings wants Democrats to stop playing nice.

For the record, the House in March passed a bill to give a path to citizenship for undocumented residents. Demings and all delegation Democrats (including three South Florida Republicans) voted in favor of the measure.

Demings wants something passed and hopes voters hold Republican Senators responsible if the minority blocks anything. There’s some obvious self-interest there as the Congresswoman has already filed to challenge Rubio’s reelection next year.

“Let’s also be clear that we are only in this situation because inexcusable obstruction by Senate Republicans has nearly shut down Congress’ ability to work for the American people,” Demings said. “The Senate must find alternate pathways to complete this work, and every Senate Republican should be held accountable for opposing immigration reforms that will protect workers, add an estimated $1.5 trillion to our economy and create 400,000 new jobs.”

For his part, Rubio expressed a willingness in January to work on the immigration but considered the Biden administration’s plan a “non-starter.”

“America should always welcome immigrants who want to become Americans,” he said. “But we need laws that decide who and how many people can come here, and those laws must be followed and enforced. There are many issues I think we can work cooperatively with President-elect Biden, but a blanket amnesty for people who are here unlawfully isn’t going to be one of them.”

His office put out a release Monday in direct response to Demings that stated the Congresswoman was on “such a crusader for amnesty that she wants to bypass over 200 years of Senate rules in order to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants.”

Big Tech

There’s bipartisan agreement that social media must do more to protect user privacy. But Palm Harbor Republican Bilirakis said Congress isn’t moving in the right direction. The Congressman criticized a plan to fund the Federal Trade Commission’s creation of a privacy bureau with no clearly defined goals as a scheme to create more government with negligible impact on the problem at hand.

“We must create a national privacy standard and provide a road map for the FTC to implement those standards,” he tweeted. “Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi’s plan to give $1 billion to this agency without any accountability or Congressional guidelines is irresponsible at best.”

Gus Bilirakis wants to protect privacy on social media, but Congress is going about it the wrong way. Image via Twitter.

Bilirakis serves as ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce consumer protection panel and will use that position to battle efforts toward liberal partisan enforcement. “Congressman Bilirakis is alarmed that nothing within the provision even requires the funds to be spent on improving data privacy protections for Americans,” his spokesperson Summer Blevins told The Washington Examiner.

Lunch money

Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor criticized DeSantis Monday evening for his decision not to reenlist the state in a pandemic-era program to bring federal food aid to 2.1 million children from low-income homes.

“We’re already starting behind, and when a state refuses to draw down emergency aid that was intended to be distributed expeditiously, there’s something nefarious or ideological going on here that is not helpful to our students and kids,” Castor said.

Kahty Castor weighs in on Florida ignoring millions in child food aid. Image via Facebook.

Castor made the remarks at a virtual town hall, joined by teachers and parents to discuss the impact on Hillsborough County Public Schools. Speakers focused on the state’s refusal of about $820 million in child food aid for Florida’s neediest families, listing Florida as the only state in the country that has not applied for the federal food assistance provided at no cost to the state.

The same evening, POLITICO reported that last week, Florida’s Department of Children and Families started the process of applying for the funds.

Academy exposure

Sarasota Republican Greg Steube last week hosted a U.S. Service Academy Fair in Punta Gorda so prospective students could learn more about what the institutions had to offer.

Information was available on all academies, including the Military Academy at West Point, Naval Academy in Annapolis, Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point. Representatives from each school held breakout sessions, and a former Steube nominee accepted into the Air Force Academy, Austin McEvoy, was also on hand to help.

To get into a service academy, you have to go through Greg Steube first.

“It was an honor to see so many young Americans interested in learning more about the Service Academy Process, and what our office can do to help,” the Army veteran said. “During my service, I met some of the bravest patriots our nation has ever seen. We would be lucky to have any of the attendees today represent our community in service to our country.”

Admission into a service academy requires a letter of support from a member of Congress. Steube’s office is accepting applications.

Of note, Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy plans to host an info session with academy representatives. Hers will be Wednesday, held virtually. The event will be livestreamed on her Facebook page.

“One of the best parts of my job is helping exceptional high school students achieve their dreams of serving our country by attending one of our nation’s distinguished service academies,” she said.

Mute button

Naples Republican Byron Donalds in school used to sing the James Weldon Johnson-penned hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” But that doesn’t mean he wants the music kicking off every football game. One of few Black Republicans now serving in Congress, the Congressman spoke to Fox News’ Sean Hannity about his feelings on the song billed as a Black national anthem played ahead of sporting events.

“There is just one national anthem,” Donalds said. “It’s the one that we all stand, and we all sing to, especially when someone is doing it in a fantastic way …”

Byron Donalds takes issue with Alicia Keys performing the ‘Black national anthem’ before NFL games.

His comments came after the NFL invited singer Alicia Keys to perform a “Lift Every Voice and Sing” rendition at the season opener between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys. Donalds stressed that song still meant a great deal to him and other Black Americans.

“But it shouldn’t be the ‘other’ national anthem. There should be only one,” Donalds said. “If the NFL wants to do that at halftime, if they want to do that at some other time, that’s fine. But there should be one national anthem, without question. ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ is a very good song, and a thing I don’t like is that it’s now being used unfortunately in these social media and this political way of bringing division to the country.”

On this day

Sept. 21, 1922 — “Warren Harding formalizes U.S. support of Israel” via The New York Times — President Harding signed the joint resolution adopted by the Senate and House expressing American approval of the restoration of Palestine as a Jewish homeland. Zionists say the resolution is practically identical in style to the declaration of the British government of Nov. 2, 1917, recognizing and approving Zionist aspirations since carried into effect in the Palestine mandate recently ratified by the League of Nations.

Sept. 22, 1976 — “Orlando Letelier assassinated” via the Transnational Institute — Chilean secret service agents set off a car bomb in Washington, D.C., killing TNI’s director, Letelier, along with Ronni Moffitt, a fundraiser for the Institute for Policy Studies. Until 9/11, it was the most infamous act of international terrorism ever in the U.S. capital. Letelier and Moffitt were colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies, where Letelier had become one of the most outspoken critics of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Moffitt was a 25-year-old fundraiser who ran a “Music Carryout” that made musical instruments accessible to all. A massive FBI investigation traced the crime to the highest levels of Pinochet’s regime.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Al Lawson, who turns 73 on Thursday, Sept. 23.

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

Staff Reports



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