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- Marco Rubio
- Maria Elvira Salazar
- Martin Luther King
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- Merrick Garland
- Michael Waltz
- Nicolas Maduro
- Rick Scott
- Stephanie Murphy
- Ted Deutch
- Val Demings
- Vern Buchanan
Rubio v. Kerry
It’s a conflict that’s been brewing for the better part of a decade.
Sen. Marco Rubio this week called for firing John Kerry as President Joe Biden’s climate envoy for national security.
That came after Florida’s senior Senator accused the former Secretary of State and presidential candidate of profiting off slavery in China. In an op-ed published by Fox News, Rubio wrote Kerry and wife Teresa Heinz hold a $1-million financial stake in the Hillhouse China Value Fund. That investment fund is a top shareholder in YITU technology, a company involved in the “the surveillance, detention, and repression of Uyghurs and others.”
“In other words, Kerry appears to be profiting from slave labor,” Rubio wrote.
The Miami Republican has been one of Congress’ most vocal critics of China’s human rights record, which last year prompted the superpower to impose sanctions on Rubio personally, including barring entry to the country. He responded to that in a RealClearPolitics op-ed in which he torched the nation for the oppression of Muslim populations in the Xinjiang province.
Now, Kerry has a direct hand in that through his and his wife’s financial stake in YITU, a software company, making billions off surveillance software, Rubio wrote in a recent op-ed. The investment proves Kerry can’t work on behalf of U.S. interests, he added.
“Now it makes sense why he is actively working against my Uyghur Forced Labor Act, which would make it impossible for products made with slave labor in Xinjiang, China to be imported into the United States,” Rubio said. “Kerry has been working against my legislation and has convinced President Joe Biden to stay silent on the bill.”
That’s a reference to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (S 65), bipartisan legislation he reintroduced this year with Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat. The bill forbids the import of goods made with Uyghur forced labor from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. It has already passed by voice vote in the Senate but stalled in the House.
Of course, the Senator feuded for years with Kerry. In 2015, while Rubio was still a freshman Senator, he heavily criticized the Iran nuclear deal, developed under Kerry’s watch at Foggy Bottom, and later called for a Justice Department investigation of Kerry’s work to preserve that treaty after former President Donald Trump’s election. More recently, Rubio called for an investigation into reports that Kerry leaked state secrets about Israel to Iran. Kerry has publicly denied sharing any information that wasn’t already public knowledge.
For his part, Kerry testified to the House in May that the administration is separately considering sanctions in China regarding products, including solar cells produced using forced labor. “It is a problem,” Kerry said. China has denied accusations of detaining ethnic groups, including the Uyghurs.
Sen. Rick Scott sought the head of another member of Biden’s administration this week. During a roundtable event on immigration, the Naples Republican said Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas must resign. The demand comes as Border Patrol has arrested a record 1.7 million for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border this year.
“This border crisis is not just a Texas or Arizona problem; every state is a border state when the savage cartels are given a free pass to human traffic and smuggle lethal drugs into this country,” Scott said. “Every American is put in harm’s way because of the Biden administration’s dangerous policies that have wreaked havoc across our nation. But there are more people responsible for this growing disaster besides the occupants of the White House and Senate Democrats who have refused to hold a proper hearing on this crisis — and they must all be held accountable.”
And no one in the administration holds the level of direct responsibility as Mayorkas, whose agency includes border security enforcement.
“The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, has refused to do his job and has completely abdicated his duty to the country and the millions of American lives he swore to protect. It should start with Mayorkas,” Scott said. “He has failed Americans — he should resign today. He cannot and has not led DHS through this crisis effectively. He’s actively making this crisis worse.”
To watch Scott’s opening remarks, click on the image below:
A sex scandal surrounding Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz managed to earn mention at a meeting of the National Commission to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol Complex. In testimony, Gaetz and Ohio Republican Jim Jordan opposed efforts to force former presidential strategist Steve Bannon to come before the panel.
Gaetz categorized the House interest in the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol as a “uniquely Washington obsession.” “It wouldn’t be so damaging to our country if it wasn’t absorbing the capacity of the Congress to meet the actual challenges that the American people are facing,” he said.
Members of the panel disagreed. But it was Rep. Norma Torres, a California Democrat, whose response to Gaetz and Jordan went viral.
“This is not about someone being sexually assaulted or somebody paying to have sex with a young girl,” she said, “or somebody not, you know, protecting people that are under their jurisdiction. This is about democracy.”
That last bit of shade was thrown at Jordan, who has faced allegations that as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University, he covered up accusations of sexual assault victimizing athletes.
The bulk of the comment struck a chord for Gaetz, who spent months dealing with accusations of sex trafficking a minor.
The Panhandle Republican allegedly passed money through former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg with cash apps for so-called “sugar babies” exchanging sex for high-priced gifts.
Greenberg pled guilty to a sex trafficking charge already and asked for time before sentencing while cooperating with prosecutors on related investigations.
Gaetz has denied ever paying for sex.
A perfect circle
As the Florida Legislature looks at redistricting, analysts have studied which of the current congressional districts in the state hold up best to court scrutiny. The top prize (apparently) goes to Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, represented by Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack.
The red district doesn’t get accolades for being a particularly competitive district; Cammack won her seat in November with more than 57% of the vote. But just because the GOP has a voter registration edge doesn’t mean there was gerrymandering.
According to analysts for the Florida House, the district scores the highest of Florida’s now-27 districts in three tests used by courts. The Reock degree of compactness test looks at geographic configurations, and the county keeps five neighboring counties whole, along with the entire city of Ocala on the district’s southern border. That earns a score of 0.71 on the test.
The Convex Hull test, where the district scores a 0.89, looks at how close the district is to a perfect circle. More than any district in Florida, this district seems round enough to strap on the wheels of a rickety wagon.
Then the Polsby Popper test checks the congruency of the jurisdiction, and it’s pretty easy to drive around with no significant water bodies or weird juts across the state prohibiting access.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s formula for water quality grants hasn’t changed since 1987. Mike Waltz wants to change that.
The St. Augustine Beach Republican introduced the Clean Water Allotment Modernization Act of 2021 in the House, filing the bipartisan bill with Maryland Democrat Anthony Brown.
If passed, the legislation would reform the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which allocated federal money for water quality projects such as septic-to-sewer conversions, stormwater management, and estuary protection.
“Florida currently receives one of the smallest clean water allocations from the Environmental Protection Agency despite having some of the most critical water quality needs in the country,” Waltz said. “We are being shortchanged by this outdated formula — and look at the impact on a devastated Indian River Lagoon, dying manatees and aquatic life, red tides and freshwater algal blooms, and regressing wetland ecosystems across Florida.”
Likewise, Brown said the existing formula cuts short Maryland projects like water quality improvements in the Chesapeake Bay.
Under the bill, the Environmental Protection Agency must routinely update its allotment formula and reform the Clean Watersheds Survey based on more than 30 years of scientific advancement, not to mention acknowledging population growth in Florida and the worsening of problems like harmful algae blooms. It would also supplement the revolving fund through 2026 to be more equitable to states now getting shortchanged.
“By fixing this formula, we can ensure Florida gets the federal funding necessary for wastewater systems, stormwater management, and estuaries like Indian River Lagoon,” Waltz said.
Rubio and Scott introduced a Senate version of the bill with Sens. Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat, and Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican.
The FBI reports that incidents of domestic terrorism nearly tripled since spring of 2020, with its caseload jumping from about 1,000 to roughly 2,700 in that time.
Considering the political motivations behind such crimes, Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy said it’s important no one supporting that terrorism ever holds a national security clearance.
She introduced the No Clearance for Domestic Terrorists Act (HR 5513), along with Reps. Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, and Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican. The Act would disqualify any individual involved in, supported, trained to commit or advocate an act of domestic terrorism.
“As a former national security specialist at the Pentagon, I know how dangerous it is for individuals who participated in domestic terrorism to receive a security clearance, which is a privilege and not a right,” Murphy said. “I’m proud to co-lead this bipartisan legislation with Representatives Crow and Cheney, which will protect our national security and ensure that only those who have shown the utmost conduct, character, and loyalty to the United States have access to our nation’s secrets.”
The bill will do that by updating the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines, requiring background checks and pre-clearance polygraphs to include questions on domestic terrorism, and adding appropriate queries on questionnaires for public trust and national security positions.
Notably, Murphy and Cheney serve together on the Jan. 6 Commission, itself a panel scrutinizing an act of domestic terrorism. Cheney said the issue has become more critical than ever.
“Increasingly, we know that threats to our way of life and our system of government do not only come from abroad but can metastasize at home as well,” she said. “We must confront domestic and international enemies that threaten the foundations of our constitutional republic. Adding this provision into the security clearance process will allow us to do that more effectively.”
Three members of Florida’s House delegation are leading an effort to better protect seniors in guardianship from abuse.
Democrats Darren Soto of Kissimmee, Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, and Republican Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor introduced the Guardianship Accountability Act of 2021. The proposal adds new layers of oversight to prevent fraud and financial exploitation.
Other sponsors are Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell and Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzgerald.
“Congress must act to protect our most vulnerable community members and ensure that they receive the support they deserve,” Soto said. “Our Central Florida community has experienced firsthand how inadequate protections against bad actors can lead to tragedy. In 2019, abuse by a former guardian led to the horrible, preventable death of one of our seniors. We must pass this bipartisan legislation to strengthen safeguards against abuse and address the failings of our nation’s guardianship system.”
Unfortunately, Soto isn’t alone in dealing with tragic consequences for constituents.
The Justice Department found scrupulous guardians and others with fiduciary responsibility for seniors exploited victims for millions of dollars collectively around the country. While the National Center for State Courts says empirical data remains lacking to quantify the problem, members of Congress want to act now to prevent such profiteering at the expense of the elderly.
“It is said that the strength of a society can be judged based upon how it treats its most vulnerable populations,” Bilirakis announced. “We’ve seen from recent examples in the news and alarming rates of elder abuse throughout Pasco and Pinellas counties that guardianship is an area where we can and must do better to protect seniors. Our bill will provide additional resources, strengthen protections, and improve intergovernmental coordination to achieve this paramount objective.”
And it doesn’t just impact seniors. Crist pointed to a headline-grabbing case involving a celebrity to show how programs can produce results contrary to their primary mission.
“Toxic guardianships, like that of entrapped Britney Spears, are sadly prevalent across Florida and the country. Lack of data and accountability is one of the biggest hindrances in our fight to protect those in the guardianship system,” Crist said. “As the son to two senior parents, I can’t fathom either of them being caught in these horrific circumstances. That’s why I’m proud to co-introduce this legislation with Rep. Soto that directs the Elder Justice Coordinating Council to collect and publish data on guardianships and conservatorships. It also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to provide grants to states for guardianship oversight programs and establishes a federal guardianship resource center — all toward the goal of eliminating guardianship fraud abuse.”
Operators are online
Demings wants more assurance from the Social Security Administration that someone will answer the phone if a constituent calls seeking help with benefits or to address some claims issue.
Democrats Demings, Cindy Axne of Iowa, and Tim Ryan of Ohio filed the Meeting Our Seniors Social Security Needs Act, requiring the Social Security Administration to ensure people are in local offices to answer phones between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on workdays.
The Act would authorize the agency to increase staff if necessary to handle the phones.
That’s not the case currently, contends the trio of Democrats. At least not according to their constituents, who complain that someone can be on hold for hours, never actually get through, and often get disconnected.
The Social Security Administration has an automated, toll-free number that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. During business hours, the system is supposed to transfer callers to their local offices. But, the trio of lawmakers contend, 14% of calls go unanswered, countless callers wait through unreasonable holds, and many have to call back, sometimes going into a loop.
“My office has worked with hundreds of Floridians who have been unable to receive timely information regarding their Social Security benefits,” Demings said. “Social Security is a sacred promise, and it’s one that we must fulfill.”
Demings and Nebraska Republican Don Bacon introduced a bipartisan bill to have Homeland Security rethink how it disburses federal anti-terrorism money for urban communities.
It has been an issue for Demings since she first ran in 2016 (and before that for previous Central Florida members.) She had successfully argued that the old formulas Homeland Security used to dole Urban Area Security Initiative money were unfair to some communities such as Orlando, which for a while fell out of qualification and got Orlando and a couple of others requalified.
Now she and Bacon are looking for a more holistic review of the process to aid cities that lost qualification for the program.
“Our previous experience in Orlando showed that critical public safety funding can be inconsistent, leaving important programs without necessary support,” Demings said. “This new legislation would provide much-needed stability and peace of mind to emergency planners across Florida, who will rest easier knowing that when they begin a new initiative to keep Floridians safe, they will be able to sustain those efforts.”
At least in spirit, Crist defended a controversial Biden administration effort to clamp down on individuals finding ways around paying their fair share. But he became the first Democrat in the delegation to speak out about one controversial aspect of the administration’s plan, namely snooping in individuals’ private finances.
“Floridians depend on their banks and credit unions to secure more than just deposits. They depend on them to safeguard their personal information,” said Crist, also a candidate for Governor. “President Biden is correct to go after the tax cheats, who, despite being worth millions of dollars, often pay little to no taxes. Part of that is fixing the broken tax code, but another critical part is focusing the IRS on auditing lawbreakers at the top. I have long supported increasing the IRS enforcement budget and criticized the agency for disproportionately auditing the poor instead of the top 1%. Better audits would increase compliance, go after the bad actors and raise revenues to fund the President’s Build Back Better plan to invest in good-paying jobs, fighting climate change and stronger families.”
But the Democratic Congressman expressed strong reservations about an administration plan to monitor bank accounts for Americans making five-digit transactions.
Crist said: “I am deeply concerned about the proposal to expand IRS reporting requirements for bank accounts,
“Working people with $10,000 in annual deposits are hardly the top 1%. Allowing the IRS to data-mine checking accounts raises serious privacy red flags and would increase costs while targeting hardworking Floridians who are already struggling to get by.
“I will not support any IRS account reporting requirements that go after the middle class and working families. That dog won’t hunt.”
On Tuesday, the House passed legislation (HR 4369) authorizing the Food and Drug Administration to partner with universities on drug manufacturing.
The bill’s final version contained a provision proposed by Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan authorizing $100 million to create National Centers of Excellence for Advanced Pharmaceutical Manufacturing. It would forge public-private partnerships between higher education facilities and pharmaceutical companies to boost domestic drug production.
Earlier this year, The Congressman filed the Securing America’s Medicine Cabinet Act (HR 70), which contained the original language.
Buchanan said the COVID-19 pandemic exposed an unfortunate reliance on Chinese manufacturers for medicine, exacerbated in the current supply chain crisis. More than 50 countries have imposed export bans on certain medication during the pandemic; Buchanan initially filed a version of his bill last year when China threatened to hoard pharmaceuticals after the coronavirus that first surfaced in Wuhan, thrusting the globe into a public health crisis.
China produced 80% to 90% of all U.S. antibiotics, including 70% of acetaminophen and 40% of heparin blood clot medication.
“From the early days of the COVID pandemic, it became clear how dangerously reliant we are on China and the global supply chain for pharmaceutical products,” Buchanan said. “I strongly support efforts to make our country more independent when it comes to producing critical drug components, and I’m pleased to see the House take action to ensure that we are never again forced to rely on other countries for lifesaving medicines.”
The U.S. currently faces a shortage of 115 essential drugs. The U.S. must find a domestic solution to that problem, Buchanan said.
“Every day, we are learning more about China’s malicious intentions, from lying about the origins of the coronavirus to threatening to cut off drug supplies to American citizens during a pandemic. It is unconscionable that other nations would use COVID-19 to hold countries hostage for these vital medications.”
The House also passed a bill filed by Sarasota Republican Greg Steube to waive permit fees for veteran groups to gather on federal property. The Free Veterans from Fees Act (HR 1029) will apply to any demonstrations and special events organized by veterans at war memorials administered by the National Park Service in the District of Columbia.
“Our nation’s veterans paid more than their fair share through their service to our nation and should no longer be subject to the burdensome administrative fees to visit military memorials or go on their own Honor Flights,” Steube said. “Though we will never be able to fully repay these heroes, this legislation is a small step to properly honor their sacrifice, patriotism and bravery.”
Steube said this provides relief to Gold Star families who frequently organize events each year at these venues and can pay high administrative costs. He has filed similar legislation before, so a version of the bill has now passed in the House twice with unanimous consent.
Veterans groups, most notably American Veterans, have endorsed the bipartisan bill.
On this day
Oct. 22, 1962 — “John F. Kennedy address on Cuban missile crisis shocks nation” via History.com — In a televised speech of extraordinary gravity, Kennedy announced that U.S. spy planes discovered Soviet missile bases in Cuba. These missile sites — under construction but nearing completion — housed medium-range missiles capable of striking several major cities in the United States, including Washington, D.C. Kennedy announced that he was ordering a naval “quarantine” of Cuba to prevent Soviet ships from transporting any more offensive weapons to the island and explained that the United States would not tolerate the existence of the missile sites currently in place.
Oct. 22, 1962 — “Inez Milholland collapses during speech on women’s suffrage” via the Library of Congress — Milholland had become one of the highest-profile leaders of the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, electrifying audiences as she traveled on a grueling speaking schedule as an envoy to 12 Western suffrage states. Despite warnings from her physician, she persisted in touring despite pronounced ill health. The dynamic Milholland collapsed at the podium while delivering a suffrage speech in Los Angeles. She was rushed to the hospital and, despite treatment for pernicious anemia and hope of recovery, died weeks later on Nov. 25. Her last public words before her collapse were, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions from Scott Powers.