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The House of Representatives last week took the unprecedented step of voting to legalize marijuana at the federal level. While not a complete decriminalization of cannabis, it’s a step that could leave the choice to states as to whether weed remains a controlled substance.
While the legislation’s future in the Senate remains hazy, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act notably passed with the bilateral support of nearly half of Florida’s House delegation.
“For decades, Black, Hispanic and poor white communities have been disproportionately sent to prison for nonviolent marijuana charges, despite the fact that people across all racial and income levels use marijuana at the same rate,” said Rep. Charlie Crist.
“It’s not fair. It’s unjust,” the St. Petersburg Democrat said. “And it’s hurt communities for far too long. … With state after state opening up their own cannabis laws in one form or another, the time to legalize is now! I could not be more proud to help get it done at the federal level.”
Nearly all Democrats in the House voted in favor of the MORE Act, including every Democrat from Florida. But while just three House Republicans voted for the bill, two of those — Reps. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Brian Mast of Stuart — hailed from the Sunshine State.
“I voted YES on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs, decriminalizing the substance at the federal level and enabling states to set their own policy,” Gaetz tweeted. “Though not perfect (bad tax and spending provisions), the MORE Act is a step in the right direction as science has already proven the substance has healing properties in many chronic ailments.”
Not every member greeted the legislation with enthusiasm. Rep. John Rutherford, a former Sheriff, considered the move wrongheaded and poorly timed.
“At a time when American families are experiencing record-high inflation and rising gas prices, House Democrats are focused on … legalizing marijuana,” the Jacksonville Republican tweeted. “Today’s legislation, the MORE Act, fails to acknowledge the real dangers of high-THC cannabis use.”
He cites studies connecting marijuana use to increases in schizophrenia and legalization with upticks in automobile crashes. “While there is clear, scientific evidence that cannabis can help those with certain medical conditions, complete legalization with no guardrails will only make individuals and communities less safe,” Rutherford posted.
But Democrats universally touted potentially dope benefits of legalization. Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, noted the bill not only could impact future enforcement but will retroactively erase the professional ramifications that plague those previously convicted under federal law. “I am proud to support the MORE Act to expunge the records of those harmed by failed drug policies and cannabis criminalization,” he tweeted. “When it comes to important criminal justice reform which will open doors for economic opportunity, #WeNeedMore.”
Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick touted the potential change in the relationship between the federal government and communities of color.
“A country where Black and Latino people serve harsh sentences while others make millions in profit is unjust,” the Miramar Democrat tweeted. “Today, I’m voting to end the criminalization of marijuana and begin investing in affected communities with the MORE Act.”
The temporary protected status for Venezuelan refugees authorized by President Joe Biden last year will expire in September. Sen. Marco Rubio would like to see it extended.
New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez joined him in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last week calling for TPS recipients to have another year and a half in the U.S. The Senators cited continuing international investigations of human rights violations on the part of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
“The Maduro regime’s use of food as a weapon of social and political control has led millions of Venezuelans to suffer from food insecurity,” the letter reads. “This has only been exacerbated by the regime’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 6 million Venezuelans have fled the atrocious conditions in the country. Close to 83% of them are hosted in Latin America and the Caribbean, straining social protection systems throughout the region. For those Venezuelans forced to return to Venezuela, the threat of harassment, arbitrary harassment, and extrajudicial killings by Maduro’s security services hangs over their head.”
Rubio and Menendez previously introduced bipartisan legislation to codify protections for those displaced from Venezuela by the situation there.
“Given the Maduro regime’s ongoing campaign of state-sanctioned violence against the people of Venezuela and the humanitarian crisis present in the country, we request that you redesignate Venezuela for TPS for an additional 18 months,” the Senators wrote. “Failure to do so would result in a very real death sentence for countless Venezuelans who have fled their country.”
Of Israel & Iran
Sen. Rick Scott slammed the United Nations Human Rights Council for what he called anti-Israel posturing. It came after the international coalition passed four resolutions, including one demanding an arms embargo on a nation in a decadeslong struggle with Palestinian terrorist factions.
“The Iranian regime chants ‘death to America,’ wants to destroy Israel and is willing to use every tool at its disposal to do so — including this sham of a Human Rights Council,” Scott said. “The council’s move to single out and stand against our great ally, Israel, is completely unacceptable.”
Scott took issue with the stance, considering the human rights atrocities many council members have committed.
“The hypocrisy of the U.N. and its ‘human rights’ council is endless,” he said. “As long as it gives leaders from dangerous and genocidal regimes, like Iran, Russia, Communist China and Venezuela, a seat at the table and refuses to hold the murderous Cuban regime accountable, it cannot be taken seriously as a true defender of human rights. Instead of choosing to stay quiet and play nice while our enemies act against our allies, Biden should make clear: If this council won’t stand for human rights, a basic principle of the United States, the United States won’t take part. Period.”
The price of insulin is too darn high, according to the House. The House cast a vote widely sold as an answer to the rising cost of the medication. Democrats jumped on the chance to tout House passage of the Affordable Insulin Now Act (HR 6833) — and one Republican colorfully bragged about his vote against it.
Gaetz said it’s fat people, not pharma regulations, impacting the price of insulin.
“While Democrat posturing of H.R. 6833 victimizes insulin payees as people with an uncontrollable disease that are being taken advantage of and need Big Brother to throw them a raft, lifestyle changes en masse would expeditiously lower demand and the subsequent prices of insulin. 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, which ‘can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, eating healthy food and being active,’” Gaetz posted online. “Arbitrary price controls are no substitute for individual weight control. Since 2000, the number of diabetes cases in the U.S. has nearly doubled. The demand for insulin has increased, and the requisite price increase has followed suit. In other words, the price of insulin increases as waistlines increase.”
Matt Gaetz says today that the reason he doesn’t “fit in” well with other Members of Congress is because most of them are old and obese. pic.twitter.com/4k8MinxYUE
— Ron Filipkowski 🇺🇦 (@RonFilipkowski) August 26, 2021
But all House Democrats, plus Republican Bill Posey, voted for the bill. They sold the regulation differently.
“One of the most important ways to cut costs for American families is through reigning in the high cost of prescription drugs, especially the high cost of insulin. Good news — the Affordable Insulin Now Act lowers insulin prices so that Americans with diabetes don’t pay more than $35 per month for their insulin,” Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor said. “This is a long-overdue, All-American proposition that makes sure everyone can afford the cost of their prescription drugs and have access to the care they need.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee delivered a hit to Miami Republicans Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar for voting against the measure. Both represent battleground districts they flipped from blue to red in 2020.
“With each shameful vote, Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar are building the case against them this election cycle,” DCCC spokesman Abel Iraola said. “Voters in South Florida won’t forget that when given the opportunity to lower costs and save lives, Carlos and María Elvira abandoned them.”
North Korea critique
First-term Republican Study Committee Steering Representative Kat Cammack co-led a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the administration’s failure to impose congressionally authorized sanctions against China. She wants greater accountability, she said, for the Eastern power providing material support to North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s regime in North Korea.
Cammack led the message with RSC Chair Jim Banks of Indiana and RSC National Security and Foreign Affairs Task Force Joe Wilson of South Carolina. The group wants to know why more companies and financial institutions in Russia and China haven’t been identified for sanctions, as well as what the administration intends to do to stop relationship-building for North Korea with other hostile powers like Iran.
Twenty-eight GOP members signed the letter, including Neal Dunn, Byron Donalds, Greg Steube and Michael Waltz.
“Sanctions against North Korea will not work until we hold China accountable. Under President (Donald) Trump, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Chinese banks and financial institutions that provided support to North Korea, but ever since Biden took office, we’ve seen zero sanctions out of this White House,” Cammack said.
“Despite several missile launches and provocations, this administration repeatedly fails to hold China accountable for its work with North Korea. I am pleased to lead my Republican Study Committee colleagues in calling out the Biden State Department for its gross failures on this front.”
Clermont Republican Dan Webster announced the return of approximately $4 million in federal spending for his office in his six terms.
He hung a symbolic check for $4,012,697.58 in his Leesburg office. That amount represents the total budgeted amount to run Webster’s congressional office, but which he has returned unspent.
“Washington operates on the principle that if money is appropriated, it should be spent,” the Congressman said. “I have exposed and resisted this flawed principle and returned more than $4 million appropriated to my congressional office. Even as President Biden requests Congress approve a massive spending increase, I am showing that it is possible to restore fiscal responsibility and reduce spending. If every area of the federal government began intentionally prioritizing programs and cutting waste, we could get a lot closer to balancing our budget and trimming the massive burden of debt that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.”
Separately, Webster said he has continued to accept a “rollback” salary of the 2008 annual income for members of the House; Webster was first elected to the house in 2010. Members of Congress today earn $174,000 a year, but in 2008 reached $169,300.
“Although this may appear to be a small action given the trillions of dollars the federal government spends, it is a step in the right direction,” reads a news release from Webster’s office, which noted if all federal government spending rolled back to 2008 amounts, there would be no budget deficit based on revenues collected now.
Title 42 ends?
The Biden administration’s decision to end Title 42, a pandemic era policy implemented by Trump early in the pandemic, drew mixed responses from delegation members. Based on public health concerns, the policy severely limited granting of asylum to those crossing the border and seeking refugee status.
Cherfilus-McCormick, who has called for Biden to shift deportation policy with Haitians, welcomed the change.
“This Trump-era policy was a clear violation of U.S. asylum law and U.S. treaty obligations. Unfortunately, U.S. immigration officials have carried out over 1.7 million expulsions of migrants under Title 42 in the past two years,” the Democrat said.
Similarly, Hollywood Democrat Frederica Wilson heralded the move. She hosted an event with several South Florida political leaders to celebrate the policy shift.
Cherfilus-McCormick called on the administration to go a step further, stop flights deporting migrants to Haiti, and encourage the use of the Haitian Family Reunification Parole program.
But many Republicans on the delegation fear the shift in policy will result in a refugee crisis at the nation’s southern border.
“Based on what I am being told by officials in South and Central America, expect Biden’s decision to end Title 42 to lead to the biggest migration crisis in U.S. history,” Rubio said. “It’s not just what Title 42 technically does, it’s what migrants think getting rid of it means.”
Naples Republican Donalds, meanwhile, saw the move as an opening salvo in significant liberalization of immigration policies under the new administration.
“If you think the Biden-(Kamala) Harris border crisis is dire now, just wait until they end Title 42,” he said in advance of the decision. “This administration is hellbent on opening the floodgates of illegal immigrants into our country, and their deliberate neglect of our border is a grave national security threat.”
Salazar wants to make sure Medicare patients with a particular rare disorder can access the best treatment. She filed a bill with Maine Democrat Chellie Pingree to make sure augmentation infusions are covered for those with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a hereditary condition.
“There is no doubt this small change in Medicare policy, which allows for the delivery of critical in-home infusions as we continue adapting to new and wise public health advice, will have a significant impact on the Medicare beneficiaries who struggle with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency,” the Miami Republican said. “I am proud to lead this legislation which will make life easier for people at high risk of developing lung and/or liver disease due to this rare genetic disease.”
Alpha-1 could ultimately lead to lung and liver disease, in some cases for patients as young as infants. The John W. Walsh Alpha-1 Home Infusion Act (HR 7346) would make sure patients with the disease and covered by Medicare can employ a therapy known to slow the progression of the disease, though such augmentation treatments will not reverse or stop the condition entirely.
“During the pandemic, many immunocompromised Alpha-1 patients couldn’t access important therapies because of barriers to home infusion under Medicare, despite being safe and effective,” Pingree said. “I’m proud to join Congresswoman Salazar in this effort to ensure home infusions are a permanent benefit for Medicare beneficiaries who suffer from this rare disorder.”
Scott Arceneaux, former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, has a new job within the Biden White House. He’s joining the administration as a senior adviser in the Presidential Personnel Office, POLITICO reports.
Earlier this year, Arceneaux in January joined the Defense Department as a special assistant for the White House liaison office. He previously served as a strategic adviser for the Biden campaign in Florida, a state the President lost by three percentage points. Before then, he worked on Andrew Gillum’s campaign for Governor in 2018, when the Tallahassee Democrat won the Democratic nomination but lost to Republican Ron DeSantis.
Most notable within Florida politics, Arceneaux served as the top staffer in the state Party from 2009 to 2017; before that, he held the same post of executive director for the Louisiana Democratic Party.
A longtime Vern Buchanan staffer will come home to The Hill. Dave Karvelas, who in January joined Ballard Partners, will return to Buchanan’s office as a senior adviser to the Congressman.
“Vern called me back into action, and when the coach calls, you slap on your gear and get back on the field,” he said.
The move comes as Buchanan prepares to chair the powerful House Ways and Means Committee if Republicans retake the majority in the midterms. Regardless of the upcoming election, Buchanan, a favorite for re-election, will enter the next Congress as the senior Republican member of the panel, the most powerful in Congress.
The senior adviser post is one Karvelas held before from January 2021 until he took on the role at Ballard. Before that, he served as Buchanan’s Chief of Staff from 2007 until 2020. Over his time with the Congressman before, Karvelas helped bring 24 legislative initiatives originating in the Longboat Key Republican’s office to law, an achievement reached across four presidential administrations, including those of Republicans George W. Bush and Trump and Democrats Barack Obama and Biden.
“Dave has been with me from the beginning and, in addition to being a close friend, is one of the most talented people on the Hill,” Buchanan said. “We have a lot of unfinished business left to accomplish.”
On this day
April 5, 1792 — “George Washington exercises first presidential veto” via History.com — The bill introduced a new plan for dividing seats in the House of Representatives that would have increased the number of seats for northern states. After consulting with his politically divided and contentious cabinet, Washington, who came from the southern state of Virginia, ultimately decided that the plan was unconstitutional because, in providing for additional Representatives for some states, it would have introduced a number of Representatives higher than proscribed by the Constitution. After a discussion with the President, Thomas Jefferson wrote that votes for or against the bill were divided along perfectly geographical lines between the North and South.
April 5, 1916 — “Testimony begins on creating National Park Service” via the Library of Congress — Conservationists, civic leaders, and government officials submitted testimony before Congress in favor of establishing the National Park Service. “The parks are the Nation’s pleasure grounds and the Nation’s restoring places,” testified J. Horace McFarland, President of the American Civic Association. The congressional debate over the proper management of the growing national parks system began in 1912 and culminated with the passage, in August 1916, of the National Park Service Act. This legislation created the National Park Service within the Department of the Interior. Stephen T. Mather was named its first director.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles.