Delegation for 10.8.21: Debt punt — China fight — fake commerce — pregnant vax — manatees

capitol u.s. green 9.30.19
Kicking the can down the road, again.

Blink, punt

The potential for the federal government to crash into its debt ceiling has passed — at least for now. The Senate moved forward Thursday evening with a vote to suspend the debt ceiling until Dec. 3. That came after Senate Republican leaders reached a deal with Democrats to debate and vote on a measure.

Eleven Republican Senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voted with Democrats to invoke cloture — a number that did not include Florida Sens. Marco Rubio or Rick Scott. And no GOP members joined in a 50-48 vote to hike the debt limit by $480 billion and avoid a default.

For his part, Rubio made clear he remains troubled by the direction of budget talks on a massive expansion of the federal government, the only reason the ceiling needs a lift in the first place. “A $1.5 trillion plan to codify socialism is just as bad as a $3.5 trillion one,” he tweeted early Friday.

Congress kicks the debt limit can down the road. Image via AP.

Sen. Rick Scott, meanwhile, took to the Senate floor to paint a grim picture of Democrats’ plan to take over the personal finances of every American. He slammed parts of the plan to allow the IRS greater access to bank accounts and painted the mass spending and potential tax increases associated with the Build Back Better legislation.

“The Democrats want to control how you spend your money,” he said. “The Democrats want to control your expenditures, your charitable and political giving, and your investments. The more power Democrats can grab from American families, the more control they think they will get over each and every American.”

The vote brought a close to the latest chapter in fiscal brinkmanship over the budget that has played out repeatedly with a divided Congress. And it sparked plenty of punditry about winners and losers of the recent battle and ongoing fiscal war. Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, slammed McConnell on Fox Business for giving Democrats a deal.

“Call me conservative, but I just don’t understand why we would help the Democrats when they’ve been in control of the House, the Senate, and they have the White House since January,” he said. “If we’re going to increase the debt limit to allow them to spend more money on socialist welfare programs, the Democrats want to spend $5.5 trillion on top of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, on top of the $11 trillion we have spent just in the last 18 months. I certainly didn’t vote for the debt increase in the House. I’m not going to support it in the future.”

Democrats note, of course, that the 18-month period Steube outlined spans both President Joe Biden’s time in office and former President Donald Trump’s, with much of the spending taking place on bipartisan relief spending in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under Trump, the habit of suspending the debt ceiling, rather than regularly raising it to new levels, came into being.

Regardless, Biden’s White House welcomed the deal and predicted confidently it would win the support of the Democrat-controlled House.

“These votes underscore that raising the debt limit is a shared responsibility to pay for debts incurred in the past by Presidents and Congresses of both parties — debt that has nothing to do with President Biden’s fully paid-for economic agenda,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “As we move forward, there must be no question of whether America will pay its bills; Congress must address the debt limit in December and beyond — just as we’ve done almost 80 times over the last 60 years. Eleven Republicans did their part tonight, ending the filibuster and allowing Democrats to do the work of raising the debt limit. As we approach the coming months, we hope that even more Republicans will join Democrats in responsibly addressing the debt limit instead of choosing default or obstruction.”

Chinese compliance

As the Securities and Exchange Commission considers requirements for companies to report environmental, social and governance metrics, Rubio wants to know if that includes doing business with China.

As one of Congress’ most outspoken critics of the Chinese government, Rubio said the human rights violations and flouting of international standards in the nation should count for something in any measurements of corporate responsibility. But in a letter to SEC Chairman Gary Gensler and Commissioner Allison Herren Lee, the Miami Republican expressed intense skepticism that will occur.

“Previous positions taken by the Commission indicate that the consistent application of its policies to the [People’s Republic of China] is not guaranteed. In recent years, the Commission has created arbitrary exceptions to its general rules for activities in the PRC,” he wrote. “For example, the Commission has, for a decade, permitted the listing of China-based issuers and some issuers with significant business activities in the PRC on U.S. stock exchanges without the enforcement of applicable U.S. law pertaining to the ability of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) to inspect the audits of those issuers. Though the Commission has begun taking important steps to address this disparity, the fact remains that the Commission’s policy in this area operates from a baseline exception for the PRC.”

Marco Rubio calls for China to be held responsible for human rights violations. Image via AP.

He pointed to a rule change enacted just in August that exempts foreign stock issuers’ arbitrary flexibility in complying with diversity disclosures.

“Even if the PRC does not exempt China-based issuers from the rule, the rule provides the further flexibility that foreign issuers, including China-based issuers, can meet board diversity requirements by adding an additional female director or other individual instead of an underrepresented minority, while U.S. issuers must add both,” he said. “The Commission approved these exceptions for foreign and China-based issuers despite the fact that the exchange’s stated basis for its rule — to correct the ‘historical marginalization’ of underrepresented minorities — applies strongly to China under the control of the [Chinese Communist Party].”

Rubio itemizes numerous human rights concerns with China and problems with supply chain sustainability and resiliency issues.

Border beef

Fentanyl use in Florida is rising, and Scott said Biden’s border policies are to blame. The Naples Republican said an influx in illegal activity at the southern border continues to put “Florida families in harm’s way.” Following a decision by the Department of Homeland Security to terminate the Remain in Mexico policy while an injunction works its way through appeals, Scott blasted the decision and demanded a return to the enforcement policies of President Donald Trump.

Rick Scott really leans into the Blame Biden line. Image via AP.

“This isn’t just an issue in Arizona and Texas. Every state is a border state. I have been hearing from sheriffs across Florida about how this crisis is hurting our families,” the Senator said. “According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, there has been over double the amount of fentanyl smuggled across our border compared to all of last year — killing thousands of Americans — and the year isn’t even over. Law enforcement in Florida is seeing more and more dangerous drugs in our communities, hurting families because of the savage cartels having free reign at the border. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have taken one failed step after another to dismantle the proven border and national security policy we have set in place to protect this country. It must stop now. It’s time for Biden to ditch his failed policies of open borders and amnesty and secure the border now.”

All apologies

The various political relationships of Matt Gaetz made headlines this week.

Perhaps most notably, in an interview with WEAR, Gaetz addressed his friendship with former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, who has since pleaded guilty to sex trafficking.

Greenberg asks for sentencing to be delayed until March as he cooperates with other investigations, potentially targeting Gaetz.

Matt Gaetz says he has his sketchy relationships under control. Image via AP.

“I deeply regretted my friendship with him when I noticed some of Greenberg’s wrongdoing,” the Congressman said. “I believe it’s fair for people in northwestern Florida to judge me based on the associations I had. I have a political, social, and other way of dealing with Joel Greenberg. I deeply regret it.” But he also has denied being part of any crime, despite accusations he trafficked a minor across state lines for sex.

His support for Trump also earned attention this week thanks to the release of former White House Communications Director Stephanie Grisham’s memoir “I’ll Take Your Questions Now.”

Grisham described the Fort Walton Beach Republican as a reliable pick-me-up to the former President.

According to Business Insider, she wrote: “He would do anything for Trump and a TV hit — though not necessarily in that order. When the President needed someone to tell him how awesome he was, the staff would get Gaetz on the line, and he’d sing for his supper.”

E-fakes

Online shopping brings convenience and often savings. But it’s hard to return a bum product at the customer service counter, especially since consumers often don’t realize when the bogus products come from a different store. Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis just filed legislation hoping to change things.

The Congressman joined with Consumers Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, on the bipartisan Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers (INFORM Consumers) Act. It would require shopping platforms that allow third-party sellers to identify those moving high product volumes, including vendors who made 200 or more discrete sales in a year and tallied $5,000 in business in that time, using tax and government IDs. The legislation safeguards sharing consumer data with outside companies and will help identify those selling fraudulent products and committing retail crimes.

Gus Bilirakis is taking on bogus products.

“This pro-consumer legislation enacts uniform, nationwide rules to promote safety, increase transparency, and provide greater accountability for online sales. It will provide a layer of enhanced protections for consumers from stolen and counterfeit goods without adding undue burdens on small mom-and-pop businesses,” Bilirakis said. “This bill is a win-win for consumers and legitimate businesses in the online marketplace.”

Several consumer and small business organizations already back the bill, including Consumer Reports, Buy Safe America Coalition, and the Coalition to Protect America’s Small Sellers.

“Counterfeit and stolen goods sold online threaten the health and safety of the American public and line criminals’ pockets. Consumers deserve to shop with confidence and get what they pay for,” Schakowsky said.

Pregnant pause

Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor took to a virtual forum to encourage pregnant women to get vaccinated against COVID-19 amid low inoculation rates and heightened complications with the virus.

The Congresswoman promoted the vaccine among pregnant Americans, hearing from Dr. Haywood Brown, former president of the American College of OBGYNs, to combat misinformation about pregnancy and the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ve seen so many tragic stories of pregnant women who were unvaccinated struggling with COVID-19, and a few tragic stories of deaths due to not being vaccinated,” Castor said. “We wanted to make sure that our neighbors here across the Tampa Bay area had the best, up-to-date information from local experts.”

Kathy Castor urges pregnant women to get vaccinated. Image via NYT/Pool.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider the vaccine safe for pregnant women, those wishing to be pregnant or breastfeeding, only 31% of pregnant Americans have received the shot. Much of the hesitancy from receiving the vaccine stems from misinformation about adverse effects, like miscarriages and infertility.

Brown, who also serves as the vice dean of Faculty Affairs at the University of South Florida College of Medicine, stressed the heightened risk pregnant people have contracting the virus.

He said that cases of symptomatic COVID-19 during pregnancy have a twofold risk of admission into intensive care and a 70% increased risk of death. Pregnant people with COVID-19 are also at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes that could include preterm birth, stillbirth, and admission into the ICU of a newborn also infected with COVID-19.

“We’ve got to message about this; we cannot wait. We have to be much more aggressive,” Brown said, adding that the vaccine helps strengthen the baby’s immunity to the virus when a mother receives a vaccination.

Saving sea cows

Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan spotlighted research on manatees in his district while promoting a push to return the sea cow to the federal Endangered Species List.

The Congressman toured Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota and checked in on perpetual studies there. That includes research on ecology, distribution, habitat use, genetics and population status, which often employ famed resident manatees Hugh and Buffett.

Vern Buchanan stops by to visit manatees, Hugh and Buffett. Image via Vern Buchanan’s Office.

“I am extremely impressed by the work Mote Marine is doing to conserve manatee populations right here in our own backyard,” Buchanan said. “In addition to this vital research, upgrading their status under the Endangered Species Act is absolutely critical to protecting these beloved mammals from further decimation. I look forward to working with Dr. [Michael] Crosby and his incredible team at Mote Marine to do everything possible to protect these gentle giants in Florida.”

Buchanan previously sponsored legislation with Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto to force the Fish & Wildlife Service to upgrade manatee protection status from threatened to endangered.

Crosby, CEO of Mote, said Buchanan proved a strong supporter of manatees and research on the sea creatures conducted at Mote. “I really thank the Congressman for being such a great champion for our manatees, a champion for science-based management, a champion for our oceans and coastal environment, and all the support of the congressman and our entire delegation up in Washington, D.C.,” Crosby said.

Abortion access

West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel said abortion rights, under fire in parts of the country, took an appropriate step forward, with Biden restoring federal funding to health care providers who provide or refer patients for terminated pregnancies.

That reverses a Trump-era limit on Title X funding and restores federal payments to groups like Planned Parenthood. Frankel said that that’s good news for those receiving any number of other services from such groups.

Lois Frankel says abortion rights under Joe Biden are moving in the right direction.

“Millions of Americans rely on Title X funded health care providers to access the resources they need to stay healthy, including family planning tools that would otherwise be out of reach for low-income patients,” Frankel said. “Yet, the Trump Administration cut off funding for nearly 1,000 of these clinics by not allowing grantees to provide abortions or abortion-related services, even with their own private funding.”

She said services like birth control and primary reproductive care will be restored, particularly in minority and low-income communities.

“This new rule from the Biden-Harris Administration rights this terrible wrong and ensures that the needs of patients are once again prioritized over the personal beliefs of politicians looking to undermine their health care. Abortion care is a critical aspect of reproductive health care, and I’m grateful this Administration has taken this important step to ensure it’s accessible for all Americans.”

Tuition as reparations

With Hollywood Democrat Frederica Wilson holding the gavel, the House Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee turned its focus toward Historically Black Colleges and Universities this week.

“HBCUs have been at the very heart of addressing our nation’s long-standing education and racial equity failures,” Wilson said, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “For nearly 200 years, they have provided ladders of economic and social mobility and safe havens for generations of Black students.”

Frederica Wilson sees education access as ‘reparations.’

She also announced she would file legislation this year focused on helping cover the costs of attending school for many HBCU students. Such schools, many of which trace their history to the days of segregation and even slavery, often remain private institutions with high costs. Assisting would serve in a sense as a type of reparations, Wilson said.

Florida serves as home to at least four HBCUs, the public Florida A&M University, and Bethune-Cookman University, Edward Waters College and Florida Memorial University. Wilson notably graduated from Fisk University, an HBCU in Tennessee that produced the late Rep. Alcee Hastings of Fort Lauderdale.

Big hires

A new staffer with a strong Senate pedigree joined Miami Republican Maria Elvira Salazar’s House communications staff, where she also promoted another member of her team.

Valerie Chicola comes on as the Congresswoman’s senior communications adviser. The Florida State University graduate comes over from Sen. McConnell’s office, working since 2019 as the Kentucky Republican’s broadcast communications adviser. Her time there spanned periods when McConnell served as both Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader.

Valerie Chicola has a strong communications pedigree.

Additionally, Salazar promoted Alejandra “Allie” Rodriguez to be her new press secretary. Rodrigues served previously as a legislative correspondent and scheduler. The Florida Atlantic University graduate has worked with the freshman Congresswoman since she came to the hill in January.

Graham back

A former member of the delegation officially has a new role in the Biden administration.

The Senate confirmed Gwen Graham Wednesday to be Assistant Secretary for Legislation and Congressional Affairs for the Department of Education. President Biden nominated Graham for the role in April, and no resistance to her nomination surfaced.

Upon her nomination, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona hailed Biden’s pick.

Gwen Graham gets the nod for a new D.C. education gig. Image via AP.

“Graham brings decades of invaluable experience as a public education leader, federal legislator, and public servant to this role,” Cardona said. “As a graduate of public schools and the parent of public-school graduates, she is keenly aware of the importance of a strong public education system that serves all students well.

“Graham’s prior service to her local communities and our country will be instrumental in shaping and implementing the Department’s legislative goals and strategies.”

Graham is also a political legacy. The former North Florida Democratic Congresswoman is the daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham, a Coral Gables Democrat. Her truncated career in the Congress, a casualty of redistricting in 2016 that made it unlikely for a self-styled moderate Democrat to win that district, led to her run for Governor. That job ultimately went to another former delegation member, Republican Ron DeSantis, after Graham lost the Democratic primary to then-Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

On this day

Oct. 8, 2001 — “Tom Ridge sworn in as first Homeland Security chief” via CNN — Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ridge was sworn in, taking over a new Cabinet-level position charged with coordinating U.S. efforts to defend against and respond to terrorism. Ridge — a decorated Vietnam veteran, former Congressman, and two-term Governor of Pennsylvania — took the oath of office from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas at the White House. Vice President Dick Cheney, who originally was to deliver the oath, remained away from the White House as a security precaution after Sunday’s U.S. and British strikes against Afghanistan. President George W. Bush signed an executive order creating the new position.

Oct. 8, 1998 — “House clears the way for impeachment inquiry” via CNN — The House of Representatives made history by voting 258-176 to begin an impeachment inquiry into President Bill Clinton. Only 31 Democrats joined the Republicans to approve a free-ranging probe of perjury and obstruction of justice allegations against Clinton, stemming from his attempts to hide his sexual relationship with ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The Judiciary Committee will begin work immediately setting up hearings that most likely will begin after the November midterm elections. Although the outcome of the vote was all but inevitable, Democrats and Republicans took to the floor of the House to passionately argue the proposals during a two-hour debate.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Kelly Hayes and A.G. Gancarski.

Staff Reports



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