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Fog of war
Russia sent troops into Ukraine Monday as the world faced a renewed prospect of a war in Europe. In response, members of Florida’s delegation spoke up — and in some instances, spoke out — on how the U.S. should respond.
Sen. Marco Rubio minced no words in characterizing the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Russia has invaded Ukraine,” he said. “And the worst is yet to come.”
Florida’s senior Senator and a consistent foreign policy hawk argued the U.S. must take an aggressive stance. “Weakness always invites aggression,” he tweeted, “and weakness in response to aggression always invites others to be aggressive as well.”
Some Republicans in the House laid responsibility for Russia’s actions on President Joe Biden’s administration. “We are again witnessing the results of a feckless foreign policy of appeasement,” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, a Miami Republican. He tied ending the Keystone XL pipeline in the Western U.S. to Russia’s boldness, saying the move led to greater use worldwide of Russian oil supplies. “This weakness is dangerous for Americans and our allies and now is being exploited by our adversaries. The world is a much more dangerous place today than before President Biden took office.”
And yet the world events also exposed new fissures on the American right. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican and longtime war critic, for months sounded off against focusing attention on an issue in the Eastern Europe sphere of influence.
Gaetz criticized Biden’s “utter predictability” on Russian interactions on his Firebrand podcast. He decried National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s statements that the U.S. will defend all NATO territory, noting Ukraine isn’t a part of NATO. “This is functionally Biden gaslighting an invasion of Ukraine because their administration is saying they won’t defend it,” Gaetz said. “I certainly wouldn’t send American troops to defend Ukraine either. Neither would (Donald) Trump. But what Trump understood was the value of not being so predictable.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Michael Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican who advised former Vice President Dick Cheney on military matters, called for severe and immediate sanctions. When reports came out that the White House may not issue sanctions based on the presence of troops in eastern Ukraine alone, he posted, “this is the definition of appeasement.”
Reuters reports that the White House ultimately announced new economic sanctions, including plans to bar U.S. financial institutions from processing transactions for major Russian banks. That move comes as many delegation Democrats are also calling for an economic response.
“Putin has ordered forces into the separatist regions of Ukraine for so-called ‘peacekeeping’ purposes,” posted Rep. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat. “This incursion is a clear violation of international law with the ongoing threat of a large-scale Russian military operation. Bullies respond to strength. Sanctions now.”
Rep. Stephanie Murphy also took an aggressive posture.
“Putin has now created a pretext for invasion,” the Winter Park Democrat wrote. “America and our allies must send a single message: Russian aggression will lead to severe consequences. At home, Democratic and Republican leaders must stand united against an enemy of freedom.”
For the most part, representatives from Florida agreed in a need for consequence, but unity wasn’t part of the message.
“The Biden administration’s response is, well, let’s sanction that portion of eastern Ukraine, not sanction the Russians,” said Rep. Greg Steube in a Newsmax interview.
“We are where we are today because they lifted Trump-era sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline,” the Sarasota Republican said. “By lifting those sanctions, the Biden administration opened up billions upon billions of dollars of revenue straight to Moscow. That allowed them to build up their military and allowed an opening of resources to them, and now the Russians have gone directly into eastern Ukraine.”
Whatever reviews come in for the showmanship of the Olympics closing ceremony, don’t expect any stars from Sen. Rick Scott. The Naples Republican slammed the hypocrisy of the Chinese government, promoting messages of “One World, One Family” while forced labor of the Uyghurs continues. Florida’s junior Senator remains angry at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for providing the communist nation a platform for propaganda.
“Disgusting appeasement,” he tweeted. “Communist China used the Olympics to whitewash its Uyghur genocide, and the IOC played right along. The IOC has lost all credibility and must be stripped of its tax-exempt status in the U.S. now.”
Scott has filed legislation that would do just that. He has also filed a bipartisan resolution stating that the U.S. Senate won’t tolerate China’s role, or the IOC’s complicity, in allegedly silencing tennis star Peng Shuai. The Chinese athlete previously alleged a Chinese government official sexually assaulted her, then recanted her story after disappearing for months when the government made her available for supervised interviews with the IOC.
A few Olympic moments earned recognition from Scott and other members of Florida’s congressional delegation. He congratulated Florida speed skaters Erin Jackson for winning gold in the 500-meter speedskating, Brittany Howe for bronze in the 1,000-meter-long-track speedskating, and Joey Mantia for bronze in the team pursuit long-track speedskating.
Here comes the General
Most federal government employees enjoyed a day off for Presidents Day, but Rubio clarified his opinion on the holiday.
“Presidents Day is a fake holiday,” he tweeted. “Today is Washington’s Birthday.”
Presidents Day actually took place Feb. 21 this year, and former President George Washington’s Birthday is Feb. 22 (or maybe it was Feb. 11 — let the historians duke that out).
Still, that’s not Rubio’s actual point. Federal statute, in fact, still designates the federal holiday on the third Monday in February as Washington’s Birthday, even though most calendars and even many federal government documents have called it Presidents Day since 1971. Rubio holds a gripe that the improper name of “Presidents” has taken precedence and made clear his admiration for the United States’ first commander in chief.
“Many schools no longer teach real history, so make sure your children know George Washington was a great man, our greatest President, and made life better for every American who ever lived,” the Senator posted.
For those curious about how America got to this place, former President Rutherford Hayes signed a federal law in 1880, making Feb. 22 a holiday, called Washington’s Birthday, initially only for D.C. federal employees. The day of the week that the birthday was recognized shifted with the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Law, implemented in 1971.
At that time, an effort was made to recognize the birthdays of both Washington and former President Abraham Lincoln, who was born on Feb. 12. But such a change never made it through Congress. Still, the day expanded scope more along the way and “has gained a stronghold on the public consciousness to honor all U.S. Presidents,” according to the U.S. Government Publishing Office.
Except in the Rubio household, where the modern major general never said goodbye.
Scott said it’s time for Congress to intervene on a border crisis — at the Canadian border. There, a logistical backup has resulted from truckers who won’t show required proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter the United States.
Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked emergency powers to stop demonstrations that closed down transportation corridors in Ottawa. He says those powers may need to be extended, Reuters reports.
Meanwhile, Scott said he would file the Truckers Act this week that would end any requirement on the part of the U.S. for proof of vaccination. “The mistreatment of truck drivers needs to end now. They are essential to U.S. supply chains and deserve our full support,” Scott tweeted. “I’m announcing a bill next week to end the pointless vax mandates on international truck drivers that are hurting these workers and our economy.”
He said the Biden administration imposed unnecessary border controls on the north while ignoring problems on the southwestern border of the U.S. with Mexico.
“Right now, every foreign trucker bringing goods into the U.S. has to show proof of vaccination. Think the Biden admin applied that rule to the 2+ million migrants that illegally crossed the southern border last year? Nope,” the Senator wrote. “Nothing Joe Biden does makes sense.”
Gaetz hosted conservative media commentator Lou Dobbs on his Firebrand podcast last week. The Congressman there raised the possibility of a sort of Freedom Caucus takeover of the House should the America First plank of the Party drive Republican victories in November. He asked Dobbs if a good result, rather than seeing Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy ascend to Speaker of the House, would be the elevation of Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, a popular figure among the right-wing base.
Dobbs said he’d welcome that but also threw Gaetz’s name in the mix.
“The Party needs strength. It needs vision. It needs energy, vibrancy, and new blood in leadership,” Dobbs said. “It’s that simple. … You bet I could be excited about Jim Jordan, as you well know. I think highly of him. I think highly of you. I think you should be there as well. I really believe that the brightest, hardest-working conservative leaders we have in the House should be leading the House, and I believe most of the leaders would agree with me on that.”
Who has time to read anymore — especially if the text is littered with legal references and footnotes directing to other statutes?
Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford wants to change how bills are read in Congress to make them more consumable by the general public, not to mention for members of the body. He introduced the Readable Legislation Act with West Virginia Republican Alex Mooney.
“The text of bills introduced in Congress often includes confusing references to federal law and U.S. Code that make them difficult to understand,” Rutherford said. “The Readable Legislation Act requires every bill that amends current law to show all changes in full, rather than use technical language to refer to omissions and insertions. This change would help members of Congress and their constituents more easily read and understand the purpose of each bill and the effect it would have on the public.”
That’s actually standard practice in state legislatures, including in Florida. It’s a shift that could lead to a more straightforward understanding of government and more transparency. The bill’s requirement would be for any law referenced in a bill to have its text appear with the changes that are being proposed.
“It is nearly impossible for the public to understand striking or amending sections of the Federal Code,” Mooney said. “My goal is to make sure my constituents can easily access and understand what Congress is working on.”
Next for Murphy?
Murphy stunned many when she announced she would not seek another term in the House, just months after exploring a Senate bid. But she told Spectrum News she’s not necessarily done with politics.
“I don’t necessarily believe in a particular path toward what I might do in the future,” Murphy said. “I ran a four-month campaign and unseated a 24-year incumbent. I have been a public servant at the Department of Defense, left for eight, almost 10 years, and then came back and ran for public office. God willing and health notwithstanding, I’ll have an opportunity at another point in my career to continue to serve this country.”
Murphy stressed that the redistricting process in Tallahassee had no impact on her decision. A Senate-approved map leaves her district reasonably intact, but a proposal under consideration in the House does not. Regardless, she said she feels confident she could run even in a closer race and has consistently outperformed other Democrats on the ballot. Having young children at home primarily drove her decision, she told reporter Samantha-Jo Roth.
She did express the fear that she was leaving Congress in a more divided state and felt tremendous pressure at times as a centrist in the House.
“I do worry a bit about the number of moderate voices that will exist in the Congress in the next cycle, simply because there are a number of factors,” she said. “Redistricting has darker blue and darker red seats, where the primary concern is a Primary Election, not a General Election. I also am concerned about some of the forces I am seeing in the extremes of both parties that are intolerant to votes that are anything short of Party unity, if you are looking at what’s going on with the Republicans for the members who voted for the infrastructure bill and you look at what has happened in our own Party when members vote their constituents as opposed to Party.
“But I’ve always believed that my job here was to represent my constituents and my loyalty and my fidelity was to them, not to any party or any person in Congress. I’m hopeful we’ll continue to send people like that to Washington because that’s the only way you get things done, and you see a real reflection of what the American people want.”
Defending the peace
Orlando Democrat Val Demings last week honored the National Latino Peace Officers Association by entering a recognition of the group’s 50th anniversary into the Congressional Record.
“As a former 27-year law enforcement officer and Chief of Police, I offer my wholehearted congratulations to the National Latino Peace Officers Association on 50 years of dedicated service,” said Demings, who served as Orlando’s police chief before holding elected office.
“Thank you to all of America’s dedicated Latino police officers for their service, bravery, and commitment to our communities and our constitution. While I wish that we could have celebrated in person this year, it was my honor to enter my congratulations on your powerful work into the Congressional Record.
“We know how critical it is for law enforcement departments to have well-trained officers that reflect the communities they serve. The NLPOA has been an important partner in this effort, working to create new career opportunities for America’s Latino police officers. Because of your work, communities around our nation have higher standards of policing.”
Kenneth Chavez, national president of the National Latino Peace Officers Association, praised the Congresswoman, who is challenging Rubio for his Senate seat this year.
“Rep. Demings is uniquely qualified to understand and appreciate the work of the NLPOA as she served as the first woman police chief of Orlando,” he said. “In this capacity, she recognized and promoted diversity and equity within her agency.”
After antisemitic messages were hurled in weighted plastic bags on Sarasota-area doorsteps, Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan spoke out at a “United Against Hate” rally.
“We must stand united against anti-Semitism,” Buchanan said. “We must stand united against this evil ideology. We must stand united against hate.”
The Congressman shared the stage with prominent local Democrats like Sarasota City Commissioner Hagen Brody.
Steube, the other Congressman representing Sarasota County in the House, didn’t attend but showed his support in a lengthy statement released to media.
“What has happened in our community is reprehensible. In America, we hold dearly the freedom of religion. Our country was founded upon liberty after our Founders suffered religious persecution in England for decades. That’s why it’s so important we call this hatred for what it is — it’s not just anti-Semitic. It’s also anti-American,” Steube said. “These incidents will not be tolerated, and I know that the Sarasota Police and Sarasota Sheriff’s office are working to bring those responsible to justice quickly.”
Steube also alluded to a resolution he filed after Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar made comments widely viewed as antisemitic.
Incredible turnout and show of support for the Jewish community at today’s United Against Hate rally in Sarasota.
We must stand united against anti-Semitism. We must stand united against this evil ideology. We must stand united against hate. pic.twitter.com/5bmMHPAkOu
— Rep. Vern Buchanan (@VernBuchanan) February 20, 2022
Frederica Wilson welcomed First Lady Jill Biden to support military families stationed at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Miami.
“Dr. Biden and I share a lot. She’s a teacher, and I’m a teacher. And so, we love children, and we want to see them prosper,” the Hollywood Democrat said. “I want you to know that she fights for military families. She fights for children. She fights for Gold Star families. She fights for all of us, and she has traveled all over the United States and abroad.”
Biden at the event presented children’s books for families and praised corporate and nonprofit partners in the effort, including Disney and Blue Star Families.
“We’re bringing together every part of our government and partners across the sectors to make sure that you have what you need to thrive,” she said. “You are helping us to put on a fantastic event for children here today, and I’m so grateful for your dedication to this effort.”
Wilson, meanwhile, said she’s relishing having a working first lady in the White House dedicated to education. “She’s a community college teacher, and we just love that she still wants to teach,” Wilson said.
It was a pleasure to welcome @FLOTUS to District 24! As a fellow educator, I commend her for traveling the nation, working to improve the lives of our youngest minds. Thank you Dr. Biden for welcoming me to join your meeting with families stationed at @USCG Air Station Miami! pic.twitter.com/WFGPGOuqS1
— Rep. Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) February 21, 2022
On this day
Feb. 22, 1972 — “Richard Nixon meets with Chairman Mao Zedong” via The New York Times — President Nixon‘s weeklong summit conference in China quickly reached a high point yesterday in a surprise meeting with Chairman Mao. The session was followed by an exchange of banquet toasts with Premier Zhou Enlai in which both leaders stressed common interests, and by extensive rounds of itinerant glass‐clinking in the Great Hall of the People. This afternoon, Nixon and Zhou held a second working session, sitting down for talks at a long, green table in the great hall.
Feb. 22, 2017 — “Donald Trump administration rolls back protections for transgender students” via The Washington Post — The Trump administration revoked federal guidelines specifying that transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity, taking a stand on a contentious issue that has become the central battle over LGBT rights. Officials with the federal Education and Justice departments notified the U.S. Supreme Court the administration is ordering the nation’s schools to disregard memos the Barack Obama administration issued during the past two years regarding transgender student rights. Those memos said that prohibiting transgender students from using facilities aligned with their gender identity violates federal anti-discrimination laws.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles.