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Just a little more than 48 hours after becoming Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, the wonder of it all was still washing over the newly minted Congresswoman from Florida’s 20th Congressional District.
The first Haitian American to serve in Congress as a Democrat was sworn in as a Representative by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus in front of a statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Tears sprang to her father’s eyes, she said, after he had a chance to chat with Pelosi.
“He said, ‘You know I’m ready to die now,’” she told Florida Politics. “He said that because he was in Haiti at a time when they saw the military, the government, shooting people and killing people in front of him. That teaches you to keep your mouth shut.
“And now he’s here, shaking Nancy Pelosi’s hand.”
Her victory was an improbable one. She won a Special Primary Election featuring a crowded field of Democrats in November, then secured a congressional seat to hold her first role in public office. She beat three state lawmakers and two Broward County Commission members in the Primary, squeaking by one of them by just five votes.
“It was a nail-biter,” she said.
Cherfilus-McCormick said she’s fully prepared to start campaigning again, as she must defend her seat in the November midterms. Some of her Special Election opponents have already filed to run against her in the next contest.
“We’re here to serve and do whatever it takes to bring what we promised to the community,” she said.
First off, she’s been meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus on salvaging aspects of the voting rights bill that’s been pronounced dead in the U.S. Senate.
“That is definitely on the table, and we’re meeting to discuss that,” she said.
— Tanbir Chowdhury (@ItsTanbirC) January 19, 2022
Cherfilus-McCormick said she will continue pushing for her proposal of sending everyone making less than $75,000 a year a $1,000 monthly check from the government, despite the lack of political will for other spending items such as extending the child tax credit. She’s planning to sign on to Minnesota Ilhan Omar’s bill, introduced in July, distributing up to $1,200 a month to adults and $600 for kids.
“If her bill doesn’t move, then we’ll introduce ours,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “We’re going to take affirmative steps.”
The money may go through community initiative projects, as has been done in other communities like Atlanta, which this month started giving 300 people $500 a month for a year, she said.
For now, the enormity of being in these hallowed halls sometimes sneaks up on her.
“I was getting a tour of the Capitol with a young Asian woman,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “I’m looking at the statues and the paintings, and I say to her, ‘Well, none of them looked like us,’ and she said, ‘I know, right?’”
She said that it takes her breath away that those men made it possible for her to come to Washington — even if they didn’t exactly live those ideals they built into the system.
“It makes me emotional to think that those concepts of freedom and liberty … still gave us the opportunity to be here and walk these halls.”
Shortchanging the Glades?
Sen. Marco Rubio sounded alarms when a federal budget for the Army Corps of Engineers left out any money for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir.
The Miami Republican said the failure to fund what’s widely considered the best solution for avoiding Lake Okeechobee’s algae-fueling discharges was an unforgivable oversight.
“The Army Corps did not allocate a single dollar for the construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir,” Rubio said. “The EAA Reservoir is the single most important Everglades restoration project for reducing harmful discharges and sending more water south, and delays are mounting under President (Joe) Biden’s control of the Army Corps. I will continue to work with my colleagues — Republicans and Democrats alike — to expedite the completion of Everglades restoration and make sure Florida taxpayers are not sending their dollars to vanity projects in other states.”
Environmental groups generally praised Biden’s administration for budgeting $1.1 billion for the Everglades but still made clear they want the major project funded.
“The Everglades Foundation applauds the federal government’s significant commitment of $1.1 billion for Everglades restoration,” read a statement from Everglades Foundation CEO Erik Eikenberg. “For too long, the residents of South Florida have suffered as a result of toxic discharges, algae blooms, fish kills, economic losses, and a parched Everglades National Park. In order to maximize the environmental benefits to be achieved by Everglades restoration, the Army Corps of Engineers should direct the funding toward construction of the vital EAA Reservoir.”
Rubio was among a bipartisan group of delegation members pushing in December for a $1.5 billion allocation for the Everglades, which would have included spending on the planned-but-still-unbuilt reservoir. The Senator said the $400 billion missing from the budget should not be glossed over.
“No one should be surprised that President Joe Biden is shortchanging Florida,” Rubio said. “His administration turned its back on Florida from the very beginning. It started with rationing critical lifesaving medical treatments and sending illegal immigrants to our cities, and now it comes in the form of inadequate funding for a bipartisan priority.”
Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican, joined in criticizing the administration. “I asked the Army Corps to fix their mistake by fully funding this critical project with the available funds, but instead they’ve made it worse,” Mast said. “Today, they announced they wouldn’t allocate even one dollar for the EAA reservoir, cementing the Biden Administration’s massive screw up. It’s clear that Joe Biden has no regard for the well-being of South Florida’s environment, economy or public health.”
But Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat, praised the money Florida received. “We should be celebrating this historic win for Florida instead of trying to score political points for criticizing the President,” she said. “Everglades restoration is a complex, comprehensive plan that includes over 60 projects over a 35-year time span. Each completed project is a step toward restoring this unique ecosystem that provides drinking water for more than one-third of all Floridians, is home to hundreds of endangered plant and animal species, and is a critical driver of tourism and economic activity for our state. It’s the height of hypocrisy for Republican members who voted against this bill to then criticize this historic investment.”
Can Big Tech stop the opioid crisis? Sen. Rick Scott and Rep. Gus Bilirakis would like companies to do their part. The two Florida Republicans sent a letter to executives of Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook), WhatsApp, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Snap, and TikTok asking what each platform plans to do to stop the drug epidemic.
The letter cites a recent CBS News investigation showing how the platforms connect teenagers to drug dealers.
“A recent CBS News investigation created two fake profiles across Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, and pretended to be high school students. The account holder was able to find a drug dealer within 48 hours,” the letter notes. “The connection between social media platforms and the illegal drug trade is clear for everyone to see. The question you must now ask yourself is how many more children, teens and adults need to die before your platform commits to taking an aggressive approach to fighting this epidemic?
“While we understand that individuals using your platform may report accounts for drug sales or other illegal content in violation of your platform’s guidelines, the turnaround time in addressing these reports is nothing short of a slap in the face of every American who has lost a loved one to this crisis. Whether ‘industry best practices’ need to be established or legislative changes made, something must be done to combat the rising presence of counterfeit and illegal drugs.”
The letter specifically recommended a “Trusted Reporter” program to monitor accounts engaging in illegal activity online. It also contains a list of pointed inquiries noting tools already available to platforms, such as the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Emoji Drug Code to identify transactions better, or its One Pill Can Kill public service message campaign.
Bilirakis said the companies hold a responsibility to do more than they are doing today. “Big Tech’s goal is to do whatever it takes to keep us all online longer than ever, with the purpose of polarizing and monetizing us,” he said. “The industry has shown no concern for the damage its actions are having on America’s children, and has proved itself either unwilling or incapable of doing the right thing unless required.”
National Republicans have responded with a full-court press on politicians taking contributions from Golden State Warriors investor Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive. That’s a roster that includes Florida Reps. Charlie Crist, Val Demings and Darren Soto, as well as Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
As reported by NPR, the venture capitalist dismissed China’s alleged persecution of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang province on his All-In Podcast.
“Nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uyghurs, OK?” he said. “You bring it up because you really care, and I think it’s nice that you really care. The rest of us don’t care. I’m just telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things I care about, yes, it’s below my line.”
Pushed on the issue by a co-host, Palihapitiya continued, “If you’re asking me do I care about a segment of a class of people in another country? Not until we can take care of ourselves will I prioritize them over us.”
Except many Florida political leaders care quite a bit. Rubio, whom Demings is challenging, dedicated massive efforts this year to championing the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which in December became law. The Chinese treatment of the ethnic group has prompted intense criticism from other Florida politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Palihapitiya’s comments prompted the Warriors’ leadership to distance themselves, calling Palihapitiya — who owns 10% of the team — a “limited investor” who “does not speak on behalf of our franchise.” Now, Republicans say Democrats cashing his checks must do the same.
“Question for Val Demings, Darren Soto, Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried: Do you support the comments from Palihapitiya and his lack of concern for genocide?” said Republican National Committee spokesperson Julia Friedland. “To the Florida Democratic Party that took contributions from a man who openly says he doesn’t care about tortured groups: will you be returning the money?”
Crist and Fried have filed to challenge Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-election, and national Republicans list Soto as a congressional target this year.
To watch the clip, click on the image below:
Stay in school
Florida’s schools controversially remained open even as a new coronavirus variant surged through the state. Rubio and Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack want the rest of the country following the Sunshine State’s lead.
Cammack announced the “Keep Kids in School Act of 2022,” which, if passed, would ban sending any more federal COVID-19 relief dollars to schools that don’t remain open full-time with in-person instruction.
“Our students deserve and need to be in school,” the Congresswoman said. “After more than a year of on-and-off virtual and in-person education, it is no longer acceptable to keep students out of the classroom, forcing them to miss out on important milestones for their academic and social development. In Florida, we’ve been fortunate to have Gov. DeSantis leading the way and pushing for in-person instruction, and I’m pleased to join Sen. Rubio in this important effort to get our kids back in the classroom.”
The bill would provide an exception to schools shut down by personnel shortages due to quarantines. Other Florida co-sponsors on the House bill include Republicans Neal Dunn, John Rutherford, Mike Waltz and Mast.
Rubio introduced companion legislation in the upper chamber. “Students have already lost a year or more of in-person instruction, and the impacts on their well-being have been catastrophic,” the Senator said. “Taxpayer dollars should not go to schools that cave to the ridiculous calls from teachers’ unions and their progressive allies to stay home. (This) bill is common sense — if a school keeps students out of the classroom, it won’t receive any unspent federal relief funding. Nearly everyone in America agrees that our kids need to be in school.”
The introduction of a proposed congressional map by DeSantis, an unprecedented move in modern times for Florida’s redistricting process, angered some delegation members. The members focused on the map’s reduction in Black representation.
The most outspoken comments came from Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson, who would be impacted by the Governor’s map that leaves Florida’s 5th Congressional District off completely.
“I will ensure the people of Florida’s 5th District have the representation in Congress they rightfully deserve. My district includes a large minority and urban core; protecting minority voting access is critical to serving the needs of this area,” Lawson said.
“I am confident that this attempt by the Governor to dilute the voting rights of my constituents is in clear violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. Voting rights advocacy organizations like Fair Districts, the NAACP and other community interest groups have not had the opportunity to weigh in on the Governor’s partisan proposed map, which would negatively affect people of color. More importantly, the voters have not weighed in.”
The map also fails to keep a district analogous to Florida’s 10th Congressional District, an effective Black district. Demings, the Representative for the district, is running for Senate instead of seeking re-election to the seat. But she also tweeted shortly after the Governor’s map was published about malicious gerrymandering in general.
“One of the most vicious attacks on our democracy has been partisan gerrymandering,” she tweeted. “Voters should pick their representatives, not the other way around.”
Of course, her comments came a day after the Senate, including Rubio, failed to pass the Freedom To Vote John R. Lewis Act, which includes minority access protection.
“It is not too late for Florida’s senators, and every Senator, to remember their oaths to the Constitution, to lay aside partisanship, and to protect our right to vote. Floridians deserve safe, secure and fair elections, where every legal voter can easily cast a ballot,” she said in a statement pointedly pulling in Rubio’s no-vote to the criticism.
The Governor’s Office has defended its map, saying the real gerrymander is the current makeup of Lawson’s district. “We eliminated this flagrant gerrymander,” said DeSantis press secretary Christina Pushaw. “We believe our map is within constitutional requirements and performs better than the other maps on Tier 2 constitutional requirements, including compactness and preservation of boundaries, all while increasing the number of minority districts.”
Meanwhile, the Florida Senate passed a map Thursday that includes versions of Lawson’s and Demings’ districts.
Defund the Olympics
Waltz, St. Augustine Beach Republican, may be the most vocal critic of holding the Winter Olympics in China, even calling for the U.S. to fully boycott The Games. Now, he’s filed legislation in the House with Virginia Democrat Jennifer Wexton to strip the International Olympic Committee of its tax-exempt status over the decision to continue with plans for China to host the event.
“The American taxpayer can no longer subsidize the IOC while it siphons off hundreds of millions of dollars directly to the Chinese Communist Party to help build up Beijing’s infrastructure and flies in the face of 501(c)(4) law,” the Congressman said.
“The IOC is complicit in promoting the regime’s agenda to distract the world from their atrocities with the Olympic Fanfare. Adding insult to injury to the victims of the Uyghur genocide, the IOC is clothing their officials for The Games with uniforms sourced from forced-labor concentration camps in Xinjiang, flaunting their indifference to the cries of the oppressed. The corporate partners for the 2022 Genocide Olympics should be ashamed to be associated with the IOC and the CCP’s propaganda ploy.”
He noted American corporate support for The Games provided $880 million to China, and called out such sponsors as Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Intel, Procter & Gamble and Visa for continuing to market the events. But the massive spending shows there’s no need for the IOC to operate as a U.S. nonprofit.
Added Wexton, “The IOC has made it crystal clear that it will prioritize profits over human rights, standing firmly on the side of the Chinese government to aid and abet the cover-up of the Uyghur genocide and other horrific human rights abuses ahead of next month’s Olympic Games. Those who are enabling these atrocities will not change their behavior until we hit them where it hurts: their bottom line. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill with Rep. Waltz to strip the IOC of their tax-exempt status.”
Former Orlando top-cop Demings hailed a new bipartisan bill to invest $50 million a year for five years in law enforcement training throughout the country.
Demings co-sponsored the “Invest in Law Enforcement Act of 2022” to funnel federal grants for departments to provide de-escalation training, domestic violence response, law enforcement, and overtime costs for when that becomes an issue while setting up training assignments.
The grants also are available for local departments to set up bodycam data storage systems and to help upgrade recruitment efforts at smaller departments.
“After a 27-year career, I know that smaller police departments across Florida face particular challenges in recruitment, training, retention, and officer wellness,” Demings, a former Orlando Police Chief, said.
“I strongly support these additional federal resources, which will fund police departments looking to hire and support officers with the right qualifications. These investments will ensure higher levels of training and accountability. I look forward to working with my Democratic and Republican colleagues to get this bill passed and fund Florida’s police departments and their important mission.”
Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan took over this week as the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, the most prestigious panel under the Ways and Means umbrella, and a critical promotion as the Congressman makes his play to run the most powerful committee in the House.
Now, he has unrolled his list of priorities this year as he takes on this new role.
“I’m honored to lead Republicans on this crucial panel that oversees health care in our nation,” Buchanan said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to advance an agenda that makes health care more affordable and accessible for every American.”
That includes focusing on patient-oriented health systems, encouraging innovation, and increasing personal health care choices.
Texas Republican Kevin Brady, the ranking member of Ways and Means, praised Buchanan as he took over as the GOP voice on House health policy. “In his new role as Republican Leader of the Subcommittee on Health, Vern Buchanan will continue to be a champion for Americans’ health and providing Americans, especially seniors, with better access to affordable, quality care,” Brady said. “Vern’s success as leader of the Subcommittee on Trade will be valuable, as he achieved bipartisan, pro-growth reforms resulting in more jobs for U.S. workers, farmers, and local businesses, and a stronger economy. I look forward to working together as he takes on this new role.”
A hostage standoff at a Colleyville Texas synagogue prompted a statement of solidarity from bipartisan leaders of the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations. Among those leaders credited on the statement was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Jewish American Congresswoman and a Weston Democrat.
“As the leaders of the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations, we stand in solidarity with the Jewish community following the recent hostage situation that took place during religious services at Beth Israel Congregation in Colleyville, Texas. We are grateful to the federal, state, and local law enforcement officials who worked tirelessly to secure the release of the four hostages in the synagogue,” the statement reads.
“This antisemitic act was not the first time that a synagogue, and the congregants within, have been attacked in the United States.”
Malik Faisal Akram, a Black man and British citizen, apparently perpetrated this one. He died in a standoff with law enforcement. Four hostages survived unharmed.
The caucus statement, also attributed to Democratic Sens. Jacky Rosen and Cory Booker and Rep. Brenda Lawrence, as well as Republicans Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Lee Zeldin, evokes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
“Only together can we work to stomp out hatred,” the statement closes.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland notified a federal court that she and the Department of Interior intend to appeal the November court decision that struck down internet sports betting and Florida’s 2022 Gaming Compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The federal government’s argument would have to convince the Appeals Court the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act gives the Department of Interior authority to approve Florida’s Gaming Compact at a federal level in August, even if the Compact allows bets to be placed outside tribal lands. The notice itself does not reveal what arguments Haaland and the federal government might be preparing to make.
On Nov. 22, the U.S. District Court issued a summary judgment invalidating her federal approval. Without that approval, the Compact could not be enacted. That decision shut down the Seminole Tribe’s sports betting app, which had only been activated three weeks earlier, on Nov. 1. The decision also left in limbo other provisions in the 2022 Gaming Compact, which would have allowed the addition of other casino games and future expansion of gambling by the Seminole Tribe. Sports betting, however, was the first, big expansion in line.
The Seminole Tribe of Florida already filed an appeal with the Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit.
The federal appeal, however, may have stronger standing. One of the things the U.S. District Court did in November was rule that the Seminole Tribe’s attempt to intervene in that case was moot.
Ballard Partners has signed a one-year lobbying contract with Guatemala worth an estimated $900,000. The deal will see the firm provide the Central American nation with legislative updates and handle its public relations efforts in the United States.
The lobbying deal comes as Guatemala struggles with corruption and human trafficking. It is also the home country for a large portion of the migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Taiwan is reportedly covering the cost of the Ballard Partners contract for Guatemala, which is one of the poorest nations in Central America and one of the few that still recognizes Taiwan, rather than the People’s Republic of China, as the legitimate government of China.
Lobbyists signed on to the deal include firm founder Brian Ballard, José Félix Díaz, John O’Hanlon and Justin Sayfie.
Ballard Partners has been one of the largest lobbying firms in the Sunshine State for years and has quickly become one of the largest in Washington since it expanded its operation after the election of former President Donald Trump.
Should lawmakers consider cutting the Medicare Advantage budget? A new poll touted by the Better Medicare Alliance suggests that would be a very unpopular idea. A Morning Consult poll of 1,000 seniors on Medicare found sweeping support for the program.
That included 94% of seniors, a group well known to consistently vote, expressing satisfaction with their Medicare Advantage Coverage, with 95% happy with their doctors, hospitals and specialists. The survey showed 88% said the program lets them see doctors on their terms, and 89% say it saves them money.
While about 47% of seniors said they were unfamiliar with the program before turning 65, a full 93% said they value choosing plans beyond traditional Medicare.
More to the point politically, 88% said they oppose cuts to the program, including 74% who strongly oppose them. About 92% said a candidate’s position on Medicare Advantage would be important to them when they cast a ballot, and 76% say they are less likely to vote for a member of Congress who votes to reduce funding, with that assessment particularly prevalent among Democratic voters.
About 72% said the Biden administration’s position on the issue would impact their support for the President. That includes 61% of Democrats.
On this day
Jan. 21, 1861 — “Civil War Senate reacts to Secession, Florida Senators bid farewell” via the U.S. Senate — Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the presidential election prompted a rapid succession of dramatic events. Five senators from Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, led by Mississippi Sen. Jefferson Davis, bade farewell to the Senate. The secession of Southern states and the withdrawal of their elected representatives forced an unprecedented constitutional crisis in Congress. Florida Sens. David Yulee and Stephen Mallory withdrew from the Senate. Salaries were paid to date. Yulee’s term expired in March. Mallory’s seat was declared vacant on March 14. Mallory became Secretary of the Navy of the Confederacy. Both were imprisoned in 1865.
Jan. 21, 1977 — “President Jimmy Carter pardons draft dodgers” via History.com — On the first day of his presidency, Carter granted an unconditional pardon to hundreds of thousands of men who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War. In total, some 100,000 young Americans went abroad in the late 1960s and early ’70s to avoid serving in the war. About 90% went to Canada, where they were eventually welcomed as immigrants after some initial controversy. Still others hid inside the United States. In addition to those who avoided the draft, a relatively small number — about 1,000 — of deserters from the U.S. armed forces also headed to Canada.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Anne Geggis, Scott Powers and Drew Wilson.