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In it together
As Hurricane Ian tracks directly toward the Florida mainland, state and federal authorities cooperated in preparing for both the storm and aftermath that increasingly appears inevitable.
President Joe Biden has already approved a state of emergency for much of Florida. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced federal aid has been made available to supplement state, tribe and local resources spent preparing for the storm since Friday, Sept. 23. The authorization covers 24 counties included in an initial emergency declaration from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has since expanded his own executive order to cover the entire state.
Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott sent a letter to Biden on behalf of the Florida delegation calling for swift support from the administration. “Ensuring that the state has access to the federal resources it needs is imperative to protecting Floridians, property, and our communities,” the letter read. “The storm’s track and expected intensity could make it a major hurricane prior to an anticipated landfall.”
DeSantis said he appreciated the rapid initial authorization by the President, signaling lockstep between the state and federal administrations. FEMA authorization ahead of the storm also covers the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Reimbursements are expected in the wake of Ian’s landfall.
The National Hurricane Center forecasts signal a growing likelihood Ian will make landfall on Florida’s West Coast as a major Category 3 hurricane. The Dry Tortugas could feel that impact as soon as today, while mainland Florida should brace for the storm to make landfall sometime Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. In the meantime, meteorologists predict life-threatening storm surge, with threats especially potent between Tampa Bay and Fort Myers.
So, what federal resources will be available to Florida once Ian strikes? Plenty.
FEMA is pre-positioning supplies and personnel in Florida and Alabama who will be dispatched to storm-struck areas as soon as possible. Supplies being staged at Maxwell Airforce Base include 3.5 million liters of water and 3.6 million meals. Supplies in Alabama include more than a million liters of water, 480,000 meals and 7,200 cots.
The federal agency has 4,000 reservists waiting to be deployed, and another 7,500 designated Surge Capacity Force members to dispatch if needed. Response coordination centers have been activated in Washington and Atlanta to coordinate FEMA resources, including three Incident Management Teams in waiting at the Georgia center. FEMA also has an Urban Search and Rescue Team at the ready in Florida, as well as two Incident Support Teams, one already in Florida and one in Alabama. Florida also activated 2,500 National Guard members to support state response.
The Army Corps of Engineers also plans to have a power restoration team in place at Craig Field outside Selma, Alabama, which will have 117 power generators staged.
Additional fuel supplies are being amassed at Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia.
The Health and Human Services Department deployed a National Disaster Medical System into Florida, along with two health and medical task forces. FEMA also activated a contract for 52 ambulances and 100 paratransit seats, which will all be staged at the Orange County Convention Center.
While Florida deals with one incoming hurricane, many leaders with ties to Puerto Rico remain concerned about the aftermath of another. Rep. Val Demings, the Democratic candidate for Senate, traveled this weekend to the island leading a congressional group to oversee recovery from Hurricane Fiona. She was joined on the island with, among others, Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto, whose Central Florida district has a high concentration of Puerto Rican transplants.
“Rescue and recovery teams are continuing to work,” she tweeted from the ground. “We’re going to fight for families and communities in Puerto Rico to get everything they need to rebuild after Fiona. I’m on the ground leading a congressional oversight mission to make sure of it.”
Upon returning to the mainland, Demings also held a roundtable with diaspora leaders on the island’s resiliency. She held the gathering with state Sen. Victor Torres, an Orlando Democrat, and Padre Jose Rodriguez at Iglesia Episcopal Jesús de Nazaret in Orlando. That meeting took place on the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria striking Puerto Rico, a disaster from which the U.S. territory is still recovering.
UPDATE from Puerto Rico – rescue and recovery teams are continuing to work. We’re going to fight for families and communities in Puerto Rico to get everything they need to rebuild after Fiona. I’m on the ground leading a congressional oversight mission to make sure of it. pic.twitter.com/HG3QQDpyhP
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) September 25, 2022
Key West renovation
The Coast Guard budget just advanced out of the Senate Commerce Committee includes several measures passed by Scott that impact bases in Florida and activities around the coast.
That includes an upgrade to family quarters for Coast Guard troops stationed in Key West. But budget measures also will improve military capability in the Caribbean region including preparation for conflict with Cuba.
“Florida plays an important role in America’s national defense and security, and as a member of the Commerce Committee, I’ve been proud to fight for major investments in our Coast Guard over the past four years,” Scott said.
Other Scott priorities made it into the budget that will affect Coast Guard operations overall.
“I am especially proud of the work we have done in this year’s authorization to improve enlisted families’ living quarters, combat foreign threats like Communist China and expand drug interdiction efforts to keep our communities safe from deadly drugs, like fentanyl. As our country continues to face serious threats at and beyond our borders, The U.S. Coast Guard stands ready to protect our nation, and the (Coast Guard Authorization Act) will ensure these brave men and women are equipped to win any battle that comes before them.”
Is the keto craze seizing the Senate?
Rubio told a popular Spanish language podcast Somos Los Pichy Boys that he’s at least tried the diet, though being surrounded in Miami by Cuban bakeries does nothing good for his nutritious discipline.
“I cut the bread. I started with keto,” he said in Spanish. “But I went crazy because after two weeks. You can’t eat anything with sugar, nothing with bread. But now when they give me a Cuban sandwich, they take the bread off the top. So, I don’t do that anymore.”
Who are they? A hankering for the menu at Pinecrest Bakery appears to be what did Rubio’s journey to weight loss in. The Senator said his need to frequent the Miami establishment outweighed his desire to live the keto life.
“Why would I pay Pinecrest Bakery $10 to be charged for a ham and cheese sandwich, without the bread?” he said.
Some might ask if a true keto devotee would walk into any bakery at all. But Rubio won’t live life that way. “I still shop at Pinecrest Bakery,” he said, “because it saves me time.”
The gun lobby has raised millions for Rubio, so his Democratic opponent, Demings, is enlisting high-profile gun control advocates to target donations for her bid to replace him.
Following Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime, was killed in Florida’s worst school shooting, Demings has brought on David Hogg for email appeals that go to her distribution list. Hogg famously filmed himself with his classmates while in lockdown during the killer’s deadly rampage through Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
“While Marco Rubio has spent his career cozying up to the gun lobby, Demings has seen the horrors of gun violence up close,” Hogg’s email reads. “As a police officer and chief, she stood with families at scenes where mothers, fathers, sons, daughters — too many cherished loved ones — were killed by a gun. That’s why she passed legislation to end gun violence and save lives when she got to Congress.”
Using numbers that come from the nonprofit Brady: United Against Gun Violence, Hogg says Rubio has taken $3.3 million from the gun lobby in his career. It comes out to $1.05 in donations for every Florida high school student.
“That’s the price of student lives for Rubio, as he continues to block any progress on gun safety reform,” Hogg said.
Rubio’s campaign, in the past, has dismissed critics of their stance on guns as “hyperpartisan gun control advocates.”
Border Patrol needs greater authority to completely shut immigration down, according to Gainesville Republican Kat Cammack. The Congresswoman introduced legislation that would grant the Homeland Security Secretary explicit authority to completely prevent the entry of migrants under several circumstances, including a pandemic, the collapse of a Western Hemisphere government, a foreign terror threat or simply a surge in apprehensions at the border.
All of those occurred over the first two years of Cammack’s time in Congress.
“Over the last 21 months, we’ve experienced a national security, humanitarian and public health crisis at the southern border,” she said. “Joe Biden refuses to act on the crisis that he created, (Vice President) Kamala Harris has not visited the border as the so-called ‘Border Czar,’ and DHS Sec. (Alejandro) Mayorkas believes there’s no crisis occurring in the first place. This bill holds the Secretary accountable by providing him with the authority to shut down the border to protect our national security and deliver relief to the hundreds of CBP agents who are doing their best to hold the line in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.”
Under the Justified Action for Securing Our Nation (JASON) Act, Homeland Security would need to provide documentation to Congressional leadership if the decision to shut down migration was made. But the authority would allow for immediate action.
“Our Border Patrol agents are facing an unprecedented crisis at the southern border with almost 3.6 million encounters and over 900,000 known ‘got-aways’ since this administration took office,” said National Border Patrol Council (NBPC) President Brandon Judd. “Narco-terrorist cartels have taken advantage of the situation and ramped up their drug and human smuggling efforts. This has to end. I thank Rep. Cammack for working with Border Patrol agents and understanding the situation we face.”
Cammack said the bill’s anagram, JASON, honors a Border Agent who laid out the policy desires of those enforcing security to her.
On the beat
Legislation allowing small investments in police forces of less than 125 members passed this week in the House. Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford, who introduced the Invest to Protect Act (HR 6448) with New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer, celebrated the bill’s passage in the lower chamber.
“Attacks against law enforcement over the last two and a half years have left officers demoralized, causing them to leave the profession in droves,” said Rutherford, a former Jacksonville Sheriff. “I am pleased that the House passed the Invest to Protect Act, which will provide small police departments with the resources they need to hire and retain the best officers, provide necessary training, and improve officer well-being. It has been an honor to work with Rep. Gottheimer on this bipartisan bill that will make an impact on smaller communities.”
The bill saw broad bipartisan support, passing 360-64. Of note, the bulk of “no” votes came from Republicans, including Cammack, Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast. Its passage came with a number of sometimes-pricey law enforcement bills taken up by the House last week.
Rutherford noted small departments make up 96% of local police agencies in the country and said the grant process established by the bill will help with recruitment, training and mental health resources for officers.
Republicans in the delegation banded together to protect the Gulf of Mexico from drilling on military grounds. The Preserving the Gulf Test Range to Ensure Military Readiness Act was introduced by Rubio in the Senate and St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz in the House.
If it becomes law, the bill will prevent energy exploration and development that could jeopardize the Gulf Test Range, where military exercises are conducted.
“The Gulf Test Range is an irreplaceable national asset for our country’s defense infrastructure,” Waltz said. “The Department of Defense uses this area to test and develop our military’s weapons, such as hypersonic missiles, and advance our military’s capabilities in the air and on water. As our adversaries, like China, spend billions of dollars to modernize and build up their military capabilities, leasing water just off the coast of Florida for energy development would greatly hinder our country’s readiness and ability to deter military aggression.”
Former President Donald Trump used authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to stop drilling off Florida’s shore, but a provision of a recent energy bill passed in the Democratic House strips some protections out, at least regarding the construction of wind turbines.
The legislation from Waltz and Rubio would prohibit all energy exploitation, both drilling and erecting windmills.
“Any form of energy exploration or development in this critical area would jeopardize our national security and undermine our military readiness,” Rubio said. “Protecting Florida’s unique coasts and vital military assets has long been a priority of mine. We made great progress during the Trump administration, but Democrats undid our good work. This bill would restore protection to Florida’s Eastern Gulf of Mexico.”
Every Republican in the delegation signed on except two, Vern Buchanan and Greg Steube, both of whom represent Gulf Coast districts in Southwest Florida.
One of the nation’s most prominent fiscal conservatives offered his imprimatur to a tax bill filed by Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, applauded the Congressman’s bill to make tax cuts passed under Trump permanent.
“This bill makes it clear that protecting the pro-growth tax cuts passed in 2017 remains a top priority for Republicans when they take back Congress,” Norquist said.
The bill would make provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that are set to expire in 2025 and permanently codify them in federal law.
“The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act delivered the strongest economy America had seen before Democrats took power, raised taxes, and drove the economy into the ground,” Norquist said. “Making TCJA permanent will lock in low taxes for American families of every income level and small businesses suffering through the highest levels of inflation in 40 years. The TCJA Permanency Act will help right the ship and get the American economy growing again.”
More than two years into the pandemic, a member of the delegation is more openly questioning vaccines. Steube, a Sarasota Republican, led a letter co-signed by Texas Republican Michael Cloud and Wisconsin Republican Tom Tiffany demanding the Food and Drug Administration further disclose Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting data.
“Since the COVID-19 vaccine received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), VAERS has received over 1.4 million reports of adverse events following the administration of the vaccine,” the letter reads. “If an adverse reaction to a vaccine is identified through VAERS, scientists at the FDA should perform further tests to determine if the vaccine presents an actual risk to public health.”
The Congressman has pushed against mandates for vaccines and in May argued against authorizing shots for children under six months old.
Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch already gave a farewell address on the House floor before his post-midterm retirement. He also took the occasion of chairing a Foreign Affairs Subcommittee for the last time to discuss world affairs specifically. He Chairs the House Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism, a weighty responsibility he wants his successors to recognize.
He also suggested the alliance between the U.S. and Israel to be as crucial as ever, and that America needs to build influence within the Middle East.
“It is clear that these strengthened ties have ushered in a new era of opportunity for regional security cooperation, especially as the U.S., Israel, and our Arab partners in the Middle East share a common adversary in Iran,” Deutch said.
“Iran has made its intentions to destabilize the region and wipe Israel off the map clear since before I came to Congress. When I arrived here, we were negotiating the toughest sanctions ever imposed on Iran. That was more than a decade ago. … To this day, Iran remains the largest state sponsor of terrorism.
“As Israel’s relationships in the region grow, so, too, do the opportunities for this crucial security coordination.”
Two delegation members representing large Haitian populations want the administration to stop all deportations back to Haiti now.
Miramar Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick and Hollywood Democrat Frederica Wilson sent a letter to Biden and Mayorkas calling for an extension of Temporary Protective Status for all Haitian migrants and a moratorium on sending any home until the government and community in the island nation see stabilization.
“Given the deteriorating conditions in Haiti and the fast-approaching February 2023 expiration of TPS for Haitians, I’m urging President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas to extend and redesignate TPS for Haitians,” Wilson said. “The extraordinary challenges that prompted Haiti’s original TPS designation persist, and we must continue to provide these protections and other forms of Assistance, including for those who arrived after July 29, 2021.”
While existing TPS doesn’t cover those arriving past that date, the deadline came mere weeks after the assassination last year of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.
Cherfilus-McCormick suggested the situation within Haiti’s government has grown more unstable in the intervening months.
“Due to failed leadership by the de facto government of Dr. Ariel Henry, the people of Haiti are being terrorized, raped, murdered, and kidnapped daily by emboldened gangs financed and supported by powerful elites,” she said.
“Over the past several months, the pervasive insecurity has resulted in massive protests against the government’s complicity and failures to protect citizens. As evidenced, the insecurity crisis in the Republic of Haiti is dire. For these reasons, President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas have a legal and moral obligation to extend and redesignate TPS for Haitians. It would be unconscionable to send anyone back to Haiti at this time.”
Co-signatories to the letter include Florida Democrats Kathy Castor, Al Lawson, Soto and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
On this day
Sept. 27, 1779 — “John Adams appointed to negotiate peace terms with British” via History.com — The Continental Congress appointed Adams to travel to France as minister plenipotentiary in charge of negotiating treaties of peace and commerce with Great Britain during the Revolutionary War. Adams had traveled to Paris in 1778 to negotiate an alliance with France but had been unceremoniously dismissed when Congress chose Benjamin Franklin as sole commissioner. Soon after returning to Massachusetts in mid-1779, Adams was elected as a delegate to the state convention to draw up a new constitution; he was involved in these duties when he learned of his new diplomatic commission.
Sept. 27, 1964 — “Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, says Warren Commission” via The New York Times — The Commission released its 888-page report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. It dismissed any conspiracy theories, concluding that Oswald had acted alone in shooting Kennedy and Texas Gov. John Connally and that Jack Ruby acted alone in killing Oswald days later. Why did Oswald do it? To this most important and most mysterious question, the Commission had no certain answer. It suggested that Oswald had no rational purpose, no motive adequate if “judged by the standards of reasonable men.” The Commission dismissed the possibility of a second shooter positioned in front of Kennedy on the so-called “grassy knoll.”
Best wishes to Rep. Wasserman Schultz, who turns 56 today, Sept. 27.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol, with contributions by Anne Geggis.