Delegation for 11.5.21: Water war — victory — securing SS — Coast Guard — Santa

Imprint of the U.S. Capitol building on a dollar bill banknote
Delegation members come together for one of Florida's top issues — water.

Water wars

Florida’s congressional delegation met formally this week for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. There, members focused their discussion on one of the top recurring issues in the state: water.

Florida Politics was in Washington to cover the meeting, which was also the first official gathering since the death of Delegation Co-Chair Alcee Hastings in April. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, began Wednesday’s meeting by holding a moment of silence for Hastings, who died following a cancer battle. Wasserman Schultz succeeded Hastings as Co-Chair.

Following the moment of silence, lawmakers dove into the myriad water issues facing the state, such as Piney Point, the upcoming Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, Everglades construction, and the ongoing battle against toxic algae.

Florida’s delegation meets to tackle the state’s persistent issue of water quality. Image via Vern Buchanan Office.

Delegation Co-Chair Vern Buchanan lobbed questions on the Piney Point cleanup process toward Wesley Brooks, director of federal affairs for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and one of four panelists to testify at the meeting.

Buchanan referenced the time-consuming process of cleaning up and closing down the site of the massive wastewater leak. Brooks explained the different hurdles slowing down the state’s ability to shut the site down for good, prompting pushback from Buchanan.

“It’s been building up there for a long time,” Buchanan said of the site’s problems. “Nobody’s dealt with it. I think you’ve stepped up in the last year, but 10 years before that, it’s been an ongoing challenge.”

Buchanan requested further talks with Brooks and the DEP regarding the state’s efforts. As Buchanan wrapped his time, Brooks replied, “I’ll just say we are committed to closing that site.”

Col. James Booth, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District, also spoke to delegation members. Wasserman Schultz referenced billions of dollars that could flow to the Army Corps under the not-yet-approved federal infrastructure package. She asked Booth to lobby Corps leadership to send up to $5 billion to Florida to help with Everglades construction.

“We know the Corps can execute $5 billion over five years for South Florida ecosystem restoration,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Jacksonville, I hope, is going to be making sure that you communicate the important priority that this is so that we can make sure that we even up the 50-50 partnership that the federal government was supposed to (have) when it comes to Everglades restoration.”

Few things are more important in Florida than clean water.

Booth assured her he would lobby for financial support. “You can always count on Jacksonville District to communicate the importance of Everglades restoration and continue to get these projects into the ground,” he said.

Booth did earn some pushback from Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel regarding the Corps’ formulation of the Lake Okeechobee Systems Operation Manual. The LOSOM plan will help regulate Lake Okeechobee, including where discharged water will flow.

Frankel argued the Corps’ plan would not send enough water to West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County. “I was Mayor of the city during a drought. We came within days of having no water whatsoever. And the city relies on water from Lake Okeechobee — that is, quality water for Lake Okeechobee — in order for us to actually live,” Frankel said.

Booth said similar feedback from elsewhere in the state led to a two-week delay in finalizing the plan, but that the Corps is still on track for a December completion date.

“Our schedule was a little unreasonable,” Booth told the delegation. “It was informed without understanding how much feedback we would get from a broad spectrum of stakeholders from across Florida. And when we got that feedback from almost the entire spectrum of stakeholders, we knew that we needed to take a little more time to look at the feedback they gave us before we made a final decision.”

Republican Rep. Brian Mast returned to his calls for the delegation and the Army Corps to work better with state officials to improve Lake O water quality.

“It is all hands on deck, for everybody’s interests, to find a way to clean that up,” Mast said.

Buchanan summed up the importance of water issues to residents and delegation members alike.

“Water quality issues are critical to our home state, affecting every aspect of the economy from tourism to agriculture and even native wildlife like our Florida manatees.”

Wasserman Schultz added that many of the issues discussed Wednesday — such as improving water quality and extending a ban on offshore drilling — elicit bipartisan agreement.

“We have issues that unite our delegation. We have many that divide us,” Wasserman Schultz noted. “But we’ve been, historically, a delegation that, on the issues that unite us, we fight side by side fiercely. And I’m sure that will continue to be the case.”

Sanctioning Ortega

Days ahead of a controversial election Sunday in Nicaragua, Congress passed legislation championed by Sen. Marco Rubio in the Senate and Rep. Maria Salazar in the House to punish the sitting Central American government. The legislation promises sanctions on the Daniel Ortego regime if it stays in power — as everyone expects since Ortega has arrested seven of the political adversaries with whom he was to share the ballot.

“Ahead of Sunday’s sham presidential election in Nicaragua, the Congress of the United States is sending a strong message against the corrupt and authoritarian Ortega-Murillo regime and its attempt to subvert the will of the Nicaraguan people,” Rubio said. “The Biden Administration should swiftly sign this bill into law and work with international allies to coordinate sanctions against this regime.”

Maria Salazar and Marco Rubio called the Ortega presidency to task.

Reinforcing Nicaragua’s Adherence to Conditions for Electoral Reform (RENACER) Act will help target sanctions on Nicaraguan officials who interfere with elections, spark an executive branch review of the country’s continued participation in the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and expand financial oversight of international lending.

It also adds the country to the list of Central American countries subject to corruption-related visa restrictions and calls for negotiations of further sanctions coordinated with Canada and the European Union.

“For months, the Nicaraguan people have pleaded for us to help stop Daniel Ortega’s reign of terror. The passage of the RENACER Act will hit Ortega where it hurts just days before he solidifies his dictatorship through his sham presidential elections,” Salazar said. “It’s past time we review Ortega’s ability to profit from free trade with the United States. Thank you to my colleagues for taking bold action against this evil regime and standing with the Nicaraguan people during their fight for democracy. The United States is making its message clear — access to American markets is a privilege, and we should not do business with dictators.”

The RENACER Act passed in the Senate by voice vote and in the House with a 397-35 margin. Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz cast the only no vote from the Florida delegation.

Foreshadow?

Pundits from across the political spectrum cast Tuesday election results, specifically GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin’s win for Governor of Virginia, as a good sign for Republicans heading into the midterms. Sen. Rick Scott, who currently chairs the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, felt particular joy at the results.

He took to conservative outlets to thrash Democrats’ messaging and present his party as the one with a pulse on America’s mood right now.

“They aren’t even talking to where Americans are. Americans are fed up with inflation,” Scott told Fox News.

Glenn Youngkin’s win gives Florida Republicans some good cheer.

He said voters today recoil at progressive messaging like defunding the police or “indoctrinating” children in school, not to mention a Biden vaccine mandate he and other Republicans have railed at for months.

Scott remains confident that voter angst can be bottled up for next November, which would be consequential in the halls of Congress.

“If you look at the polls that we do at the National Republican Committee, suburban voters have come our way,” Scott said. “Hispanic voters have come our way, and you could see it in the Virginia race. I’m very optimistic we will have a great November 2022. We’ll take back the Senate and stop the radical left-wing craziness that the Democrats are doing.”

Socially secure

Meanwhile, Democrats in the Florida delegation continue to focus on bedrock policies the party has championed for years. For example, Al Lawson doesn’t want anyone’s Social Security check to bounce for the next couple of decades.

The Tallahassee Democrat refiled a bill to extend the life span of the federal program until 2044. It would add another decade to the Franklin Roosevelt-era program, launched in 1935, providing some form of support to 1 in 6 Americans each year.

“Social Security plays a critical role in our economy as it provides for over two-thirds of our nation’s retirees and provides financial security to millions of disabled workers and their children,” said Rep. Lawson. “However, as the program is currently operating, the Social Security Trust Fund will be depleted by 2034. That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Social Security for Future Generations Act of 2021, along with 13 original co-sponsors and support from seven organizations, including the Alliance for Retired Americans.”

Al Lawson wants to give Social Security another decade.

Beyond making sure the program endures into a second century, Lawson’s legislation would extend student coverage until age 22, create a benefit for widowed spouses, provide a cost-of-living adjustment and establish a particular benefit for long-term low-wage workers.

To accomplish this, the bill creates a payroll tax for those making more than $250,000. Lawson also added a provision so concurrent beneficiaries won’t lose Medicaid eligibility if their income exceeds the current limits of $794 a month for individuals ($1,191 for couples).

“We are in a unique position to make targeted benefit increases to vulnerable beneficiaries and extend the trust fund solvency so that future generations are able to benefit from social insurance and retirement in a way that is equitable and sustainable,” Lawson said. “I call on my colleagues in the House to join me in increasing benefits and extending the life of one of our nation’s most sacred commitments.”

Hollywood Democrat Frederica Wilson also co-sponsored the bill.

Customs reach

The Coast Guard only intercepts a 10th of the criminal activity it spots in waters off Florida’s coast. St. Augustine Beach Republican Michael Waltz and Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy hope a change in the nautical reach of Customs and Border Patrol will provide needed support.

The delegation members introduced bipartisan legislation that could double the contiguous zone defining law enforcement reach into U.S. waters. That would mean Customs enforcement could operate its air and marine operations 24 nautical miles from shore, instead of the 12-nautical-mile limit currently in place.

“Right now, a real issue is that through radar and other types of surveillance assets we have, we know we are intercepting just a fraction of what we see coming in,” said Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican. “With this bill, we wouldn’t spend another dime, but we would create efficiencies.”

Mike Waltz and Stephanie Murphy seek more effective Coast Guard law enforcement.

Already the Coast Guard can operate 24 nautical miles out, but Customs enforcement cannot. The hope is that CBP could help fill in gaps in Florida’s water border.

“This bipartisan, bicameral bill will enhance the ability of federal law enforcement agencies to conduct their critical missions in the waters around Florida,” said Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat. “By giving these agencies the authority they need to deter or punish drug traffickers and human traffickers, we will strengthen the safety of our communities.”

Scott introduced companion Senate legislation with Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

Based on available aerial intelligence, the Coast Guard’s Southern Command says its forces only intercept approximately 10% of suspicious boating activity. That means 9 out of 10 criminals won’t even be pursued if they keep far enough from the shoreline.

“Our shores are vulnerable in many ways, whether it’s drugs, fentanyl, or human trafficking,” Waltz said. “We need to give our law enforcement the maximum authority we can.”

Waltz said it made sense to work with Murphy because this issue impacts all Florida communities. Outside of Alaska, Florida has the most coastline of any state in the union. Occasionally, Customs officials’ reach has been extended to be the same as the Coast Guard’s, but only for limited times by executive order. Waltz said this would codify the authority into law permanently if the legislation becomes law.

Shoring up

Murphy this week also filed legislation to keep foreign political contributions from reaching U.S. shores. The Congresswoman introduced legislation to prohibit money from overseas from influencing American elections.

The Federal Elections Commission recently ruled there’s no prohibition of foreign contributions backing U.S. ballot initiatives and referendums. Murphy wants to put such a ban in place and said blocking international donations could prove especially important in the Sunshine State.

Can Stephanie Murphy block foreign campaign influence?

“Florida has a rich history of using ballot initiatives to amend our state’s constitution, and this important democratic process should be conducted free of any and all interference from foreign nationals,” Murphy said. “I’m proud to co-lead this bipartisan bill to prohibit financial contributions and donations made by foreign nationals to influence the outcome of state and local ballot initiatives.”

Republicans Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Democrats Bean Phillips of Minnesota, and Jared Golden of Maine joined Murphy on the bill.

“This FEC decision is shortsighted and dangerous,” Gallagher said. “Opening the door for the Chinese Communist Party to influence our democratic process threatens both our elections and our national security. Congress must immediately pass this important legislation to protect our democracy from malign foreign interference, or we will come to regret it.”

Targeting Soto

A good off-year Election Day for Republicans has the National Republican Campaign Committee expanding its map. NRCC Chair Tom Emmer on Wednesday announced the GOP planned to target an additional 13 democratic incumbents. That’s a set that, quite surprisingly, includes Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto.

“In a cycle like this, no Democrat is safe,” Emmer said. “Voters are rejecting Democrat policies that have caused massive price increases, opened our borders, and spurred a nationwide crime wave.”

Ironically, that political letter came the same day Emmer and Soto jointly sent a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission seeking approval of Bitcoin spot exchange-traded funds. But that’s politics.

Republicans put Darren Soto in their sights. Image via Facebook.

Listing Soto as a target caught many in Florida off-guard because of assumptions the once-a-decade redistricting process, led by a Republic-dominated Legislature, would actually benefit the Democratic Congressman. The Orlando Sentinel notes there’s a high likelihood of a majority-Hispanic district in Central Florida’s future, and Soto is Florida’s first Congressman of Puerto Rican heritage.

There’s also been speculation the process could make Winter Park Democrat Murphy’s district, already a battleground, more competitive in the next cycle. Plus, many expect with Florida picking up an extra congressional seat this year, that Florida could end up with one more Representative, and one would expect Republicans to make that jurisdiction a place where the GOP could win. All this supports the idea more Democrats would pack into Florida’s 9th Congressional District, not fewer.

Today, Soto’s congressional district is the most overpopulated of any in Florida, so it’s clearly going to change in some significant way. That the NRCC already wants to go to battle for Soto’s seat has many wondering if they know something the broader world doesn’t.

Worldwide Wi-Fi

Florida Republicans were the loudest voices pushing the Biden administration to bring internet access to Cuban dissidents.

Now Orlando Democrat Val Demings wants to do the same around the globe.

Demings joined William Keating, a Massachusetts Democrat and chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, to announce legislation on internet freedom.

“Across the globe, from Cuba to Belarus, grassroots, democratic movements are actively working to push back against authoritarian regimes and are using technology like social media and messaging platforms to communicate with each other,” reads a joint statement.

Val Demings wants Cuba to get wired.

“These technologies allow democratic movements to communicate even when press freedom is restricted or under full government control. To counter this, authoritarian leaders have continued to restrict general access to the internet to prevent communication during critical times, such as during elections or nonviolent protests.”

Demings, a candidate for Senate, lagged behind rival Rubio in calling for digital infrastructure to aid protesters confronting the Cuban regime this summer. But she and Keating made it known early the two will work together on a bill to turn Wi-Fi into a permanent tool for empowering democratic movements.

“We are crafting new legislation to provide surge capacity funding for internet freedom technology that empowers democratic movements to continue their important work,” the joint statement reads.

“This technology allows its users cost-free access to social media and other messaging services even during government-controlled internet blackouts. We believe access to this technology is vitally important for the United States’ mission to support democracy globally and fight back against malign actors, such as Russian and China, who are exporting censorship technology in support of other authoritarian regimes. Most importantly, this legislation will support individuals, from Cuba to Venezuela and Belarus to Russia, in their struggle for freedom. We look forward to working together on these important issues and will continue to provide information on its development.”

Mouthy

Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis’ effort to promote oral health knowledge has gotten out of its first committee.

Bilirakis and California Democrat Tony Cárdenas’ bipartisan Oral Health Literacy and Awareness Act, aimed at curbing the rise in oral disease and related illnesses, especially in at-risk communities, was approved Thursday by the House Health Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Gus Bilirakis wants you to know before you go to the dentist.

House Resolution 4555 would have the Health Resources and Services Administration set up a public campaign to promote oral health care. The campaign would target specific populations, including children, pregnant women, parents, the elderly, individuals with disabilities and ethnic and racial minority populations, including Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.

“Oral health is a vital component of overall wellness that is too often overlooked. As with many aspects of health care, prevention is key to long-term health. Lack of good oral hygiene has been proven to exacerbate chronic health conditions and contributes to costly, yet preventable, emergency care,” Bilirakis said.

Young Santas

With a supply line crisis in the headlines, can any delegation members save Christmas this year? Mast believes the answer lies in putting more 18-year-olds behind the wheels of big rigs. He introduced the Supplying America Needs Truckers Aged 18 (SANTA 18) Act, which would allow more young truckers in the driver’s seat on federal highways.

“Joe Biden’s supply chain crisis is driving prices up and delivery times down just as we approach the holiday season and sadly, reindeer aren’t going to magically fix this problem,” Mast said. “To make matters worse, there is unnecessary government red tape preventing companies from implementing logical solutions to this problem. This bill would cut that red tape to get more drivers on the road in time for holiday deliveries.”

Who will save Christmas? Young truckers!

While many states allow 18-year-olds to drive cargo trucks for intrastate shipping, those young truckers can’t take to the federal interstates until they turn 21. The same goes for driving goods out of seaports, as Congress regulates all maritime commerce per the Constitution.

Mast noted that while Biden has ordered some West Coast ports to open 24 hours a day, which hasn’t solved the supply chain issues because there aren’t enough truckers available to move goods sent from Asia and land on the Western seaboard.

The bill boasts co-sponsors including Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz and Miami Republican Carlos Giménez.

Cuba Libre

The House on Wednesday passed a resolution penned by Wasserman Schultz expressing solidarity with Cuban citizens demanding freedom. Hialeah Republican Mario Diaz-Balart helped rally GOP support while Albio Sires, chair of the Foreign Relations Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, rallied Democrats. The legislation ultimately passed 382-40 after Majority Leader Steny Hoyer brought it to the floor, with all Florida members in support.

“Today, Congress sends a strong, unified message to the brave Cubans who risked so much on July 11 to strive for real freedom and true self-governance: the American people are firmly by your side,” Wasserman Schultz said. “A vast bipartisan majority of House Members today agreed that we needed to clearly say that we hear the passionate human cry for self-determination ringing out from the streets of Havana. That cry has united Democrats and Republicans behind the just and urgent demands for freedom from the tyranny of this oppressive regime.”

Mario Diaz-Balart is all-in for a free Cuba.

Diaz-Balart, who has been critical of Biden’s administration for not being assertive enough, praised the resolution from Wasserman Schultz, an across-the-aisle colleague for years.

“The Cuban people have faced 62 years of a brutal, oppressive, and murderous dictatorship that has silenced, imprisoned, and even killed anyone who has dared to speak against them,” Diaz-Balart said. “On July 11, 2021, they bravely took to the streets demanding freedom. Unfortunately, many of the brave peaceful protesters remain imprisoned and threatened simply for demanding their God-given liberty.

“It is time for the United States and the international community to stand up for those who have been silenced for far too long. I commend my colleague, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, for her steadfast support, leadership, and solidarity with the Cuban people. I urge my colleagues to support this resolution for the cause of freedom and human rights in Cuba.”

On this day

Nov. 5. 1940 — “Franklin Roosevelt reelected for an unprecedented third term” via History.com — Roosevelt was elected to a third term with the promise of maintaining American neutrality as far as foreign wars were concerned: “Let no man or woman thoughtlessly or falsely talk of American people sending its armies to European fields.” But as Hitler’s war spread and the desperation of Britain grew, the President fought for passage of the Lend-Lease Act in Congress, in March 1941, which would commit financial aid to Great Britain and other allies. In August, Roosevelt met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to proclaim the Atlantic Charter.

Nov. 5, 1781 — “James Hanson elected first President of United States” via The Daily Dose — Hanson was unanimously elected the first President of the United States in Congress Assembled, under the Articles of Confederation — even George Washington voted for him. There had been Presidents of the Continental Congress before (Peyton Randolph, Henry Middleton, John Hancock, Henry Laurens, John Jay, Samuel Huntington, Samuel Johnston and Thomas McKean), but they merely presided over Congress. Now the Articles of Confederation brought the 13 colonies together into a Confederation of United States and specified the election of a President for a one-year term to preside over Congress, chair the Committee of the States and perform other administrative functions.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Wilson, who turns 79 today, Nov 5.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Ryan Nicol and Scott Powers.

Staff Reports



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