Delegation for 3.8.22: Burnin’ — loose lips — ambition? — tomatoes — slick oil

Imprint of the U.S. Capitol building on a dollar bill banknote
Looking to put out the fire — for the sake of our heroes.

Burn pits

One of the most memorable moments of the State of the Union came when President Joe Biden raised the subject of burn pits. Days later, the House passed the Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (PACT Act), a move celebrated by several delegation members on both sides of the aisle.

The bill would require the Veterans Affairs Department to track cases involving burn puts. It’s aimed at further documenting the issue impacting many in the military community.

“Burn pit exposure is the Agent Orange of my generation, but I don’t want to see my brothers and sisters in arms go through what Vietnam veterans were unjustly forced to suffer through when it came to getting the treatment they need,” said Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican. “We have to track the exposures and support those impacted so that they receive the care that they deserve.”

Joe Biden seeks more health care for vets exposed to burn pits. Image via AP.

In one of the most replayed portions of his address to Congress, the President noted his late son Beau had been exposed to the pits while serving overseas.

“We don’t know for sure if a burn pit was the cause of his brain cancer, or the diseases of so many of our troops,” Biden said. “But I’m committed to finding out everything we can.”

Mast for years has worked on aiding veterans impacted by exposure. The legislation passed in the House in a 256-174 vote builds on the language he originally co-authored with former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, in the last Congress.

Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, has worked with local advocates impacted by burn pits and said the final House legislation was the product in part of their commitment.

“I am grateful for the work of Tampa Bay veterans, including my friend, retired Army Colonel DJ Reyes, who are national leaders in the fight to secure care for toxic-exposed veterans,” Castor said. “I am grateful that DJ shared just how important this bill is, and I proudly voted yes on behalf of DJ and other Tampa neighbors who served our nation. I will work with my Senate colleagues in the days ahead to pass comprehensive legislation to help toxic-exposed veterans and get it to (the) President’s desk as soon as possible.”

Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat, gave a speech on the floor where she discussed why the issue is personal to her. Her son, Ben, came home safely from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. And while he’s healthy, he and all veterans know they came back exposed to the health risk of pits.

“Our servicemen and women put their lives on the line, and yet for too long, countless veterans have been unknowingly exposed to environmental hazards and toxic waste like burn pits. They come back with cancer, infertility and breathing issues,” she said. “They deserve better. We owe them better.”

Rubio of Ukraine

Few in the federal government have been as constantly promoting Ukrainian interests in U.S. media as Sen. Marco Rubio. He’s become a fixture on cable news in the last week, while his tweets, many informed with sensitive intelligence, have drawn attention as well.

He’s also working within the Senate, introducing a bill with Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy to sanction any individuals who work with “puppet governments” in Ukraine. That includes the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, regions Russian President Vladimir Putin recently recognized as governments independent from Ukraine as a pretext for invading with “peacekeeping” forces. The Preventing Usurpation of Power and Privileges by Extralegal Territories’ Sedition (PUPPETS) Act would also designate supporting such Putin-propped regimes as state supporters of terrorism.

“The world will become a very scary place if we allow thugs like Putin to invade sovereign nations without severe consequence,” Rubio said. “We must be clear and unyielding in our support for the Ukrainian people’s fight against a merciless tyrant, and that begins with calling his actions for what they are — an act of terrorism. Any participants in or supporters of this evil scheme should be prepared to face the consequences.”

Rep. Carlos Giménez, a Miami Republican, sponsored a House version of the bill. “Putin’s antics of fomenting political instability through proxy militias and puppet governments is textbook terrorism,” Giménez said. “It’s time for the United States to put a stop to Putin’s crony separatist groups from undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty and delegitimizing the Ukrainian people. I’m proud to stand with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in introducing this legislation to put an end to Putin’s acts of terrorism.”

Rubio also sent a letter to President Biden urging him to assist airlifts on humanitarian supplies, working with nations like the Holy See and Israel that are not part of NATO but support the mission and suggested U.S. drones could assist in such efforts without risking U.S. lives.

“I am cognizant that any action taken by the United States may be misconstrued by Putin as an escalation,” Rubio wrote. “However, Putin’s threats cannot be allowed to paralyze the world’s ability to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions. We do not seek war with Russia, but Russia should also not want a war against us. We must demonstrate the resolve and determination that America has always shown when confronted by the violent expansionism of an evil empire. The people of Ukraine, and the world, are looking to you to demonstrate this leadership.”

He also took flak this week for sharing parts of a Zoom call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy despite the foreign leader asking no images to be released for fear of his own safety. Regardless, the Senator has kept out front the news of activity in Eastern Europe and likely will continue to do so, thanks partly to Rubio’s intelligence access as a member of the Gang of Eight.

Leaving Mitch be

Sen. Rick Scott said he wasn’t interested in replacing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell atop the GOP caucus.

The Senator, who heads the National Republican Senate Committee, appeared on Fox News Channel Sunday and addressed a question on the issue with salience after reports that former President Donald Trump wants Scott to ascend to the leadership of the Senate caucus.

But asked if he wants to lead Senate Republicans by host Maria Bartiromo, Scott rejected the premise. “No,” Scott said, saying that he was focused on working to “represent my state” and “making sure Republicans get back the majority in the Senate.”

Rick Scott lowers the pressure on Mitch McConnell over Senate leadership.

But he again stood his ground on his “11-point plan to rescue America,” a manifesto firmly rebuked by McConnell last week on several points. Reminded that McConnell said he wouldn’t take up that plan, Scott gamely plugged the proposal nonetheless.

“Give me your ideas,” Scott coaxed. “Should all of our children stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance, salute the flag, learn that America is the greatest country? Let’s get rid of racial politics.”

The latest reheat of the Scott plan, released last week, shows that despite pushback from McConnell at a Senate Republican leadership news conference, the Naples Republican will continue to co-brand with the proposal.

Friday saw Scott place a frothy op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

“I have committed heresy in Washington,” Scott asserted before blasting caucus leadership. “I went out and made a statement that got me in trouble. I said that all Americans need to have some skin in the game. Even if it is just a few bucks, everyone needs to know what it is like to pay some taxes. It hit a nerve.”

Killer tomatoes

A group of bipartisan members of the delegation came together on a letter to the Commerce Department looking to protect Florida’s tomato farmers. In a message to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Senators and Representatives called for the administration to reject a request for a Changed Circumstances Review. That review would exempt greenhouse-grown specialty tomatoes from limiting imports from Mexico.

A request to the Commerce Department argues greenhouse products should not be blocked based on a suspension agreement with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement regarding fresh tomatoes shipped into the U.S. from Mexico. But lawmakers argued that suspension does and always intended to block the specialty products.

Mexican tomato imports are giving Florida farmers grief. Image via AP.

“The scope of the 2019 Suspension Agreement unambiguously includes ‘all fresh or chilled tomatoes (fresh tomatoes) which have Mexico as their origin, except for those tomatoes which are used for processing,’” the letter states. “As the 2019 Suspension Agreement clarifies, and as the Department of Commerce reiterated in its 2019 scope ruling, this scope includes all round, Roma, and specialty tomatoes, whether grown in an open field or a greenhouse. There is no question that the 2019 Suspension Agreement is intended to cover the greenhouse-grown specialty tomatoes that the Changed Circumstance request seeks to exempt.”

The exemption protects domestic producers, many of them grow crops in Florida.

“The claim that greenhouse-grown specialty tomatoes ‘are not contributing to any injury experienced by U.S. growers” is similarly without merit,” the letter states. “In fact, the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) — the U.S. governmental body statutorily authorized with making like-product and injury determinations — explicitly considered this very question in its continued investigation in 2019 and reached the opposite conclusion. After considering nearly identical arguments as those posed by the Changed Circumstance request, the USITC determined that the tomatoes covered by the scope of the investigation — which explicitly includes greenhouse-grown specialty tomatoes — constituted a single like product and that unfairly priced imports of that product from Mexico threatened the domestic industry with material injury.”

Rubio and Scott led the letter, but Democratic Reps. also signed it. Charlie Crist, Al Lawson and Stephanie Murphy, along with GOP Reps. Vern Buchanan, Kat Cammack, Mario Diaz-Balart, Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin, Giménez, Mast, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Greg Steube, Michael Waltz and Daniel Webster.

Oily

As the U.S. seeks alternative sources to Russian oil, congressional Republicans last week pushed legislation to boost domestic drilling. Every Republican in the House voted for the American Energy Independence from Russia Act — except one.

Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz cast the sole GOP vote against the bill, which would have reauthorized construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and ratcheted up allowable natural gas production.

While Gaetz said he supports many of those steps, he could not vote for legislation that could open the Gulf of Mexico to more drilling.

Drill, baby drill is one line even Matt Gaetz wouldn’t cross. Image via NBC News.

“While we should take steps to expand domestic production of energy by reauthorizing the Keystone XL Pipeline and allowing land-based drilling and fracking, this legislation contains a poison pill — and actually helps Russia,” he said.

“It would abolish the moratorium on new oil and gas drilling leases off Florida’s coast. It would harm Northwest Florida’s military mission. It would impair the research, development, testing and evaluation work that allows our military to maintain a qualitative edge over Russia, China and the world. It would be foolish to respond to Russia’s aggression by rendering America less capable to defeat Russia or anyone else.”

The bill failed in a 221-202 vote. But a roll-call vote shows 15 Florida Republicans voted for the bill to expand U.S. oil production.

Jaryn Emhof, chief of staff to Clermont Republican Rep. Webster, said because of the Trump-era moratorium still in place, the bill heard last week would not open drilling near Florida.

“The bill does not impact eastern Gulf of Mexico and the moratorium that currently protects those waters from any drilling,” Emhof said. “Any additional Gulf drilling that might occur under this bill is limited to western and central areas where drilling is already occurring.”

New recruits

Students in the Big Bend interested in attending military academies have an information-gathering opportunity later this month. Panama City Republican Dunn will host the United States Military Service Academy Day on March 26.

Neal Dunn salutes the Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and grads of West Point and Naval Academies.

The Congressman will shuttle around Florida’s 2nd Congressional District with officials from the Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and Naval Academies, and the Military Academy at West Point. Students from grades 8 and up are encouraged to attend. The first event will be in Lake City at Florida Gateway College Library from 9 to 10 a.m., followed by a stop at Tallahassee City Hall from 1 to 3 p.m., and finally in Panama City at the Florida State University — Panama City campus in the Dean’s Conference Room from 4 to 6 p.m.

Similarly, Longboat Key Republican Buchanan held a similar Service Academy Fair at the Sarasota Military Academy on Saturday.

“It’s an honor every year to appoint outstanding young men and women from our area to the U.S. Service Academies,” Buchanan said.

Anti-mandate mandates

Two members of the delegation plan to stop any COVID-19 vaccination requirements by cutting off government checks.

Republicans Gus Bilirakis of Tarpon Springs and Cammack of Gainesville filed the Stopping Mandates And Limiting Large Government Overreach By Valuing Truth Act. The legislation will prohibit any entity from taking federal funding if it discriminates in any way based on vaccination status.

“I’m pleased to join Rep. Bilirakis on the SMALL GOVT Act to protect Americans’ medical freedom and prevent discrimination on the basis of COVID vaccination status,” Cammack said. “I’ve said it repeatedly, and I’ll say it again: the government cannot make these important medical decisions for you, and our bill will only reinforce this by preventing the use of federal funds by any organization that attempts to weaponize COVID vaccination status. It is unacceptable, and I remain committed to ensuring medical freedom for all.”

Gus Bilirakis gives a ultimatum: no mandates or no pay.

Bilirakis referenced parts of the bill requiring informed consent and parental consent before vaccines are administered in the case of children.

“All Americans deserve the freedom to make their own informed, personal choices about their health care decisions. After consultation with my physician, I made the personal decision that vaccination was right for me,” he said.

“Every American should have that same opportunity. And, taxpayer dollars should never be used to fund organizations that choose to violate this basic premise and discriminate on the basis of vaccine status. Additionally, parents should always be empowered when it comes to health care decision-making for their children. This legislation addresses all three of these key issues. I will keep fighting to protect these basic medical freedoms for all Americans.”

SNAP to it

Many families with grade school children know the availability of food programs for students, but Tallahassee Democrat Lawson wants the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to do more to publicize college students’ eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

He was part of a bicameral letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack raising the issue of food security among the college-going public.

Tom Vilsack must help low-income students access SNAP benefits easier, urges the delegation.

“College students represent the future of America. Not only is it critical that we don’t saddle students with debt, but the administration should also use its executive authority to ensure low-income students have the information they need to access SNAP and other federal benefits to help them stay focused and successful in their studies,” the letter states. “USDA has the authority to change that.”

Lawson was among three House members representing the lower chamber on the letter, along with Connecticut Democrat Jahana Hayes and California Democrat Norma Torres.

The document cites a Government Accountability Office report that shows thousands of low-income students qualified for SNAP benefits never accessed them. Meanwhile, 2 million students deemed at risk of going hungry should have been eligible but did not report receiving benefits in 2016. That shows both a need for public education and better administration of SNAP regarding college students, the letter argues.

Private port

Manifests of passengers coming into U.S. ports under current law are public records, and identity thieves increasingly have sought to exploit that as a way of obtaining Social Security numbers, passport data, driver’s license information, and home addresses. Now, St. Petersburg Democrat Crist and St. Augustine Republican Waltz are working together to at least protect service members’ personal information when they go through ports.

The two introduced the Moving Americans Privacy Protection Act, which would conceal the personal information of service members and foreign service officers while traveling back from overseas assignments.

Mike Waltz knows that moving around, service members an easy target for identity thieves. Image via Facebook.

“Any loophole that places the privacy and security of American service members and foreign service officers at risk needs to be closed immediately,” Crist said. “That’s why I reintroduced the Moving Americans Privacy Protection Act to keep the identities and bank accounts of returning service members and foreign service officers safe. Our brave men and women sacrifice to protect our country. It is our duty to protect them and their families here at home.”

Waltz, a veteran himself, said there are particular risks for many military members beyond names landing on fake IDs.

“Unfortunately, those most affected by the public disclosure of shipping data at our ports are our service members and their families as they move overseas,” Waltz said. “Automatically disclosing their personal information publicly poses a real security threat to them and our country, especially as that information is sold to data brokers and bad actors. To protect Americans from the increased risk of identity theft and credit card fraud, I am proud to co-lead this important legislation to scrub shipping manifests of personal information, including Social Security, passport, and account numbers, of those moving to and from the United States.”

Charge it

Even critics of illegal immigration have banded together with allies across the aisle to oppose a potential obstacle for migrants legally working in U.S. agriculture. Lakeland Republican Scott Franklin led a bipartisan letter with California Democrat Salud Carbajal asking the State Department to abandon a planned hike in H-2A temporary visas.

Scott Franklin hopes to make the immigrant visa process a little easier. Image via The Lakelander.

“Farmers in my home state of Florida and across the U.S. rely on the H-2A visa program for temporary labor as they work to feed our country,” Franklin said. “A 63% increase in H-2A fees would make it much more challenging for them to do business at a time when the agricultural industry is grappling with a major labor shortage. A sharp increase in visa costs would most likely be passed on to American consumers already struggling with increasing food prices. I urge the State Department to reject the proposed increase in H-2A fees so that our nation’s farmers can continue to provide for our country.”

Forty-six House members signed the letter, including 10 from Florida. That includes Republicans Bilirakis, Cammack, Dunn, Giménez, Rutherford, María Elvira Salazar and Steube and Democrats Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Crist, Lawson and Darren Soto.

Veteran history

The Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center since 2000 has conducted an oral history project gathering interviews with veterans from across the nation. Sarasota Republican Steube’s office just conducted and submitted an interview with retired Army Major Steven Schofield of Fort Myers as part of the massive effort.

“I’ve never been so proud or honored to serve as I did in Special Forces and to be recognized by my peers,” Schofield said. “That to me has been most important. The friendships I’ve made that have lasted for 50 odd years or more are very important. Also, the work with the Hmong veterans and Laos veterans that I’ve done over the years has been very rewarding.”

It’s an important project for Steube, who’s a veteran as well.

“Preserving the firsthand accounts of our nation’s veterans is so important, not only to document our nation’s history to look back on but to inspire and connect with our next generation,” he said. “It is stories like Major Schofield’s that are a reminder of how every veteran has a unique perspective to share.”

To watch an overview, click on the image below:

Reunited

The U.S. needs to step up efforts to reunify Cuban families, according to Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She filed House legislation with New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires to restart the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program.

“The Cuban people live under a brutal authoritarian regime, with little control over their fate,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement to the Miami Herald, “so we must do all we can to offer them a path to expeditiously and legally immigrate to the United States.”

Orlando Democrat Val Demings quickly signed on as a co-sponsor to the legislation. “I fully understand the need for strong security, but we cannot use security as an excuse to leave people victimized by the criminal Cuban regime. This policy will have an immediate impact to help the Cuban people as they seek freedom. We should get this done without delay.”

Notably, it’s Democrats pushing for this change, perhaps signaling that President Biden could move toward a diplomatic relationship more like what existed under President Barack Obama, although perhaps short of full normalization. Former President Trump largely returned to embargo-era relations with the island during his term.

State officials are expected to announce this month that a U.S. Embassy in Havana will be partially staffed again as the administration addresses a backlog of visa applications.

Defiant after death

Several members of the Florida delegation joined in a push to rename the street in front of the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C. after Oswaldo Payá, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement who died in a suspicious car crash in 2012.

Hialeah Republican Díaz-Balart filed legislation (HR 6867) that he co-introduced with Giménez, Murphy, Salazar and Wasserman Schultz, as well as Sires.

The suspicious death of Oswaldo Payá has Cuban Americans up in arms. Image via AP.

“Nearly 10 years ago, the brave Cuban pro-democracy activist Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas perished at the hands of Castros’ thugs, alongside fellow activist Harold Cepero,” Díaz-Balart said.

“Oswaldo Payá dedicated his life to promoting democracy, religious freedom, and human rights in Cuba, and so he became a target of the Cuban dictatorship. Yet, despite the Cuban regime’s threats and harassment, Oswaldo Payá maintained his commitment to a free and democratic Cuba. I also thank Payá’s daughter, Rosa Maria Payá, for her tireless efforts to ensure that we remember their sacrifice for the cause of freedom for the Cuban people. The Cuban regime has no respect for human life or dignity and attempts to silence or erase those who dare oppose it. By renaming the street in front of the Cuban embassy in D.C., we ensure that the courageous martyrs of Cuba’s freedom movement are not forgotten while continuing to stand in solidarity with those still risking their lives so that the Cuban people may finally be free.”

Payá inspired many of South Florida’s Cuban American politicians. “Payá paid for ‘Proyecto Varela’ with his own life,” said Salazar. “The Castros never forgave him for the pro-democracy uprising he caused on the island through the Movimiento Cristiano Liberación.”

“Oswaldo Payá exemplified the struggle for Cuba’s freedom from the illegitimate, communist regime,” Giménez added. “This gesture serves as a constant reminder of the juxtaposition between freedom-loving people and Castro’s regime cronies.”

And Democrats dedicated to helping Cuba joined in the effort.

“Oswaldo Payá was a human rights activist who spent decades building a grassroots movement that urged the autocratic Cuban regimes to allow for more freedom on the island,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Murphy also spoke highly of Payá. “America will always honor and support brave men and women who struggle, often at great personal risk, for freedom, democracy and human rights.”

On this day

March 8, 1917 — “Senate implements the cloture rule” via the U.S. Senate — For the previous 40 years, efforts in the Senate to pass a debate-limiting rule had come to nothing. Now, President Woodrow Wilson lost his patience in the wartime crisis environment. On March 8, in a specially called Session of the 65th Congress, the Senate agreed to a rule that essentially preserved its tradition of unlimited debate. The rule required a two-thirds majority to end debate and permitted each member to speak for an additional hour after that before voting on final passage. Over the next 46 years, the Senate managed to invoke cloture on only five occasions.

March 8, 1982 — “Ronald Reagan brands Soviet Union ‘evil empire’” via POLITICO — Speaking at the convention of the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando, Reagan branded the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” further cooling already chilly relations between the White House and the Kremlin. “In your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals,” Reagan said, “I urge you to beware [of] the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all, and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and, thereby, remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.”

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Demings, who turns 65 on Saturday, March 12.

___

Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by A.G. Gancarski.

There will be no issue of Delegation on Friday. The newsletter will return on March 15.

Staff Reports



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