Delegation for 5.20.22: Appeasement — aliens? — Puerto Rico — Hatchett honor — oil prices

Imprint of the U.S. Capitol building on a dollar bill banknote
The Florida delegation bristles at the thought of appeasement.

Appeasement?

A decision by President Joe Biden to ease sanctions on Venezuela angered members of the Florida delegation. The news broke shortly after word Biden would restore normalization efforts with Cuba.

It prompted even more fuming.

“Joe Biden’s appeasement of brutal dictators is disgusting and undermines America’s national security and commitment to protecting democracy around the world,” said Republican Sen. Rick Scott.

Nicolás Maduro is a brutal dictator who is committing genocide against his citizens and depriving them of democracy. Yet, just one day after easing sanctions on the murderous and illegitimate communist regime in Cuba, President Biden has decided to further abandon democracy in Latin America by easing sanctions on Maduro and his evil thugs while getting nothing in return. No commitment to democracy. No commitment to freeing political prisoners or the remaining U.S. citizens being unjustly imprisoned by Maduro’s regime. It’s absolutely unconscionable.”

Appeasing Nicolás Maduro? Republicans (and some Democrats) are up in arms.

Scott pushed Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in a Senate hearing Thursday to confirm that “the United States will not be importing any oil from Iran or Venezuela.” But he remained angry at any opening of talks.

“The only thing the Biden administration should discuss with the regime is when Maduro will step down,” Scott said.

But it’s not just Republicans publicly speaking out about the issue.

Rep. Val Demings, the Democrat most likely to challenge incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio this year for his seat, issued a tweet criticizing the Maduro regime the same day news broke that Venezuela may see a softening in sanctions.

“Nicolás Maduro is a tyrant and a thug, no different than the criminals I spent 27 years putting behind bars,” Demings tweeted. “Easing sanctions on Venezuela only empowers Maduro and his cronies. We don’t support the Venezuelan people struggling for freedom and democracy by appeasing his murderous regime. We must focus on lowering the cost of gas for Florida families without giving comfort to dictators.”

I want to believe

By characterizing “unidentified flying objects” — or “unidentified aerial phenomena,” the preferred 21st-century term — as potential national security risks, they’re suddenly not only OK to talk about officially, but they’re also urgent.

That was the only sure conclusion from the first congressional hearing in more than 50 years to explore what were once called UFOs, now referred to as UAPs or, in some specific, clearer cases, UAVs (unidentified aerial vehicles).

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee spent 90 minutes in an open hearing Tuesday.

Scott Bray emphasizes the ‘U’ in UFO. Image via AP.

Lawmakers grilled Pentagon officials on what’s known, not known, why it’s known (or not), whether UAPs might be extraterrestrial, from China, or if they pose threats to America’s national security.

Answers from Ronald Moultrie, Defense Department undersecretary for intelligence and security, and Scott Bray, director of Navy intelligence and chair of the Navy’s UAP task force, were mostly: “We don’t know.”

For some questions, the Pentagon officials preferred to answer behind closed doors.

The China angle — evidence of advanced Chinese aerial and spying technologies — was a unifier of the subcommittee’s Republicans and Democrats.

Everyone thought it was important.

Demings, a subcommittee member, missed the unclassified, open hearing Tuesday. (Her office said she had a conflict with another committee’s concurrent hearing, which she chaired.) But Demings caught up with the behind-closed doors, classified briefing.

“As a former Chief of Police, there’s nothing I take more seriously than the safety and security of the American people,” Demings said. “We will always investigate any potential threat from our adversaries. The top goals of this investigation are seriousness, transparency, and national security. Just because something is unidentified doesn’t mean that it’s unidentifiable, and truth must always be a precondition to good policy.

“By treating this issue seriously, working with Pentagon experts, and empowering witnesses and hard evidence, we can find answers, ensure the integrity of American airspace, counter global threats, and keep Americans safe at home and abroad.”

That puts her in line (somewhat) with Rubio, her likely Senate election opponent in 2022. He serves as vice-chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Last year, Rubio pushed for the release of the unclassified Office of the Director of National Intelligence report on UAPs, which eventually led to Tuesday’s House hearing.

“I want us to take it seriously and have a process to take it seriously,” Rubio said in a 2021 CBS “60 Minutes” report. “I want us to have a process to analyze the data every time it comes in. That there be a place where this is cataloged and constantly analyzed until we get some answers. Maybe it has a very simple answer. Maybe it doesn’t.”

PR plebiscite

Statehood. Limited independence as a new sovereign nation with a special, contractual “free association” with the United States. Complete independence as a sovereign nation. Anything but “territorial” status.

That’s the opportunity — and choice — facing House Democrats, with leadership from Darren Soto of Kissimmee, who want to put before the people of Puerto Rico.

Soto, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón of Puerto Rico, and several other supporters of Puerto Rico unveiled an early “discussion” draft of a bill Thursday to reset Puerto Rico’s status.

The Puerto Rico Status Act would commit Congress to accept the outcome of a plebiscite election — or two, if a runoff is necessary to get a majority with three choices — to move Puerto Rico away from the territorial status that has existed for more than a century.

Puerto Rico wants to be anything but a ‘territory.’

The bill differs from previous legislation that Soto and others have sponsored in the past few years because continuing the island’s territorial status is not an option, and because it commits Congress to begin processing whatever status is chosen by a vote on the island.

“Our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico will finally have the opportunity to make a federally binding choice on their future,” Soto said. “They deserve the chance to have their voices heard, have a clear path to vote for statehood or other options, and mark an end to their second-class citizenship.”

The bill has a long way to go. It hasn’t even been filed yet. Soto expressed confidence that the House would approve it. Yet it faces long odds in the Senate, led by widespread Republican opposition.

“We look forward to traveling back to Puerto Rico to hear from the people, and to work with my colleagues in a united fashion to pass this bill out of the House,” Soto said. “And we urge our Senate colleagues to do the same.”

The effort may yet face resistance in the Senate, where Republicans have long blocked any effort to grant statehood to the island.

But of note, both of Florida’s Republican Senators do support statehood. Rubio introduced legislation in March last year to move toward that goal. In February, Scott told the Puerto Rican news site El Nuevo Dia that the island would eventually become a state but said there’s not enough political support in the Senate.

Rubio acknowledged as much when he filed his bill last year. “I urge my Senate colleagues to keep an open mind and learn more about statehood before taking a firm position in opposition,” he said. “I will continue to do my part to one day achieve the 60 votes needed in the Senate for admission.”

Cybersecurity

Legislation from Rubio to protect small businesses from international hackers moved forward in the Senate this week. The Small Business Cyber Training Act of 2021 cleared the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

“As cyber threats from foreign adversaries continue to rise, it is extremely important to ensure our small businesses are protected,” Rubio said. “I am pleased that my bill was passed by the committee, and I am hopeful the full Senate will do the same soon.”

Marco Rubio wants businesses to stay cyber safe.

Rubio has championed the legislation since 2019. The bill would establish a training program for Small Business Development Centers, requiring the Small Business Administration to create a program training counselor to assist businesses in planning for online attacks. It would also require Small Business Development Centers to have five employees or 10% of their payroll, whichever is less, be certified in cyber strategy counseling. The federal government would reimburse the costs of certification.

Finally

It created a stir in Tallahassee when the House vote failed to fast-track the renaming of a Tallahassee courthouse for the Florida Supreme Court’s first Black Justice. But one of Tallahassee’s Representatives said he now supports the move, and he voted for the legislation when it came back to the floor this week.

“Today, I voted in favor of renaming the Tallahassee federal courthouse in honor of Judge Joseph Woodrow Hatchett and his many accomplishments,” said Tallahassee Republican Neal Dunn. “When we initially voted on this dedication, I felt the process with this bill was rushed and deserved more study. After reviewing the information for this designation, I wish we could have had an honest discussion and celebrated Judge Hatchett’s many achievements. He is a great Floridian and American and should be recognized as such.”

Joseph Woodrow Hatchett gets his due — finally.

In March, Georgia Republican Andrew Clyde scuttled Republican support shortly before it came to the floor by distributing news clippings about a controversial ruling that briefly disallowed student-led prayers at Florida graduation ceremonies. But Dunn said concerns about one written opinion shouldn’t overrule Hatchett’s lifetime of accomplishments.

“I take issue with his decision regarding student-approved prayers at high school graduations,” Dunn said. “However, that one decision must not overshadow all his achievements. Now that I’ve had time to learn more about Judge Hatchett, I am proud to support the renaming of this courthouse.”

Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson, who introduced the legislation, celebrated House passage but signaled he had not forgotten the slight.

“Judge Hatchett was a trailblazing American judge and veteran,” Lawson said. “He was a champion for social justice reform and a dedicated public servant. Despite experiencing racial discrimination, that never deterred his desire to serve in the justice system. He had a long career of prestigious judgeships, military service, and civil rights advocacy that broke barriers for the Black community.

“I was extremely disappointed in my Republican colleagues who voted against the measure when it was initially brought to the floor because they were misled on a 1990s Hatchett ruling about prayer at a public-school graduation. Judge Hatchett simply followed the precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

The bill passed on a voice vote.

Oily

Legislation aimed at stopping price gouging on oil (HR 7688) passed on a near-party-line 217-207 vote Thursday in the House. The bill included language introduced through an amendment from Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor and Demings requiring the Federal Trade Commission to investigate price manipulation.

“We cannot allow Big Oil CEOs to manipulate markets in order to make billions on the backs of struggling Americans by overcharging at the pump,” Castor said. “Our action today will help protect the pocketbooks of Americans by uncovering price gouging practices rooted in corporate greed, while also taking away the ability of oil and gas executives to profiteer during a time of crisis. This is a big priority for American families. And it’s one more way to lower energy costs for families as we transition to cleaner, cheaper renewables, which will lead to true American energy security and energy independence.”

Demings said Congress must make sure to prioritize consumers, not corporations.

Kathy Castor says the gas is too damn high.

“Families across Florida are worried about making ends meet while oil company CEOs boast about record profits,” Demings said. “According to Business Insider, five companies’ first quarter profits alone are equivalent to almost 28% of what Americans spent to fill up their gas tanks in the same time period.”

The legislation, however, saw no support from Republicans. It also saw four ‘no’ votes from Democrats, including Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy.

“Like my colleagues, I want to lower the price American families pay at the gas pump. Our constituents are hurting, and we want to make things better for them,” Murphy said. But this bill takes the wrong approach. The reason that gas prices are rising is demand exceeds supply, and so the way to bring down prices is to increase supply. If this bill becomes law, it could further reduce supply. At best, this bill is a distraction that won’t address the problem. At worst, it could make the problem more severe.

“As economist Larry Summers put it, this legislation ‘can cause and contrive all sorts of shortages.’ It’s well past time that Congress and the President take concrete action to lower inflation. A good place to start would be to immediately repeal the (Donald) Trump-era tariffs on a wide range of imported products and to pass a bipartisan version of the China competition bill, which has been pending in Congress for nearly a year and which — if enacted — will help curb inflation and unsnarl supply chains.”

Credit to veterans

On Wednesday, legislation allowing soldiers to transfer college credits more easily to institutions when they are reassigned passed in the House. The Veterans Eligible to Transfer School (VETS) Credit Act (HR 6604) cleared the chamber on a 412-1 vote.

“I’m pleased to see the U.S. House approve my bill, the VETS Credit Act, to ensure that no veteran loses access to the valuable G.I. bill credits they have earned and deserve by virtue of their service,” Rep. Vern Buchanan said. “I am hopeful the Senate will take up and pass this important bill in the coming months, bringing it one step closer to becoming law.”

Vern Buchanan wants to make schooling vets a little easier.

If signed, it will allow up to 12 credit hours covered by the G.I. Bill to shift from institution-to-institution midsemester. Only Alabama Republican Mo Brooks voted against the legislation.

No h8

Leaders in the delegation championed a bipartisan resolution condemning antisemitism that passed this week in an overwhelming 420-1 vote. Republican Mario Díaz-Balart and Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, along with Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider and New York Republican Lee Zeldin, went to the floor days after a fire destroyed the Chabad of Tallahassee.

“I am so proud that my colleagues united to condemn the rise in antisemitism by sending a powerful message that the U.S. House of Representatives will call out this ancient hatred,” Wasserman Schultz, herself a Jewish American, said. “It is fitting we share this message in May, as we celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month, by highlighting the vast achievements Jewish Americans have made to build our more perfect union. Critically, this resolution also commits Congress to take concrete steps to combat antisemitism and do more to ensure the safety, security and dignity of American Jews. Antisemitism, sadly, is not a relic of the past, but a clear and present danger today. Passage of today’s resolution is a critical step.”

The Tallahassee Chabad fire is just the latest act of antisemitism in the U.S. Image via Tallahassee Fire Department.

Díaz-Balart similarly cheered the vote.

“This resolution condemns and combats antisemitism in all its forms and ensures that the United States leads the global effort in educating on the history of antisemitism and its horrific consequences,” he said. “I commend my colleagues for their leadership on this crucial issue, and I am proud to stand alongside them, condemning antisemitism.”

Only Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie voted “no,” asserting “government can’t legislate thought.”

Hispanic outreach

Díaz-Balart just launched a new PAC dedicated to advancing Republican Hispanics running for Congress for the first time. The Hialeah Republican founded the Hispanic Leadership Trust with Texas Republican Tony Gonzales, which aims not only to aid campaigns but change the rhetoric of the Right, The Washington Post reports.

He told the national outlet Republicans have a chance to reach Latinos across the country if they bring the right message. He pointed to the success of fellow Miami-Dade Republicans Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar, who picked off Democratic incumbents in 2020.

Mario Díaz-Balart seeks Hispanic candidates.

“I think it’s important that this institution reflect the new reality. It’s not that Latinos have changed; it’s just that the Democratic Party first took them for granted, and (Latinos) are now running away from everything they believe,” he told the newspaper.

Particularly as self-described socialists like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grow in influence and stature, Diaz-Balart sees an opening with voters who know firsthand (or from family) what socialist governments are, in reality.

Giménez also spoke to the Post about the new effort and noted that Hispanic voters value social conservative principles founded on family and religious values. If the GOP communicates to Hispanics in respectful ways, voters will “continue to come to the Republican Party as long as we hold those values.”

Alzheimer’s alert

The Florida Alzheimer’s Association traveled to the Hill to meet with lawmakers to advocate investing in research and treatment. Supporters from the group met with delegation members, including a greeting with Scott in the Hart Senate Office Building and visits in House offices for Democrat Kathy Castor and Republicans John Rutherford and Greg Steube.

The group lobbied for legislation, including the Alzheimer’s Accountability and Investment Act and the reauthorization of the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, which would devote dollars to the cause. Beyond legislation earmarking money specifically for Alzheimer’s and dementia, the organization also supports a $226 million investment at the National Institutes of Health for research there.

Another legislative priority is the passage of the bipartisan Comprehensive Care for Alzheimer’s Act (HR 2517), which could streamline access to dementia care, and the Equity in Neuroscience and Alzheimer’s Clinical Trials (ENACT) Act (HR 3085), which would push for underrepresented populations to be included with greater frequency in clinical trials for treatment.

Matt Eaton, Florida Alzheimer’s Association spokesperson, noted that 580,000 Floridians have Alzheimer’s, expected to jump to 720,000 by 2025 based on population increases in older demographics. Moreover, supporting them are more than 800,000 caregivers supplying 1.3 billion hours of care valued at $21 billion. In short, it’s a critical issue throughout the state and one touching people regardless of party.

On this day

May 20, 1902 — “Republic of Cuba is born” via Britannica — A Republican administration that began under Estrada Palma was subject to heavy U.S. influence. Palma tried to keep power in the 1905 and 1906 elections, which were contested by the Liberals, leading to rebellion and a second U.S. occupation in September 1906. U.S. Secretary of War William Howard Taft did not resolve the dispute, and Palma resigned. The U.S. government then made Charles Magoon provisional Governor. An advisory commission revised electoral procedures, and in January 1909, Magoon handed over the government to the Liberal President, José Miguel Gómez. Meanwhile, Cuba’s economy grew steadily, and sugar prices rose continually until the 1920s.

May 20, 1862 — “Abraham Lincoln signs Homestead Act” via History.com — The law opened government-owned land to small family farmers (“homesteaders”). The act gave any head of a family 160 acres to try his hand at farming for five years. The individual had to be at least 21 years old and was needed to build a house on the property. Many homesteaders could not manage the hardships of frontier life and gave up before completing five years. If a homesteader quit or did not make a go of farming, their lands return to the government and offered to the public again. These properties often ended up as government land or in the hands of speculators.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Greg Steube, who turned 44 on Thursday, May 19.

___

Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Scott Powers.

Staff Reports



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