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A lame-duck Session marks the final days in Congress for three members of the delegation:
Reps. Val Demings, Al Lawson and Stephanie Murphy. The trio of Democrats — from Orlando, Tallahassee and Winter Park respectively — all won election in 2016.
At the time, they each defeated longtime members of Congress to secure their own spot in Congress.
Lawson ousted Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown, a 12-term incumbent who had recently been indicted, in an August 2016 Democratic Primary.
A couple of months later, Murphy unseated Republican Rep. John Mica, another 12-term incumbent, in a General Election.
The same year, Demings won an open seat after Rep. Dan Webster chose to run in a more conservative neighboring seat (where he still serves).
All three Democrats successfully seized upon opportunities created by a court-ordered redistricting. In turn, redistricting this year clouded Murphy’s and Lawson’s political futures.
Murphy announced last year she would not seek a third term, citing family concerns but notably breaking the news only after a draft map from the House showed a rightward shift in the makeup of her district.
Lawson, meanwhile, saw his district completely dismantled by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new congressional map. He chose instead to challenge Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican, but lost the incumbent-on-incumbent matchup last month.
Murphy’s office released a retrospective video on the Congresswoman’s time on Capitol Hill. During three terms, she helped more than 5,000 constituents in Florida’s 7th Congressional District to recoup a collective $8 million in federal dollars. She discussed how coming into office after the 2016 Pulse shooting led her to fight for LGBTQ rights, background checks on firearm purchases, and to secure funding for a federal designation for the site. She also played a critical role in passing the employee retention tax credit.
Appropriation wins included $1 million for a study of the Little Wekiva River and $3.3 million in grants to fight algal blooms.
“Serving my community in Congress has been the honor of my life and I’m beyond proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Murphy said.
To watch the video, please click on the image below:
Lawson continued to work on nuts-and-bolts issues, including spotlighting affordable housing problems in Florida at a recent House Financial Services Committee hearing. “My home state of Florida has the largest homeless population in the entire state,” he told the committee. “We know homelessness has an adverse impact on people of color and in lower-income communities.” He stressed a desire for Congress to continue addressing that challenge after his own term ends.
Demings this year chose to run for Senate instead of seeking re-election, but incumbent Republican Sen. Marco Rubio won re-election by a sizable margin. As her time winds down in Congress, the incumbent listed a series of achievements from her three terms. She continues to push for the Senate to pass her legislation helping law enforcement fund cold case investigations. The former police officer also pushed for more officer training programs to be available through the Department of Homeland Security.
Demings famously was among the managers in the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump. She also worked on a plethora of environmental and economic bills.
“When jobs are kept in America, America prospers,” she tweeted. “I am proud to have helped lead legislation to keep good jobs right here in America.”
The three departing lawmakers are among a half dozen Democrats elected to the 117th Congress who will not return for the 118th.
Rep. Charlie Crist, of St. Petersburg, resigned in August as he ran for Governor.
Rep. Ted Deutch, of Boca Raton, left early for a job with the American Jewish Committee.
And Rep. Alcee Hastings, of Fort Lauderdale, died in office last year, months into his 15th term.
Rubio was among just 13 senators to vote against confirming Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Now the Miami Republican seeks answers about the Cabinet member’s travel habits.
Days after Fox News Digital reported Buttigieg had on 18 occasions traveled by private jet on the taxpayer dime, Rubio sent a letter to the Inspector General’s office at the Transportation Department calling for a fiscal analysis of the cost of the opulent flights. He noted the Federal Aviation Administration charges as much as $5,000 an hour to charter private planes and suggested the Secretary’s choice of conveyance was “yet another troubling example of this administration’s continued willingness to skirt basic ethics rules.”
“I have long worked to ensure effective controls regarding leadership and staff travel and reducing the risk of fraud, waste and abuse,” Rubio wrote. “Therefore, I ask that you conduct a review to determine whether Secretary Buttigieg’s travels were in compliance with all applicable regulations, policies and procedures.”
The Transportation Agency told Fox News that Buttigieg typically flies commercials. “However, there are some cases where it is more efficient and/or less expensive for the Secretary and accompanying personnel to fly on a 9-seater FAA plane rather than commercial flights,” a spokesperson told the network.
With Senate passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for troops is about to be discharged.
Now Sen. Rick Scott wants soldiers drummed out for refusing the jab to be reinstated with back pay.
He led a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noting Republicans in both chambers of Congress fought to lift the mandate. “While we are proud to see this needed change included, simply reversing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is insufficient to right the wrongs done to our service members,” Scott wrote.
The letter bears co-signatures from 10 of Scott’s GOP Senate colleagues, including Rubio.
