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Rest in power
The death of former Rep. Carrie Meek at age 95 inspired tears in the Florida political world, at the U.S. Capitol and within the Florida delegation. The daughter of a sharecropper and granddaughter of a slave was first elected to the U.S. House in 1992 and retired from the chamber a decade later.
Longtime colleagues and admirers remembered the Miami Democrat as a trailblazer who rose from the humblest origins to walk the nation’s halls of power.
“Officially and personally, it was a great honor to know, serve with and share a friendship with Congresswoman Meek,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement. “On the Appropriations Committee where we both served, she was a force, bringing to bear the special power of her soft accent and strong will for her community and country. Indeed, she was formidable in meeting the needs of her community, including by advocating for Haitian immigrants and refugees and creating economic opportunities for working families in her district.”
The Democratic presiding officer’s time in the House overlapped with Meek’s. Within Florida’s relatively young delegation, that’s actually not true of any member currently representing the state in Washington. Yet many counted the Congresswoman as a mentor or an ally.
“I am saddened by the passing of an icon and invaluable friend, Congresswoman Carrie Meek,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican. “Carrie was the first African American woman elected to the Florida Senate in 1983, and in 1992, she became the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress from Florida. Needless to say, she was a living legend and an institution. Congresswoman Meek’s passion and conviction made everyone around her love, admire and respect her. She devoted her life to public service and fighting for equal opportunities for marginalized and underserved communities, which she did even in her last days. There is no doubt that her legacy will leave a lasting imprint for generations to come. My deepest condolences to her family — especially my dear friend, Congressman Kendrick Meek.”
Kendrick Meek won election to Congress in 2002, the same year as Diaz-Balart; the two men served together in the Senate. The younger Meek, who has yet to issue a statement about his mother’s passing, in 2010 ran unsuccessfully for Senate and hasn’t returned to Washington.
Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Hollywood Democrat, succeeded the elder Meek; she also shared kind words: “She was a true champion for Black communities in Florida and throughout the world. She mentored me throughout my political career and was a role model for politicians on how to navigate the jungle of racism, discrimination and equality in Florida,” Wilson tweeted. “Carrie Meek was a sweet, sweet spirit that permeated our community for many years. Her presence in a room spoke volumes for generations yet unborn.”
Meek’s death marks 2021 as a tragic year for Florida congressional history, claiming two of the three first Black Representatives elected from the state post-Reconstruction. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, died in April while still in office. The third, Jacksonville Democrat Corrine Brown, lost in 2016 to Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson.
Many in the South Florida community, regardless of political stripes, mourned the loss of Meek. “Congresswoman Meek was a leader and trailblazer for our Miami community, Florida and our nation,” tweeted Rep. Carlos Giménez, a Miami Republican who served as Miami-Dade Mayor before winning a House seat in November. “Her legacy will forever be remembered. Lourdes and I send our deepest condolences to the entire Meek family.”
National organizations celebrated her legacy. “Our HRC family mourns the loss of former Rep. Carrie Meek,” read a statement from the Human Rights Campaign. “As a fierce advocate for our community, she spent her time in Congress fighting for the needs of LGBTQ+ people and marginalized communities. May her legacy shine as brightly as her advocacy.”
And a younger generation of politicians continue to draw inspiration. “There are few words that can do justice for the Congresswoman’s lasting legacy on our South Florida communities, state and country at large,” said state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat.
“She broke so many barriers as the first African American woman elected to the Florida State Senate, serving on the education appropriations subcommittee, championing public school students throughout her service. Beyond her work on education, Congresswoman Meek blazed trails as the first Black lawmaker elected to represent our great state in Congress since Reconstruction and was a steadfast leader during our challenging recovery from Hurricane Andrew, committed to ensuring affordable housing was more than just a talking point, and never lost sight of the issues that mattered to the people as she worked for every child, family, immigrant and senior who calls Florida home.”
The decision by the Biden administration to take Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) off the U.S. list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations raised alarms in the delegation.
Sen. Marco Rubio led a chorus of Florida voices concerned with the decision. “Colombia has endured decades of pain and suffering because of the vicious terrorist attacks spearheaded by the FARC,” Rubio said. “The Biden administration’s decision to remove the FARC from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list risks emboldening narco-terrorists and the regimes that sponsor them throughout our region. Congress must hold hearings on this decision to examine what it means for stability in the hemisphere, as well as U.S. and Colombian security interests.”
State Department officials last week defended the decision as part of a peacemaking process led by the Colombian government. “The peace accord ended five decades of conflict with the FARC, and it set Colombia on a path to a just and lasting peace,” said department representative Ned Price at a briefing. “We remain fully committed to working with our Colombian partners on the implementation of the peace accord. As you know, we were just in Bogotá a couple of weeks ago, where we met with President (Ivan) Duque, we met with the foreign minister as well, and others in the Colombian government. And obviously, the implementation and preservation of the peace accord was a central topic in those discussions.”
But that hasn’t satisfied many who represent significant Colombian populations in South Florida.
“FARC are communist narco-terrorists who murder civilians, journalists, politicians, and children,” tweeted Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar, a Miami Republican. “By removing them from the terrorist list, the Biden White House is signaling that FARC is not so evil.”
“It is UNACCEPTABLE that the Biden administration is removing the FARC from the list of international terrorist organizations,” Gimenez wrote on Facebook in Spanish. “The FARC is a bloody communist organization responsible for the deaths of more than 250,000 people in Colombia, which have funded its activities through kidnapping, extortion and drug trafficking into the United States.”
Rep. Scott Franklin, a Lakeland Republican, urged the administration to reverse course. “Once again, the Biden administration is signaling weakness to our enemies and allies through its plan to remove the FARC as a designated terrorist group,” he said. “The FARC are a ruthless terrorist group responsible for the deaths of countless innocent people. For decades it has used extortion, kidnapping, murder, terrorism, and drug trafficking to threaten regional security.
The wealthiest member of Florida’s delegation has long refused to take a salary. Sen. Rick Scott instead donates his Senate income to Florida charities. He will donate his third quarter Senate salary to the Hardee Help Center in Wauchula, the Palm Beach County Food Bank in Lake Worth, and the Second Harvest of the Big Bend in Tallahassee.
“My wife, Ann, and I are proud to support three great organizations that are working day-in and day-out to help Florida families with food and resources they may need in the face of hardship,” Scott said. “This holiday season, I encourage all Floridians to follow the lead of these incredible organizations and their hardworking volunteers by giving back to your communities, helping your neighbors, and supporting one another in any way we can.”
The faith-based Hardee Help Center provides resources and support, including food, household items, and financial assistance, to Hardee County individuals and families facing hardships. The Palm Beach County Food Bank supports food and social services programs for 200 agencies in its region. Second Harvest of the Big Bend’s mission is to feed hungry, food-insecure people in North Florida’s Big Bend region and educate and engage the community in the fight to end hunger.
Beam us up
If Medicare reduces coverage of proton beam therapy, more than 14,000 cancer patients treated in Florida, including many children, could lose access to the procedure. A bipartisan group of Florida delegation members from the upper and lower chamber wants to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis drafted a letter to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to exclude modalities including the therapy from the radiation oncology model, which beginning in January could bring a 50% cut in Medicare reimbursements to providers of this high-quality radiation treatment.
The letter notes the benefits derived from the relatively young form of therapy. “It is a more effective, precise, and safer alternative to conventional radiation therapies widely available today,” the letter reads. “While traditional radiation therapies often harm healthy tissues and organs, PBT limits radiation exposure, thus reducing side effects and lowering the risk of secondary cancers. Florida’s pediatrics population particularly benefits from PBT as it reduces the risk of developmental, hormonal, muscular, and skeletal deficiencies, including hearing loss. Florida is proud to call the nation’s leading PBT center home, which opened in 2006 and treats patients of all ages, including more than 2,000 children.
Rubio signed onto the latter, as did House Republican colleagues Neal Dunn, Kat Cammack, John Rutherford, Bill Posey, Franklin, Greg Steube, Byron Donalds, and House Democrats Al Lawson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“At a time when our health care providers are still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, including PBT in the RO Model will only exacerbate access to quality care, creating additional health care inequities for our most vulnerable, and reducing the quality of life for thousands of Floridians. We appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to your response,” the letter concludes.
It’s a gas
Orlando Democrat Val Demings earlier this month called for the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. On Thanksgiving Day, she got her wish. The Congresswoman and Senate candidate praised Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm for releasing the fuel as part of a strategic international strategy to bring down prices.
“I’m glad to see the administration taking this important step as we work to bring down costs for Florida families. The bipartisan infrastructure plan that we passed is a long-term investment to bring down costs and strengthen our economy, but families need help now as we move into the winter. This announcement is exactly the kind of move necessary to save Floridians money at the pump, which is why I called for it last week,” Demings said.
“Growing up the daughter of a maid and janitor, we knew that every dollar matters. The price of gas has a direct impact on our ability to make ends meet. Whether caused by price manipulations or supply chain issues, it’s clear that we need to be strong and bold to attack rising prices and save Floridian families money at the pump.”
Demings previously drafted a letter to Granholm and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese advocating for the release on economic grounds. She cited the impact of rising gas costs on Floridians as an example.
“In October 2020, the average price for a gallon of gas in Florida was $1.99. This has since increased 64% to $3.26,” she wrote. “With nearly 54 million Americans planning to travel during the Thanksgiving holiday, these prices are unsustainable and may force families to decide between putting food on the table or giving thanks with their family and friends. Indeed, a recent AAA survey found that 52% of Americans planned to take fewer trips this holiday season, and 53% said they would travel shorter distances because of gas prices.”
Clermont Republican Dan Webster introduced legislation with Maryland Republican Andy Harris to boost health care providers’ ability to object to providing abortions.
“Life is our most precious gift, and an inalienable right promised to every American in our Declaration of Independence,” Webster said. “Sadly, my Democratic colleagues and the current administration are now pushing policies and abandoning bipartisan provisions that protect the right to life. I have fought to defend the rights of the unborn and to protect the religious liberties of thousands of health care professionals opposed to abortion. I will not waver in this fight.“
Webster said the Conscience Protection Act would allow providers to morally or religiously object to participating in specific medical procedures and allow employees a private right of action to defend “conscience rights” in court, suing their employer if punished or terminated registering moral or religious objections. Existing law requires intervention from the Health and Human Services Administration.
Anti-abortion groups praised the legislation. “We’re thankful that the bill has been fortified and now includes pharmacists in its definition of ‘health care providers,” said Marilyn Musgrave, vice president of government affairs for Susan B. Anthony List. “This is a welcome, necessary response to the Biden administration’s reckless attempts to turn every post office and pharmacy into an abortion center by forcing dangerous chemical abortion drugs on innocent women who need help and care — not a prescription for a toxic abortion cocktail. This bill rightfully empowers medical professionals to protect life, not destroy it.”
Biden’s pick for director of the White House Office of Management and Budget has at least one friend in the Florida delegation. St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist cheered news the President nominated Shalanda Young for OMB director.
Young previously served as Democratic staff director for the House Appropriations Committee, on which Crist sits. She served in that capacity starting in 2017 and was on committee staff beginning in 2007. More recently, she has served as deputy OMB director in the Biden White House and effectively led the office since Biden’s initial pick for director, Neera Tanden, withdrew amid criticism by several Senate members.
Since Young has already made it through Senate confirmation once, she’s viewed as a safer choice. Regardless, Crist said the OMB will be in good hands if she gets the job.
“I was blessed to serve alongside her on the House Appropriations Committee, where I had the privilege of witnessing her earning the respect of Members of Congress and staff of both parties,” Crist said. “Shalanda has been a steadfast fighter for working families and everyday Americans and will be an inspiration for all those who might come after her. I have full confidence that her expertise, acumen, and proven ability to deliver will serve the American people extremely well.”
American Indian tribes hold a legendary reverence for the land, and Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor, chair of the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said environmental solutions can only be found in tandem with the 7 Nations.
“Tribal nations are on the front lines of the climate crisis,” she said during a hearing honoring Native American Heritage Month. “Extreme weather events are impacting sacred lands, burial sites and cultural traditions. The long-term risks of climate change, including sea level rise, extreme heat and decreased precipitation are threatening the health and livelihood of millions of Native Americans.”
Congress must respect tribal sovereignty, Castor said, and help build resilience and work with tribes to transition to a clean energy economy. There must be consent for decisions impacting federal actions.
She praised a Biden decision announced last week to officially employ tribal knowledge in decision-making. She noted Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a former House member, now serves as the first American Indian on the Cabinet. Meanwhile, she said the Build Back Better Act and the just-signed infrastructure bill would direct millions to efforts to preserve tribal lands and address environmental needs in those communities.
“These investments are critical right now,” Castor said.
Wilson wants Congress to act quickly to address teacher shortages in Florida and nationwide. The chair of the Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Investment co-led a letter to Pelosi that said funding in the Build Better Act should be guaranteed for salaries for teachers and other school leaders, but should also be treated as just a start.
“We are grateful for the inclusion of $1.1 billion in funding for key educator workforce programs in the Education and Labor Committee Print advanced in markup,” the letter reads. “We urge you to retain and build on these investments in the final Build Back Better Act to fully address the pressing challenges that school districts across the country are facing, including a lack of racial and ethnic diversity in our educator workforce and a shortage of well-trained special education teachers and well-trained educators in our nation’s highest-need schools and high-need subject areas. By funding the President’s educator workforce agenda, we can help ensure that all students experience the substantial and proven benefits associated with a diverse, well-prepared, and stable educator workforce.”
Democratic House members Ruben Gallego of Arizona, Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, Chuy Garcia and Cheri Bustos of Illinois, and Jamaal Bowman of New York co-led the letter. Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson co-signed It.
Wilson noted that in Florida alone, teacher vacancies statewide this year surpassed 5,000, a 67% increase from August 2020.
Salazar last week moved from one dais to the other, testifying to the Helsinki Commission about the threat of communism in Latin America.
“Many of today’s dictators rule through corruption,” the Miami Republican said. “I call them kleptocrats: a fancy word for those who steal from their national treasury to enrich themselves. As you know, they plunder, they exploit, they rob their people with no mercy.”
She called out a range of leaders in countries around the Western Hemisphere, including Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, and Raul Castro in Cuba (Castro no longer holds official office but his party still controls the government).
Salazar spoke about her ties to the island nation, which had been under communist rule for decades. “I am the daughter of political refugees who fled the Castro regime with the clothes on their back and five dollars in their pocket. In 1960, Fidel Castro turned Cuba — an island with the same per capita income as Italy — into a fourth world satanic nightmare that lasts until today,” she said.
But she also relayed professional experience before her 2020 election to Congress. “As a foreign correspondent for United States Spanish television, I reported and interviewed (late Venezuelan President Hugo) Chavez and Maduro,” she said. “Those two thugs, in only 20 years, have turned the richest country in South America into a state where the average Venezuelan weighs 15 pounds less today because of a lack of food.”
Salazar testified about several pieces of legislation aimed at fighting corrupt international leaders, including the Establishing New Authorities for Business Laundering and Enabling Risks to Security (ENABLERS) Act she introduced with New Jersey Democrat Tom Malinowski. She said the U.S. government must deliver economic consequences to unfriendly regimes.
“Business with our country is a privilege; it’s not a right. Their family members should not be allowed to travel, dine, and lavishly spend stolen money on our restaurants or our shopping malls,” she said. In other words, no more Saks or Broadway by working together. Congress and this administration can block these murderous thugs from coming into our country.”
On this day
Nov. 30, 1993 — “Bill Clinton signs Brady bill, urges more gun controls” via the Los Angeles Times — President Clinton signed the handgun control legislation, calling it “one step in taking our streets back” and declaring that the nation now must impose additional limits on the use of firearms. As Clinton signed the bill, he stood flanked by former White House press secretary James S. Brady, the man for whom the bill was named, and Brady’s wife, Sarah. Brady was severely wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt on then-President Ronald Reagan. The legislation requires a five-day waiting period and background checks on handgun buyers.
Nov. 30, 1804 — “Senate begins impeachment trial for Samuel Chase” vis the Richmond Law Library — Chase, a staunch Federalist, saw no reason to tone down his partisan rhetoric when he began serving on the Supreme Court in 1796. This became a problem for him when, in 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the President and his party, the Democratic-Republicans, gained control of Congress. The House voted to impeach Chase, accusing him of refusing to dismiss biased jurors and excluding or limiting defense witnesses in a pair of politically sensitive cases in 1800. the Senate appointed a committee to begin preparations for trial and started the trial Jan. 4Jan. 4, 1805. When the trial began, the Senate consisted of 25 Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans and nine Federalists.
Best wishes to Sen. Scott, who turns 69 on Wednesday, Dec. 1.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles,