Delegation for 10.15.21: DEMOCRACIA! — free speech — police — immunity — blocked calls

American Captial Building.
Congress looks to kill communism at its roots.

DEMOCRACIA!

Florida continues to lead the charge for strengthened economic sanctions against communist Cuba. This week, Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Byron Donalds filed legislation in their chambers seeking to ramp up pressure on the communist nation 90 miles off Florida’s shore.

If passed as written, the Denying Earnings to the Military Oligarchy in Cuba and Restricting Activities of the Cuban Intelligence Apparatus (DEMOCRACIA) Act will impose new secondary punishments on Cuba.

“For decades, Cuba has been the root of instability in Latin America and a constant threat to the national security of the United States,” Scott said. “The Castro regime harbors terrorist groups, has eliminated free and fair elections, threatens and arbitrarily arrests critics, journalists and political activists, and props up other ruthless dictators, like Maduro in Venezuela and Ortega in Nicaragua. As the Cuban people’s fight for freedom from the oppressive and illegitimate communist Cuban regime continues, the United States must stand up for Cuban democracy.”

The bill from the two Naples Republicans includes sanctions for any person engaging in significant financial transactions with Cuba’s defense sector, security sector, intelligence sector, or any other connected to human rights violations or the support, direct or indirect, of international terrorism. Those would also apply to companies with 25% ownership by any such individuals.

Cuba Libre: Two Naples Republicans are calling for renewed sanctions against communist Cuba. Image via AP.

The bill also authorized the President to impose personal sanctions, including banning visits to U.S. soil, to any member of Cuba’s Communist Party, members of the Council of Ministers, officials with the Ministry of Interior, Cuban police officers or members of the military, and anyone working in the Ministry of Justice or Office of the Attorney General. Sanctions may include spouses and children, and they could only be lifted if Cuba met a list of demands, including the release of political prisoners, calling of elections and authorization of a free press to operate on the island.

“For six decades, the Cuban people have faced unimaginable horrors that have denied their fundamental human rights, subjected them to imprisonment and abuse, and limited the prosperity of millions,” Donalds said. “This legislation targets the worst abusers in the authoritarian government accountable are their egregious human rights violations against democracy activists and reaffirms our commitment to freedom, liberty and justice. The Cuban people need and deserve the full support of the United States in their relentless and righteous fight for liberation from the Communist Cuban regime.”

The large contingent of Cuban Americans within the Florida delegation signed onto the effort, including Sen. Marco Rubio. “Expanding from existing legislation, the DEMOCRACIA Act seeks to impose a cost on individuals who continue to oppress the people of Cuba,” the Miami Republican said. “From their puppet leader, Díaz-Canel, to their GAESA cronies, the Cuban dictatorship has continued to illegally enrich itself while everyday Cubans remain targets of oppression, censorship and human rights violations. As a State Sponsor of Terrorism, the Castro/Díaz-Canel dictatorship continues to threaten our regional stability through their active support of anti-democratic regimes in our hemisphere.”

Three Miami area Republicans co-sponsored the House version, including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, dean of the delegation. He noted the bill also required President Joe Biden’s administration to provide support for Cubans, including delivering internet access. “As brave pro-democracy and human rights activists continue to demand freedom, and many remain imprisoned for daring to speak out against the regime, this legislation is critical to promoting a free and democratic Cuba,” Diaz-Balart said.

Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, the daughter of Cuban exiles, said now is the time for the U.S. to bring greater pressure on Cuba, as months of protests undermine the regime. “I am committed to fighting against the murderous regime that forced so many of us to flee,” she said. “This critical legislation ensures that any foreign company choosing to do business with the Castro regime will be blocked from American money and markets. We will not stand idly by as foreign businesses supply oxygen to a brutal dictatorship for their own financial gain. The United States must not and will not do business with dictators or their cronies.”

Rep. Carlos Giménez tossed a barb at Biden while demanding swift action. “The Biden Administration’s mishandling of the Cuba issue has been a disgrace. The United States must have a strong posture against the evil, communist Castro regime and maintain a firm and unequivocal commitment to the freedom-seeking Cuban people,” Gimenez said. “By sanctioning individuals within the apparatus of power of the Communist Party of Cuba, we are sending a clear message to the Cuban people and around the world that we stand firmly on the side of political and economic freedom. This issue is a personal one to me. I will always stand firmly on the side of all who yearn for freedom and democracy.”

Speech or threats?