Scott noted an NBC News report the Pentagon may allow those kicked out of the military over the mandate to re-enlist. The Senator also encouraged the Defense Department to end any in-process discharges related to the mandate.
“Thousands of brave men and women were harmed because of the Pentagon’s misguided approach to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement,” the Naples Republican wrote. “You have the opportunity to immediately begin undoing the harm caused. For the current and future morale and benefit our Armed Forces, we urge you to act immediately.”
Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto said the final defense budget sent to President Joe Biden will deliver more than $60 million to Central Florida water projects. The bulk of that, $50 million, will go to wastewater and water infrastructure with Orange County Utilities, with another $10 million for similar efforts in Osceola County.
Additionally, there will be initial authorizing funding for long-term ecosystem restoration projects in Lake Tohopekaliga/Kissimmee Lakefront, Lake Runnymede and Shingle Creek. Soto’s office promised to pursue additional support next year for the collective $164 million efforts.
“Our Central Florida community will greatly benefit from the water projects included in the FY23 NDAA,” Soto said. “With this funding, we will see major improvements in water infrastructure across Florida’s 9th Congressional District to improve the quality of life for our constituents and make us better equipped for future natural disasters and flooding.”
No backsies, FEMA
Legislation introduced by Webster to protect hurricane victims was passed as part of the NDAA as well. Now, the Clermont Republican feels confident Biden will sign the Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act (HR 539) into law as part of the package.
The bill should prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency from clawing back any relief dollars awarded to victims, even if the agency later determines the money was doled out in error. Webster said taking money back from victims recovering from the storm was unthinkable regardless of whether a government snafu put the check in the mail.
“Florida is no stranger to the devastating effects of hurricanes and natural disasters,” Webster said. “Federal aid is crucial for many victims’ ability to recover and rebuild in the wake of disaster. FEMA should be focused on helping victims recover, not putting them on the hook for errors made by the government. This commonsense bill will help protect victims and bring further accountability to FEMA.”
App for that
A Sarasota teenager designed software that could help students displaced from Ukraine to receive an education while in America.
Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan honored the work of Palmetto middle schooler Jace Billingsley for designing the ClassTranslate app, which can rapidly translate lessons to a student’s native language.
This is the second year in a row Jace, a 14-year-old attending Buffalo Creek Middle in Palmetto, won the Congressional App Challenge in Florida’s 16th Congressional District. He won last year for an app that helps health care workers administer intervention for heart and respiratory conditions.
“I can’t commend him enough for inventing such an important tool for international students,” Buchanan said. “Jace clearly has a bright future as an aspiring web applications developer.”
A classmate inspired the student to code his most recent winning app.
“Since I started participating in the Congressional App Challenge, I have learned so much about how to publish apps and speak about them,” Jace said. “I enjoy creating practical applications that have real-world use. The idea for this year’s app came from a need I saw firsthand in my class. I had Ukrainian classmates that did not speak English, and I wanted to do something to help them communicate more efficiently in a classroom setting. So, I created ClassTranslate.”
The program will advance now to a national Congressional App Challenge against winners from districts across the country.
Nearly two months after Hurricane Ian made landfall, new disaster recovery centers continue to open to help victims. FEMA just staffed a center in Palm Beach County at the Hagen Ranch Road Library in Delray Beach. West Palm Beach Democrat Lois Frankel welcomed the on-the-ground support.
“The opening of a local Disaster Recovery Center is welcome news for those impacted by Hurricane Ian in Palm Beach County,” Frankel said. “Folks who sustained damages may get in-person recovery assistance by visiting the Hagen Ranch Road Library during business hours.”
Frankel announced the opening days after another center opened in Brevard County at the Cocoa Agricultural Center. Meanwhile, a center at the Cuyler Park Community Center in Mims will close. Centers also have closed at the Okeechobee County Library and the Lealman Exchange in St. Petersburg.
In total, 32 centers are still open throughout the state. The furthest south is the Donna Fiala Eagle Lakes Community Center in Naples, one of several in hard-hit Southwest Florida.
But centers are still in operation as far north as the Wind Mitigation Building in St. Augustine.
Like an Egyptian
When Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi traveled to Washington, Hialeah Republican Mario Díaz-Balart was among the Congressional leaders welcoming the head of state. As Co-Chair of the Congressional Friends of Egypt Caucus with Maryland Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger held a meeting with the Egyptian delegation.
“As co-chairs of the Congressional Friends of Egypt Caucus, we were honored to meet with Egypt’s President, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, to discuss mutual national security interests and shared goals,” read a bipartisan statement from the caucus leaders.
“For decades, Egypt has been a valued partner in forging peace, fighting against terrorism, and promoting global security. Like the United States, Egypt has suffered brutal acts of terrorism within its borders and knows firsthand the high stakes and sacrifice incurred in the struggle for peace and security. We are grateful for Egypt’s friendship and look forward to working together toward our mutual goals.”
Al-Sisi also met with Austin about an international armed forces task force in the region. Administration leaders also stressed the need for improved human rights protections throughout the Middle East, including in Egypt.
Congressional leaders said their priority was maintaining a positive relationship between the U.S. and the north African nation.
“This year, we marked 100 years of U.S.-Egypt diplomatic relations,” read the statement from Díaz-Balart and Ruppersberger. “As we reflect on our joint successes of the past century, we look forward to fostering this essential relationship and meeting our challenges together for many more years to come.”
An attempt by Peruvian President Pedro Castillo to dissolve the nation’s Congress failed and resulted in the socialist leader’s impeachment. But it also created an international situation that stranded U.S. citizens, including tourists from South Florida, in the South American republic.
Miami-Dade Republican Carlos Giménez said the State Department needs to act fast and guarantee the safety of American citizens abroad. He sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichola and Ambassador Lisa Kenna seeking information and an open line of communication about his constituents.
“The historic City of Machu Picchu, which attracts thousands of American tourists each year, is isolated from the Capital City of Lima and has been the site of the latest political destabilization efforts leaving American citizens unable to reach Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM) and safely return home,” Giménez wrote.
“I represent Miami-Dade County, the Gateway to the Americas, and my constituents must be informed of what exactly the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Perú are doing to bring these stranded American citizens back home quickly, safely, and securely.”
The State Department last week issued a travel advisory advising Americans against traveling to the country thanks to heightened civil unrest. The Congressman expressed concern for the safety of Americans as “violent, anti-democratic forces fan the flames of social unrest” in the foreign nation and said the State Department must prioritize bringing citizens of the U.S. home.
Ahead of Republicans taking a majority in the House, Coral Gables Republican María Elvira Salazar released a draft proposal to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. While it’s unclear whether the plan will win over conservatives in her own party, she hopes the proposal will receive due attention.
“This policy will help Miami and the United States maximize our entrepreneurial spirit and continue leading in job creation, innovation, research and economic growth,” she said.
Her draft proposal would raise country green card caps from 7% to 15%, cut backlogs at 10 years for visa applications, and prevent minors from aging out of programs. It also increases opportunities for agriculture and STEM workers to receive visas and modernizes the student visa system.
Salazar’s office said these changes should be considered in addition to the Dignity Act she proposed earlier this year. That bill was not heard in the House after being introduced in February.
The politics around Twitter have only become more vocal since Tesla and SpaceX owner Elon Musk bought the platform. But how important is Twitter to Florida politicos? Well, an investigation by Legistorm found that among incoming members of Congress, Florida shows a particular fondness for the pale blue bird.
Orlando Democrat Maxwell Alejandro Frost turns out to be the most prolific tweeter among the incoming first-term class. He posted more than 300 tweets in November AFTER the Midterm elections.
But he’s not alone in his love of the medium. St. Petersburg Republican Anna Paulina Luna posted more than 150 times in the same period, which made her the third most frequent tweeter among Congress’ incoming lawmakers. That makes her the most eager tweeter among new members of the GOP caucus.
Both incoming lawmakers steadily posted since the start of December as well, providing updates on office selection, leadership fights and all other things of note about their arrival on Capitol Hill.
On this day
Dec. 20, 1957 — “Elvis Presley is drafted” — While spending the Christmas holidays at Graceland, his newly purchased Tennessee mansion, the rock ‘n’ roll star received his draft notice for the United States Army. Fans sent tens of thousands of letters to the Army asking for him to be spared, but Elvis would have none of it. He received one deferment — during which he finished working on his movie King Creole — before being sworn in as an army private in Memphis in 1958. In August, Presley sailed to Europe on the USS General Randall.
Dec. 20, 2018 — “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigns amid Syria and Afghanistan tension” via NPR — Mattis, a living Marine Corps legend who made history by securing special permission from Congress to lead the Pentagon, is stepping down after a slow freeze-out by Trump. Drift between the two men reached a point at which Mattis objected so strongly to the President’s policy choices that he opted to resign rather than go along. The final break appeared to be over major withdrawals of American forces from Syria and Afghanistan, which Trump ordered over the objections of his national security advisers, including Mattis.
Editor’s Note: Delegation will take off the holidays and return in 2023. In the meantime, keep up with congressional developments involving Florida lawmakers at FloridaPolitics.com.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles and edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol,