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Build Back busted?
Blame breaking news in the holiday season. The announcement West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin won’t back the $2-trillion Build Back Better plan inspired many holiday-themed responses within the Florida delegation.
Rep. Kat Cammack, a Gainesville Republican, greeted the news like a gift left under the tree, calling it “a hopeful message before Christmas!” in a tweet. Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, tweeted: “The Build Back Broke bill never seeing the light of day is a Christmas miracle.”
Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Hollywood Democrat, instead tweeted a picture of a Christmas-ready Mariah Carey and remade classic lyrics into a policy posture. “All I want for Christmas is for my colleagues in Congress to extend the Child Tax Credit so that American families can put $$ back into their pockets amidst an ongoing pandemic.” Clearly, she wants Manchin to change his tune.
While none of the social media posts showed much promise in poetic scansion, the prose points came across, nonetheless. Like so much during President Joe Biden’s tenure so far, the Florida delegation reaction came down on strictly partisan lines.
Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, issued a statement slamming Manchin for prioritizing energy state contributors over his constituents or the climate. “Sen. Manchin must now join Republicans in their allegiance to wealthy donors and special interests and their callous indifference to the higher costs of the climate crisis,” she said. “The devastating costs and catastrophic impacts of climate change are hurting Americans every day. And we are running out of time to avoid the most extreme impacts from rising temperatures.”
Meanwhile, Cammack took to Fox News to applaud the seeming collapse of the comprehensive social services legislation. “I looked Nancy Pelosi right in the eyes a few weeks ago as they rammed this bill through the House after having to rewrite it four times, and I told her absolutely hell no we are not doing this and good luck in the Senate,” she said. “Turns out they needed a little more luck. This is exactly what we knew all along. They were trying to use a budget reconciliation process to put things in there like amnesty. We know they are now trying to find ways around the Senate parliamentarian who has told them time and time again, no, you cannot do this.”
But the Democratic co-chair of Florida’s delegation, while acknowledging a setback, suggested in her cable news appearance that reports of Build Back Better’s demise may be exaggerated. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, on MSNBC criticized the West Virginia Democrat’s current position but clung to hope the Senate’s most conservative Democrat could still provide the 50th vote for passage, if not on the bill as it reads today then on some version of it soon.
“At least it appears he hasn’t been negotiating in good faith,” she said. “On the other hand, though, with the legislative experience I have going back to even before with the Affordable Care Act, I look at this development more like a pothole than a brick wall. If we go back through the debate all the way back through the 10 months or so that we were considering or negotiating over the Affordable Care Act, there were countless times that it was left for dead. Countless times that colleagues on one major issue or another just said, ‘No more, I’m done.’ What I heard Joe Manchin say today is he’s a no on this legislation.”
The week’s most significant political news in Florida came from Rep. Stephanie Murphy, who announced Monday morning she will not seek a fourth term in the U.S. House. As a moderate Democrat, Murphy demonstrated that a mix of pro-business, pro-national defense, and progressive social values could hold together a winning suburban-urban coalition in greater Orlando.
The Winter Park Democrat had shocked much of the political landscape by unseating longtime Republican Rep. John Mica in 2016. Murphy subsequently won easy re-elections against a moderate Republican in 2018 and a hard-line right-wing Republican in 2020. This fall, she’s been pummeled from both the right and left as she took months to decide whether to support Build Back Better Act, which now appears to be in tatters in the Senate.
To watch Murphy’s message, click on the image below:
“I strongly believe in a citizen Congress, where ordinary citizens run for office in search of duty and service, not in search of a career,” Murphy said in a video announcing her retirement. “And I never intended my time in Congress to become a career.
“These last few years have been some of the most rewarding moments of my life, but also some of the most challenging. Public service is not without personal sacrifice. And as a mom of two young children, my time away from them has been hard. So, I wanted to share with you that I will not be seeking another term as your representative in Congress. This was not an easy decision, but it was the right decision.”
Her exit opens up Florida’s 7th Congressional District to a whole new contest, both for the Primary Elections and the General. Only hard-line right-wing Republicans have filed to run against her so far, including state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, Cory Mills, Brady Duke and Erika Benfield.
National Republicans had already eyed Murphy as a target in what’s shaping so far to be a good cycle for the GOP. With the race now open, efforts to flip a seat could become more aggressive.
Could the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act (S 46) coast to passage?
The legislation passed in the Senate last year but ultimately sunk and died without a vote in the House. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott sounded hopeful it could once again navigate the upper chamber, where the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved the bill, with Hawaii Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz championed the legislation from the left while Florida’s senators navigated from the right.
“Today’s passage of the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is a great win for Florida’s environment and will build on our efforts to help restore and protect our coral reef ecosystems,” Scott said. “I am proud to have helped write, co-sponsor and push for the passage of this good bill, and I’ll never stop fighting to make sure future generations can enjoy all that Florida has to offer. I want to thank my colleagues, Sens. Rubio, Hirono and Schatz, for their hard work on this legislation, and I look forward to seeing the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act pass on the Senate floor and become law.”
Hawaii and Florida alike have seen the rapid erosion of coral off their coasts since the expiration of the Coral Reef Conservation Act more than 15 years ago.
“I saw firsthand the devastated condition of our coral reefs when I toured the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and I promised a comprehensive response,” Rubio said. “This bipartisan legislation will ensure federal agencies are partnering effectively with state and local governments, as well as the communities who rely on the vitality of these critical natural treasures in Florida. I am grateful the Senate’s Commerce Committee has passed this important bill and I am hopeful that it can soon become law.”
Meanwhile, Reps. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, and Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican, continue to hopefully shepherd the bill in the House (HR 160), where it awaits action in the House Natural Resources Committee.
The Organization of American States, an international conference of Western Hemisphere nations, followed up a call with Scott by issuing a public demand of the Cuban government. The OAS General Secretariat called for the release of all political prisoners in the custody of the communist nation.
“The violation of their fundamental rights and their arbitrary detentions constitute a flagrant violation of human rights in the country, which goes against all international instruments on the matter,” a release from the OAS reads. “For this reason, the General Secretariat of the OAS demands once again the immediate release of all political prisoners who are arbitrarily imprisoned, while stressing that it is essential to remain attentive to the evolution of their health conditions and physical integrity.”
The institution was also specifically named José Daniel Ferrer García, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, amid reports of his failing health.
“Ferrer is confined to a small walled cell, without any contact with people other than the guards who guard him and without access to natural light. His reported breathing problems, vision loss and other issues have been attributed to the inhumane conditions where he is detained for exercising his legitimate civil and political rights,” the statement reads. “The OAS General Secretariat urges Cuba to immediately allow a visit to the country by a Humanitarian Mission of the universal and/or inter-American system for the protection of Human Rights that can verify the state and situation of political prisoners in the country.”
Scott has also advocated for Ferrer’s release and criticized the recent arrest of the dissident leader’s son, José Daniel Ferrer Cantillo. The Senator applauded the OAS pressuring the country as the Cuban government continues to operate 90 miles from Florida’s shores.
“As I stressed following my calls yesterday with the White House and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, the United States and our partners across the world must demand humanitarian intervention to save their lives and continue fighting for the immediate release of all jailed freedom activists,” Scott said. “We cannot tolerate further delays and inaction. I am very grateful for [OAS] Secretary-General [Luis] Almagro’s partnership in this important fight and hope to also see action from the U.N. and the Biden administration in the coming days. Working together, we can help bring positive change and freedom to the people of Cuba.”
Rockstar White nationalism
It’s clear at this point salacious accusations against Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz won’t tarnish his reputation with the hard-right base. As a speaker at Turning Point US’s AmericaFest this weekend in Arizona, the Congressman walked onstage surrounded by pyrotechnics with a metal soundtrack behind him.
When he spoke, Gaetz leaned into White nationalist rhetoric, mixing the stoking of pandemic-era economic anxiety with conspiracy theories baselessly asserting Biden stole the presidency from Donald Trump.
“We live in a world today where the left has seized unconstitutional power through mandates, driving people from their jobs, destroying the American dollar, shattering our economy, stealing elections,” Gaetz said. “They openly campaign for racial reparations and bigoted policies that target White people. Let’s not prove our valor by enduring pain. I’d like to start dishing it out. Less fortitude, more attitude.”
The wading into further extremism on the far right comes as federal investigators in Central Florida continue to collect information from former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, a Gaetz associate who already pleaded guilty to a charge of sex trafficking a minor. Accusations had dogged Gaetz most of the year that he too could face charges regarding trafficking a woman before she turned 18 across state lines for the purposes of sex.
— Joel Valdez (@realJoelValdez) December 19, 2021
Cammack, who represents Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, an agriculture-heavy terrain, said Democratic leadership in the House Agriculture Committee showed little compassion for rural America this year.
“During the first half of the 117th Congress, Agriculture Committee Dems have failed their constituents, hosting 0 pandemic-related oversight hearings and 0 2018 Farm Bill Implementation Hearings,” she said in a Twitter thread Monday. “Meanwhile, House AG GOP continues to fight for rural America, sending nearly 20 letters to President Biden questioning actions from nominations to regulatory overreach to policy implementation. We also participated in over 100 events, roundtable hearings, and farm tours covering our entire jurisdiction.
“The evidence has never been clearer that Democrats are leaving rural America behind. That’s why we won’t stop fighting, even when the majority seems unable to care.”
Cammack, a first-term lawmaker, serves as Florida’s lone Republican on the committee. Along the lines of coronavirus response, she’s the ranking member on the House Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery Subcommittee.
It seems somewhat unlikely she needs to make her case with voters to stick with the GOP. She won election in her district with more than 57% of the vote in November over Democrat Adam Christensen. While the Florida legislature will draw new lines for all Florida districts, drafts don’t show Cammack landing in a battleground.
Democrats in the delegation continue to tout Florida wins tied to the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson celebrated the $12 million landing in Florida’s 5th Congressional District at two airports.
Almost $9.4 million will be routed to the Jacksonville International Airport, while another nearly $3.3 million will connect at Tallahassee International Airport. It comes from $15 billion budgeted to redevelop America’s airports and $5 billion to improve Federal Aviation Authority towers and related facilities.
“The funding provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will deliver new lucrative jobs for Floridians while making some necessary renovations to both airports,” the Congressman said. “The U.S. built modern aviation, and it is critical that we allocate funds to advance our aviation abilities and continue to attract visitors to this great state.”
A federal court case where 35 Navy service members don’t want to submit to Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate won the support of several Republicans in the delegation. Four members of Florida’s House contingent — Cammack, Daniel Webster, Greg Steube and Mast — also joined an amicus brief siding with the sailors, as did Navy vet Scott in the Senate.
“Plaintiffs’ religious liberty and the government’s asserted interest in protecting our service members from COVID-19 need not be in conflict, especially where, as here, the individuals seeking an exemption are willing to adopt non-vaccination measures to protect themselves and others from the spread of COVID-19,” the brief reads.
The case, brought in federal court in Texas’ Northern District, was filed against the Department of Defense following a requirement that all service members receive vaccine doses.
“If the mandate stands, it is likely, then, that it will be more difficult for our military to recruit highly qualified individuals of faith to serve our country—a consequence that is wholly unnecessary, damaging to our military’s morale, and damaging to our national security,” the brief states.
A loan worth $105 million from the Environmental Protection Agency made its way to Sarasota County. The federal money, funded through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, will be used to upgrade the Bee Ridge Water Reclamation Facility Expansion and Wastewater Treatment Conversion Project, according to Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan.
“Clean water is critical to our economy and quality of life here on the Suncoast,” the Congressman said. “These innovative upgrades to the BRWRF will be a significant improvement to our local water infrastructure and serve my constituents in the area with more sustainable, cleaner water.”
Buchanan has lobbied for the funding, and in December 2020, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, turning up the pressure.
The money will build up the wastewater improvements with technology deployed in Florida for the first time. Buchanan’s office said the upgrades would benefit 90,980 Sarasota County residents.
In a meeting between the Army Corps of Engineers and leaders from Charlotte County, Steube pushed for federal help in rehabilitating Southwest Florida’s shoreline.
“In recent years, Charlotte County has sustained significant shoreline erosion and other damage from various weather events,” Steube said. “On Dec 1, 2021, I sent a letter to the Corps expressing my concern for these worsening conditions and have requested the inclusion of the study and construction of a shoreline rehabilitation project currently being considered by the Army Corps.”
The Congressman said what he’d like is for the Army Corps to tackle impacts on about 4.4 miles north of the Sarasota-Charlotte lines and south to Stump Pass Beach State Park; his jurisdiction, Florida’s 17th Congressional District, covers part of Sarasota County and all of Charlotte County.
In his letter earlier this month to Army for Civil Works Assistant Secretary Michael Connor, Steube noted a Manasota Key study that identified rehabilitation needs dating back to 1981 that never were addressed. In the meantime, Charlotte leaders have obtained local and state funding to contribute to any projects.
Miami Republicans Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvíra Salazar were among a select group of Republicans targeted by a health advocacy organization for voting against the Build Back Better Act.
No Republican in the House voted for the legislation, but Protect Our Care singled out Giménez, Salazar and six other Republicans from districts with high Obamacare enrollment and potential for flipping into the Democratic column next election.
Giménez and Salazar both pulled off major upsets in 2020. Neither of their offices returned a call about the ads that say they voted for higher copays and health care premiums.
The online-only ad strategy that uses the same pictures and drops in each of the targeted politicians’ names has increasingly become a tool that conservative and progressive advocacy organizations can agree upon.
Americans For Prosperity, a libertarian conservative political advocacy group, employed the same tactic against Murphy and 14 other Democrats in swing districts when they voted for the Build Back Better Act.
To watch one ad, click on the image below:
Season of giving
This month, the Republican National Committee Hispanic Community Center in Doral got into the holiday spirit with a special event assembling care packages for military and civilian families who can’t be together for the season this year.
“Republicans are focused on truly making a difference in our communities and building lasting relationships through serving others,” said RNC spokesperson Julia Friedland. “Through these holiday charity drives, Republicans are living our values and showing that there is a place for every Floridian in the Republican Party.”
Making a note of supply chain problems and inflation, the RNC volunteers put nonperishable goods like toiletries and snacks, along with holiday greeting cards, into the packages. The organization started gathering goods for the packages in early November and capped the effort off in mid-December, leaving enough time for the goods to reach recipients deployed around the globe.
Industry leaders and state think tanks are working to gain a firmer grasp on illegal trade in Florida, the profits of which fund criminal networks, aid terrorism, and cause a yearly $2.2 trillion hole in the global economy.
Critical members of Florida TaxWatch, James Madison Institute, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Florida Petroleum Marketers Association and others met last week at World Trade Center Miami for a roundtable on the issue, which spans stolen and counterfeit goods, drugs, illegally traded wildlife and human trafficking.
All are multibillion-dollar criminal industries. All have serious bearings on the Sunshine State, whose long coastline, 14 major deep-water ports and proximity to drug-producing and transshipment countries make it an “ideal gateway” for illegal goods moving into and through the United States.
The battle against illegal trade has gained momentum in recent months thanks to expanded efforts by USA-IT, an anti-counterfeiting and illegal trade-fighting coalition of brand enforcement experts, law enforcement agencies and business organizations.
One federal effort to stymie the spread of counterfeit goods is the Integrity, Notification, Fairness and Online Retail Marketplace (INFORM) Consumers Act, a bipartisan bill Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin filed with support from Rubio, among others.
The bill, which has yet to pass in Congress, would create a verification requirement for third-party sellers in retail marketplaces and mandate that online platforms must authenticate the identity of high-volume, third-party sellers. State analogues of the bill have also been filed, including in Arkansas, which became the first state to pass it in March.
On this day
Dec. 21, 1956 — “Ending the Montgomery bus boycott” via The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute — Martin Luther King, Jr. read a prepared statement to about 2,500 persons attending mass meetings at Holt Street and First Baptist Churches. He urged “the Negro citizens of Montgomery to return to the busses tomorrow morning on a nonsegregated basis.” An audience question about segregated benches downtown prompted King to acknowledge that the Supreme Court ruling applied only on city buses. A Birmingham News account of the meetings reported that he admitted, “it is true we got more out of this (boycott) than we went in for. We started out to get modified segregation (on buses), but we got total integration.”
Dec. 21, 1970 — “When Elvis Presley met Richard Nixon” via Smithsonian Magazine — The story began in Memphis a few days earlier, when Elvis‘ father, Vernon, and wife, Priscilla, complained he’d spent too much on Christmas presents—more than $100,000 for 32 handguns and 10 Mercedes-Benzes. Peeved, Elvis drove to the airport and caught the next available flight, which happened to be bound for Washington. He checked into a hotel, then got bored and decided to fly to Los Angeles. Elvis was traveling with some guns and his collection of police badges, and he decided what he really wanted was a badge from the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs back in Washington. On the red-eye to Washington, Elvis scribbled a letter to President Nixon.
Delegation will be off for the rest of 2021 and will return Jan. 4. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles with contributions by Anne Geggis, Scott Powers and Jesse Scheckner.