Delegation for 1.4.22: No rush — omicron fears — traders — party time — COVID-19 data

U.S. Capitol Building from the Fifty Dollar Bill
An open Central Florida congressional seat gets all the attention, as another languishes.

No hurry

It seems like every possible Democrat in Florida’s 10th Congressional District is running this year for the open seat while in neighboring Florida’s 7th Congressional District …

Nada.

Not yet.

As 2022 opens, Democrats in Florida’s 7th Congressional District don’t seem to be in any particular hurry to start campaigning for that seat, which is also open.

Democrat Stephanie Murphy’s surprise decision last month to not seek a fourth term in a district that might be redrawn to lean Republican seemed ominous.

Did she view it as a lost cause?

Then again, half the proposed redistricting maps floating around the Legislature would keep CD 7 quite purple. The others — as a worst-case scenario for Democrats — suggest a district still dominated by a moderate suburbanite electorate, a place where a strong Democrat could win against a zealous right-wing Republican nominee, should that be the result of the Republican Primary Election.

Is CD7 a lost cause for Stephanie Murphy? Image via Facebook.

As CD 7 is currently drawn, Joe Biden convincingly outpolled Donald Trump in 2020, and Hillary Clinton did the same to Trump in 2016. And that was across the board in Orlando suburbia, not due to a margin pumped up by the more urban neighborhoods full of progressives.

This year, with right-wing talk-show favorite Cory Mills, ostracized state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, and America First-lane candidates Brady Duke, Erika Benfield and Jeremy Liggett battling for the Republican nomination, there is little prospect, so far, that the Republican nominee is going to be a centrist.

Still, no Democrats are making noise yet, let alone committing — state Reps. Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith are contemplating their state Legislature paths. Former state Senate nominee Patricia Sigman is keeping quiet. Former Lieutenant Governor nominee Chris King is out. So too, it appears, is Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla.

There’s talk that one or more of the many Democratic candidates running in CD 10 may be eying CD 7 to see if it becomes a better prospect than trying to beat Sen. Randolph Bracy in a Democratic Primary in western Orange County.

After that, Democrats in Orange and Seminole counties love to recall what happened in CD 7 in 2016. Two days before the June 24 qualifying deadline that year, no Democrats were running.

Then on June 23, backed by the DCCC, some Rollins College lecturer and small-business woman — someone who had some nice federal background and strong local business connections but no political experience and zero public name recognition — stepped into a glass slipper.

Less than five months later, Murphy knocked off 12-term Republican Rep. John Mica and changed the views of CD 7 and its urban-suburban electorate.

Crisis control

Sen. Marco Rubio waved goodbye to 2021 by waving off the omicron variant. The Miami Republican drew attention by tweeting dismissively about a surge in cases, even as his hometown became an epicenter of the infection.

“Record numbers testing positive for a sore throat isn’t a crisis,” he posted. “And people in the hospital for car accidents testing positive isn’t a surge. The real crisis is the irrational hysteria which has people with no symptoms waiting hours for a test or missing work for 10 days.”

Marco Rubio blows off omicron worries.

On Monday, the Senator asserted: “There is no Omicron hospital ‘surge’ in Florida. People admitted for non-COVID reasons get tested. If they test positive, they get counted as a ‘COVID patient.’ The majority of the 5,400 ‘COVID patients’ in Florida are in the hospital for non-COVID reasons.”

That certainly marked a shift from the early days of the pandemic when Rubio gave regular updates about the need to flatten the curve and not allow hospitals to become overwhelmed with infections. He was an early advocate of vaccinations, sharing a photograph when he received his first dose on Twitter, and he supported early lockdowns — though he said the need for further such activity was not necessary with the advent of better testing and remote capabilities.

Indeed, there are wide reports that omicron, while highly contagious, results in milder symptoms. Nonetheless, a post-vaccine surge in cases for a pandemic that’s already claimed the lives of more than 62,500 Florida deaths drew criticism. That included a response from another delegation member — and Rubio’s likely General Election opponent in 2022 — Rep. Val Demings.

“Over 824,000 Americans, including over 62,000 Floridians, have died of COVID,” the Orlando Democrat tweeted. “We can stop this. Get vaccinated. Get boosted. And elect leaders who will take the pandemic seriously.”

Cuba-China engagement

Sen. Rick Scott expressed alarm at reports Cuba had negotiated a trade partnership with China. The Naples Republican ramped up criticisms of both communist nations and demanded the Biden administration step up pressure on the foreign regimes.

“This is horrible, but not surprising,” Scott tweeted Monday. “Communist China will do anything to try to gain a foothold in communist Cuba and across LATAM [Latin America]. This is exactly why the U.S. must continue to fight for freedom and democracy in Cuba and defeat General Secretary Xi [Jinping]’s influence,” he said, slamming China’s leader by name.

China and Cuba signed a cooperative plan for constructing the Belt and Road Initiative, the Global Times reports. That promises China will help build infrastructure in Cuba and other participating nations as more shipments of goods transpire between the countries in opposite hemispheres. That likely means a more efficient transfer of minerals like nickel that remain rich in the Caribbean nation and are highly desired by manufacturers in China.

Rick Scott sounds the alarm over a Cuba/China trade partnership.

The Senator quickly followed up with a message he’s been hammering home for more than a year, that the U.S. should use the upcoming Beijing Olympics to show China the West sees the Eastern nation’s actions on the world stage as reprehensible.

“The Olympics are one month away, yet [President Biden] has still done nothing to ensure the safety of American athletes who’ll undoubtedly be targeted by Communist China,” Scott tweeted. “Biden must explain how Americans will be protected.”

Party in Mar-a-Lago

The end of Trump’s time in office meant the former President’s reappearance at his Florida resort estate’s New Year’s Eve celebration. Also on the guest list was Rep. Matt Gaetz.

“Happy New Year from Mar-a-Lago,” the Panhandle Republican tweeted, along with a photo with himself and wife Ginger Luckey posing alongside Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump.

Outlets like the Daily Mail noted Gaetz’s public appearance and proximity to the former President despite an ongoing federal investigation involving the Congressman.

Matt Gaetz parties down. Image via Twitter.

Notably, Gaetz voiced support last year for a popular-on-the-far-right plan to vote in Trump as Speaker of the House should the GOP win a majority in November. His continued ties to the former President, who has teased he could run for another White House term in 2024, have helped maintain Gaetz’s level of influence in certain GOP circles.

As for Trump, he’s starting this year with signals he may play more of a public role ahead of the midterms and will hold his first news conference of the year on Thursday at Mar-a-Lago.

Visa processing

Visa processing delays grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto said there’s no reason the bugs in the system should still linger. He led a letter with Michigan Republican Peter Meijer to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging that a backlog of appointments and other slowdowns in processing receive immediate attention.

“My constituents in Florida’s 9th Congressional District are feeling the negative effects of lowered visa processing operations more than ever,” Soto said. “Whether they’re families waiting to reunite with loved ones or small-business owners missing employees and customers, this issue is affecting our community greatly and needs to be addressed quickly. I hope the Department of State will consider our proposals, take the necessary steps to shorten wait times and ease the tension felt by so many people in Central Florida and across the country.”

Darren Soto seeks a streamlined visa process. Image via Facebook.

The letter notes as of October, 60% of U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide still have visa processing offices closed, and even those that have reopened report wait times longer than six months. In Brazil, a significant source of originating visitors to Florida, waitlists now run an entire year. The Congressmen say the State Department should develop more efficient means of processing groups of applications and create a plan to fully restore service around the globe. It also suggests the agency create better ways to hold remote appointments to help with time-sensitive visas.

“These steps are needed to help reunite families and loved ones, restart student and cultural exchanges, increase international business and leisure travel, strengthen our global leadership, and accelerate our nation’s economic recovery,” the letter reads.

Eighty-eight members co-signed the letter, including Florida Republicans John Rutherford, Daniel Webster, Gus Bilirakis, Brian Mast, Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar and Democrats Demings, Murphy, Charlie Crist, Lois Frankel, Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.

Crist calls on CDC

St. Petersburg Democrat Crist sent a letter urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release Florida’s data on the vaccination status of those infected with COVID-19, including those hospitalized and who died from the virus.

In his letter to CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Crist cited a recent report from the Tampa Bay Times that found the Florida Department of Health refused requests from news organizations seeking data on “breakthrough” cases — information that would show the effectiveness of the vaccine among Floridians.

Charlie Crist needs data.

The FDOH has refused to release the data by citing privacy concerns, although public health and legal experts have called those “misplaced.” The CDC has also declined to release that data, deferring to the state.

“Florida’s public access laws clearly state that data can be made public ‘when necessary to public health.’ If this isn’t necessary to public health — especially in the face of an omicron-driven surge — then nothing is,” Crist wrote in the letter.

The absence of the state’s vaccination status data comes as it experiences another surge in COVID-19 cases.

Pegasus landing

The Air Force wants to land its Pegasus aircraft in Tampa Bay.

The military branch in December announced MacDill Air Force as the preferred location for the KC-46A Pegasus tankers, an aircraft billed as the first phase of a recapitalizing of the Air Force’s aging fleet. The tankers will refuel other aircraft in flight while keeping an entire floor of cargo capacity.

“MacDill Air Force Base is proud to be chosen to become the next preferred location to host the KC-46 Pegasus,” said Colonel Benjamin R. Jonsson, Commander of the 6th Air Refueling Wing, MacDill Air Force Base. “The selection ensures that the 6th Air Refueling Wing will provide next-generation aerial refueling support and air power for our nation’s defense for decades to come.”

While a final decision on locating the Pegasus units will wait until fall 2023, the Air Force plans to replace its existing KC-135 Stratotankers at MacDill with KC-46As.

The decision to land in the Bay drew bipartisan applause from the delegation.

The KC-46A Pegasus tankers will be calling MacDill home. Image via U.S. Air Force.

“I am thrilled that MacDill was chosen to be the new main operating base for 24 KC-46s Pegasus aircraft,” said Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor, whose district includes MacDill. “The patriotic Tampa Bay community embraces the mission and the outstanding men and women who serve here. Tampa is ‘tanker town,’ and we are thrilled to upgrade our tankers and cement the air mobility mission at MacDill for decades to come.”

Lakeland Republican Scott Franklin, representing part of Hillsborough County, also praised the selection.

“MacDill is the right choice for the KC-46’s new operating base,” Franklin said. “It is home to 33 mission partner units from all branches of service, including U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, making it an ideal setting for these aircraft. The KC-135 Stratotanker has been a workhorse in support of military aviation since the mid-1950s, but its time had passed. When I was a young Naval aviator over 30 years ago, we were already looking eagerly to its replacement. That time has finally arrived, and I’m proud to know that MacDill will be the new home for the KC-46. The Tampa Bay area is highly respected for its support of our service members and their families. I look forward to welcoming more of them to our community with the selection.”

And Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis, whose constituency in Pinellas County includes many who commute to the base, applauded the selection, noting MacDill houses operations from multiple branches of the military that will all welcome the addition of modern tankers.

“There is nowhere in the country that supports its military community more than Tampa Bay,” Bilirakis said. “We recognize MacDill as a key community asset and support the men and women stationed there who bravely serve our nation. This new program will serve as an important catalyst for continued economic development, and we welcome it to our area.”

The selection of MacDill came months after Castor and Franklin led a letter signed by the whole congressional delegation endorsing the base as the best choice to house the new fleet.

Military reforms

Legislation introduced in honor of a Bradenton soldier killed in a training accident has become law. It also delivered a legislative victory for the Republican co-chair of the delegation.

Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan cheered the inclusion of safer training practices in the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by Biden into law last month. The defense budget bill includes language originally filed in Buchanan’s Preventing Future Tragedies Act (HR 5268).

The bill clearly defines the role of vehicle commanders and establishes procedures and mechanisms for tactical risk management for supervisors. It also sets staffing requirements for vehicle use and oversight measures meant to prevent future accidents and deaths, including standards for driver skills and experience. The substance of the language, championed by the Longboat Key Republican Congressman, was added as an amendment to the larger defense spending bill.

Nicholas Panipinto has prompted a change in Army training procedures. Image via Vern Buchanan Office.

All this stems from the death of Army Specialist Nicholas Panipinto, who suffered critical injuries when the M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was driving overturned during a 2019 training exercise in South Korea. Panipinto was airlifted from Camp Humphreys to a hospital and died there. He was 20 years old.

Panipinto lacked the proper driver’s licensing to handle the vehicle, and the base did not have the first responder capabilities to treat his injuries immediately.

“The death of Specialist Panipinto is a tragedy that never should have happened,” Buchanan said. “That’s why I’m committed to doing everything I can to make sure that no other family has to endure similar heartache. The greatest tribute we can pay to Nick is to ensure that future and entirely preventable military training accidents never happen again.”

The changes mark the 24th legislative initiative to become federal law after originating in Buchanan’s office.

Centennial

A personal visit to your birthday party by your Congressman isn’t something all constituents should expect, but Sarasota Republican Greg Steube made sure last month to stop by the celebration for Walter Neef. The Nokomis veteran just celebrated his 100th birthday.

“Walter is a proud patriotic American of the Greatest Generation who I am honored to represent in Congress,” Steube said. “This district is blessed to have incredible veterans like Walter who have dedicated so much to this country. As we celebrate his 100th birthday, let us always remember the sacrifices Walter and his generation made to preserve the freedoms we enjoy today.”

Greg Steube celebrates Nokomis veteran Walter Neef on his 100th birthday.

Steube was invited to Neef’s birthday party, where he presented the decorated Army soldier with an award as MVP for Florida’s 17th Congressional District for the month.

Neef served during World War II. According to the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the state serves as home to more than 1.5 million veterans, the third-largest veteran population in the U.S., with Southwest Florida hosting a disproportionate number in its Gulf Coast retirement communities.

Election Day

Voters in Florida’s 20th Congressional District will be sending a new Representative to Congress next week to replace the late Rep. Alcee Hastings.

Election Day in the CD 20 Special General Election is Jan. 11. Voters have already started casting ballots in that contest, as early voting in that race began Saturday, Jan. 1.

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick effectively won the seat when she eked out a narrow win in November’s Democratic Primary Election. While Cherfilus-McCormick still needs to close out her victory next Tuesday, the district leans heavily Democratic, making her victory all but assured. According to the Cook Political Report’s Partisan Voter Index, the district leans Democratic by 28 percentage points.

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick hits the ground running.

Cherfilus-McCormick is competing for the seat against Republican Jason Mariner, Libertarian Mike ter Maat, and two others with no party affiliation: Jim Flynn and Leonard Serratore.

Cherfilus-McCormick battled to make it to this point, winning an 11-person Democratic Primary by just five votes. She narrowly edged Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, who finished in second.

She had previously challenged Hastings, losing out in the 2020 Democratic Primary. Now, Cherfilus-McCormick is Hastings’ likely successor and will bring Florida’s House delegation back to full strength at 27 members. Hastings, Florida’s longest-serving delegation member at the time, died in April following a cancer battle. The seat has remained open since his death.

CD 20 stretches across portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties, spanning several majority-Black areas near major cities such as Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

On this day

Jan. 4, 2007 — “Nancy Pelosi sworn in as first woman Speaker of the House” via The Washington Post — The California Democrat was sworn in as the first woman Speaker in U.S. history as Democrats formally took control of Congress for the first time in a dozen years. Pelosi, 66, took the oath of office at 2:30 p.m. after winning the election as Speaker in a straight party-line vote that reflected the Democrats’ 233-202 House majority in the new 110th Congress. Rep. John A. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, became House Minority Leader. Hailing her election to the speakership as a “historic moment for the women of America,” Pelosi declared, “For our daughters and granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling.”

Jan. 4, 1865 — “New York Stock Exchange opens first headquarters” via The Gilder Lehman Institute of American History — The Exchange had formally existed since 1792 but had operated out of a series of packed Wall Street coffeehouses and rented offices. By the mid-19th century, however, the need for a more permanent exchange became clear: the opening of the Erie Canal saw New York City rise to prominence as the nation’s financial center, while a surge in American enterprise and the invention of telegraphs, tickers, and trans-Atlantic cables significantly increased trading capacity. After the opening of the first building on Broad Street, the NYSE would only continue to grow — by 1886, more than a million shares a day were being traded.

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

Staff Reports



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