Delegation for 5.10.22: Ministry of Truth — drilling — drug war — aging

U.S. Capitol -- Dome and Flag Closeup
The delegation gets Orwellian.

Disinformation discontent

Few initiatives sparked so much partisan skepticism about President Joe Biden’s administration as the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Disinformation Governance Board. Last week, Rep. Scott Franklin, a Lakeland Republican, rallied opposition from 170 GOP House members, including all 16 House Republicans from Florida, seeking justification for the existence of such an agency.

“The creation of this Disinformation Governance Board is an alarming attempt by the Biden administration to use the Department as a political tool,” Franklin said. “DHS has no business determining what is and is not disinformation. This ‘Ministry of Truth’ will undermine the public’s confidence in the Department’s mission to protect the homeland and will tarnish its reputation. This is especially concerning as Americans continue to suffer a drug epidemic and have safety concerns with DHS’s failure to properly secure our border.”

The Ministry of Truth, a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, alludes to a federal agency tasked with propaganda, and many on the Right fear an agency outwardly committed to blocking an influx of intentionally incorrect information through foreign meddling will, in fact, serve to quash dissent in the Midterms.

The GOP’s biggest fear?

For the administration’s part, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki last week repeatedly pushed back at characterizations of the panel as a check on legitimate speech.

“Let me be clear on exactly what this Board does or what the work they are doing does,” she said. “In their announcement, which is publicly available on the Department of Homeland Security website for anyone to read it, says: ‘The primary mission is to establish the best practices to ensure that efforts to understand and respond to disinformation are done in ways that protect privacy, civil rights and civil liberties and the right to free speech.’”

She said the work builds off some efforts that began under the previous administration of Republican President Donald Trump and defended against allegations that its membership would try to censor information hurtful to Biden politically.

Sen. Rick Scott, a Naples Republican, has hammered DHS. During a media availability last week, he referenced instances of Biden officials labeling matters as disinformation, including the leak of contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive, which turned out to be legitimate.

“This isn’t about the truth,” Scott said. “This isn’t about protecting families. This is about your federal government deciding what truth is, and what speech is acceptable.”

Last week, Rep. Kat Cammack, a Gainesville Republican, joined in introducing the Protecting Free Speech Act, introduced by Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert. That legislation would terminate the Board immediately.

“As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, I’m deeply concerned about DHS’ efforts to establish this Disinformation Governance Board,” Cammack said. “Americans’ First Amendment right to free speech is foundational, and any attempts by the federal government to declare what is right and wrong is deeply concerning. Such censorship should be stopped before it goes any further.”

Sen. Marco Rubio introduced a similar bill in the Senate with Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. Rubio also leaned into Orwellian terminology in announcing the bill, which would defund the board.

“The Biden administration’s new ‘Ministry of Truth’ is dangerously authoritarian,” the Miami Republican said. “Labeling speech as ‘disinformation’ is the first step for federal censorship and the end of the First Amendment. It has to be defunded.”

Drill, baby, drill

If Republicans retake the Senate, Rubio said there could be a better chance for oil companies to expand exploration.

He spoke with Fox News host and former Congressman Trey Gowdy on a Sunday broadcast about what a GOP majority in Congress could do even with Democratic President Biden in the Oval Office. Florida’s senior Senator offered the scenario as a positive should his party reap success in November, when he is among those members up for re-election.

“What are some of the things we can begin to do? Diversify our supply chains, do things that will encourage more to be made in America if possible, or closer to America, so we don’t depend as much on China,” he said.

But he spoke explicitly about energy and suggested too many regulations hindered companies’ ability to mine commodities.

“Get rid of these rules — through legislation, and maybe even through this procedure that we now have to overturn executive orders and rule-making — that have made it so difficult for American oil and natural gas to expand and allow some of that domestic supply to begin to grow,” Rubio said.

He didn’t make clear which regulations or rules he referenced regarding oil and natural gas. For example, there is a prohibition on drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, but that’s not likely something the Florida Senator wants to be lifted. He filed legislation last year specifically seeking to enshrine that limitation into statute.

But there is clearly room for more drilling and fracking — somewhere — that Rubio made clear a Republican majority will make it happen.

To watch the Fox segment, click on the image below:

War on drugs

According to Scott, it’s been more than a dozen years since a drug czar was reporting to the President, but an opioid crisis shows there is still a need for one. The Naples Republican sent Biden a letter calling to reinstate the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director to the Cabinet.

“With more than 100,000 Americans dying last year from opioid overdoses, it is time the ONDCP Director be elevated back to a Cabinet-level position,” Scott wrote. Given the unique role of the ONDCP to assess threats both domestically and internationally, the ONDCP Director should lead the National Strategy on combating this epidemic. Returning the Director to the Cabinet would help improve information sharing and coordination between departments that is already required by law and allow the ONDCP to have better oversight of the National Drug Control Budget.”

Rick Scott urges the continuation of ‘drug czar.’

Scott noted the position held a spot at Cabinet meetings from 1993 through 2009 but was eliminated under President Barack Obama when Biden served as Vice President.

He argued that an increase in illegal activity at the border, which Scott asserted will bring an increase in drug trafficking, warrants a change. Scott also said the surfacing of fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid that has become the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 45, merits a more significant role in counter-narcotic action.

“Your administration has shown a shocking lack of will to stop this flow of dangerous drugs, and the traffickers who bring them into our communities,” Scott wrote. “You have a duty to the American people — not the illegal aliens that are flagrantly ignoring U.S. law and trafficking children and drugs and committing crimes.”

Forbes fears

The purchase of an American media company by an international firm with ties to China has a member of the delegation concerned and perplexed. Michael Waltz sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen seeking more information on the merger of Forbes with Magnum Opus.

“In recent years, there has been clear market manipulation of U.S. companies and entities with economic ties to the Chinese Communist Party,” the St. Augustine Beach Republican said. “This includes CCP’s censorship of Disney-owned programs that do not align with the CCP’s ideology and financially punishing the National Basketball Association when players or personnel speak out in protest of ongoing CCP atrocities. I fear the CCP has begun taking actions to influence U.S. media companies that serve as a key pillar to our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.”

Keep an eye on China, Michael Waltz warns Janet Yellen.

He noted the first Securities Exchange Commission filing on the deal came days after the Chinese Investment Corporation provided Magnum Opus with seed money.

“Given these disclosures, I have grave concerns regarding the beneficial ownership of a major U.S. media company by the CCP and their ability to interfere in business operations of Forbes should this acquisition be approved,” Waltz said.

“For years, Forbes has been a beacon of reporting on capitalism, democracy, and international affairs in the free press. I fear that if a precedent is set to allow Chinese companies to acquire U.S. media entities, it will provide the CCP platforms to spread propaganda through U.S. media.”

Dinging Demings

Orlando Democrat Val Demings, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, faces an ethics complaint about mixing political business and policy work.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust dinged Demings for doubling up deliberations in the House Judiciary Committee and a less-than-urgent Zoom call with Democrats in Duval County.

“Not only was this incident an embarrassing moment for (Demings) and for the House, but a serious rules violation appears to be present as well,” tut-tutted the right-of-center whistleblowers.

Val Demings faces some ethics trouble. Image via AP.

In early April, Demings participated in a Zoom call with the Duval County Democratic Black Caucus, a call made from a car, most likely from Washington.

It was soon clear why Demings was in such awkward circumstances; she was also participating remotely in a committee hearing, as reported at the time.

Demings bashed Rubio as “somebody who picks winners or losers,” Demings said, her statement seemingly interrupted as she cast a vote on a different phone line. “I’m running against somebody who doesn’t show up for work.”

Bipartisan Bilirakis

Every two years, the Richard Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy crunch numbers on congressional bill sponsorships and co-sponsorships to judge which members are most bipartisan in action — and Gus Bilirakis consistently ranks high.

In the latest Lugar Center-McCourt School of Bipartisan Index, covering the work of the 117th Congress, the Tarpon Springs Republican topped Florida’s delegation for the second straight time.

Gus Bilirakis gets props for his work across the aisle.

His bipartisan score in the Lugar-McCourt index of 0.977 ranks him as the House’s 27th most bipartisan member out of the 434 members assessed. Bilirakis also was 27th last time the index came out and 45th the time before that. He has yet to make the top 10 but stays within or close to the House’s top 10% regarding bipartisan legislative action.

The latest index ranked Bilirakis ahead of Republican Vern Buchanan, who placed 32nd; Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy, 33rd; Democrat Darren Soto, 38th; and Republican María Elvira Salazar, 41st.

“Fundamentally, I believe most Americans want their elected officials to work together to do what’s right for our country. They expect their leaders to have courage of conviction but have also grown weary of the grandstanding and petty bickering that too often characterizes contemporary politics. They want results,” Bilirakis said. “The key to delivering those results is to stand firm in one’s beliefs while developing relationships with colleagues, treating everyone with civility, and finding areas of agreement about how to improve the lives of those we serve. “

According to the latest index, Florida’s least bipartisan members are Democrat Frederica Wilson, whose score of -1.427 ranked her 393rd, followed by Republican Greg Steube, 388th; Republican Matt Gaetz, 380th; Republican Franklin, 361st; and Republican Byron Donalds, 336th.

In between Salazar and Donalds — the middle of Florida’s pack — were Republican John Rutherford, 45th; Republican Waltz, 62nd; Democrat Charlie Crist, 68th; Republican Mario Díaz-Balart, 130th; Democrat Lois Frankel, 131st; Democrat Al Lawson, 142nd; Republican Cammack, 143rd; Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, 174th; Democrat Kathy Castor, 176th; Republican Neal Dunn, 181st; Democrat Demings, 185th; Democrat Bill Posey, 197th; Democrat Ted Deutch, 237th; Republican Daniel Webster, 275th; Republican Brian Mast, 279th; and Republican Carlos Giménez, 312th.

Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, who just took office in January, was omitted.

Of the 98 Senators ranked, Rubio rated 23rd in the Lugar-McCourt index, while Scott was ranked as the Senate’s 95th most bipartisan member.

Who has moved the most in scoring?

Comparisons of the previous 116th Congress index and the current 117th Congress index show Mast slipped the farthest away from bipartisanship, falling 226 places from a 53rd ranking last time, to the 279th spot this time. Steube fell 162 places; Deutch fell 87; Gaetz fell 53, and Soto fell seven.

Compared to two years ago, most Florida members improved their bipartisan standing in the Lugar-McCourt bipartisan index. Dunn moved up the most, rising 168 notches. He was followed by Wasserman Schultz, who moved up 102 spots. Frankel climbed 101 spots. Lawson ascended 80 spots. Demings rose 75 places.

Aging in place

The cost of upgrading homes can stand in the way of many seniors staying in the houses where they lived for years. St. Petersburg Democrat Crist would like to change that through federal legislation. He and New York Democrat Thomas Suozzi just introduced the Home Modification for Accessibility Act, which would provide tax incentives for home modifications that allow seniors to age more easily in place.

“Given the option, the vast majority of seniors and people with disabilities want to stay in their own home for as long as possible. It’s more comfortable, less costly, and improves quality of life,” Crist said. “Unfortunately, many homes lack accessibility upgrades to make this a reality for seniors on fixed incomes and people with disabilities. That’s why I introduced the Home Modification for Accessibility Act — to provide tax incentives so that more Floridians have the option to live and age safely in their own home. It’s the right thing to do.”

Charlie Crist wants to make homes more convenient for seniors.

AARP reports that 90% of those aged 65 and older would rather stay in their own homes than downsize or find more accessible places to live, like assisted living homes or nursing homes. It’s also cheaper to stay put, as nursing homes can cost $6,000 to $8,000 per month.

The legislation would offset the costs of improving homes through a penalty-free early retirement withdrawal and lifetime tax deduction of up to $30,000.

Crist notes this will also ensure construction and contracting jobs in Florida. That has industry voices sounding support for the bill.

“This bill will help correct a fundamental injustice in American life. While we’re living longer and health care is increasingly conducted at home, the country’s housing stock is not meeting our daily and safety needs,” said Louis Tenenbaum, founder and president of HomesRenewed Coalition.

“Incentives outlined in this bill will encourage people to demand building and renovation designs that support aging in place with joy, dignity and independence,” Tenenbaum added. “Over time, these features will become the norm, benefiting individuals, families, the health care system, and our economy.”

Check washing

A rash of check washing reports in South Florida prompted Miami Republican Salazar to call for an investigation by the U.S. Postal Service. On Monday, she sent a letter to Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale seeking answers.

“At a time when every penny matters to the hardworking residents of my district, it is unacceptable that while check washing is on the rise in Miami, USPS does not seem to be taking these cases seriously,” Salazar said. “My constituents are desperate for answers and have received little to no response from the principal law enforcement branch of the USPS. That needs to change immediately.”

The washed-out check is not in the mail.

Check washing involves pilfering signed checks, usually swiping from mailboxes with bills for postal pickup, and then washing off the original ink. Thieves can then sign checks from the victim’s account for other purposes. Postal inspectors recover an estimated $1 billion in counterfeit checks and money orders each year.

Salazar wants data on whether the authorities are witnessing an uptick in illegal activity and to know what actions have been taken to combat this fraud.

Federal ‘Don’t Say Gay’?

Controversial legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by critics sparked a rift between Florida Republicans and a high-profile employer. Now, federal Representatives in the delegation want in on the fight.

After introducing a federal bill similar to Florida’s “parental rights” bill, Republicans Giménez, Posey, Steube and Webster all signed on as introducing co-sponsors.

“Parents have the fundamental responsibility and right to care for, raise and educate their children,” Webster said. “I have fought to empower mothers and fathers to have a voice in their child’s education and upbringing. I will continue to strongly support every parent’s right to determine the best educational curriculum, learning path, and school to meet their children’s needs without government interference. This bill reinstates authority where it rightfully belongs — with parents.”

A federal ‘Don’t Say Gay?’ It’s in the works. Image via AP.

Somewhat different from the Florida law, this bill would only allow the inclusion of instruction on sexual orientation, gender identity or transgender studies if most parents in a class permitted it. That’s a rule that would apply to all grade levels.

“Parents have had enough. Schools have no place indoctrinating our children about gender identity, sexual orientation, and transgenderism,” Steube said. “It should have never started in the first place, but since these teachings are becoming increasingly prevalent in schools across America, I’m glad to co-sponsor legislation that will withhold federal funds from any school who tries to override parental rights by teaching these topics without permission.”

Return to the hill

GrayRobinson announced a former delegation member is joining its Government Affairs and Lobbying Team.

Former Rep. Tom Feeney served the Oviedo area in Congress from 2003 to 2009. The former Florida House Speaker has been the President and CEO of the Associated Industries of Florida for the past decade. Before that, he served as a senior visiting fellow for The Heritage Foundation.

“Tom is a seasoned advocate who has been deeply rooted in Florida’s government, legal, and business community for decades. His connections and ability to coordinate on the local, state, and federal levels with our team in D.C. will help further our client’s business objectives. I’m excited to welcome a third former Florida House Speaker to our team,” said GrayRobinson President and CEO Dean Cannon.

Tom Feeney is the latest blockbuster hire for GrayRobinson.

In his new position as Of Counsel in GrayRobinson’s Washington office, Feeney will primarily focus on federal government advocacy, specializing in various areas, including financial services, intellectual property and copyright, defense and aerospace, transportation, economic development and tax policy. He will also focus on state and local government affairs and maintain a Florida-based legal practice.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with a firm like GrayRobinson that is embedded in the fabric of every community it serves from a civic, business, political, and social perspective,” Feeney said. “Both Florida and Washington have been my home for many years, and I look forward to collaborating with my new colleagues to create new possibilities across service lines at all levels of government.

On this day

May 10, 1775 — “The Second Continental Congress Convenes” via the Americana Corner — The Congress convened in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia soon after “the shot heard round the world” was fired at the battles of Lexington and Concord. None of the delegates knew it at the time, but John Adams was to dominate the proceedings for much of the next two years. When Adams and the other American leaders met, a state of war essentially existed between England and her American colonies. Following the fight at Concord, colonial militiamen flocked to Boston to join the forces already besieging the British. By the end of May, there were about 16,000 Americans surrounding the city.

May 10, 1924 — “J. Edgar Hoover begins his 48-year tenure as FBI director” via History.com — This began his 48-year tenure in power, during which time he personally shaped American criminal justice in the 20th century. Hoover first became involved in law enforcement as a special assistant to the Attorney General, overseeing the mass roundups and deportations of suspected communists during the Red Scare abuses of the late 1910s. After taking over the FBI in 1924, Hoover began secretly monitoring activities that did not conform to his American ideal. Hoover approved of illegally infiltrating and spying on the American Civil Liberties Union. His spies could be found throughout the government, even in the Supreme Court.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Ted Deutch, who turned 56 on Saturday, May 7, and Rep. Vern Buchanan, who turned 71 on Sunday, May 8.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by A.G. Gancarski, Scott Powers and Drew Wilson.

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