Delegation for 2.1.22: Grass sass — antibodies — sun power — privacy, please

Imprint of the U.S. Capitol building on a dollar bill banknote
Joe Biden throws a lifeline to the Everglades; it comes up a little short.

River of sass

Several Republicans within Florida’s congressional delegation took their beef with President Joe Biden to the shores of the Everglades.

There, Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Byron Donalds and Brian Mast stood with Gov. Ron DeSantis to attack the lack of funding in a $1 trillion infrastructure package to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

“That’s the Biden administration sending a middle finger over to Florida, unfortunately,” said Mast, a Stuart Republican. “This is what we see over and over again.”

It’s a gripe many initially raised when the Army Corps of Engineers budget was first published in January. Despite a bipartisan delegation request for $1.5 billion for Everglades restoration, the $1.1 billion that made the budget cut about a third of that request by setting nothing aside for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir. That project is what Southwest and Southeast Florida longed for the most; it could help mitigate periodic tax algae-filled discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee or St. Lucie rivers.

Joe Biden set aside a billion dollars for the Everglades, but it’s still not enough. Image via Official White House Photo.

In this area, cutting corners isn’t the way forward for conservation, Rubio said. The Miami Republican characterized the administration decision as a betrayal of pro-Everglades positions taken up by the federal government in the past. “Everglades restoration is not one project,” Rubio said. “It is a sweep of projects that each build on one another, and none of it matters unless all of it happens.”

That’s why, for years, bipartisan efforts tried to grab every budget line possible to help the Everglades. It worked under former President Donald Trump, now living downriver in Mar-a-Lago. The Republican President in 2020 gave the total requested $250 million for Everglades efforts in 2020, winning praise from the same lawmakers lashing out at Biden now. Trump also won Florida’s electoral votes over Biden, even after losing the presidency in 2020.

As presidential hopefuls from Florida — including Rubio and DeSantis — ponder a national run in 2024, GOP officials at the presser openly questioned if sabotage was at play.

For its part, the administration specifically touted Everglades expenditures when an infrastructure budget came out last month. A statement from the White House labeled the allocation as the “largest single investment ever to restore and revitalize the Everglades in Florida.”

Some delegation Democrats rushed to Biden’s defense at the time.

“The Everglades is the lifeblood of South Florida, and this historic funding commitment by the Biden administration will ensure we can much more aggressively move to restore and protect the natural sheet flow of water that is the largest environmental restoration project in American history,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat.

But GOP members of the delegation still can’t shake the feeling Florida came up dry.

“This administration is failing,” said Naples Republican Donalds. “With all of the money that is being spent in this ‘infrastructure bill that’s bipartisan,’ you’d figure they find some money for the EAA Reservoir. Frankly, the President just failed to do so, like he does on so many other things.’

“But this isn’t about politics,” he added. “This is about our environment. I don’t care if you are a Republican, a Democrat, a liberal, a conservative, you’re a libertarian. What we all care about is having a quality environment in Florida, and it is the federal government’s responsibility to help restore the very thing they actually broke some 70, 80 years ago.”

Onboard

Republicans in Florida’s congressional delegation came to DeSantis’ defense on monoclonal antibody treatments after all. Shortly after Delegation reported on days of silence from congressional allies, Rubio led a letter on the matter co-signed by all 16 Florida House Republicans.

The letter demands Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra explain why the authorization of Regeneron and Eli Lilly treatments was rescinded and why the federal government would no longer supply shipments to Florida.

Xavier Becerra has some explaining to do. Image via AP.

“It is imperative that our states and health care providers have every available resource at their disposal to prevent this virus from surging again,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Americans deserve leaders that make decisions based on real-world data and work diligently with states and health care providers to carry out transparent policies, providing them with plenty of time to respond. Ultimately, it is HHS’s responsibility to ensure states and health care providers have the tools they need to fight this pandemic, not to disrupt them with politically motivated decision-making.”

Notably, Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott sponsored the Treatment Restoration for Emergency Antibody Therapeutics Act to restore states’ ability to buy the treatments from manufacturers directly. That bill has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Scott, however, was the only Florida Republican in Congress not to sign the recent letter.

Regeneron and Eli Lilly issued statements supporting the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to rescind emergency use authorization as the treatments, while effective against prior variants of the coronavirus, have proved ineffective against the omicron variant.

Afghanistanparency

As the Senate continues to scrutinize last year’s Afghanistan withdrawal, Scott said there needs to be more transparency in proceedings. He pressed Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Jack Reed — chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee, respectively — to allow public access to closed-door testimony by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“It is imperative that a portion of this joint hearing be open to the public so that American families and all impacted by the botched withdrawal can hear directly from Secretaries Blinken and Austin,” the Naples Republican wrote. “We understand the importance of also having a closed portion of this hearing to discuss sensitive or classified information but cannot allow this opportunity to pass without ensuring that the American people get answers from the Biden administration.”

Rick Scott is pressing for more transparency from Lloyd Austin and Antony Blinken.

The Biden administration’s pullout from Afghanistan, now under Taliban rule again, has inspired lament on the right, even from those who favored leaving the nation but remain frustrated at how events happened.

“President Biden’s misguided and dangerous decisions in his botched withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan led to the United States’ most stunning, unforced and humiliating defeat in decades,” Scott said. “In the withdrawal, America lost 13 brave service members, left billions of dollars of U.S. military equipment to be seized by the Taliban, stranded hundreds of American citizens behind enemy lines, and returned Afghanistan to the same terrorist-coddling extremists who ruled it on Sept. 11, 2001. Thanks to this administration’s actions, the world is now a more dangerous place. Now, we as members of the United States Senate and the American people are rightfully demanding answers.”

Another 17 GOP Senators co-signed Scott’s letter, including Rubio.

Domestic sunlight

Solar power legislation from Orlando Democrat Val Demings advanced in the House as part of the America COMPETES Act (HR 4521).

The bipartisan bill, which boasts support and contributions from Democratic and Republican lawmakers, aims to boost U.S. economic competitiveness against China. The legislation takes language from Demings’ Reclaiming the Solar Supply Chain Act.

“Our pro-worker legislation, supported by Democrats and Republicans, will invest in American factories and American workers, create jobs, secure our solar supply chain, hold China accountable, take on climate change, and ensure good pay and safe workplaces for America’s working families,” Demings said.

“Florida is the Sunshine State, and we should embrace this exciting new opportunity to transform sunshine into new American jobs and build a brighter future. I am grateful to House (Energy and Commerce Committee) Chair (Frank) Pallone and the other authors of the America COMPETES Act for working with us to include this important priority as we work to restore America’s economy and global leadership.”

Demings’ contributions call for tax credits to fund new solar component factories in the U.S., something economists believe could create 1.5 million domestic jobs by 2035. Right now, China produces about 82% of the world’s solar panels. Much of that is made in the Xinjiang region, where human rights advocates accuse China of relying on slave labor by ethnic Muslims.

Privates

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis, urged Biden to work with Congress on data privacy legislation. As part of National Data Privacy Day, the GOP leaders in the House and Senate renewed a push for accountability in the tech sector and followed up on prior communications with the administration.

“Since we last wrote six months ago, we have neither received a response from you nor seen meaningful activity on the part of the executive branch to protect the data privacy of U.S. consumers,” the letter reads. “However, we have seen several troubling reports about the myriad ways Americans’ personal information is being misused and abused. Recent disturbing revelations about Big Tech companies exploiting the data and online habits of children and teens show just how urgent it is for Congress to act to protect the data privacy of our youth and the broader public.”

For Gus Bilirakis, some things are just not Big Tech’s business.

Bilirakis signed the message as the ranking Republican on the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee. Other signatories on the letter included House Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Cathy McMorris, Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker and Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security Subcommittee Ranking Member Marsha Blackburn.

“Today’s international commemoration of Data Privacy Day marks an opportunity to commit to doing what more than 100 countries have already done: establish a baseline privacy law in the United States,” the letter reads. “This is a national imperative for maintaining a strong and secure digital economy. We hope you will join us in this effort to give Americans more control over their personal information, provide meaningful safeguards over their data, and restore trust in the safety and security of our online ecosystem.”

Dirty money

The U.S. Justice Department has started prosecuting figures connected to Venezuela for bribes and other financial crimes. St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist wants to make sure that money doesn’t end up back in the hands of corrupt governments. He filed the Preserving Accountability for National Assets Act to create a trust fund to hold the stolen money instead of reverting it to state-controlled accounts.

“Hundreds of billions of dollars have been stolen from the Venezuelan people under the corrupt, socialist (Hugo) Chavez and (Nicolas) Maduro regimes,” Crist said. “While Maduro and his stooges enrich themselves, the Venezuelan people suffer.”

Much of the court work against the Maduro network has played out in Florida. In November, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan of the Southern District of Florida was part of the prosecution effort against Venezuela’s state-owned and state-controlled energy company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A.

Charlie Crist says, keep that money clean. Image via AP.

Advocates for the Venezuelan people suggest that legal actions hold little consequence if the financial resources are available to Maduro’s administration.

“The damage that corrupt Venezuelan officials have done to the country is unmeasurable. Nonetheless, the possibility for the reconstruction of democracy is achievable if the massive amounts recovered by the U.S. judiciary can be safeguarded in a special fund,” said Maria Alejandra Marquez, president of the Initiative for the Recovery of Venezuelan Assets, who praised Crist’s legislation. “With the Venezuela Restoration Fund, these resources can be protected until the conditions of transparency and accountability can be assured.”

Crist said the money can then be used to aid the people instead of the regime. “Venezuelans everywhere, including the 400,000 Venezuelan Americans who call Florida home, deserve a future free from socialism, a future where they have a voice,” he said. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation that returns those resources to where they belong — with the Venezuelan people.”

Infrastructure instructions

As funding from the infrastructure package, a major Biden administration priority, rolls out to communities, Kathy Castor this week disseminated a guidebook on how local leaders could seek a piece of the $1 trillion pie.

“Thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Tampa Bay area already has secured $17 million for Port Tampa Bay and roadway improvements,” the Tampa Democrat said. “I want my local partners to be ready to win competitive grants to help lower costs, ease congestion and create jobs. This new guidebook will ensure that Tampa area partners have the information necessary to deliver on Tampa’s priorities as we Build Back Better.”

Kathy Castor produces a handbook on cutting a $1 billion pie. Image via Twitter.

The “Building a Better America” guidebook walks through 350 programs included in the funding initiative that can go to any effort meeting outlined eligibility criteria. Distributing the infrastructure bill instruction manual has become the latest outreach priority for the Democratic administration.

And while Castor may most want to make sure the literature ends up in the hands of those in Florida’s 14th Congressional District, she released it in a digital format accessible to anybody with an internet connection.

Equity hiring

Hollywood Democrat Frederica Wilson, chair of the House Higher Education and Workforce Investment Subcommittee, had a place at the table — and a box on the Zoom call — at the Biden administration’s first virtual roundtable on equitable hiring by the federal government.

The interagency meeting of voices from around the federal government gave a chance to discuss broad efforts to improve workforce equity and “make the federal government the model employer.” Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves and Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja led the call, taking input from advocacy groups, academics and faith leaders.

Frederica Wilson gets a seat at the table — and a box on Zoom. Image via Twitter.

“I’m especially pleased that President Biden’s executive order charges federal agencies with developing new recruitment partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and other minority-serving institutions,” Wilson said. “By working with federal, state and local representatives, as well as other community leaders, federal agencies can streamline the flow of information to communities that are underrepresented in the federal workforce to help demystify government work.”

Administration leaders said info gleaned in the roundtable would inform hiring and other HR decisions in federal agencies moving forward.

“We are committed to making sure that our workforce draws on the amazing diversity that exists across the country. We know a diverse workforce is a strength that helps better the federal government,” Ahuja said. “We focus on making sure that agencies like the DOC and others can bring the best and brightest individuals into the federal government.”

Diplomat to lobbyist

A former ambassador will join Ballard Partners’ Washington office. Matt Bryza, a former ambassador to Azerbaijan and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia, has joined the team as a senior policy adviser.

“Ambassador Bryza’s extensive experience in the White House and State Department brings a new dimension of international expertise to the firm, and we are honored to have him join our team,” said Brian Ballard, the firm’s president and founder, in the announcement. “Matt’s unique perspective will be invaluable to the firm’s global clients.”

Bryza’s stint at State ran from 2005 to 2009. He later served in the Azerbaijan post as Ambassador from 2011 to 2012 during former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s watch.

Matt Bryza is bringing his considerable international experience to Team Ballard.

As a professional diplomat, Bryza worked as a director on the National Security Council Staff at the White House, responsible for the South Caucasus, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Eurasian energy. He also co-chaired the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Minsk Group, mediating the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Other experience mediating disputes includes in Cyprus, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“I am delighted to join Brian and the exceptional team of professionals at Ballard Partners,” he said.

Foley sighting

Former delegation member Mark Foley just filed as a federal lobbyist, as first spotted by Legistorm. The West Palm Beach Republican registered Genesis Partners Palm Beach as a Florida-based firm as of November, with the ability to lobby in the House or Senate.

So far, the former Congressmen has two clients who hired him, both to help in the immigration arena.

A blast from the past? Image via AP.

Educational Partners International in North Carolina hired Foley to help obtain work forms through cultural affairs programs for international teachers. Intermex Wire Transfer, meanwhile, tapped Foley to work with Citizenship and Immigration Services to work on visa and work-related issues.

It’s a return to the Hill decades after a sexting scandal involving congressional pages abruptly ended his tenure in Congress weeks before the 2006 midterms.

On this day

Feb. 1, 2003 — “After Columbia, a stunned NASA searches for answers” via The Orlando Sentinel — Space shuttle Columbia disintegrated while attempting to return to Earth. NASA investigators began looking at a complex series of events seconds after the launch of shuttle Columbia that may have doomed the ship and its seven-member crew. Much of their attention focused on the spaceship’s left wing. Seconds after the shuttle’s Jan. 16 liftoff, a chunk of rubbery insulation from Columbia’s external fuel tank broke loose and struck the wing’s heat-resistant tiles that protect the ship from temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit during its fiery return to Earth.

Feb. 1, 1790 — “Abraham Lincoln signs 13th Amendment to the Constitution” via California African American Museum — The 13th Amendment is first in the trio of so-called “Reconstruction Amendments” that, along with the 14th and 15th Amendments, completed the legal framework of abolition by ending slavery, defining citizenship, establishing due process and equal protection and establishing the right to vote for African American men. The 13th grew from Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of Jan. 1, 1863, which proclaimed that slaves in the U.S. states then in rebellion were free. Epochal as it was, the Proclamation was a wartime measure, issued under Lincoln’s authority as commander in chief and not an act of Congress.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles.

Staff Reports



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