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Even as the election certification largely divided Florida’s congressional delegation last year, the events of Jan. 6 seemed to generate a moment of rare unity. As reported at the time, members from both parties universally condemned the Capitol riot and violence in the halls of Congress, with nearly every Florida official issuing statements on that day.
Yet as the anniversary of the historic event passed Thursday, a new divide arose on whether the events even constituted a big deal at all.
Democrats, for the most part, used the anniversary to commemorate the day — and condemn former President Donald Trump for his role.
“Today, we honor all those who sacrificed their life and safety to guarantee that our democracy triumphed one year ago, and we pledge to hold to account all those who sought to subvert our noble American experiment,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic co-chair of the delegation. “The traitorous Jan. 6 attack was fueled by lies and dishonored every American who gave their life to protect our Constitution, the Rule of Law and a peaceful transfer of power upon which all democracies rest. The way forward demands that we pick up the mantle of brave patriots who fought to expand and preserve our sacred right to vote, and challenge those who seek to undermine it.”
Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, held a Facebook Live event emphasizing the historical stakes of the disruption. “It was a very serious day,” she said. “We’ve never witnessed an attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol to overthrow the results of a free and fair election.”
But Sen. Marco Rubio took to Twitter to deride media coverage and Democratic attention as “shameless hypocrisy of the far left.”
“I condemn political violence. I don’t care who you are or why you say you are doing it,” he said. “But over the next few hours, you are going to hear a lot of speeches and a lot of talk and a lot of opinions from far-left politicians and far-left activists who are masquerading as journalists. These people, they have a history of downplaying and even defending and justifying political violence and hooliganism when it happens to be perpetrated in the name of causes that they support.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, held a news conference blaming the violence on the work of FBI informants, showing video of a man named Ray Epps, who far-right outlets have blamed for spurring the breach of the Capitol. “Imagine if we actually had the powers of the Jan. 6 Committee, the powers of the federal government to understand,” he said. That came hours after he told former Trump adviser Steve Bannon that he wants the Jan. 6 Committee when Republicans take the House to turn their attention to such questions rather than scrutinizing Trump associates.
Several within the delegation questioned elevation of the day at all.
Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican who last year described witnessing violence and needing the protection of Capitol Police during the riots, criticized a speech by Vice President Kamala Harris.
“Today, Vice President Harris made history as a national disgrace,” Steube tweeted. “Nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11, and about 2,400 were killed at the attack (on) Pearl Harbor. Her blatant disregard for the legitimacy of those tragedies by correlating them to 1/6 is reprehensible.”
For her part, Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Hollywood Democrat, took umbrage at the various GOP reactions but did not express surprise. “Shocked by some of the Republican reactions to the Jan. 6 Capitol Riots? You shouldn’t be!” she tweeted. “Those same members remained loyal to Donald Trump, who proudly said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still win. Amazing how they worship one man like a god. Is it a party or a cult?”
Republicans in Florida’s delegation leaned in on the Health and Human Services Department on alleged stinginess with federal allocations of monoclonal antibody drugs (mAbs). GOP Sens. Rubio and Rick Scott led a letter with Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican and medical doctor, demanding HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra reverse the agency’s current distribution policy and return to allowing states to order treatment supplies directly from manufacturers.
The pointed letter recounts HHS in its “latest shortcoming,” announcing Dec. 23 that two types of treatment supplies would not become available until early January, then reversed course before the year ended.
“HHS’ decision to control the allocation and amount of mAbs a state or health care provider can receive, plus prohibiting these entities from ordering treatments directly from drug manufacturers, remains a serious concern,” the letter states. “This type of volatility and heavy-handed approach is handicapping states who seek to be flexible and innovative to meet the needs of its patients, such as Florida has done.”
Co-signatories to the letter include Florida Republican Reps. Kat Cammack, John Rutherford, Mike Waltz, Bill Posey, Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Greg Steube, Brian Mast, Mario Díaz-Balart and Carlos Giménez.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has complained for months about how President Joe Biden’s administration divvies antibodies. The letter published by Rubio’s office states the arrival of the omicron virus makes the need for early treatment of COVID-19 all the more urgent.
“Currently, the Omicron variant makes up approximately 80% of cases in Florida while the Delta variant accounts for 20%,” the letter states. “Therefore, it is critical health care providers have flexibility and access to all authorized mAbs in order to prevent any shortages should hospitalizations begin to surge in the coming weeks.”
The document also undermines the decision for the federal government to step in on where drugs go at all.
“The administration’s mAbs distribution policy continues to be shortsighted and burdensome on states and health care providers,” the letter states. “Our federal public health agencies are missing the mark when it comes to providing reliable and science-based guidance to the states and to the American people. We call on HHS to reverse course and return to a state-driven model in which states and local health care providers are empowered to provide the appropriate care for their patients by ordering the necessary amount of mAbs directly from drug manufacturers.”
Action on Cuba?
Scott also sent a letter directly to Biden demanding the President intervene on behalf of a prominent political prisoner in Cuba. The Naples Republican said he has been in regular contact with the family of José Daniel Ferrer, a leader of Unión Patriótica de Cuba, and they report the dissident has been tortured during his six months in prison and his health may fail there.
“It has been six months since the demonstrations for freedom and democracy in Cuba began, and your administration has done nothing to support this cause,” Scott wrote. “Our immediate goal is to secure humanitarian medical visits for José Daniel and all political prisoners being held by the [Miguel] Diaz-Canel and [Raul] Castro regime. These innocent people are dying, and we must continue fighting for their release for this unjust imprisonment.”
Of note, the Biden administration has taken some actions, though hardly the level of intervention sought by most of Florida’s elected officials. The administration in July signaled it would employ sanctions to pressure Cuba. He also promised to provide internet connectivity on the island, though that has been a slow process due to technical challenges.
The explanation clearly doesn’t fly for Scott.
“As the leader of the free world, you have the responsibility and duty to stand up for human rights and democracy abroad. Why have you refused to directly engage on this issue when so many of your predecessors, presidents from both parties, have done so?” Scott wrote. “Why have you refused to take up the cause of José Daniel Ferrer, a human rights crisis which both the [Organization of American States] and U.N. deemed worthy of their immediate attention? The inaction of both yourself and your administration warrants explanation. You must have a reason for continuing to ignore the millions of Americans who urge immediate action to address these grave injustices.
“We cannot and will not tolerate continued inaction from your administration. I urge you to immediately follow the lead of the OAS and others and demand the Cuban regime release these innocent people. The Cuban people are in danger, and the United States must lead in securing humanitarian intervention to save their lives.”
Two more wins
Two bills co-authored by Palm Harbor Republican Bilirakis have now been signed into law, adding to a series of recent legislative victories for the Congressman.
The newly signed laws include the Department of Defense Burn Pits Health Provider Training Act, which implements mandatory training for all DOD medical providers on the potential health effects of burn pits. This legislation aims to ensure the early identification and treatment of health issues caused by burn pit exposure.
The second measure is the U.S.-Greece Defense and Interparliamentary Partnership Act, which seeks to strengthen the defense partnership between the U.S. and Greece, including support for Greek military modernization and multilateral security efforts.
“I know my constituents expect me to get results. I’ll continue working across the aisle to pass measures that will benefit my constituents, our community, and country,” Bilirakis said in a statement.
Since the beginning of 2021, five Bilirakis-authored bills have been signed into law, including the Transplant Act, the Protecting Moms Who Served Act and the FAIR Crash Tests Act.
Florida has one of the lowest ratios of National Guard personnel per capita; St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist would like to change that. He made that clear in a letter to Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, requesting a more equitable allocation of resources.
“As a former commander in chief of Florida, I have deep respect for the role of the Florida National Guard. The Guard provides leadership, experience, and training that can’t be replicated or replaced,” said Crist, a former Governor. “And my fellow Floridians know all too well the Guard’s importance during a crisis — both natural and man-made. Simply put, the Florida National Guard saves lives. But our state ranks second to last in Guard personnel per capita, putting Floridians at risk. By providing more personnel to Florida, the Guard will be better positioned to be always ready and always there, when, God-forbid, disaster strikes.”
The letter notably comes as Crist runs for Governor again, seeking to unseat DeSantis, a former delegation member with plans for guardsmen. The Republican in the Governor’s mansion now would like to resurrect the Florida State Guard.
But Crist stressed in his letter that Florida needs the National Guard due to the frequency of major storm events and hurricanes.
“Florida is the fourth-most disaster-prone state in the country, and as such, the Florida National Guard is regularly called upon during hurricane season,” Crist wrote.
“While Florida’s Governor can request the help of Guard units from other states during a crisis, this assumes that those units would not already be assigned to separate missions under their own governors. For a recent example, as Texas was responding to Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma was bearing down on Florida as a major hurricane. The help Florida would have needed to supplement our limited Guard personnel in the event of a direct hit may not have come as states with a surplus of available Guard personnel had already committed units to aid Texas.”
Stuart Republican Brian Mast said the Biden administration mandate for soldiers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine not only compromises medical privacy, but probably weakens America’s military.
“On top of the unconstitutionality of President Biden’s vaccine mandate, this has serious implications for our force readiness,” Mast said. “Separating hundreds — and potentially thousands — of Marines for exercising their rights can put the United States at a huge military disadvantage.”
He sent a letter to Gen. David Berger, Marine Corps Commandant, requesting the military operational status of 206 Marines discharged from service in the last month over the mandate.
“As the world’s preeminent naval power, the United States has relied upon the Marine Corps to form the tip of the spear in nearly every modern conflict,” Mast wrote. “With heightened tensions arising from Russian mobilization on the Ukrainian border and increased Chinese pressure on Taiwan, I have serious concerns about the Marine Corps maintaining its operational lethality and flexibility if it were to separate more than a Regiment worth of Marines.”
Mast said the problem could worsen, considering the Marine Corps has not granted any religious exemptions, sought by 3,247 Marines to date.
Naples Republican Byron Donalds started his second year in Congress celebrating the entry into two bipartisan groups. He’s joined the House Everglades Caucus and the House Blockchain Caucus.
“As a longtime Floridian and financial services professional, I am thrilled to be joining these two bipartisan caucuses and become another critical voice in the issues that matter most to my constituents and the American people,” Donalds said.
Florida’s 19th Congressional District sits due west of the heart of the Everglades, so the House Everglades Caucus is a natural fit. Founded by Hialeah Republican Díaz-Balart and the late Fort Lauderdale Democrat Alcee Hastings, the Florida-dominated group has collectively lobbied administrations of both parties to support restoration efforts. “As a member of the House Everglades Caucus, which many of my fellow Floridians comprise, I will work with leaders on both sides of the aisle to prioritize necessary funding of Florida’s Everglades to ensure restoration and preservation of this unique ecosystem,” Donalds said.
The Blockchain Caucus also has a strong Florida presence, with Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto as one of four co-chairs.
“I will harness my nearly two-decade-long experience in the financial services industry and my experience as a legislator to bridge the gap between new and emerging financial technologies and the federal government,” Donalds said of his entry. “As a constitutional conservative and staunch supporter of capitalism, my membership in this caucus will focus on spurring competitiveness and innovation for all Americans and the U.S. economy on the world stage.”
All the yelling
Masks, vaccinations, and now, testing asymptomatic people have become matters of stark differences between Democrats and Republicans — not to mention nonstop news conferences.
On Tuesday, Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch lamented the continued “boxing matches” over those topics — at a news conference roasting DeSantis and Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo anew for advice that contradicts advice from the Centers for Disease Control.
“We already know what we need to do,” he said. If we don’t do that, “we set ourselves up for failure on other urgent issues that can’t wait to fall by the wayside,” naming climate change and gun control as those issues.
“Some people might think it’s good politics to just spend the year yelling at each other.”
A trio of Miami Republicans jointly trashed a plan to cut funding for U.S. broadcasts to Cuba. That came after the Agency for Global Media and Office of Personnel Management announced intentions to reduce the dollars going to the Miami-based Office of Cuba Broadcasting.
The financial decision prompted criticism from Díaz-Balart, Giménez and María Elvira Salazar, all representatives of Cuban American descent.
“We are outraged that the Biden Administration is working to impose further cuts to the Office of Cuba Broadcasting at a time when the Cuban people are struggling for freedom, and political prisoners languish in prison,” the statement reads. “In fact, while the Biden Administration and Democratic Majority continue pressing for unprecedented and irresponsible increases in government spending nearly across-the-board, they are also recommending draconian layoffs and cuts for an already diminished broadcasting agency that supports the Cuban people in their right to independent, outside information.
“These egregiously misplaced priorities are appalling. The Biden Administration and Democratic Majority should be finding more ways and greater resources to support the Cuban people in their democratic aspirations, rather than seeking ways to crush an effective and pro-freedom agency tasked with providing reliable information to the Cuban people. The Biden administration and Democratic majority are so blinded by their far-left progressive ideology that they cannot bring themselves to support the basic rights of the Cuban people. Instead, they repeatedly choose to align themselves with the Cuban people’s Communist oppressors.”
All three previously signed a bipartisan letter led by Rubio, Scott and Díaz-Balart that sought an increase in the budget.
Vincent Evans, a 2011 graduate of Florida A&M University and former Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson staffer, will move from Pennsylvania Avenue to First Street. A year after joining Vice President Harris’ staff, a son of Tallahassee will become the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.
He had been the deputy director of Public Engagement & Intergovernmental Affairs in the Office of the Vice President, appointed a year ago. Democratic Ohio Rep. Joyce Beatty, chair of the CBC, said she was “thrilled” to welcome Evans.
“As a leader for effective change, Vincent will help the CBC reach greater heights and make substantive advances in 2022,” Beatty said. “Vincent knows the importance of developing critical relationships when it comes to public engagement, along with a variety of policy and leadership skills.”
Evans said he was deeply honored to get the job and recalled his tenure with Lawson.
“I started my career in Washington working for a member of the CBC, so I know firsthand the tremendous leadership and impact this caucus has in Congress and across the country,” he said. “As we write the next chapter of the CBC story, I am excited for the opportunity to lend my experience and passion for supporting the collective vision of this storied caucus.”
On this day
Jan. 7, 1999 — “Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial begins” via History.com — The trial of President Clinton, formally charged with lying under oath and obstructing justice, began in the Senate. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist was sworn in to preside, and the senators were sworn in as jurors. In 1995, Clinton began an affair with Monica Lewinsky, a 21-year-old unpaid intern. Over a year and a half, the President and Lewinsky had nearly a dozen sexual encounters in the White House. In April 1996, Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon. That summer, she first confided in Pentagon co-worker Linda Tripp about her relationship. In 1997, with the relationship over, Tripp began secretly to record conversations with Lewinsky in which she gave details about the affair.
Jan. 7, 1953 — “The Big Boom” via Wired — Two weeks before turning the Oval Office over to Dwight Eisenhower, President Harry Truman told the world the United States had developed a hydrogen bomb, a weapon far more destructive than the atomic bombs used to obliterate Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Truman’s announcement helped the United States take a momentary technological leap past the Russians in an escalating Cold War while stirring new fears of nuclear annihilation in people everywhere. The hydrogen bomb differs from its predecessor primarily in the energy employed to detonate the weapon. The atomic bomb relies on nuclear fission, while the hydrogen bomb derives its power from nuclear fusion.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles with contributions by Anne Geggis and Kelly Hayes.