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A Supreme Court ruling that blocked President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for employees at large companies sparked varying reactions across the delegation. The rejection was deemed a costly setback for supporters of the President’s public health push. But for critics who consider mandates an invasion of privacy, the decision offered relief.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, hoped the lack of a mandate wouldn’t slow vaccination rates. “This SCOTUS ruling sets back our fight to slay COVID and fails our workers,” she tweeted. “I hope states and businesses adopt smart vaccine and mask rules to curb COVID’s spread. House Democrats will not stop fighting to protect workers.”
That’s not likely in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis had already responded to mandates by threatening penalties for businesses that try to enforce them.
Rep. Bill Posey, a Rockledge Republican, felt the Supreme Court got it right. But he also said Congress needs to act and make sure federal agencies don’t seek rogue methods to impose vaccine requirements anyway. “SCOTUS struck down the OSHA mandate,” he posted. “Now I’m working with Rep. Andy Biggs (an Arizona Republican) and other colleagues to make sure that other agencies receiving federal funds can’t get away with penalizing employees and other Americans using their services.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican, praised the decision on major employer mandates but took justices to task for letting a vaccine requirement for health care workers stand. “It was disappointing to see Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh join the Court’s liberals to uphold a mandate that targets health care workers,” he said. “America’s businesses should forget these mandates faster than Joe Biden forgets his daily schedule.”
Republican Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City medical doctor and a COVID-19 survivor, said the ruling provided vital clarity on personal medical decisions.
“The U.S. Supreme Court made the right decision in blocking President Biden’s aggressive COVID-19 vaccine mandate. I highly recommend the COVID-19 vaccine; however, this is not a decision to be made by the federal government,” he said. “Right now, hardworking Americans are grappling with the highest inflation rate in 40 years, and our workforce is struggling thanks to President Biden’s failed leadership and job-killing policies. The last thing America needs is an overreaching mandate that further hurts our economy.”
Clermont Republican Dan Webster called Biden’s order a “dystopian vaccine mandate.” He blasted the President, saying, “The Supreme Court rightfully recognized that President Biden’s attempt to strong-arm employers and threaten the right of millions of Americans to earn and make a living far exceeded the role and authority of the executive branch.”
But for Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, the ruling prompted a three-word reminder to the public. “Vaccines save lives,” she wrote.
With little debate, the Florida Senate Reapportionment Committee approved its draft of Florida’s congressional map on Thursday.
A formal bill (SB 102) turns the map crafted over months (S 8040) into legislation. The map preserves the same number of Black and Hispanic majority-minority and effective minority districts. Currently, Florida has 27 congressional seats, but the 2020 Census reapportionment process awarded the state one extra House district.
When looking at how voters cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election, the map produces 16 Donald Trump-favored districts and 12 Biden-favored districts. That’s especially notable, as Florida’s U.S. House delegation today includes 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats.
However, that does not necessarily say the map will generate a boost to Democrats. So far, three members of Congress from Florida have announced they will not seek another term: Reps. Charlie Crist, Demings and Stephanie Murphy. All are Democrats.
Demings this year will run for U.S. Senate, and Crist will run for Governor. Murphy announced she would not seek another term.
An MCI Maps’ partisan performance analysis shows Crist’s district, Florida’s 13th Congressional District, would remain one of the most closely divided in Florida under the map. Biden carried it, but with 50.2% of the vote. Murphy’s district, Florida’s 7th Congressional District, went to Biden with 53.2%. Demings’ district appears to remain a safe blue seat on the Senate proposed map, with Biden winning 61.5% of the vote in 2020.
Florida Democrats jumped on Sen. Marco Rubio for missing his first public committee meeting of 2022.
“Where is Marco Rubio? His repeated failure to simply show up for work is an insult to the hardworking Floridians who pay his salary,” said Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Grant Fox. “If Rubio is going to spend this year promoting his own self-serving political agenda instead of showing up for work, Floridians will see to it that he won’t have a job to show up to after November.”
The partisan attack comes as Rubio seeks a third term in the Senate this November, where he will likely face Demings, an Orlando Democrat.
But the absenteeism narrative has dogged Rubio for years. Both Republican opponents for President and the 2016 Democratic challenger, former Rep. Patrick Murphy, beat him up that year for having a worse voting attendance record than any Florida Senator in 50 years.
It hasn’t helped that he missed a Wednesday meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee or skipped a dozen committee meetings last year.
Few Republicans magnify the message of Biden instigating inflation with such discipline as Sen. Rick Scott. The Naples Republican pounced this week when the Bureau of Labor and Statistics released the latest consumer price index data showing a 7% price increase on goods across the board, before seasonal adjustment.
“Joe Biden’s presidency has been nothing but nonstop failure. Since Biden took office, Americans have been hit with the highest inflation increases in decades, yet the President has done nothing to stop skyrocketing prices,” Scott said. “Instead of taking care of the issues that are hurting hardworking families, Biden and his Democrat underlings in Congress are 100% focused on their radical plan to federalize elections. It’s shameful just how far Joe Biden will go to put the Democrats’ political power grab over the needs of the American people.”
In addition to the statistics, Scott said he’s started to collect stories from constituents directly impacted by rising prices. The surge is affecting Floridians in different ways. Used cars jumped 37.3% in price while gas leaped 49.6%.
“I recently heard from a woman in Florida who helps operate a food pantry. It used to be normal for her to serve about 15 families per day, but now she is seeing upward of 70 families per day,” he said. “The terrible thing about inflation is that as more folks are coming to her food pantry in need, it’s getting harder and harder to afford to help them. That’s the reality of Joe Biden’s inflation crisis, and I am sick and tired of seeing this failed President do nothing to help. I came to Washington to make this place work for Florida families. The reckless spending must end. The socialist agenda must end. Democrats may have turned their backs on the American people, but I won’t stop fighting.”
Washington is preparing to implement a vaccine passport requirement on local businesses. But Gaetz wants Congress to put a stop to that. The Congressman filed legislation that would cancel out what he calls Mayor Muriel Bowser’s “unconstitutional power grab.”
“I introduced legislation with 19 Republican co-sponsors to nullify the upcoming COVID-19 vaccine passport mandate in Washington,” Gaetz tweeted. None of those co-sponsors hail from Florida.
The District of Columbia, while a city, lies in no state and Congress maintains the authority to overturn its local laws. That has led to tensions through the year about gun control laws and other regulations, not to mention a long fight over the fact the residents of Washington have no voting representative in the House or Senate.
Democrats in Florida’s congressional delegation want Attorney General Merrick Garland to protect Florida voters from suppression efforts.
Demings led a letter co-signed by all 10 members of Florida’s House contingent. It raises fears Florida plans to step up efforts to suppress votes in minority communities. That effort could take place, Demings argued, even as several incidents of fraud are being uncovered in conservative areas of the state.
“Floridians deserve safe, secure and fair elections. The Voting Rights Act, renewed on a bipartisan basis for 50 years, empowered the Department of Justice to protect ordinary Floridians like my parents from discriminatory election meddling,” Demings said.
“But today partisans in the Senate are blocking these protections for Florida voters while politicians in Florida are working to strip legal voters of their rights, efforts which call back to the darkest points of Florida’s history of voter suppression. The Florida legislature began its 60-day session this week with plans to introduce extreme and unprecedented attacks on our right to vote. The federal government must act to protect Floridians’ civil rights. The Department of Justice must take action.”
The letter then itemizes her concerns.
“Florida has seen a disturbing rise in partisan efforts at voter suppression. Proposed legislation would further criminalize standard ‘get out the vote’ practices, making it a criminal act to, for example, notify a homebound voter of his or her option to request a mail-in ballot,” the letter states. “In addition, there is a shameful attempt to reduce the number of drop boxes, particularly in certain precincts, and finally, the imposition of new deadlines on election supervisors to ‘clean voting rolls,’ an all too familiar strategy to purge voters of color throughout the country.”
Last November, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled a legislative proposal including many of the actions listed in the letter. In addition to requiring a timeline for cleaning rolls of ineligible voters, he wants to prohibit the use of drop boxes for mail-in ballots.
Most controversially, he has proposed a law enforcement office focused on ‘election integrity.’
“I am excited that with this legislation, our state will be able to enforce election violations, combat voter fraud, and make sure violators are held accountable,” said DeSantis, a former Congressman, at the time. “If potential violators know they will be held accountable, they will be much less likely to engage in improper conduct in the first place.”
Government waste and Anthony Fauci both remain pretty unpopular with the delegation GOP, as is animal cruelty. Stuart Republican Brian Mast may have hit the political target trifecta when lobbing his latest letter at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Fauci, the Congressman questioned tests reportedly taking place on transgender monkeys. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called attention early this week to an experiment funded with $205,562 that subjected rhesus macaques to feminizing hormone therapies. The intent was to see if those treatments made the primates more susceptible to HIV infection. That information could be used to glean the risk for human trans women.
“This $200,000 of funding awarded in December of last year is a distressingly wasteful use of taxpayer dollars, primarily because it cruelly uses monkeys as inadequate stand-ins for humans by shooting them up with hormones they do not naturally produce,” Mast wrote. “This kind of manipulation of the health of monkeys is unnecessarily cruel, and the NIAID must answer questions about its judgment in funding such a study.”
Mast demanded information including how many monkeys endured testing, whether any similar experiments were funded in the past, and whether the NIAID chose this route over testing on human volunteers. “It’s unconscionable that taxpayers are on the hook for funding such a ridiculous study that puts monkeys’ lives on the line and no doubt causes them serious distress,” he said.
Of note, Fauci has come under fire for NIAID funding of animal research in the past, but he has no involvement in the actual research, which is conducted by outside entities.
When vaccines were set aside for members of Congress, it generated criticism of a number of officials who received shots before the general public. Now, Naples Republican Byron Donalds sees the same thing happening with COVID-19 tests amid a surge in the omicron variant.
The Committee on House Administration decided to provide at-home COVID-19 tests to members of Congress and to staff.
“While Americans throughout the nation struggle to find a COVID test amid the Biden-testing crisis, every congressional office is now receiving free weekly at-home rapid tests,” Donalds said. “Members of Congress and our staff are not above the American people, and I will be donating these tests to a local health care facility in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. I encourage my colleagues to send these tests and offer them to an area of need in their district.”
Donalds tested positive for COVID-19 last year after receiving a rapid test before he was scheduled to speak at a Trump campaign rally.
Aghast at omicron
Wasserman Schultz, co-chair of the Florida delegation, led a letter signed by all Florida congressional Democrats pressing DeSantis to release more information on policies executed to combat the omicron variant.
“Floridians want to get back to life as normal,” the letter stated.
“We want to keep kids in schools, businesses open, tourism thriving, and residents able to return to their daily lives. The new Omicron variant has taken Florida by storm, and we are concerned that state leadership has been minimal, inconsistent, and confusing.”
More than 62,600 Floridians have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic surfaced in the state nearly two years ago. Infection rates last week reached new heights. Democrats expressed some concern that number doesn’t even reflect reality, as Florida’s GOP leaders have discouraged asymptomatic people from testing at all.
“We encourage you to repeal your new testing guidance from Jan. 6, 2022, and to leverage available federal assistance for COVID testing and outbreak response,” the letter states. “Testing is key to controlling outbreaks. It allows infected people to isolate themselves and inform other people that they were exposed to someone who tested positive. Armed with that, responsible people can opt to temporarily quarantine, limit interaction with others, or at minimum, seek screenings themselves.
“However, under the leadership of Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, the Florida Department of Health announced new guidance that aims to ‘reduce the use of low-value testing.’ The new guidance states that ‘COVID testing is unlikely to have any clinical benefits’ for asymptomatic individuals and does not prioritize testing children and young adults. This guidance ignores various realities.”
Democrats also said DeSantis should reverse course on laws discouraging employers from requiring vaccination of employees or stop local governments from imposing mask mandates or quarantine requirements.
Nearly a year after Trump left office, his endorsement still carries weight in the GOP. Hialeah Republican Mario Díaz-Balart eagerly embraced the Mar-a-Lago resident’s endorsement, issued on Thursday.
“Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart has a very strong record of leadership. He is a terrific Representative for the people of South Florida,” Trump said in a statement released by his Save America PAC. “Mario is tough on crime, the Second Amendment, and is dedicated to low taxes and a strong economy. He is an advocate for our seniors and loves our great military and our veterans. Mario Díaz-Balart is a true fighter for our great Country and has my complete and total endorsement!”
Díaz-Balart made his appreciation clear. “I had the privilege of successfully working with Trump on key issues, including cutting taxes, confronting China, fighting back the socialist agenda and protecting American freedoms to improve the quality of life for all,” he tweeted.
While the Congressman, the current dean of the delegation, has remained a strong favorite for re-election, the support should also help fend off primary challenges from vocal Trump supporters Darren Aquino and Drew Montez-Clark.
On this day
Jan. 14, 1784 — “Ratification of the Treaty of Paris” via the Maryland State Archives — The Treaty of Paris was ratified by the Congress of the United States while they met in the Senate Chamber of the Maryland statehouse. The Treaty formally ended the Revolutionary War and established the United States as a free and independent nation. The Treaty had been signed by delegates from the United States and Great Britain, as well as France and Spain, in Paris on Sept. 3, 1783. Congress’ assent was required for the Treaty to take effect, and delegates were called to convene at Annapolis, then serving as the nation’s capital, in November 1783.
Jan. 14, 1942 — “Franklin Roosevelt becomes first President to travel by airplane on U.S. official business” via History.com — Crossing the Atlantic by air, Roosevelt flew in a Boeing 314 Flying Boat dubbed the Dixie Clipper to a World War II strategy meeting with Winston Churchill at Casablanca in North Africa. With German U-boats taking a heavy toll on American marine traffic in the Atlantic, Roosevelt’s advisers reluctantly agreed to send him via airplane. Roosevelt, at a frail 60 years old, gamely made the arduous 17,000-mile round trip. Roosevelt and his entourage left Florida, touched down in the Caribbean, continued down the southern coast of South America to Brazil, and then flew across the Atlantic to Gambia.
Best wishes to Rep. Carlos Giménez, who turns 68 on Monday, Jan. 17.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Scott Powers.