Delegation for 5.3.22: SCOTUS shocker — Ukraine — more lies — deportation — earmarks

Imprint of the U.S. Capitol building on a dollar bill banknote
A SCOTUS bombshell has DC abuzz.

Roe leak

A leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion sent shock waves to Washington’s political system — and prompted swift reaction within Florida’s congressional delegation.

POLITICO reported late Monday on a purported draft of a majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito that would overturn Roe v. Wade.

Assuming a majority of the court concurs, that would allow states around the nation to pass laws restricting access to abortion. A Florida law barring abortions 15 weeks into pregnancy already passed in anticipation of such a ruling.

Democrats first worked to make sure constituents know that no opinion has yet been officially published. But they also treated the news as a call to action, both for Congress to preserve a woman’s right to choose and for Democrats to send a message on Roe in the midterms

“First things first, abortion is still legal, and this leak doesn’t change that yet,” said Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat. “However, if this rumor is true, this is devastating news for our country. This draft Supreme Court opinion would allow politicians to take control over an individual’s reproductive freedom and deny them access to health care — it’s horrendous. The decision of whether and when to become a parent should be made by the person who is pregnant, not by their Governor or anyone else.”

But many conservative members said the end of Roe would right a wrong ruling issued decades ago.

Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, tweeted that Roe “is and always was bad law.” But while celebrating the possible overturn of the decision, he also expressed dismay at how the news broke.

“It is unfortunate that the news of the greatest victory for the Pro-Life movement comes on the heels of one of the most profound breaches of trust the Court has ever seen,” he posted. “If the report is true, I am grateful that all of God’s children will now have a voice, and I am committed to ensuring that the leaker and their complicit partners in the media will be held accountable for their actions to the fullest extent.”

Read more reactions here.

Ukrainian struggle

A struggle has brewed among a new generation of Congressional Republicans over foreign policy. The Russian invasion in Ukraine may be the clearest highlight to date whether isolationism or neo-conservatism still drives the conversation on the right about international intervention.

But at least for the moment, the desire for a strong military response continues to resonate among elected Republicans representing Florida.

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Rep. Brian Mast, a Stuart Republican, accused the administration of weakness, and said the U.S. should seek greater consequences for Russian President Vladimir Putin. After Blinken declined to lay out a timeline on sanctions against Russia, Mast accused the nation’s chief diplomat of lies about the situation on the ground.

Florida Republicans continue to call for a stronger response in Ukraine. But for how long? Image via AP.

Later, on Fox News, Mast said the U.S. needs to make clear regime change must happen in Russia.

“We should be laying out very clearly to Vladimir Putin what our expectations are so that he knows, and the world knows,” Mast said. “We think he should be out of power, that there should be war crime tribunals, that there should be perhaps demilitarized zones along Ukrainian borders or other places.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Republican, joined only nine other Representatives, all of them Republicans, in casting a vote against spending to provide more arms to Ukraine. His staff told Business Insider that Gaetz “supports weapons for Ukraine” but “opposes waiving America’s future rights for repayment.”

On his Firebrand podcast, Gaetz suggested the U.S. needs to keep its focus on threats to this nation, including those directly from Russia, as opposed to becoming further entrenched in geopolitical issues in east Europe.

“Maybe before we’re interested in getting Russia out of Ukraine, we ought to be interested in getting Russia out of the United States, where they could be harming our businesses and setting up cyberattacks that would impact quality of life here in America,” Gaetz said.

But other young Republicans from Florida highlighted ways the events in Ukraine continue to impact their own constituents. Steube met this week at the European Food Market in North Port with leaders of the local Ukrainian community. He suggested there that even if the war unfolds in East Europe, it’s of great relevance to many living in Florida.

“While Ukraine fights for their freedom against Putin’s evil aggression, it’s critical we continue ensuring our Ukrainian neighbors are supported. I voted in favor of sending U.S. aid to Ukraine. We need to continue to equip Ukraine with the tools they need — not just from the United States, but also from our NATO allies and the Western European countries,” Steube said. “I take seriously my responsibility to be the voice in Washington for a vibrant community of Ukrainian Americans here in Southwest Florida.”

Perhaps just as notable, a vote to provide material support for a war effort drew absolutely no Democratic opposition. That means no Democrats from Florida or elsewhere made an anti-war argument against escalation or intervention, with many vocally praising expenditures and military involvement.

“The Ukrainian military is fighting hard against Putin’s brutal, illegal invasion. And the United States has the tools to help Ukraine in defense of its land and people,” said Rep. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat. “Congress sent a bill to the President’s desk that will cut through bureaucratic red tape and get weapons into the hands of the Ukrainians faster and more efficiently.”

Lies and confusion

Sen. Rick Scott criticized President Joe Biden for “confusion and lies” about the Senator’s “Rescue America” plan. He also cited a prominent fact-checker as evidence the White House mischaracterized the midterm policy agenda. But despite the Senator’s characterization, the publication agreed with the policy interpretation of his controversial plan.

Since the release of his 11-point platform, Scott defensively pushed back against assertions that it calls for tax hikes on nearly half of Americans.

“Joe Biden is clearly obsessed with my plan to rescue America and very confused about his own agenda that is devastating American families. Unlike Joe Biden, I’m a proven tax cutter,” Scott said.

Not everyone is on board with Rick Scott’s plan to tax everyone.

“I’ve cut more taxes than anyone in Washington and even the liberal Washington Post has corrected Biden’s lies about me. Sadly, it’s no surprise after spending a year hiding in his basement before spending another year hiding in the White House and his Delaware vacation home that Biden has lost his grip on reality. Thankfully, the American people aren’t buying his lies. As long as Biden and the Democrats keep trying to destroy this great country, I’ll be fighting to rescue it. We’ll stop at nothing to hold Biden and the radical Left responsible for the disasters they’ve created.”

But the Post didn’t disagree with the fact Scott’s plan proposes to raise taxes on many Americans. Rather, the newspaper called out a tweet from Biden that stated Republicans widely hold the same position. The Biden tweet in question said: “After their massive tax giveaway to the super-wealthy and giant corporations in 2017, congressional Republicans now want to raise taxes on middle-class families. I won’t let that happen.”

The fact-checking article confirms the President referred to Scott’s “Rescue America” plan, which includes the passage: “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently, over half of Americans pay no income tax.”

Democrats jumped on the analysis that this will result in a $100 billion increase in tax burdens on families earning $54,000 a year or less.

The only thing cited as non-factual in the statements from Biden and concurrent ones from the White House was that congressional Republicans as a group embraced the plan. In reality, Scott’s Senate campaign, not the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which he also chairs, released the agenda. While Scott proposed Republicans run on the message in the midterms, no Republican Senate candidates, including Sen. Marco Rubio, embraced it to date. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has forcefully said the Party will not run on the plan.

Leave Guatemala be

While Rubio has a history of weighing in on the government structures in South America, he said America needs to sit out a process underway in Guatemala. Rubio urged Blinken to complete a full review of the U.S. Department of State’s actions regarding the ongoing Attorney General selection process in Guatemala.

Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, sent a letter to Blinken to address the matter in response to recent reports that employees of the DOS and U.S. Agency for International Development may be inappropriately influencing the appointment process for Guatemala’s Attorney General position, which is currently underway.

Marco Rubio raises a warning flag for Guatemalan elections. Image via AP.

“Guatemala has had a long and difficult road in quelling the scourge of public corruption. That road has been made harder by the abuse of well-intentioned international support,” the letter reads. “Given this complex history of international involvement in Guatemala’s judicial system, the United States should be cautious when assisting Guatemalans’ path toward a just and equal application of the law.”

Guatemala’s Attorney General’s office has, in recent years, been accused of blocking corruption investigations, protecting powerful interests and even persecuting those who pursue the corrupt, according to a report from The Associated Press.

Now, the office is up for grabs, as Consuelo Porras’ four-year term ends in May. Porras has been heavily criticized for her leadership, including dismissing corruption accusations and dodging questions with legalities. Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei will appoint the new Attorney General to succeed Porras. Meanwhile, Porras announced she will run for another term.

Deportation delay

Gaetz sparked a feisty exchange at a House Judiciary Committee meeting when he accused Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas of intentionally allowing more illegal border crossings.

“It’s telling that you’ve got plans for pronouns, you’ve got plans for misinformation, but when it comes to the plan to remove illegal aliens that have had due process, you don’t have one at all,” Gaetz said.

Mayorkas in the hearing said what Border Patrol agents need now is legislation to fix a “broken immigration system,” but Gaetz rejected that and said many individuals have access to courts and judges.

Alejandro Mayorkas is grilled over mass deportations. Image via YouTube.

“I get it. You want comprehensive immigration reform and a big amnesty thing,” Gaetz said. “Very unlikely that’s going to happen, so we have to operate under the laws that exist right now. So, under the laws that exist right now, a judge just told 1.2 million people they have no right to be here. Do you plan to remove those 1.2 million people?”

Mayorkas suggested that would be difficult. “With the resources that we have, we have to allocate those,” he said. “There are a number of questions that your question raises with respect to whether all of those individuals have been given due process.”

Gaetz took umbrage at the response, saying he was discussing a group that had been given due process. But he said there’s more to the administration refusing to budget or figure out what mass deportation would require.

“You actually don’t want to remove them,” he said. “That’s why you issued the Sept. 30 guidance that says, well, if you haven’t committed a crime and just happened to come to the country illegally, we’re not going to remove you.”

Watch the throne

Before even taking office, the Republican Study Committee tapped Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack as the first-term Steering Representative. Now, she’s in the running to run the caucus.

Kat Cammack is in a dead heat for chair of the Republican Study Committee.

With Indiana Republican Jim Banks termed out, POLITICO reports the competition to succeed him is down to Cammack and Oklahoma Republican Kevin Hern. As the largest GOP caucus in Congress, the chair position holds considerable influence on policy, more so if Republicans retake the House majority in November. It has also served as a jumping point to major positions in Congress, with current Republican Whip Steve Scalise and GOP Conference Vice-Chair Mike Johnson among former RSC chairs.

Cammack told the publication she’s focused on messaging, an expansion of work in the normally policy-focused group. She wants to explore providing discussion points for members to “talk about difficult votes in a way that makes sense back home.

Infrastructure equality

Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto joined other members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last week to meet with Biden in the White House for a discussion on ensuring all communities enjoy access to infrastructure dollars. The all-Democrat group pressed the administration on how it will distribute funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“It was an honor to meet with President Biden and senior White House officials to discuss issues affecting Hispanics in our communities,” said Soto, the caucus’ vice-chair of policy.

Darren Soto joins the Congressional Hispanic Caucus for a White House visit.

“My main priority going into this conversation was the implementation of comprehensive plans to ensure underserved communities are properly informed of the funding and resources available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” Soto said.

“In Central Florida, these funds would help fix the traffic by expanding I-4, SunRail and Brightline, address environmental justice issues, create good-paying jobs and empower hardworking Hispanic Floridians. I look forward to working with the administration and my CHC colleagues to create policies that reflect the needs of those who keep our communities running.”

Soto presented the caucus’ priorities alongside California Democrat Raul Ruiz, chair of the caucus. The meeting took place shortly after guidelines issued by the nonpartisan Office of Budget Management issued new guidelines to agencies to reduce barriers, including administrative burdens, and increase access for underserved communities, funding recipients, and funding beneficiaries.

“Today’s initial guidance from the Office of Management and Budget acts on the CHC’s proposed executive action to equitably implement the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. It underscores how our continued partnership with the Biden Administration has and will continue to deliver results,” Ruiz said. “The Biden Administration continues to demonstrate their commitment to ensuring that federal dollars spent through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are set on a strong foundation for effective, efficient, and equitable implementation.”

Orlando earmarks

Val Demings also wants to make sure Central Florida secures dollars in the next budget. On Monday, the Orlando Democrat filed requests for project earmarks.

“I am excited to announce that I have filed formal funding requests for 15 critical programs to keep Central Florida safe and prosperous. As Chief of Police in Orlando, I believed deeply in the power of community partnerships,” she said.

“That’s why I’m fighting this year for federal funding to support proven community projects that will support local law enforcement, ensure clean drinking water, expand access to health care, grow our economy, and keep Central Florida moving. Safe and efficient infrastructure, public safety, and public health are at the heart of every great community, and I am excited for all that we will continue to accomplish in the year ahead.”

Val Demings is making sure Central Florida gets its slice of the pie.

Requests range from electric vehicle charging stations to a project in Orlando honoring victims of the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub. She wants wastewater treatment funding in Ocoee, affordable housing in Eatonville, and patrol car cameras in Orlando.

Local officials praised the Congresswoman, who is challenging Rubio this year for his Senate seat, for the requests.

“The City of Orlando and the Orlando Police Department again want to recognize Congresswoman Demings for her consistent and steadfast support of our police officers,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. “Having just secured more than $1 million for OPD’s next-generation body-worn cameras in this year’s federal budget, we are thankful for her decision to seek an additional nearly $1 million in next year’s budget to continue outfitting OPD’s fleet of patrol cars with new dashcams. Together, these initiatives will bring enhanced public transparency to the tough work of law enforcement while also gathering critical evidence in the prosecution of crime.”

Flights back on course

Palm Harbor Republican Gus Bilirakis raised noise after the National Parks Service discontinued escorts for the U.S. Honor Flight program. This week, he cheered a reversal of that decision.

“For many of these Veterans, the Honor Flight is a once in a lifetime experience — their first and only opportunity to visit DC and to spend time at the beautiful memorials that have been built to recognize their service and sacrifice — and to remember those who served alongside them who did not make it home,” Bilirakis said.

Gus Bilirakis penned a letter helping Honor Flights take off again.

“I am grateful that the swift action taken by myself and my colleagues ensured that the escort service will be reinstated so our Veterans get the full experience they deserve.”

Bilirakis previously met with Park Service Director Chuck Sams and other Interior Department officials to express alarm at the program’s cancellation. Had the program not been reinstituted, Bilirakis said bipartisan support existed in the House and Senate to forcibly reinstate the program through legislation.

That won’t be necessary now, with Honor Flights starting on June 1.

Remembering Payne

A Lakeland post office could soon be renamed after a local hero killed in Afghanistan. Scott Franklin last week introduced legislation (HR 7638) to name a facility in his district after Marine Corporal Ronald Payne Jr.

“Ron Payne was a shining example of the best America has to offer,” the Lakeland Republican said. “While he was taken from this world far too soon, the impact of his selfless service on our country and on those who knew him continues to this day. I am privileged to introduce this bill naming a post office in his honor so that current and future generations can see his name and learn of his sacrifice in defense of our liberty.”

Marine Corporal Ronald Payne Jr. was ‘ a shining example of the best America has to offer.’

Payne, a Mulberry High School graduate, enlisted in 1999 and was first deployed to Iraq in 2003 with the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance battalion. Shortly after, he volunteered to serve in Afghanistan. But there, he became the first Marine killed in a combat mission in Tawara.

According to Franklin’s office, the soldier made an impression during his service, and four of his colleagues since his death named children after him. The 6-foot-7-inch Marine was called the “gentle giant” by friends, a man who led Bible studies and would bring toys to give to children during deployments. His sister, Rachel Ascione, now runs the Corporal Ron Payne Family Center in Pennsylvania, which is dedicated to helping military families with a member suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Fifteen colleagues within the Florida delegation — from both sides of the aisle — are sponsoring Franklin’s bill.

Cheaper drugs

As co-chair of House Republicans’ Healthy Future Task Force, Vern Buchanan last week unveiled a GOP plan to reduce drug prices at a roundtable with other leaders in his caucus. The Longboat Key Republican and Brett Guthrie, a fellow Republican from Virginia released an agenda focused on supercharging the development of new cures and therapies while aiming to reduce consumer costs on existing pharmaceuticals. The event featured members of the Treatment Subcommittee of the task force.

As Healthy Future Task Force co-chair, Vern Buchanan seeks lower drug costs and less government interference.

“For too long, Democrats in Washington have taken a ‘Washington-knows-best’ approach to regulating our health care system. House Republicans are instead taking a bottom-up approach and listening to the American people to develop solutions on how to address pressing issues in our health care system,” read a joint statement from Buchanan and Guthrie.

The plan is three-pronged. First, unleash innovative medicines, devices and diagnostics for patients so they can quickly access innovations without government interference. The lawmakers also want to promote American-made medicines, so patients aren’t “held hostage by supply chain disruptions or foreign government restrictions.”

More broadly, the plan promises to lower drug costs by cutting the out-of-pocket spending required of patients to access new medicines and cures.

Algal disasters

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed language introduced by Mast that could direct FEMA to treat harmful algal blooms as federal disasters. The new criteria passed as an amendment to the Community Disaster Resilience Zones Act (HR 7242), legislation that now awaits a vote on the House floor.

“If a community gets hit by a hurricane, or a tornado or a mudslide, FEMA is on the ground within days if not hours to help them recover. But our community is hit by a disaster almost every summer in the form of toxic algal blooms, and the cavalry never comes,” Mast said. “We know what happens: businesses shut down and people’s health declines. FEMA needs to quantify those impacts and respond just like they would to any other natural disaster.”

Brian Mast is looking to make algal blooms a federal case. Image via Facebook.

The Congressman’s language passed with unanimous support at the committee level.

If the bill becomes law, FEMA will be required to assess the damage of blooms, including direct economic impact. The underlying bill calls for the creation of community disaster resilience zones and will require administrations to maintain a natural disaster hazard assessment program.

Data gathered as required will ultimately calculate FEMA reimbursements to communities after natural disasters.

Maggie’s must-attend

Maggie’s List, a PAC formed to promote conservative women to federal office, held a reception in Washington last month along with partners eager for Republicans to retake both chambers of Commerce. Scott, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, gave a speech at the event promoting Missouri Republican Vicky Hartzler’s candidacy for Senate.

Former Florida Secretary of State Sandra Mortham currently chairs Maggie’s List, and the cast of prominent Washington leaders at the reception shows the growing influence of the group under her leadership. Tom Emmer, Scott’s counterpart at the National Republican Congressional Committee, also attended and promoted House candidates.

Congressman Mike Kelly, Christine Torreti, and Sandra Mortham are eager for Republicans to take back the House.

Several other Florida personalities could be seen at the reception as well. Carole Jean Jordan, Indian River County Tax Collector and Florida chair for Maggie’s List, was spotted, as was Mortham, Florida advocacy director for Excel in Ed.

Amanda Makki, a Maggie’s List-endorsed candidate in an open race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District, also shared photos on her own social media from the evening. Jackie Toledo, a candidate in Florida’s 15th Congressional District, was also endorsed and invited to attend.

Of note, out of the 50 sitting members of Congress listed on an invitation as congressional partners to Maggie’s list, nine represent Florida. The list includes Scott and Rubio. The organization listed endorsed Reps. Cammack and Maria Elvira Salazar, as well as supportive Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart, Bilirakis, Bill Posey, John Rutherford and Dan Webster.

When the Legislature can’t

The Florida Legislature’s failure during its most recent Regular Session to pass any sort of changes in condominium regulations that would forestall the circumstances that led to the collapse of Surfside earned the state’s Republicans quite a drubbing. Some aspects of the state’s regulations for condos haven’t been updated in decades.

Now Democrats Crist of St. Petersburg and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston want a crack at the issue. The state proposals that ultimately failed focused on mandated inspections for older buildings and closer regulations of condos’ emergency funds. But proposed federal regulations would help the homeowners handle the special assessments to keep condo buildings in good repair.

Democrats in the delegation want to take a crack at post-Surfside condo reforms. Image via AP.

A paper trail that came to light showed that the Surfside condo owners living in Champlain Towers South were facing $15 million worth of repairs. Under the Crist-Wasserman Schultz proposal, condo owners would have more options for financing special assessments like those the owners in the ill-fated condo were wrangling over. The legislation would expand access to two loan programs guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“While we still mourn all those we lost in Surfside, the harsh reality is that untold numbers of aging condos just like Champlain Towers South, may face similar structural safety problems. In the months and years ahead, countless Florida residents may be living in an unfolding tragedy — and not even know about it, or have the tools to stop it,” Wasserman Schultz said. “This legislation that Congressman Charlie Crist is leading will take meaningful steps to help prevent that from ever happening again by helping make it easier for condo owners to afford special assessments when costly structural and safety repairs arise.”

On this day

May 3, 1901 — “Jacksonville burns to the ground” via Florida History Network — Sparks from a chimney near a downtown mattress factory landed on pallets of Spanish moss intended for use as stuffing in pillows and cushions. Embers from the burning moss quickly ignited the factory, and fierce winds spread the fire to nearby homes and businesses. Over eight hours, the blaze consumed 2,361 buildings in 146 square blocks and killed seven people. The fire destroyed every public building except the federal building. Nearly all real estate records were destroyed, along with 23 churches and 10 hotels. Some 10,000 residents were left homeless, and Gov. William Jennings quickly declared martial law and activated the state militia.

May 3, 2001 — “U.S. excluded from U.N. Human Rights panel” via The New York Times — In a move that reflected growing frustration with America’s attitude toward international organizations and treaties, the United States was voted off the United Nations Human Rights Commission for the first time since the panel’s founding under American leadership in 1947. The ouster of the United States from the commission, while it chose nations like Sudan and Pakistan for membership, was certain to generate further hostility to the United Nations among conservatives in Washington. Some friends of the United States apparently supported the unexpected move, which came in a secret vote.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Anne Geggis and Kelly Hayes.

Staff Reports



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