Delegation for 10.25.22: Helpers — wishful thinking — Navy vets — flight time

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Delegation Republicans are looking for answers on Cuban aid.

Helping Cuba? Or oppressors?

Three Miami Republicans are expressing concern over an apparent policy shift on disaster aid offered to Cuba. Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar are behind a letter to the Joe Biden administration seeking answers.

The letter, addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, questions the allocation of $2 million announced by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for shelter support after Hurricane Ian. The funding will come from an International Disaster Assistance (IDA) fund.

The administration made clear its intention to work around the communist government in Cuba.

Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar want answers on Cuban aid. Image via WLRN.

“The United States will work with trusted, independent organizations operating in the country who have a long presence in hurricane-affected communities,” reads a statement from State Department representative Ned Price. “We are currently reviewing applications from organizations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to provide this assistance.”

But Díaz-Balart, Giménez and Salazar questioned the sources of estimates on damage to the island. Those seemed to rely on official accounts that the storm damaged 68,370 homes, 15,705 of those completely or partially collapsed and another 17,866 left without roofs. The aid also will provide relief for an estimated 9,000 hectares of lost crops in Artemisa.

“Additionally, USAID stated that 43 sets of ‘firefighting equipment’ were provided to a training station in Havana, and an additional 57 sets will be delivered at an unspecified date,” the letter reads, raising some confusion over why fire damage would be covered. “According to reports, the Matanzas fire, the disaster for which IDA-funded firefighting equipment was provided, was extinguished by Aug. 9, 2022. USAID explained that the IDA-funded firefighting equipment would replenish supplies that were damaged in combating the Matanzas fire, as none of it would be delivered in time to address that disaster.”

The lawmakers also expressed dismay at the coupling of aid with a shift in deportation policy, one that seems inconsistent with remarks made by President Biden just last month. After Gov. Ron DeSantis flew Venezuelan refugees from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Biden said his administration would manage migrants fleeing oppressive regimes differently than those escaping economic conditions.

“What’s on my watch now is Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua,” Biden said in September. “And the ability to send them back to those states is not rational. You could send them back and have them — we’re working with Mexico and other countries to see if we can stop the flow. But that’s the difference.”

But now, the administration appears to be working with the Cuban government to return some nationals who fled the island and arrived in the U.S.

“The Cuban people endure severe oppression and egregious human rights abuses. Hundreds of activists, including children, remain imprisoned for daring to speak out against the regime,” the Miami Representatives wrote. “Certainly, the situation in Cuba has not improved in the intervening month since the President’s comment, especially in the wake of the devastation from Hurricane Ian that prompted the announcement of $2 million in humanitarian aid. In fact, returning Cuban nationals to Cuba at this time would seem to be even less ‘rational’ today.

“The malignant nature of the Cuban dictatorship has not changed in 60 years. Accordingly, we are concerned that the announced aid will benefit the Cuban dictatorship, which for decades has stolen from the Cuban people and deprived them of their most basic needs.”

The letter quotes acknowledgments by the President that money sent to Cuba often ends up in the hands of government officials regardless of its intended purpose. That leaves the House members concerned about writing a check now, much less sending refugees back to the country.

“We are concerned that this assistance, even if well-intentioned, will serve to prop up a brutal dictatorship that will use U.S. taxpayer dollars to further imprison, censor, and oppress the Cuban people,” the letter states. “We have no doubt that the regime will attempt to use these resources to tighten its grip on power, and we hope that you have significant and thorough safeguards in place to ensure that does not happen.”

Striving for 55

Sen. Rick Scott’s role as Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) requires a projection of optimism about GOP odds in the Midterms. But a bold prediction from the Naples Republican has some checking his math.

During a speech in North Carolina, he offered a rosy-red forecast.

“We’re going to get 52 Republican Senators. We have to win here,” he said. “I think we can get 53, 54, 55.”

It only takes netting one seat for Republicans to reclaim a majority in the Senate. But is 55 possible? “Well, yes,” wrote The Washington Post analyst Philip Bump. “But it would mean a lot of things going very, very badly for the opposition.”

FiveThirtyEight’s Senate forecast, which Bump leans on heavily, shows a 5% chance of Republicans reaching 55 seats or more, as of Monday afternoon. So, it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility. Of course, the same model gives Democrats about a 3% chance of reaching 55 seats.

In terms of Florida, a state that holds significant meaning for Scott even beyond his NRSC role, most polls now show Sen. Marco Rubio leading by greater than 6 percentage points, per RealClearPolitics’ polling index. A high-end estimate also counts on Republicans holding Pennsylvania.

Bottom line? The reach-for-the-stars estimate from Scott also requires flips in Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, New Hampshire and Colorado.

Dreaming big never hurt Scott before, and as he knows quite well, even if the GOP nets fewer victories but climbs past 50 seats in the chamber, a win is a win.

Standing for sailors

Is the Navy leaving Florida’s veterans adrift?

Rubio sent a pointed letter to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro asking for a specific accounting of retired sailors moving to Florida. Florida’s senior Senator raised concerns that too many cannot access their benefits once moving to the Sunshine State.

“Sailors should be able to count on consistent payment and timely benefits. While the Navy has stated that operations to consolidate personnel for efficiency may have caused the delays, the practical outcome is delayed receipt of a key document and associated benefits that are building blocks for sailors establishing a new foundation for life after active duty,” Rubio wrote.

Marco Rubio calls for Carlos Del Toro to come to the aid of Florida’s Navy veterans.

Rubio said his office has heard from a number of retired seamen who cannot receive copies of their discharge papers, a crucial document for obtaining many military benefits, in a prompt fashion.

“Some have been waiting as long as six months or more after they retire for the Navy to provide their DD-214,” Rubio wrote. “As you know, a new veteran cannot apply for benefits without this form, resulting in significant delays before they can receive critical benefits. Basic necessities that they rely on, such as Tricare health benefits and housing, are put in jeopardy for themselves and their dependents when this form is delayed.”

Most Republicans in Florida’s House delegation signed onto the letter, including Gus Bilirakis, Kat Cammack, Díaz-Balart, Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin, Giménez, Brian Mast, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Salazar, Greg Steube and Mike Waltz.

“Failing to live up to the government’s end of the bargain on taking care of service members also exacerbates the existing recruitment crisis the Navy and other branches are facing,” the letter reads.

Taking flight

Rep. Val Demings and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg led a roundtable in Orlando on infrastructure spending in the state. The event took place at Orlando International Airport, where a new Terminal C just opened with the help of $283 million in funding courtesy the bipartisan infrastructure package signed by Biden last year.

“Orlando International Airport is growing thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure law, which will keep planes flying, keep travelers safe, and ensure that Orlando remains the best place in the world to bring your family, host a conference, or start a business,” said Demings, an Orlando Democrat. “I fought for the bipartisan infrastructure law because Floridians deserve safe, modern, and efficient airports, highways, and railroads whether they’re traveling for work, school, or vacation.”

The official event took place as Demings challenges Rubio, who voted against the law.

Buttigieg stressed the reach of infrastructure spending in his own comments on social media. “The creation of a new terminal at Orlando International Airport through federal investments will: Create good-paying jobs; Improve air traveler experience; Fuel Orlando’s tourism economy.”

He also shared a series of photos of himself alongside Demings.

“Central Florida’s economy depends on transportation infrastructure, and this new investment is a huge bipartisan win for Florida,” Demings said. “By continuing to expand alternative transportation systems here in Central Florida and around our state, we support not only our world class tourism industry but also our growing and dynamic workforce.”

Big wind

Military missions are one of the oft-cited reasons Republicans offer opposition to drilling in the Gulf. Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz in 2021 also raised concern about a push for wind farms at sea. The Congressman this week applauded a Department of Defense position opposing all energy extraction from just off the state’s western shoreline.

Gaetz last year pressed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to reaffirm the Department’s opposition at a time when the Biden administration was pushing for wind power generation at sea.

Matt Gaetz blasts wind energy off the Florida coast. Image via AP.

“In May 2018, the Office of the Secretary of Defense submitted a report to the House Committee on Armed Services and House Committee on Natural Resources on ‘Preserving Military Readiness in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico,’” Gaetz wrote. “In that report, your Department rightly acknowledged, in no uncertain terms, the importance and uniqueness of the Eastern Gulf Test and Training Range stating, ‘The eastern Gulf of Mexico is an irreplaceable national asset.’ Moreover, your office concluded, ‘No other area in the world provides the U.S. military with ready access to a highly instrumented, network-connected, surrogate environment for military operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf and Indo-Pacific Theater.’”

He ended up receiving a response very much to his military constituency’s liking, with Defense officials committing to keeping waters windmill free in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (EGOMEX) combat training zone.

“Through the Military Aviation and Installation Assurance Siting Clearinghouse (Clearinghouse), the DOD provides early and consistent notifications to the Department of Interior of DOD’s training and readiness concerns in particular areas, including EGOMEX,” reads a letter from William LaPlante, Undersecretary of Defense.

Funding the police

Time is running out for the Senate to pass bipartisan police support during this Congress. Republican Rutherford, himself a former Jacksonville Sheriff, said the opportunity should not be wasted and the upper chamber must take up and pass his Invest to Protect Act (HR 6448).

The Congressman championed the bill in the House with New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer, and it cleared the lower chamber in June with a 360-64 vote. Now, the two have written to Senate leadership calling for an up-or-down vote on the other side of the Capitol.

John Rutherford is the point man for a police support bill.

“Nearly every Democrat and more than 150 Republicans came together to vote our legislation out of the House to ensure small law enforcement agencies across the United States have access to the tools and resources they need,” the letter reads.

“This vital legislation was developed through many conversations with Republicans and Democrats in both chambers, and with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including the Congressional Black Caucus, National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). We urge you to take swift action on this matter by bringing the Invest to Protect Act to the Senate floor for a vote next month so that the President can sign this bipartisan bill into law immediately.”

Afghan after-plan

Rep. Waltz said it’s long overdue for Austin and Defense officials to explain to the House Armed Services Committee what was done to protect intelligence gathered in Afghanistan over a 20-year occupation.

“It’s been over a year since the failed withdrawal from Afghanistan and seven months past the Department of Defense’s mandated briefing deadline,” the St. Augustine Republican wrote in a letter to the Defense Secretary.

Michael Waltz wants to know what is being done to safeguard Afghan intelligence.

“I am becoming more and more concerned that during and since the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the critical data and intelligence collected in Afghanistan was left behind, lost, or misplaced. Meanwhile, al-Qaida and ISIS are reconstituting in Afghanistan and continue to pose a real threat to our country. We have no bases or allies in the region. It is critical we secure, preserve, and make accessible across the military services the information collected, especially if we have to send soldiers back in the future.”

A briefing was supposed to happen before March 4, Waltz wrote. But in addition to tardiness, Waltz has grown increasingly concerned that intelligence in intervening months may have been lost.

“The intelligence is clear: Al-Qaida is reforming in Afghanistan. We will once again be facing the prospect of terrorist attacks on American interests abroad and possibly the homeland itself,” he wrote. “As a Special Forces veteran, who served multiple tours in Afghanistan and fought al-Qaida and their Taliban backers, I dread a future where American soldiers will once again take on this threat. However, next time, we will be sending them in with no bases, no local allies, and an enemy that is armed with equipment we left behind following our disastrous, ill-planned, and shortsighted withdrawal in August 2021.”

Well watch

A decision by the Biden administration to tap federal oil reserves drew plenty of political criticism, but two members of the delegation are going further to say Biden’s decision forms a national security risk.

Rockledge Republican Posey and Clermont Republican Dan Webster both signed onto a resolution condemning the “irresponsible withdrawal of petroleum products from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.”

Daniel Webster calls tapping into national oil reserves presents a security risk.

“Energy independence is a national security issue,” Webster said. “Rather than embrace American energy production, Biden chose to put our national security at risk by further tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). This Administration must reverse course, replenish the SPR, and stop blocking U.S. energy production.”

The legislation says the ability of an administration to tap reserves during a global oil crisis, as set forth in the Energy Policy and Conservative Act, which has been used only three times since 1975. The first occurred in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, then in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, and a third time in 2011 during the Arab Spring.

Texas Republican Randy Weber introduced the resolution criticizing the decision. All 30 co-sponsors to date are Republicans.

Salute to service

Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan held a special ceremony to pin extra medals on the chests of local veterans. He organized the Congressional Veteran Commendation, held at the Manatee Players Theatre, to honor both wartime sacrifices and continued community service by soldiers in Florida’s 16th Congressional District.

Vern Buchanan honors American heroes.

Honors went to World War II Marine veteran Edward J. Mahoney of Sun City Center, World War II Army veteran John V. Skeen of Bradenton, Korean War Army veteran John J. Brill of Longboat Key, Vietnam War Navy veteran Richard J. Petrucci of Lakewood Ranch, Vietnam War Army veteran Richard M. Swier of Sarasota, and Gulf War Army veteran David W. Daily of Bradenton.

“I established these awards to recognize our local heroes that have valiantly served both our country in uniform and our community,” Buchanan said. “While we will never be able to fully repay the honorees for their selfless sacrifices, I hope the Congressional Veteran Commendation helps express how grateful our community truly is for their service.”

Hurricane who?

Hurricane Eta has long since ceded the stage to a hurricane with another three-letter name, Ian, but Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz made the rounds this past week to let the residents of the Shenandoah community know they have not been forgotten.

When Eta came around in 2020, it left some of the community’s roads impassable for residents and first responders. The Representative visited the town with one of those oversized checks: nearly $1.8 million for a new pump station.

“My work in Congress is meeting local needs,” the Congresswoman tweeted.

It’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s turn to dole out the big checks.

The project was part of the $15 million Wasserman Schultz brought to the area via the federal budget, in addition to money for Nova Southeastern University, Florida International University and Broward College; park improvements in Dania Beach; and a new stormwater pump for Sunrise.

No doubt there will be more federal pork to fix Hurricane Ian’s devastation.

In case you forgot, Eta hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 storm and swamped parts of South Florida.

On this day

Oct. 25, 1929 — “First Cabinet member found guilty in Teapot Dome scandal” via — Albert B. Fall, Secretary of the Interior in President Warren G. Harding’s Cabinet, was found guilty of accepting a bribe while in office. Fall was the first individual convicted of a crime committed while a presidential Cabinet member. Fall accepted a $100,000 interest-free “loan” from Edward Doheny of the Pan-American Petroleum and Transport Company, who wanted Fall to grant his firm a valuable oil lease in the Elk Hills naval oil reserve in California. The site, along with the Teapot Dome naval oil reserve in Wyoming, had been previously transferred to the Department of the Interior at the urging of Fall.

Oct. 25, 1962 — “Adlai Stevenson blows top, lashes Valerian Zorin in the U.N.” via the New York Journal-American — The usually affable and proper Stevenson blew his top in the U.N. Security Council after being goaded beyond endurance by Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin. His face red with anger and his well-controlled voice shaking with emotion, Stevenson tossed diplomatic niceties aside and vowed he would wait ‘until hell freezes over’ for Zorin to give a ‘yes or no’ to his question whether there were Soviet missiles in Cuba. The Russian, in turn, called Stevenson a liar. The viper-tongued Zorin shouted back, “I am not in an American courtroom and therefore have no answer.”

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Byron Donalds, who turns 44 on Friday, Oct. 28.


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.

Staff Reports


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