Sens. Scott and Rubio also led a contingent of delegation Republicans in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland questioning an investigation of threats to school boards. The senators characterized that as a misuse of the FBI to discourage free speech.

“A disturbing trend has come to light in recent months, but it is not the constitutionally protected speech and lawful assemblies of concerned parents that the Memorandum erroneously attempts to cast as criminal conduct,” the letter states. “Rather, this administration, with the full support of the DOJ, has engaged in an alarming pattern of declining to enforce existing laws it is duty-bound to uphold, while attempting to invent new legal authorities that have dubious statutory support and no foundation in the U.S. Constitution. The recently issued Memorandum is merely the latest example of this disturbing trend of politically motivated interventions by the nation’s top law enforcement agency.”

Things are getting out of hand at school board meetings, and the feds are stepping in. Image via AP.

Reps. Neal Dunn, Kat Cammack, John Rutherford, Michael Waltz, Bill Posey, Gus Bilirakis, Brian Mast, Giménez, and Salazar signed onto the letter.

The document described investigations as an effort to silence parents angry at mask mandates, quarantine rules, and other policies imposed by school boards. “School administrators, board members and teachers are public servants, but in fulfilling those important roles, they are not immune from scrutiny for decisions and actions that affect our children,” the letter states. “Indeed, accountability is a hallmark of public service and, contrary to your mischaracterization of events at school board meetings as criminal threats against public servants, we are seeing parents across the country demand accountability from those charged with the critical task of educating our children.”

Garland, for his part, has said he’s investigating a rise in criminal conduct and wants to train school boards on the line between free expression and violent threats that violate the law. He has encouraged reports of incidents that cross the line to the FBI’s National Threat Operations Center or a federal tip line (1-800-CALL-FBI) that’s available to all members of the public.

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” Garland wrote in a memo. “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.”

Anti-Marxist

The second National Conservatism Conference will include Rubio on its list of headliners. The Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 event in Orlando. The event will focus on issues of socialism in the U.S. and abroad.

“Our aim is a coalition of national conservatives together with anti-Marxist liberals,” said Conference Chair Christopher DeMuth. “We believe this coalition can work out a common path, charting a course forward for conservatives in the U.S. and beyond.”

Marco Rubio to speak out about Marxism. Image via AP.

Florida’s senior Senator will be one of three upper chamber members on the roster; Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri will also speak. Other Florida speakers include Miami attorney Marcell Felipe and Josh Hammer, the opinion editor of Newsweek and a Miami resident.

Like many conferences, this event lands in the state of Florida, which has no legal restrictions on attendance. It will also occur in the state closest to Cuba as that socialist nation appears as a crossroads. Organizers also make mention of growth in China’s reach around the globe, a particular interest of Rubio.

“America needs ideas capable of unifying an effective opposition and meeting the double challenge of neo-Marxism at home and a surging China abroad,” said Yoram Hazony, chair of the Edmund Burke Foundation, the host for the conference.

Officer love

Orlando Democrat Val Demings, herself a former Orlando police chief, made sure to recognize National Police Week this year. “Serving as a 27-year police officer and the police chief was one of the great honors of my life,” said Demings

The Congresswoman, who plans to challenge Rubio for his Senate seat next fall, issued a statement honoring the 701 names added to the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington D.C. That’s a list including 434 men and women in uniform who lost their lives in 2019 and 2020.

Val Demings showers some cop love. Image via AP.

“During this week, we recognize the men and women in blue who gave their lives in service to their communities. From Miami to Jacksonville, Palm Beach to Pensacola, they gave their lives in a righteous cause: to build a safe community for every Floridian,” Demings said. “They were men and women of honor, devotion and courage. They were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. We should thank them every day, but this week, in particular, I hope that every American will join me in prayer and thanks for all that our law enforcement officers do to keep us safe.”

Natural immunity

While studies show those who survive COVID-19 develop natural immunity, little data gets kept, and any such immunity doesn’t count toward goals of herd immunity. Clermont Republican Daniel Webster just led a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aiming to change that, saying it’s all the more critical to recognize natural immunity as Biden moves forward with vaccine mandates for major public and private employers.

“Science shows protection afforded to individuals with natural immunity is real, robust and durable. Denying science-based data only contributes to existing confusion, misinformation, and mistrust among the American people.” Webster said. “While vaccine mandates continue to be imposed on the same essential workers who kept our communities safe and functioning during the height of the pandemic — forcing them to quit their jobs or face termination — our medical leaders refuse to publicly recognize what overwhelming data has already shown. This is an opportunity to restore trust and faith in the Public Health system while maintaining our fight against COVID-19.”

Daniel Webster wants more emphasis on natural immunity.

Dunn, a Panama City Republican, medical doctor and COVID-19 survivor, joined with Webster and 12 other House colleagues on the letter.

“We have overwhelming scientific evidence indicating that prior infection with SARS-CoV-2 does result in substantial immunity. Yet the Biden Administration and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to ignore these studies and press on with ineffective mandates rather than embracing the findings and expanding our T-cell immunity testing abilities.” Dunn said. “This is irresponsible. We cannot ignore these studies because they do not fit a political narrative. If we are to truly ‘follow the science,’ it’s time to acknowledge the evidence and increase immunity testing while also continuing to encourage vaccinations among those who do not have natural immunity.”

Rockledge Republican Bill Posey and Mast also signed the document.

LEO grants

St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist announced $200,000 worth of grants for law enforcement programs in Florida’s 13th Congressional District. That includes a $183,203 split between the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, which will use the money for updates to technology in its media room, and the City of St. Petersburg, which will invest it in community policing and engagement. Another grant worth $27,900 will go to the City of Clearwater for a police body camera program.

Charlie Crist brings home some cash for law enforcement. Image via Jason Delgado.

“My most important job in Congress is keeping Pinellas families safe. From funding police-worn body cameras to supporting crime prevention and community policing initiatives — these grants deliver,” Crist said. “I’m grateful to see the funds secured through my seat on the House Appropriations Committee being used to directly promote the safety and security of my Pinellas friends and neighbors.”

The funding comes out of $190 million budgeted for 2021 in the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, money set aside by the House Appropriations Committee on which Crist sits.

Call blocking

While the Federal Communications Commission, per a 2019 law, should be cracking down on illegal robocalls, a new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund found that’s not been the case. Out of 3,063 service providers reporting the status of such efforts, only 17% have fully implemented anti-robocall technology, and just 27% have even partially put efforts into effect.

Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan said that’s unacceptable and sent a letter to FCC officials demanding action.

Robocalls really ring Vern Buchanan’s bell.

“Telephone companies have a duty to their customers to silence robocalls once and for all,” Buchanan said. “These unwanted calls are more than just a minor inconvenience; phone scams can defraud innocent Americans out of their life savings, especially vulnerable seniors.”

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence (TRACED) Act gave companies until June 30 of this year to comply with legal requirements on spam calls. The fact 56% of providers haven’t implemented the technology at all, with some saying they can combat robocalls on their own in other ways, has Buchanan pushing for consequences. “What actions will the FCC take moving forward to ensure bad actors do not further exploit the 83% of telecommunications companies that are unable or unwilling to fully comply?” he wrote.

“Complete industry compliance enforced by the FCC is required by law, and anything short of that will not adequately protect Americans from being further targeted by bad actors.”

Meanwhile, more than 30 billion robocalls bombarded U.S. consumers in July alone, and if things continue at the current rate, they will receive nearly 52 million such calls by year’s end. It’s more than a nuisance. A survey from The Harris Poll showed as many as 60 million Americans had been taken advantage of by robocall-based scams, with victims losing an average of $502 each. That constitutes a $30-billion blow to the U.S. economy in the last 12 months.

Banana stand

A House roll call on boosting the debt ceiling deal Tuesday ended up a straight party-line vote of 219-206, with every Democrat voting in favor and every Republican voting nay. Stuart Republican Brian Mast went a step farther and introduced a bill that would slash $480 billion from the budget, so lifting the limit would be unnecessary.

His Banana Stand Money Act would recall all unspent money from the American Rescue Plan, the latest installment of coronavirus bailout dollars. It would also fully repeal the State and Local Tax deduction, which he characterized as a “tax giveaway to blue state billionaires,” aiding high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and California, where the top 0.1% of earners received an average of $154,000 from the bailout. As for the ARP funding, Mast’s office said states have spent on average just 2.5% of their share of dollars and cities have spent 8.5% of it.

There’s always money in the banana stand.

“As the saying goes, ‘there’s always money in the banana stand,’” Mast said. “There are plenty of opportunities for savings within the bloated budget of the federal government, and Congress needs to get serious about getting our spending under control, instead of just upping the national credit card’s limit every time. It’s past time for a serious wake-up call and real efforts to cut spending.”

Snuffing out vaping

Can a public education campaign against vaping prove as effective as past efforts to stop teen cigarette use? Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz would like to know. The Congresswoman filed a House version of the legislation, the Preventing Opportunities for Teen E-Cigarette and Tobacco Addiction (PROTECT) Act, which would fund $500 million worth of research and outreach about the harmful effects of tobacco products.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, introduced the Senate version.

The bills were filed after the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey found more than 2 million youth had tried e-cigarettes and that one in four high school students vapes daily. About 85% of teens have tried flavored tobaccos, many of which appear aimed at children.

vaping
Is vaping really safer? Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants to know.

“The profit-driven, predatory assault to hook America’s young people on e-cigarettes and tobacco products demands an aggressive counterattack, and this bill would arm parents, health care providers, schools and policymakers with the vital tools we need to defeat the perils young people face with this ongoing epidemic,” Wasserman Schultz said.

“Through research, guidance, and messaging, this legislation would develop promising strategies to aggressively address the dangers caused by e-cigarettes. At all costs, we need to ensure our young people do not become addicted to these harmful products. I am eager to collaborate with Sen. Blumenthal on this important legislation that takes a bold step toward addressing this urgent public health issue.”

The bill would direct its funding through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and spread spending over five years. Part of the spending would go to identifying what marketing and messaging targets and effectively reach teens.

“This bill will help prevent yet another generation from getting hooked on tobacco,” Blumenthal said. “The scourge of e-cigarette and tobacco use among teens and young adults poses a real, dangerous threat to their long-term health and development. JUUL, Puff Bar, and other e-cigarette manufacturers have taken a page right out of Big Tobacco’s playbook, using deceptive marketing tactics and preying on impressionable youth by promoting extravagant flavors and products.”

Post Pandora

Salazar joined with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to champion anti-money laundering legislation in the House. Her office said that the Establishing New Authorities for Business Laundering and Enabling Risks to Security (ENABLERS) Act would close loopholes that allow nefarious governments to move currency through U.S. channels. That includes individuals associated with former Cuban President Raul Castro and the communist leadership in Cuba.

“Dictatorships like the Castro regime in Cuba, the [Nicolás] Maduro regime in Venezuela and the [Daniel] Ortega regime in Nicaragua regularly use enablers to facilitate the movement of stolen assets into the United States,” Salazar said. “These kleptocrats rob their people and undermine democracy. It’s time to crack down on this manipulation and stand with the victims of corruption who cry out for freedom from this oppression. America must not do business with dictators.”

Maria Salazar wants to take out the (money) laundry.

She introduced the legislation with Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen, New Jersey Democrat Tom Malinowski, and South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson. The bill would increase due diligence requirements on law firms, public relations shops, real estate advisers, art dealers and other professionals who often serve as middlemen to avoid the scrutiny of financial institutions.

The legislation came after the release of the so-called Pandora Papers, which revealed how many world leaders had concealed assets to evade taxes and other financial consequences.

“The Pandora Papers reveal how corruption undermines democracy,” Cohen said. “All around the world, countries are being looted and the most vulnerable people victimized by their elites. These kleptocrats then launder that money to the West, where they enjoy the high life — spending the money on luxury cars, penthouses, jets, and opulent parties. Some also spend it on intervening in our democracy, gaining influence in our politics and elites and working to undermine the rule of law. In order to fight corruption, we must curb the enablers.”

On this day

Oct. 15, 1984 — “Ronald Reagan signs Central Intelligence Agency Information Act” via The American Presidency Project — “I am pleased to sign into law H.R. 5164, the Central Intelligence Agency Information Act. It represents an initial effort toward needed reform of Freedom of Information Act requirements. Under its provisions, the Central Intelligence Agency will avoid time-consuming review of certain operational files, which must, in any case, remain classified to protect intelligence sources and methods, and will devote its resources to expedited review of other information requests. Moreover, this law assures the public of continued access to information that is releasable.”

Oct. 15, 1991 — “Clarence Thomas confirmed to the Supreme Court” via History.com — After a bitter confirmation hearing, the Senate voted 52 to 48 to confirm Thomas. In July 1991, Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the Supreme Court, announced his retirement after 34 years. President George Bush nominated Thomas, a 43-year-old African American judge known for his conservative beliefs, to fill the seat. Thomas had been chairing the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during the Ronald Reagan administration, and in 1990 Bush had appointed him to the Court of Appeals. He seemed headed for an easy confirmation until Anita Hill, a former aide, stepped forward and accused him of sexual harassment.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles.

Staff Reports



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