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Ride the Lightning
The Lightning struck the White House lawn Monday.
It’s been a strange but successful two seasons for Tampa’s professional hockey franchise. As the coronavirus delivered a cross-check against all celebratory gatherings, the Lightning came out of the COVID-19 penalty box this year. The President entertained hockey champions in his Washington home for the first time.
And President Joe Biden made clear he could find Champa Bay on a map. “At the risk of stating the obvious here, it’s a pretty good time to be a sports fan in Tampa,” Biden said at a White House ceremony honoring the Tampa Bay Lightning. “I don’t know what the hell you have in the water down there.”
In 2021, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. In 2020, the Tampa Bay Rays won the American League pennant.
As the pandemic impacted sports as a whole, it coincided with an unprecedented rush of victory in the region.
The President cited the Lightning’s success as the ultimate example of sports dominance in Tampa. After being denied a White House celly in 2020, the team found its way to the lawn anyhow by winning a championship again the following year, resulting in back-to-back Stanley Cup wins.
“They might be here next year,” Biden said. “Who knows?”
Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, stood alongside members of the team and other local dignitaries, including Tampa Mayor Jane Castor. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was also in attendance. Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik had the rare honor of being introduced by a sitting President to speak at the podium. He joked that First Lady Jill Biden had held a vaccine event at Tropicana Field.
“Our playoffs start in a week. The First Lady is welcome back,” he told Biden. “They tell me she’s good luck. I don’t know about you yet.”
The event proved a largely apolitical one, but elected officials enjoyed some of the spotlight and the gleam of the cup. That included Castor, who was spotted waving a “Go Bolts” flag at the event. “It’s great to see Congresswoman Castor,” Biden said from the stage. “You didn’t think I didn’t see you holding up that sign?”
Castor, an enthusiastic fan of all sports in Tampa Bay, hyped up the ceremony.
“What’s better than celebrating the Lightning’s Stanley Cup victory at the White House? Celebrating back-to-back Stanley Cup wins at the White House!” she said. “The Bolts have unified our community throughout the pandemic, and we can all be proud of their grit, determination and commitment to serving the Tampa Bay area. They have had a truly electric run over the past few seasons, and we are all rooting them on as we head into the 2022 playoffs in the coming weeks.”
To watch highlights of the ceremony, click on the image below:
Sen. Marco Rubio hammered the administration on an international front, especially important in Florida. As the State Department organizes a summit of world leaders in the Western Hemisphere, Rubio has joined others in criticizing the inclusion of Cuba’s government. Now, he’s expressed concern the event may be a prelude to fresh normalization efforts.
“Last July, I told you the regime in Cuba always uses mass migration to blackmail Democrat Presidents,” Rubio tweeted. “Today, Biden is sending a regime sympathizer at the State Department to ‘negotiate’ with them.”
The Senator did not return calls from Florida Politics asking specifically who he was singled out as a Cuba “sympathizer.” But he has heavily criticized Jake Sullivan, the President’s national security adviser, and Juan González, National Security Council senior director for the Western Hemisphere, for continued engagement with socialist regimes.
He also shared a previous tweet from last year predicting the Cuban government would threaten a repeat of the Mariel boatlift if Biden didn’t adopt a posture more like that of former President Barack Obama. To Rubio’s chagrin, the last Democrat in the White House, Obama, near the end of his term, sought to normalize relations with Cuba and ultimately end a decades-old embargo.
The notorious Mariel boatlift started in 1980, about six months before Democratic President Jimmy Carter lost re-election to Republican Ronald Reagan. That’s when then-Cuban President Fidel Castro authorized Cuban exiles to flee to America, leading to some 125,000 Cubans moving to Florida in a matter of months.
“We must not cave to blackmail, and President Biden must warn them that encouraging mass migration must be considered a hostile action,” Rubio wrote in the tweet from July he shared again this week.
Taipei or Taiwan?
Sen. Rick Scott wants the Commerce Department to be more careful about referring to allies. He tweeted his frustrations after Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, in a release on the Global Cross-Border Privacy Rules Forum, listed as a participant “Chinese Taipei.”
“No, it’s Taiwan,” he posted, tagging Raimondo. “Stop cowering to Beijing and call it Taiwan.”
The release announced the establishment of an agreement between the U.S., Canada, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, and, er, that final Asian power.
“The new Forum will facilitate trade and international data flows and promote global cooperation, building on our shared data privacy values while recognizing the differences in our domestic approaches to protecting data privacy,” the Commerce Department release stated.
Negotiating an agreement with the Taiwanese government itself sends a specific signal about U.S. engagement in international commerce. But referencing the nation as a Chinese territory potentially sends a completely counter message.
Scott recently became the first U.S. Senator to visit a Taiwanese embassy established in Lithuania and recognized by the East European nation.
Changing the title
Kat Cammack took a trip to the border with Mexico, even speaking with Fox News from the wall. The trip came as delegation Republicans continue to make clear there is one pandemic restriction they still embrace.
“Let’s be honest. It’s dire,” the Gainesville Republican said of conditions at the border. “This is a crisis of epic proportions. We have about 8,000 a day coming to our borders. Keep in mind we lose operational control of our borders when we have a surge of 5,000. Now, with the talk of Title 42 going away, we would have up to 18,000 people a day coming across our borders and into our communities all across America. This is a crisis of epic proportions. And let’s be clear. Every town in America is a border town because of the failure of this administration to secure our borders.”
Title 42, implemented by former President Donald Trump during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, allows officials to fast-track deportations and limit asylum for border crossers seeking refugee status. Officials in the Biden administration announced in March they intend to end the policy by May 23, though states, including Florida, have sued to extend the restrictions.
Cammack isn’t the only delegation member openly fretting about the impact of ending Title 42. Rubio sounded alarms as well.
“No other nation on earth would be expected to allow 7,000 people a day to storm its borders,” he tweeted. “But Biden (or whoever is really in charge at the White House) thinks America should encourage and allow up to 16,000 people a day to do this to us.”
And as the date draws closer to sunset the rule, there are even some Democrats turning on the policy change. Orlando Democrat Val Demings, who is challenging Rubio for his Senate seat, reversed course on ending Title 42. A campaign spokesman told CNN that the Congresswoman doesn’t support ending Title 42 “until there is a plan to put more boots on the ground and support our law enforcement officers at the border.”
Europe: Part 2
If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium. No, wait a minute; that was last week. It’s France this time.
Last week, Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy completed her second European tour in April as a member of a congressional delegation conducting a fact-finding mission on the Russian war on Ukraine.
This time, Murphy, a member of both the Armed Services Committee and the Ways and Means Committee, was joined by Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch and five other Democrats, taking meetings in France, Italy and Georgia. That followed her trip earlier in April, with another congressional delegation, to Belgium and Poland, including a stop near the Poland-Ukraine border swelled with Ukrainian refugees.
Murphy recounted both trips in a Twitter post Monday morning in which she vowed support for both Ukraine and Georgia. Russia invaded the latter country in 2008, and the former Soviet republic that has been an independent country since 1991 still endures Russian occupation of about 20% of its sovereign territory.
“They’ve had our back,” Murphy said of Georgia, noting its alliance with the United States and NATO in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. “And our congressional delegation made clear: we’ll have theirs too.”
She said Georgia can relate to what Ukraine is now going through.
In Italy, the delegation focused on disruptions in the food supply.
“Our delegation is very focused on another serious consequence of Russia’s invasion, which is that it has reduced the food supply — leading to hunger in poorer countries and to food shortages and higher prices in America. And during our travels yesterday, I was pleased to see the U.S. government announce another $800 million in military aid to Ukraine, including heavy artillery and drones,” Murphy said. “We need to keep the pressure on, and we will.”
Puerto Rico benefits
A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court allowing Puerto Rican residents to miss out on Social Security benefits has Demings fuming.
The ruling, she said, “means that roughly 300,000 aging, low income, and disabled Americans will continue to be treated like second-class citizens. This is simply unfair. The American citizens of Puerto Rico, like all other Americans, deserve the equal rights and responsibilities of citizenship, which is why last year I voted to extend fair and equal federal benefits to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories.”
Notably, Central Florida saw a huge migration of Puerto Ricans, all U.S. citizens, into the state following Hurricane Maria in 2017. That substantially bolstered the voting power of the demographic.
The U.S. has denied benefits for residents of Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands, though the Build Back Better plan already passed by the House would change that. Demings also co-sponsored the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act (HR 1522), which would also result in full Social Security benefits helping island denizens.
“Equal treatment under the law shouldn’t depend on where in America you live,” she said. “The Senate must stop stalling and follow our lead to immediately defend the equal rights of all Americans. I will continue to advocate for equal treatment for our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.”
That callout of the Senate inaction is again a reference to the fact that Demings is challenging Rubio for his seat this year.
Tracking the VA
It’s no secret many veterans feel lost and forgotten within the Veterans Affairs health care system. Clermont Republican Dan Webster just introduced legislation he hopes will help complaints find their way to the top of the administration.
The Patient Advocate Tracker Act (HR 5754) would create a tracker system for grievances as they make their way to the VA Office of the Patient Advocate. It would also modernize an electronic complaint system and let veterans filing complaints look up interim actions and any final resolutions.
“We owe a debt of gratitude to every individual who has served in the U.S. military,” Webster said. “Improving VA accountability and transparency to ensure veterans are receiving the services that they have earned and need is one of my priorities. The Patient Advocate Tracker Act is a step in the right direction by simplifying and giving veterans access to the tracking system when they have a complaint.”
Veterans of Foreign Wars, Student Veterans of America, Military Veterans Advocacy and Fleet Reserve Association have endorsed the bill.
Sarasota Republican Greg Steube wants to see Jordan held to account for giving material support to Hamas.
The Congressman filed legislation, The Recognition of the 1995 Jordan Extradition Treaty with the U.S. Act, which would limit assistance to the Middle Eastern nation unless its leaders sign and live by the 25-year-old negotiated treaty.
“Our U.S. tax dollars will not continue to flow to a country harboring a Hamas Terrorist with American blood on her hands,” Steube said. “The Government of Jordan is failing to comply with a 1995 treaty which requires them to extradite individuals like Ahlam al Tamimi who faces trial for terrorism under U.S. law. My legislation will ensure our foreign assistance to Jordan is abruptly halted until Jordan is in compliance with our extradition treaty.”
Al Tamimi, considered Hamas’ first known female operative, faces charges for a terrorist attack in Israel in 2001 that killed 11 people, including two Americans, and injured 122 others.
In March, Steube led a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for the U.S. to raise sanctions and other means to pressure the government to extradite al Tamimi.
Meanwhile, a new memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Jordan promised $1.2 billion in foreign aid to be sent overseas in five years, and the U.S. delivered $6.3 billion to Jordan between 2018 and 2022, Steube’s office said.
Cakewalk on tap?
On the heels of stacking up his largest quarterly haul of donations ever, Stuart Republican Brian Mast launched his re-election bid Monday in Florida’s 21st Congressional District, nearly identical geographically and politically to the district that first elected him in 2016.
The decennial redistricting process has renumbered the district to be CD 21, but it still covers parts of north Palm Beach County and extends into Martin and St. Lucie County. It leans heavily Republican, electing Trump by nearly 10 percentage points in 2020.
“From record inflation to the disastrous foreign policy consequences of Biden’s weakness, there are major challenges facing our country,” Mast said in a statement, launching his campaign. “Here at home, the fight for clean water and dignity for veterans remain top priorities. I look forward to continuing to fight on all these issues and more for our community.”
For the first quarter of 2022, Mast drew more than $1 million in donations, his campaign reports show, giving him nearly $2.8 million in campaign cash to launch his bid for a fourth term. His three opponents, a Democrat and two Republicans, collectively raised no more than $20,000 in the same period.
He also received the endorsement of Trump earlier this month.
A contingent of Miami-Dade Republicans in the delegation wants Mexico investigated for collusion with Cuba.
Miami-Dade Republican María Elvira Salazar led a letter, co-signed by Rubio and fellow Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart and Carlos Giménez, accusing Mexico of violating the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement (USMCA). The message called for the Labor Department to investigate allegations of human trafficking through the use of Cuba doctors on medical missions.
“We know the horrors the Cuban regime is capable of and their so-called ‘medical professional exchange missions’ are no exception,” Salazar said. “Slavery still exists, and it’s happening just across our borders with the approval of Mexico’s government. Mexico’s acceptance of exploited labor and human trafficking is reprehensible and diminishes the integrity of the USMCA. I’m calling for a formal investigation to determine whether this violates the human rights provisions of this historic trade agreement.”
She said the doctors effectively have their wages stolen as they are forced to sign documents, which in turn are used to traffic individuals. The letter cites a State Department investigation that lists Cuba as a country violating international trafficking agreements with no intention to stop.
“The USMCA is the gold standard among trade deals and has strong provisions to uphold labor standards and human rights,” the letter reads. But Cuba’s actions violate provisions of the treaty, and deserve the scrutiny of U.S. diplomatic offices and administration investigators from the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, Commerce Department and U.S. Trade Representative.
On this day
April 26, 1865 — “Joseph Johnston surrenders last Confederate forces” via eHistory — Union General William T. Sherman was relentlessly pursuing Confederate General Johnston through North Carolina. When news of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant reached Johnston, he sent a message asking for a meeting to discuss terms of his army’s surrender. Johnston wanted terms different from those Grant had given to Lee. Sherman decided to offer generous terms for the surrender of Johnston’s men. Like most senior Union officials, Sherman feared Johnston’s men might disband quietly and take to the hills and fight a protracted, guerrilla war. But realizing his men were tired of fighting and on the brink of total desertion, Johnston signed the surrender of his army to Sherman.
April 26, 1954 — “Polio vaccine trials begin” via History.com — The Jonas Salk-developed polio vaccine field trials, involving 1.8 million children, began at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia. Children in the United States, Canada and Finland participated in the trials, which used for the first time the now-standard double-blind method, whereby neither the patient nor attending doctor knew if the inoculation was the vaccine or a placebo. On April 12, 1955, researchers announced the vaccine was safe and effective and quickly became a standard part of childhood immunizations in America. In the ensuing decades, polio vaccines would all but wipe out the highly contagious disease in the Western Hemisphere.
Best wishes to Rep. Webster, who turns 73 on Wednesday, April 27.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Scott Powers.