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Florida’s 1st Justice
The Senate confirmed Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday.
While history will undoubtedly recognize the historical moment of elevating a Black woman to the highest court in the land, Floridians will also celebrate the first Sunshine State-raised litigator on the SCOTUS.
“Miami, Florida — the 305 — is rejoicing today!” tweeted Rep. Frederica Wilson, who lobbied President Joe Biden for Jackson’s nomination. “We are the community that raised, nurtured, and loved Judge KBJ, her parents, and their extended families. Children in Miami know her name, and now everybody knows her name, who she is, and our pride and love for her!”
Yet, the 53-47 confirmation vote in Jackson’s favor included no support from Florida’s Senate contingent. Sen. Rick Scott gave a speech on the Senate floor assailing her record as a judge and painting her as weak on sex predators.
“I met with Judge Jackson, and while we had a nice conversation, I cannot vote to confirm someone who I believe will be an activist judge and a rubber stamp for Joe Biden’s radical agenda,” the Naples Republican said.
“Judge Jackson’s record of weak sentencing is also gravely concerning and disqualifying for a seat on the highest court in the land. During her time on the bench, Judge Jackson imposed sentences that were 47% shorter than the national average in cases of child pornography distribution, and 57% shorter than the national average in cases of child pornography possession. She has even apologized to the sex offenders from the bench when issuing such sentences. The American people deserve justices that will stand up for the rule of law, and Judge Jackson has sadly shown she will not.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, signaled early he would not confirm Jackson primarily because of her short time on the bench and an inability to ensure she would not be an activist justice.
“I will not support any nominee that believes it is appropriate for judges to craft new policies and create rights instead of interpreting and defending the Constitution as written,” he said following her nomination.
Over the weeks since, Rubio called Jackson’s personal story inspiring and joked about a rivalry that existed when the two attended nearby high schools in Miami. Jackson graduated from Miami Palmetto Senior High in 1988, and Rubio from South Miami Senior High in 1989.
“But I’m not going to hold that against her,” he told the Miami Herald. “We beat them her senior year.”
The Republican majority didn’t beat her nomination this go-round, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaling opposition early and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham suggesting a more moderate choice should have been made if Biden wanted a bipartisan vote. The entire Democratic caucus supported the nomination, but only three Republicans — Maine’s Susan Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Utah’s Mitt Romney — voted to confirm Jackson.
But as the Senate made history by confirming the first Black woman on the court, another member of Florida’s delegation was making way to the chamber.
With a highly symbolic Senate race shadowing over proceedings, Rep. Val Demings, the Orlando Democrat seeking to challenge Rubio in November, found a place in the gallery.
“As a former 27-year law enforcement officer and Chief of Police, I have been extraordinarily impressed by Justice Jackson’s devotion to the Constitution, the law, and our public safety,” the Orlando Democrat said. “She was endorsed by America’s largest law enforcement organizations because they know that she has a steadfast record of protecting the safety, security, and constitutional rights of every American.
“The Supreme Court matters. Soon, the Court will decide cases critical to protect our most fundamental constitutional rights. America should breathe easier knowing that Justice Jackson has been called to serve as a guardian of our sacred freedoms.”
Historic. #FloridaProud #JusticeJackson pic.twitter.com/Ar1rumPGId
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) April 7, 2022
Water, water everywhere
Rubio and Scott want full funding for the Everglades this year. The all-Republican Senate delegation sent a letter calling for the Army Corps of Engineers to address Florida’s priorities as a budget gets finalized for the Fiscal Year 2022.
“It is our expectation that, of the funds allocated for the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration (SFER) program, significant funding for the construction of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir will be allocated in the Work Plan,” the letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Michael Connor states. “Continuing contract clause authority for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP) and the EAA Reservoir should be approved in addition to major investment through the Work Plan to expedite reservoir construction and reduce the long-term cost of the project.”
While last year’s budget sent $1 billion for Everglades funding, Republicans in the delegation were flabbergasted that nothing went toward the EAA Reservoir.
The letter to the Army Corps listed other Florida spending priorities throughout the state, including many local projects that need federal partnership in order to move forward.
The Senators asked for 25 projects to be directly funded by the Army Corps and eight to be supported by the Continuing Authorities Program. There are another 38 projects in the Army Corps work plan where there are “legally obligated, yet outstanding, payments owed to local project sponsors to cover the federal cost-share for work completed.”
A bilateral initiative from Panama City Republican Neal Dunn and Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto passed the House this week. The Resilient AMERICA Act (HR 5689) includes language from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Loan Interest Payment Relief Act, co-sponsored by the Florida Congressmen. That portion will require FEMA to reimburse local governments and electric cooperatives for interest incurred on loans used to restore essential functions after natural disasters.
Dunn called the bill a definite win for Florida’s 2nd Congressional District.
“Following Hurricane Michael in 2018, our local governments and electric cooperatives took out loans to restore services,” he said. “They are now burdened with millions of dollars in interest payments as they wait for full reimbursement from FEMA — a cost passed on to taxpayers and ratepayers alike. My bill requires FEMA to include the interest incurred on the loans in their reimbursement, which will incentivize the federal government to obligate these funds in a timelier manner moving forward. My district waited years for this relief, and I’m thrilled that it is one step closer to fruition.”
Dunn and Soto initially introduced legislation in 2020.
“As Central Floridians continue to struggle to get back on their feet from recent hurricanes, we simply cannot expect local governments and electric cooperatives to pay millions of dollars in loan interest they incurred while waiting for federal assistance,” Soto said at the time. “It must be reimbursed by FEMA.”
Meanwhile, Clermont Republican Dan Webster saw the passage of his Small Project Efficient and Effective Disaster (SPEED) Recovery Act (HR 5641), which will help expedite disaster recovery efforts in small and rural areas by allowing more recovery projects to proceed under simplified procedures.
“Too often, disaster recovery assistance for devastated communities is buried behind reams of bureaucracy and administrative paperwork,” Webster said. “The SPEED Recovery Act will streamline the process to provide Floridians, particularly in rural communities with small projects, with speedier disaster recovery assistance.”
A recently passed federal infrastructure law will send some $22.7 million to projects in Jacksonville and another $5.6 million to Tallahassee, said Al Lawson.
The Democrat from Tallahassee heralded the allocations for directing investments in local transit, bridge repair and transitioning to low-emission technology.
“Today’s announcement is yet another example of how the Infrastructure Law is delivering for Floridians,” Lawson said. “The allocated funding will upgrade and expand our transit systems allowing for the creation of good-paying jobs, reduction of commute times, and the ability to connect our communities in Jacksonville, Tallahassee and the surrounding areas.”
And he said the Buy American requirements tied with the Federal Transit Administration’s apportionment process mean there will be a boost in job creation directly resulting from the spending. The agency must source steel, iron, and other construction materials from U.S. sources.
Speaking of Lawson and Jacksonville, he sought to honor one of the city’s favorite sons, James Weldon Johnson, with a new coin commemorating his life.
Lawson’s James Weldon Johnson Commemorative Coin Act seeks to honor the writer of the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” That song holds particular significance to Jacksonville, where it was written and first performed over a century ago.
If the act passes, the Treasury Department will mint and issue legal tender $5 gold coins, $1 silver coins, and half dollar clad coins using Johnson’s image.
“James Weldon Johnson was undoubtedly a leader in the community,” Lawson said. “He was dedicated to implementing social Justice and educating the youth. His commitment to uplift his community and evoke change laid the foundation for several people to follow.”
The coin push comes as the House prepares to pass a resolution declaring the song America’s national hymn.
Michael Waltz had a tense back-and-forth with the military leadership in the Biden administration at a House Armed Services Committee hearing this week on the budget.
The St. Augustine Beach Republican questioned whether the defense priorities for the Pentagon properly lined up to international challenges instead of political agendas.
“A year ago, the rise of extremism, particularly White supremacy within the military, within our ranks was a top priority for you,” Waltz said to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “In fact, it was your first memo. Yet, the Department released a study, this year, a year later, showing that 100 members of the military participated in some type of extremism. That’s 100 out of 2-and-a-half million. By my math, that shows that 99.996% of our military members have not participated in any form of extremism. So, with that data, now being data-driven, is that still a top priority for you, or can we move on?”
As the first Black Defense Secretary, Austin responded that “99.9% of our people are doing the right thing.”
But Waltz also suggested the military had it wrong about when they began providing material support to Ukraine, which has been defending against a Russian invasion for more than a month.
“We are absolutely providing more sophisticated equipment now to the Ukrainians, counter-battery radar, and from my understanding, Puma (unmanned aerial vehicles) in the latest package. Finally,” Waltz said.
“I would argue this was belated, they should have had it last year, but we do have it on train. My concern is that the NATO Commander Gen. (Tod) Wolters testified that as a policy matter, we are not conducting any training on this new equipment. My question is: Why not?”
Austin and General Mark Milley testified there’s no training happening in Ukraine or neighboring Poland, but Ukrainian troops are being trained by the U.S. to properly use provided equipment, sometimes being transported to the United States to learn.
Waltz said his chief concern now remains on what happens in the future. He noted tension exists between China and Taiwan — similar to that which predated the Russian invasion of Ukraine — and that the U.S. should not repeat the mistakes in Asia made in east Europe.
“I do think there are a lot of parallels, Mr. Secretary, to our approach to Taiwan,” Waltz said. “I respectfully disagree with you there. There are a lot of parallels and there are a lot of things we should be learning. The effectiveness of sanctions as a deterrent and giving them the weapon systems they need pre-invasion, not having a tough, robust response post-invasion.”
Soto and Waltz have been appointed to a congressional conference committee to hammer out differences in the Senate’s United States Innovation and Competition Act and the House’s America COMPETES Act.
The bills focus on boosting domestic semiconductor chip production while looking at economic security, science, research, innovation, manufacturing and job creation to establish a critical supply chain resiliency program.
Waltz came on board as a Republican conference member from the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
He said he wants to ensure China cannot steal from American research and investments in semiconductors and other technologies.
“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is planning to overtake the United States militarily and economically,” Waltz said. “We are falling behind. In order to outpace the CCP and all adversaries, we must invest in American research, technologies and manufacturing and prevent the CCP from stealing it.”
Soto comes aboard as a Democratic conference member from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
He’s more focused on spurring microchip development.
“I look forward to meeting with my colleagues to analyze our key priorities and ensure we can revitalize American innovation and strengthen our domestic economic security,” Soto said. “In Florida’s 9th Congressional District, we are working to grow microchip, telecommunications, solar, and biotechnology manufacturing to help our nation compete in the 21st-century economy.”
Bill Posey wants states to hold greater ability to enforce immigration laws.
The Rockledge Republican filed a bill (HR 7413) to allow states to demand the Department of Homeland Security act on laws or deputize state officials. He announced the legislation with the support of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.
“Maintaining operational control over our nation’s borders is critical to our security and our ability to stop human traffickers, drug smugglers, and other violent criminals and terrorists who mean to do our communities harm,” Posey said. “When the federal government abdicates its role in protecting our nation’s borders and refuses to enforce immigration laws allowing millions of people to illegally cross into our country, states should have authority to protect their citizens.”
He filed the bill days after Biden rescinded Title 42, a pandemic-era restriction limiting when those claiming refugee status receive asylum. An estimated 25,000 individuals sheltered in Mexico are anticipated to try and cross the border seeking protection with that policy at an end.
Moody said states must be allowed to enforce immigration laws when the administration will not.
“In less than a year and a half, the Biden administration has obliterated our southwest border, and it’s about to get even worse as the President prepares to end Title 42. We can no longer trust this administration to enforce the law,” she said. “It is time for swift action to protect the American people. That is why Rep. Posey and I are taking this matter to Congress and asking the legislative branch to let the states protect our citizens by enforcing public-safety immigration laws when Biden won’t.”
Tarpon Springs Republican Gus Bilirakis celebrated two of his bills passing in the full House.
The Data Mapping to Save Moms’ Lives Act (HR 1218), introduced with North Carolina Democrat G.K. Butterfield, passed in a 409-11 vote. It will use data to identify areas of the country where poor maternal health overlaps with weak broadband access, hopefully leading to better access to information in areas that need it most.
“We need to use every tool at our disposal to improve health outcomes for moms and babies. Including this information into our broadband mapping will help us achieve this goal and ensure these moms get the prenatal care they deserve,” Bilirakis said.
Meanwhile, the Spectrum Coordination Act (HR 2501) passed 418-6. That calls for coordination among federal agencies on radio use of the electromagnetic spectrum.
“Consumers benefit when government entities work together to modernize processes and improve efficiency. The agreement governing cooperation between (the National Telecommunications and Information Administration) and the (Federal Communications Commission) has remained unchanged for 19 years. In the world of technology, that is an eternity and spectrum usage, management and sharing have grown and evolved,” said Bilirakis, the bill’s sole sponsor.
“I want to solidify what has been learned under the original MOU and build upon it to benefit all federal agencies, licensees, and consumers. We have the opportunity to improve effectiveness of government systems and encourage innovation as we continue to work with stakeholders and experts in the field.”
Legislation to ease education costs for military veterans cleared a committee in Congress this week. Vern Buchanan, a sponsor of the Veterans Eligible to Transfer School (VETS) Credit Act (HR 6604), said the bill should be a boon to soldiers following the military route to a degree.
“America’s veterans have selflessly sacrificed and put it all on the line to defend our country and our way of life,” the Longboat Key Republican said. “I’m pleased to see the House Veterans Affairs Committee approve my VETS Credit Act and move it one step closer to becoming law. My bill will ensure no veteran loses access to the valuable G.I. Bill credits they have earned and deserve by virtue of their service to our country.”
The VA now will only restore 12 credit hours for student veterans when an institution closes, or they transfer because of a change in deployment. Moreover, the bureaucratic process remains complicated enough that many don’t take advantage of the ability in the first place. Buchanan’s bill would streamline the credit transfer process.
Now that the bill has cleared the House VA Committee, the Congressman feels confident it will see a full vote on the House floor before the end of the year. Veteran groups including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans Education Success all back the legislation.
“We thank Congressman Buchanan for championing this bipartisan solution for student veterans,” said William Hubbard, vice president for veteran and military policy at Veterans Education Success. “When facing the difficult situation of a closed school, it’s already tough enough, and we applaud this legislation for making it easier for student veterans to know what their options are to get back on track with their academic goals.”
There could soon be a day on the calendar to recognize victims of brain tumors.
Stuart Republican Brian Mast this week introduced a bill with Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky to designate July 20 as Glioblastoma Awareness Day.
Glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain tumor, kills 10,000 Americans each year. But it’s also a particular public health concern in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. The ailment has claimed the lives of 50 St. Lucie County residents in nine years, a disproportionately high rate for the disease.
“Glioblastoma is a terrible disease that has impacted the lives of so many in our community. This resolution is about giving hope to every individual who is fighting this disease and honoring the lives of those we’ve lost at its hands,” Mast said. “By raising awareness of this disease, I’m hopeful that we will continue finding new ways to treat glioblastoma and ultimately find a cure.”
His office has worked on awareness with Stephanie Cunningham, whose husband, Mark, died in 2019 at age 35 after a three-year battle with the disease. Mast acknowledged his constituent’s death from the House floor at the time.
The Republican National Committee this week hosted an Easter Faith Forum at the RNC Hispanic Community Center in Doral. Outreach with South Florida’s Latino community, of course, has been critical to Republican successes in the state, and leaders want to keep a continued presence in the lives of voters. Events like the one in Doral are part of a multimillion-dollar investment in upkeep for the ground game in the critical area.
“We celebrated the intersection of Hispanic, Republican and Faith identities. We strongly believe that with conservative leadership we will preserve religious liberty for all Americans,” RNC Hispanic Communications Director Jaime Florez said.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers like state Sen. Manny Diaz and state Rep. David Borrero talked about religious liberty and “aggressive assaults” from the left.
“Rather than suppress the church and our beliefs like Democrat leaders have grossly done over the past couple of years, the Republican Party is supporting the church and has staunchly fought for our religious freedom,” Borrero said.
On this day
April 8, 1942 — “Franklin Roosevelt issues order freezing prices and wages” via The American Presidency Project — “The Executive Order I have signed today is a hold-the-line Order,” President Roosevelt said. “To hold the line, we cannot tolerate further increases in prices affecting the cost of living or further increases in general wage or salary rates except where clearly necessary to correct substandard living conditions. The only way to hold the line is to stop trying to find justifications for not holding it here or not holding it there. No one straw may break a camel’s back, but there is always a last straw. We cannot afford to take further chances in relaxing the line. We already have taken too many.”
April 8, 1952 — “Harry Truman takes the steel mills” via the Constitutional Rights Foundation — In the spring of 1952, while American combat troops were mired in the mud of Korea, the United States faced a major steel strike at home. With the strike imminent, President Truman ordered his Secretary of Commerce to seize all the nation’s steel mills. Truman strongly believed the steel industry had to keep operating if a “national catastrophe” was to be averted. The power of the President has often expanded during wartime. In some instances, Presidents have acted without any direct authority from Congress or the Constitution.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by A.G. Gancarski and Scott Powers.