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The Artemis I mission is complete. The Orion spacecraft that topped the enormous Space Launch System rocket when it launched from Kennedy Space Center on Nov. 16 successfully splashed down Sunday in the Pacific Ocean.
It marked the end of a 16-day round-trip journey to the moon and back.
The historic event drew bipartisan applause within the space-loving Florida congressional delegation.
“NASA Artemis is setting the stage to return humanity to our moon, and I could not be more excited,” tweeted Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat. “I am (prouder) than ever for Florida to serve as the launchpad for this next generation of American space exploration. Godspeed to Artemis 1.”
“Congratulations NASA on a successful Artemis I mission!” tweeted Rep. Kat Cammack, a Gainesville Republican. “Today is the product of incredible work from a talented, dedicated STEM workforce, including the Sunshine State’s own Space Coast.”
Cammack tweeted a picture shot from the capsule during its return to Earth Day 24 of the flight.
The mission has been repeatedly identified by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, a former U.S. Senator representing Florida, as a critical test flight. The work on this unmanned mission will be critical as NASA prepares to send astronauts on manned flights to the celestial body.
Vice President Kamala Harris joined in cheering the success of the mission.
“I applaud the NASA team for their work on completing a successful Artemis I mission,” she tweeted. “We’re one step closer to returning astronauts to the moon.”
Growing legal trouble for former Rep. David Rivera is producing fresh political problems for Sen. Marco Rubio.
Rivera was indicted in November on charges of conspiracy against the U.S., money laundering, engaging in transactions in criminally derived property, and not registering as a foreign agent. All accusations stem from advocacy efforts Rivera conducted on behalf of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government.
The formal accusation details private meetings and text messages between Rivera and “U.S. Senator 1.” While the indictment did not name Florida’s senior Senator, it made clear the state he represented, and people drew conclusions at once.
Quickly, Rubio acknowledged to POLITICO that he indeed spoke with Rivera, but that he did not know Rivera’s discussions about normalizing relations with Venezuela were connected directly to Maduro’s regime.
“As the indictment explicitly indicates, Mr. Rivera and his associates ‘never disclosed to any of the United States officials who they met that they were lobbying on behalf of the Government of Venezuela,’” a statement to POLITICO reads. “And it lays out how Sen. Rubio communicated directly what he has said publicly for over five years, that the only way sanctions should be lifted is if the regime agrees to free and fair elections. If, as is alleged, this was an effort to soften his stance on sanctions, it failed miserably.”
Rivera and Rubio, both Miami area Republicans, have long been friends and once owned a Tallahassee home together when they served in the Florida Legislature.
Notably, Rubio earlier this year told CBS’ Jim DeFede he had never spoken with Rivera about work on behalf of Venezuela. “He’s someone I’ve known a long time,” Rubio said then. “We’ve worked closely, but not on this.”
The indictment does not implicate Rubio or other members of Congress, who were also identified only by official title and not by name.
Down with the sickness
A new sickness has Sen. Rick Scott sounding alarms about hospital beds in the state. He sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra on the threat of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). He notes hospitalization rates from infections are 10 times higher now than tabulated RSV hospitalizations in 2018 and 2019.
“Already, we’re hearing alarming stories about the effects RSV is having on hospitals,” Scott wrote. “Hospitals in Maryland have had to transfer patients out of state because they had run out of space. Children’s hospitals in Michigan and New York are facing similar bed shortages. Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Health (FDOH) has noted that the number of RSV cases is above average for Florida.
“While it is still too early to know how RSV will develop in Florida, FDOH has already noted RSV’s rising incidence in children, as well as a nine-year-high number of RSV hospitalizations for those 65 years and older. Considering the stories of hospitals in other parts of the country, there is a potential for crisis in Florida.”
He asked Becerra for detailed plans on what HHS will do to limit the spread of RSV and how to ensure hospitals are prepared with available beds, access to pharmaceuticals and a supply of personal protective equipment. He also asked if the agency needs more funding.
Twitter under new owner Elon Musk continues to reveal internal records on decision-making around content moderation. A new report suggests Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz was nearly booted from the platform after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Michael Schellenberger was the latest to tweet communications from the tech firm in so-called “Twitter Files.” He said that former Twitter Trust and Safety leader Yoel Roth pushed for a permanent suspension for the Congressman. Roth discussed the possibility after Gaetz said on the House floor the riot was started not by Donald Trump supporters but by Antifa demonstrators.
Published communications show that Roth acknowledged there was no specific violation of Twitter’s terms of service for Gaetz to make such claims. “But I’m trying to talk safety into treating it as incitement,” he wrote. “I think we’ll get over the line for removal as a conspiracy that incites violence.”
Gaetz said the report confirmed reporting from the controversial site Project Veritas on the banning of conservative voices on Twitter. “Their brave reporting has been exposing it for years,” Gaetz posted on Twitter.
Not your daddy’s inflation
Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy cautioned at an event in Orlando that President Joe Biden’s administration needs to approach current economic challenges differently. As she goes through the final weeks before her time in Congress ends — the Democrat did not seek re-election this year — her wish list includes meaningful attempts to address rising prices.
“Inflation today isn’t your father’s inflation, where the Fed can control it by simply continuing to raise rates, because inflation is currently driven by supply chain issues, by labor issues,” she told Tiger Bay of Central Florida. “And so, if you want to really address inflation, in parallel to what the Fed is doing, what we need to be doing is ensuring and supporting a more diverse supply chain.”
She leveled rare Democratic criticism of the administration, saying Biden and surrogates too often point to the low employment rates (3.7% in November) as a sign the economy is doing fine.
“But every American knows that they can’t go to a restaurant and get service or get anybody to fix their car because labor shortages are so extreme,” she said.
Immigration policy for more than a decade has created that problem, she said, and something needs to be done to change the training of labor and the availability of workers.
Eye on research
Some of the most critical medical research in Florida happens at the University of South Florida and Tampa’s hospital facilities are some of the biggest in the state. It’s no surprise that, as a result, Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor stands among the most vocal advocates of funding medical research. She co-Chairs the Congressional Academic Medicine Caucus and was just re-elected in the role for the soon-to-begin 118th Congress. She will lead the group of lawmakers for the next two years with North Carolina Republican Greg Murphy.
“Since I was elected to Congress, I have worked to address the physician shortage and lift up the training, research and partnerships in academic medicine,” Castor said. “Our bipartisan caucus was created to educate members of Congress and their staff on the critical, multifaceted role of medical schools, teaching hospitals, and faculty physicians in improving our nation’s health.”
Murphy said he looks forward to working alongside Castor.
“I have been a physician and professor of Surgery for more than 30 years,” he said. “It is therefore such a privilege to help inform my fellow Members of Congress and the American people on the essential role that America’s medical schools, teaching hospitals, and faculty physicians play in improving our nation’s health outcomes.”
Castor stressed the importance of research for the Tampa Bay region.
“In Florida’s 14th Congressional District, I have witnessed firsthand the value of the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine, Tampa General Hospital and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital that are tireless in teaching and training the next generation of medical professionals,” she said.
“They have been a godsend as we grapple with various health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and the children’s mental health emergency. The impact of academic medical centers on our health system is undeniable, and I look forward to helping them continue to grow and provide quality health care to our neighbors in the upcoming Congress.”
A Water Resources Development Act just sent to Biden’s desk has $100 million for Florida estuaries, along with a master plan sponsored by Stuart Republican Brian Mast.
The Northern Estuaries Restoration Plan (NERP) expands on an Everglades directive requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to address harmful algal blooms, including completely ending discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River, Indian River Lagoon and Lake Worth Lagoon.
“It’s hard to understate just how big of a deal this is for our community,” Mast said. “For the first time, we’ll have a plan that is solely dedicated to ending discharges to our estuaries. Between NERP, funding for critical infrastructure that will improve water quality and provisions that require the Army Corps to expedite completion of the EAA Reservoir, this is going to make an enormous difference for our waterways.”
He notes the existing Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan eliminated about two-thirds of the discharges into the St. Lucie River, but this stops the flow completely. The measure is contained in the National Defense Authorization Act passed last week and sent to the President’s desk.
Mast also touted money in the bill to fund research on technology to battle blooms and investment in water quality improvement in the Indian River Lagoon.
While votes await in a lame-duck session on keeping the federal government, a growing number of Republican voices want only a short-term deal approved. Naples Republican Byron Donalds said on MSNBC that voters had elected a Republican majority, albeit a narrow one, and that a new Congress should make any decision on long-term funding.
“First, take a look at the past two years. Joe Biden hasn’t come looking for Republican votes, especially in the House. It’s been a steamroll factory over there,” he said. “Nancy Pelosi never asked our input on anything.”
The tension will remain within Congress considering the makeup of the new House, Donalds said. But that makes it even more important for the new majority to have a seat at the table.
“At this point, now that we’re in a lame duck session, we’re going to have a divided government,” he said.
“There shouldn’t be major deals cut because the American people have now spoken. What we need to do is do whatever you need to do to get across the spending line into the new year. Then we come in and we sit down, let the House actually speak its will by the voters — of the people. Push through the spending priorities and other priorities that are needed, see what the Senate comes up with, see what the White House wants to do, and then you go from there.”
Take your shot
While some deal-making in the House means fewer federal entities will mandate the COVID-19 vaccine, West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel wants residents to know shots will still be available. She announced a $700,000 grant to help Palm Beach County community health centers make more doses available.
“We have learned a hard lesson these past two years about how the rampant spread of a virus can negatively impact our health and our economy,” Frankel said. “As we experience another spike in COVID-19 cases, it is important to have COVID-19 vaccines available for those who want it.”
The local grant comes from $350 million in spending by HHS to make vaccines available in underserved communities. The local funding includes $110,614 for Genesis Community Health, $361,336 for the Health Care District of Palm Beach County and $237,226 for FoundCare.
Similar vaccine expansions should be announced in other locales soon.
Time’s up for TB?
Tuberculosis continues to pose a global health threat, and the Coral Gables Republican María Elvira Salazar wants to make sure the U.S. is taking steps to eradicate the disease. She continues to usher a bill through this Congress, and this week saw the bill advance through the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
She introduced the End Tuberculosis Now Act (HR 8654) along with California Democrat Ami Bera earlier this year. “Tuberculosis is one of the world’s most deadly diseases and continues to devastate millions every year. We can end it,” she said. “I’m proud to co-lead the End Tuberculosis Now Act and ensure U.S. priorities are in sync with our partners in this fight, stopping the needless suffering that is holding people back from a safer, healthier and more prosperous life.”
The legislation would introduce public health standards and ensure those align with international priorities and would dedicate financial resources to reduce infections and deaths. The bill includes congressional oversight provisions on spending as well.
The disease still has a 15% mortality rate and claimed 1.6 million lives in 2021. The U.S. remains the lead funder in fighting the disease.
Meet the new boss
South Florida has a new top federal prosecutor.
The Senate voted to confirm Markenzy Lapointe, a partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. The former Marine and former federal prosecutor will be the first Haitian American to hold the post. Biden appointed Lapointe in September.
Delegation members in the region cheered the confirmation.
“Markenzy Lapointe represents the American Dream! After more than two years of relentless advocacy and pushing for the confirmation of Markenzy Lapointe as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, I am overjoyed the Senate has confirmed his nomination,” said Hollywood Democrat Frederica Wilson.
“As a former U.S. Marine, ex-federal prosecutor and product of Miami-Dade, Markenzy Lapointe shares a unique perspective on the issues plaguing our communities and brings a clear vision along with a wealth of experience to lead this critical office. Confirmed to serve as the first Haitian American U.S. Attorney, Mr. Lapointe is shattering glass ceilings. I am confident in his ability to uphold the rule of law and dedication to fighting for a more equitable criminal justice system. I know his extensive experience, unquestionable conviction and homegrown commitment to our diverse community will guide his success as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.”
Notably, this puts Lapointe at the point regarding a number of high-profile investigations, most notably one involving classified documents seized earlier this year from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
He was confirmed in a voice vote after the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced his appointment in a 17-2 split.
“The opportunity to serve this community and country in this capacity is the greatest honor — I never dreamed of it,” Lapointe told the Miami Herald.
On this day
Dec. 13, 2000 — “Al Gore concedes presidential election to George W. Bush” via POLITICO — Gore, the incumbent Democratic Vice President, conceded he had been defeated by his Republican rival, Texas Gov. Bush, in his bid for the presidency. The outcome of the 2000 election hinged on Florida’s 25 electoral votes, a near statistical tie that precipitated a 36-day political crisis in the aftermath of the Nov. 7 election, the closest such contest in U.S. history. On the day before Gore gave up his claim to the White House, the U.S. Supreme Court decided by a 7-2 vote that a Florida Supreme Court’s ruling requiring a statewide recount of ballots was unconstitutional.
Dec. 13, 1978 — “Susan B. Anthony silver dollar minted” via Small Dollars — The first Susan B. Anthony Dollars were struck at ceremonies held in Philadelphia. Fearing hoarding by the public, the mint planned to hold the release of the dollar until 500 million coins had been stockpiled. The following July, ceremonies were held in Rochester, New York, home of Anthony. Many celebrities were present at the ceremonies, including the then Director of the Mint Stella B. Hackel.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles and edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol.