Delegation for 4.22.22: At last! — invite denied — PPP cash — border run — sunshine

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Better late than never?

Finally

At long last — a congressional map in Florida has passed.

Less than 57 days before the June 17 qualification deadline to file as a candidate for Congress, the Florida Legislature voted to approve the cartography submitted by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

It was a process marked by an unprecedented veto, ending amid a noisy demonstration that briefly disrupted deliberations in the House.

A heated protest about cartography shuts down the Special Session for about an hour.

But by the time a Special Session of the Legislature gaveled out, lawmakers offered a stamp of approval to a plan DeSantis will, with near certainty, sign.

This final map (P 0109) includes 20 congressional districts where Republican Donald Trump won the 2020 Presidential Election, and just eight where Democrat Joe Biden prevailed.

This is in a state Trump won by a mere three percentage points.

Democrats in Tallahassee and Washington assert the map violates Florida’s Fair District amendment and, potentially, the federal Voting Rights Act.

“These maps are unconstitutional,” said Rep. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat challenging DeSantis in this year’s Governor’s race. “I think they’re going to be tried in court, and I think they’re going to be overturned, like a lot of the laws that this Legislature and this Governor support, and they should be.”

It’s also widely acknowledged, including by DeSantis himself, that the map seeks answers in court on whether Fair Districts provisions, at least those related to the diminishment of minority access seats, violate the U.S. Constitution.

“Our dispute very well may lead to saying that Florida’s redistricting amendments are not consistent with the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause,” DeSantis told the press earlier this year.

Many others, including several Republicans, believe the maps also violate provisions of the amendment prohibiting map drawing from maximizing gains for a political party. Florida’s House delegation now includes 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats, while just a few years ago, it was nearly split down the middle with 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats.

Critics express confidence that the maps will not pass court muster and end up in the judiciary trash bin.

However, that’s unlikely to happen for this election cycle.

Florida is one of just three states yet to close the book officially on redistricting. Legal experts from across the political spectrum agree there is no time for a full trial or to build evidence required for tossing the maps in the midterms.

There is some hope this unusual process will spur judges to action. But time is short and getting shorter.

It’s not just a matter of candidate qualification. Florida Election Supervisors say they must have maps in place by May 13 (at the latest) to redraw precinct maps and begin ballot preparation. One federal trial is for May 12 and 13, but that was primarily based on the assertion the Legislature and Governor would never agree on a map.

That proved false this week.

This map, at least for Florida’s sitting delegation members, has created as much anxiety for Republicans as Democrats. While only Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, will have his district disassembled completely, several incumbents throughout the state have multiple districts they can run in, and those choices affect one another.

And as a result, the jockeying for position has already kicked into high gear.

Summit of Americas

A bicameral contingent of delegation members lobbied the Biden administration to invite Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition leader recognized as a head of state by the Donald Trump administration, to the Summit of the Americas instead of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro.

Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott led the letter, also signed by Republican Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez, María Elvira Salazar and Michael Waltz.

“President Guaidó is the legitimate, democratically elected leader of Venezuela and he represents the interests of freedom-loving Venezuelans who are fed up with Nicolás Maduro’s tyranny, oppression and genocide,” the letter reads. “President Guaidó and representatives of his government deserve a seat at the Summit, while dictator Maduro certainly does not.”

The Florida delegation wants to extend Juan Guaidó an open invitation.

In organizing the event, the lawmakers say the administration must not offer credibility to any Latin American regimes with human rights shortcomings.

“It is critically important that we do not allow the Summit to legitimize the tyrants in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua,” the letter reads. “The United States must prohibit representatives from the illegitimate regimes of Miguel Díaz-Canel in Cuba, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua from attending the Summit. These men are dictators who are starving their own people, jailing political dissidents, and cracking down on peaceful protests.

“Welcoming these evil and illegitimate leaders, or the representatives of their sham governments, to the United States would be nothing short of gross appeasement that hurts the movements for freedom and democracy in these nations.”

Díaz-Balart, Giménez and Salazar sent a separate letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, explicitly calling on the Biden administration to cancel upcoming migration talks with the Cuban government in Washington.

“The Biden administration has not held any genuine, consequential conversations with our allies and friends in the region regarding the immigration crisis,” Díaz-Balart said. “Yet now, the administration announces that it will be meeting with the terrorist state in Cuba on immigration. It is evident that these talks are NOT about immigration, but instead another way for the Biden administration to provide concessions and legitimacy to the anti-American, repressive tyranny in Havana.”

The letter came a day after Salazar slammed Blinken for failing to consult with Cuban exiles before shifting policy on Cuban relations.

“The administration failed to uphold its promise by consulting with the Cuban American exile community,” she said. “In South Florida, we know that you cannot trust the murderous Cuban communist regime. To ensure that the voices of my constituents are heard, I’m calling on the State Department to include me in their ill-advised meeting with the communist government.”

Promoting PPP

This week, Rubio visited Florida businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program grants during the pandemic in 2020. That included stops at the El Cilantrillo Restaurant in Orlando and Scooples Ice Cream Parlor and Harvest Restaurant and Bar in The Villages.

“When the government forced El Cilantrillo in Orlando to close down during COVID, PPP helped them survive,” Rubio tweeted after his visit there. “Today, I went by to see how things are going and heard about how runaway inflation is hurting them.”

Marco Rubio takes a tour to tout PPP. Image via Marco Rubio’s Office.

Rubio served as the chief architect of the program. Of note, the lockdowns he referenced could only be Florida statewide lockdowns ordered by DeSantis, with whom he will share a ballot this November.

The Senator touted the popular PPP program, which ordered direct payments to businesses to keep employees on payroll, supported over 6.1 million jobs in Florida and $50 billion in the state’s economy.

Meanwhile, this week, Rubio’s campaign released a digital video noting Rep. Val Demings, the Orlando Democrat challenging him for re-election this year, was appearing on national talk shows and auditioning for Biden’s running mate.

“While she was on a celebrity tour begging Biden to pick her as VP, I was passing PPP, which saved millions of small businesses and jobs,” Rubio tweeted.

Lithuania bound

Scott spent much of his week on the road but internationally. He and his wife Ann took a trip to Eastern Europe this week and visited with soldiers at a U.S. Army outpost in Pabrade, Lithuania.

The base sits less than 20 miles from Belarus, placing it in regional proximity to the ongoing Ukraine war.

Florida’s junior Senator received an operations briefing from soldiers on the ground. “We owe these men and women endless gratitude for their service to defend democracy and protect our freedoms,” Scott posted on social media.

Hanging out with Rick Scott in Eastern Europe. Image via Rick Scott’s Office.

Scott on the trip also became the first U.S. Senator to visit a Taiwanese embassy in Lithuania. The former Soviet state allowed the foreign diplomatic station to open despite intense pressure from China.

“We will continue fighting together for freedom, democracy and human rights and stand against evil regimes like Communist China and Russia,” Scott posted, along with pictures from the embassy.

Border Patrol

Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz penned a scathing letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas this week, calling the current situation at the border “untenable.”

“Securing borders and deciding who may be permitted lawful entry is the prime directive of any sovereign nation. Watching hordes of illegal migrants from all over the world flood into our country, without any vetting whatsoever, shocks the conscience of the American people,” Gaetz wrote. “It is an attack on our sovereignty, and nothing less than a conscious decision to rewrite the rules of civilization, dissolve our borders, undermine our nation-state, and displace our people.”

Matt Gaetz takes his border battle to Alejandro Mayorkas. Image via AP.

What should happen? Gaetz suggested we must track undocumented immigrants down and send them back to their home countries. He asked for a plan on how to increase deportations and remove them from the U.S., and also asked for details on where migrants crossing the border go.

“Who is deciding where to send them?” the letter asks. “How is the administration keeping track of migrants being moved within the interior?”

Republicans stepped up criticism of border control policies amid reports of a major jump in activity there.

“It is well documented that illegal immigrants are showing up at our southern border and fraudulently claiming asylum to be granted entry. Since President Biden took office, 544,241 aliens who were in the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection have been released into the interior,” Gaetz wrote. “These aliens are being bussed and flown all over the country. Under your leadership, deportations have come to a halt. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is currently removing aliens at a rate of 4,300 per month. It would take 14.5 years to deport just the aliens (Department of Homeland Security) has released under the Biden administration, when we have near 1.9 million aliens eligible for deportation currently.”

Lashing from Lawson

Lawson issued a powerful statement slamming DeSantis’ congressional map, which takes apart Florida’s 5th Congressional District. DeSantis argues they drew the district with racial motivation in violation of the equal protection clause.

The Tallahassee Democrat questioned the Governor’s map and the logic behind it.

“Once again, DeSantis is showing Florida voters that he is governing the state as a dictator,” Lawson said. “DeSantis bullied the Florida Legislature into approving his Republican-leaning congressional map during Special Session. It is alarming that state legislators cannot fulfill their constitutional duties without political meddling.”

Al Lawson is mad as hell about the new Florida map.

He also voiced his support for Black state lawmakers who staged a sit-in that disrupted Florida’s Special Session for a little more than an hour.

“Florida House Democrats demonstrated courage today by protesting the DeSantis’ drawn map on the floor. They comprehend that this map violates the Voting Rights Act along with the U.S. and Florida Constitutions,” he said. “Minority voters in Florida deserve congressional representation. It is astounding that someone tasked to lead the state is playing partisan politics for his own political aspirations.”

What remains unknown is whether Lawson will seek re-election in a Republican-leaning seat in Jacksonville — or even challenge Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican. Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, where Lawson once challenged Democratic incumbent Rep. Allen Boyd, now covers all of Tallahassee.

Solar salvo

A $300,000 grant could bring more solar power to Tampa Bay, said Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor. But she said we will put the money to its best use if DeSantis vetoes a net metering bill passed by the Florida Legislature.

She announced the community priority grant for the Urban League of Hillsborough County’s Hands Up Program. That will fund workforce training and paid apprenticeship programs in solar installation.

“I am grateful for the work of the Urban League to connect our neighbors with good-paying, family-sustaining jobs and apprenticeships in fields of the future, like solar installation,” she said. “As we train the clean energy workforce, we can put money back into our neighbors’ pockets and ensure the air we breathe is clean and safe for us and future generations. We are going to create jobs, lower electric bills, increase resiliency and do it through the widespread adoption of clean, abundant solar power.”

Kathy Castor wants Tampa to grab a little sunshine.

In February, Castor led a letter urging the Florida Legislature to vote down a proposal that would end requirements for companies to pay consumers with rooftop solar panels for excess energy sent to the grid. Crist, Demings, Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch, Lawson, and Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto co-signed.

Now, Castor said the work of the Urban League depends on DeSantis nixing the bill.

“The good news is that the cost of solar has dropped here in Florida and across the country, and the students who will be trained through this community initiative will increase access for Tampa Bay families and small businesses to this abundant, renewable resource,” she said.

“All of our neighbors should have the freedom to access affordable solar power, yet the Florida Legislature passed legislation written by electric utility monopolies that would make solar power less affordable and jeopardize over 40,000 jobs in our state.”

Innovation platform

Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan introduced three bills this week to spur innovation.

The American Innovation Act would reduce barriers to starting a business by quadrupling the amount owners could deduct from their income taxes, bringing that to $20,000. It would also raise the threshold for deductions from $50,000 to $120,0000 on expenditures, including salaries, benefits, rent and utilities.

A prior version of the bill passed in the last Congress.

“As we work to recover from a devastating global pandemic and an overstimulated economy, American businesses are met with runaway inflation and a volatile job market,” Buchanan said.

Vern Buchanan gets innovative. Image via AP.

“In this environment, Congress needs to focus on making it easier for businesses to do what they do best — creating jobs, innovating and investing capital back into our communities.”

Meanwhile, the Start-ups for Cures Act creates a refundable tax credit for a portion of research and development for medical innovation companies. That would be available to companies with under $1 million in receipts focused on lifesaving drugs or treatments. The More Cures Act would create a 14% bonus R&D tax credit for companies engaged in drug development research.

“From the early days of the COVID pandemic, it became clear how dangerously reliant we are on China and the global supply chain for critical lifesaving treatments and cures,” Buchanan said. “The Start-ups for Cures Act and the More Cures Act will help spur American innovation and place our country back at the top of the global leaderboard for developing new cures.”

After becoming the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, the Congressman focused on the bills.

No more discharges?

Stuart Republican Brian Mast said it’s time the Army Corps of Engineers develop a plan to completely stop discharges from Lake Okeechobee. He introduced legislation last week to enact the Northern Estuaries Restoration Plan, requiring the Army Corps to develop new infrastructure to end discharges into the northern estuaries and improve water quality for Lake Okeechobee, the Caloosahatchee Estuary, Charlotte Harbor, the Indian River Lagoon, the Lake Worth Lagoon and the St. Lucie Estuary.

He modeled the language on the existing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan but expanded the reach. His office noted the CERP was never designed to stop 100% of discharges, but the NERP aims to do that.

Brian Mast says slow the flow. Image via Facebook.

“There’s no issue that impacts our community at a deeper or more destructive level than discharges from Lake Okeechobee,” Mast said. “The Everglades restoration infrastructure authorized by CERP is critically important, but we also must begin planning for what comes after, and that must include fully eliminating harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee.”

In the last decade, severe blue-green algal blooms have often followed discharge from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

If passed, Mast’s legislation would require the Corps to implement the plan in three years and enact funding for the infrastructure projects called for in the bill.

On this day

April 22, 2000 — “Federal agents seized Elián González from the home of his Miami relatives” via the Miami Herald — Armed with automatic weapons and firing occasional rounds of tear gas, federal agents seized 5-year-old Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives before dawn. About 30 agents arrived at the house in white vans shortly after 5 a.m. and used rams on the chain-link fence and the front door. A short time later, a woman brought Gonzalez out of the home and put him in a van that drove away. Some of the approximately 100 protesters gathered at the home climbed over barricades to stop the agents.

April 22, 1970 — “Earth Day observed for the first time” via the Library of Congress — About 20 million people nationwide attended the inaugural events at tens of thousands of sites, including elementary and secondary schools, universities, and community sites across the United States. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, a Wisconsin Democrat, promoted Earth Day, calling upon students to fight for environmental causes and oppose environmental degradation with the same energy they displayed in opposing the Vietnam War. By the 20th anniversary of the first event, over 200 million people in 141 countries had taken part in Earth Day celebrations. The celebrations continue to grow.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Renzo Downey.

Staff Reports



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