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A new Congress
An auctioneer. An activist. A Florida Secretary of State. A military veteran. A defense contractor. A disaster recovery expert.
Six new members of the Florida congressional delegation expect to be sworn in today to the House of Representatives. Soon-to-be Reps. Aaron Bean, Maxwell Alejandro Frost, Laurel Lee, Anna Paulina Luna, Cory Mills and Jared Moskowitz have their elections completed, offices picked out and made initial staff hires.
All that remains — is being sworn into a two-year term.
That may take a little longer than normal. The 118th Congress should begin around noon Jan. 3, but the first order of business will be the selection of a new Speaker (more on that below).
Assuming that process doesn’t last days, the process of swearing in new members will begin. Bean said numerous members of his immediate and extended family will attend the milestone moment. A former state Senator, he’s no stranger to the legislative process. By day, an auctioneer known in Tallahassee for his engaging oratory style feels anxious to bring his skills to Washington. He also feels the weight of serving in a Republican majority while Democrats still hold the Senate and control the White House.
“Excitement is in the air,” Bean said, “not just for the Bean team but also for the country.”
New members bring varied backgrounds and histories of public service. Luna and Frost both bring reputations of activism. Luna just won her second attempt for a Tampa Bay seat running on an “America First” agenda and has quickly aligned herself with the House Freedom Caucus. Frost over the last several years was part of the high-profile March for Our Lives movement seeking gun reform. Both come to Washington from different sides of the political spectrum but part of the same congressional class and state delegation. They also arrive with hopes of achieving change at a divided time.
“I’d like the new Republican majority to work with us,” Frost said, “and we can put forth legislation to bring bold, transformational change.”
Mills, a defense contractor and a veteran like Luna, has expressed optimism that a great deal of change will arrive in Washington with the new Congress.
“Republicans have House GOP majority, (outgoing Democratic Speaker Nancy) Pelosi has been fired, (outgoing Reps.) Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney are gone, and the people’s House soon to be opened,” he tweeted. “Fewer tyrants and less tears. 2023 already starting off better than 2022.”
The new class includes two former members of the Gov. Ron DeSantis administration, including Republican Lee and Democrat Moskowitz. Lee, a former Florida Secretary of State, has served Florida from the judicial bench and as Secretary of State overseeing elections and other fields. Moskowitz led DeSantis’ Department of Emergency Management through the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery efforts from multiple hurricanes, and before that served in the Florida Legislature with many lawmakers already working in Washington. That means both know many of the people in Washington but now arrive in town as peers.
“I go into this knowing a lot of my delegation, and members of the expanding current delegation,” Moskowitz said. “Others, I don’t have as much of a relationship.”
Moskowitz will be standing in Jordan sneakers painted with “MSD Strong” painted on them in tribute to the shooting victims at his alma mater and in honor of his father who died less than a year ago from pancreatic cancer.
For the moment, all members arrive in the district powered by electoral victories at home and anxious to get to work.
Motion to vacate
The first act for Congress, even before new members are formally sworn in, will be the choice of a new Speaker by voice vote. And those closely watching the process expect it to take a historic effort to reach a decision.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy is still the favorite for now — Pelosi turned the office over to the California Republican this weekend. But he has dealt in the past two months with raucous resistance within his party, with Rep. Matt Gaetz front and center in that fight.
The Fort Walton Beach Republican vowed earlier he would not support McCarthy as Speaker, and he has been involved in negotiations over changes in House rules. He publicly defended one of the most controversial, restoring the ability for members to make a motion to vacate and call a vote to remove the Speaker at any point.
“Moving back to a procedure that governed the House for more than a century is not ‘extraordinary,’” Gaetz tweeted Monday.
Of note, the motion to vacate was eliminated when Pelosi took the gavel in 2018 for the 116th Congress, a move made at a time when she faced similar dissension within her party. The last time it was ever used came in 2015, when then-Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican, called for an ouster of Speaker John Boehner. That didn’t work, but the controversial move was widely seen as a weakening of Boehner’s grip on his caucus and a direct reason the Speaker resigned from office shortly afterward.
McCarthy conceded over the weekend to bringing back the motion to vacate with less than a majority of the GOP caucus but has only publicly supported allowing a vote if five or more members support the motion.
Media reports suggest concessions by McCarthy to date still aren’t enough to rally 218 votes and ensure his election to Speaker on a first ballot. Indeed, after McCarthy released a draft rules package with many House Freedom Caucus demands met, POLITICO reports nine members of the 222-member incoming Republican caucus signed a letter saying they still aren’t ready to support McCarthy.
That included Gaetz. But it also included Luna, one of three incoming first-term lawmakers already at odds with the man most likely (but far from certain) to be Speaker.
A drawn-out process to pick a Speaker could also have consequences for a critical committee Chair race where Florida has a high stake. Rep. Vern Buchanan is still in the running for the House Ways and Means Chair. Such leadership contests normally are decided shortly after the Midterms, but the Longboat Key Republican stays locked in a contest with Reps. Adrian Smith of Nebraska and Jason Smith of Missouri.
Those close to Buchanan say it’s clearly a competitive race to see who will win the top spot on Congress’ most powerful committee.
When a new Congress is sworn in Tuesday, Buchanan will be the most senior Republican on the committee. Buchanan has served as Chair or ranking member for five of six Ways and Means Subcommittees. He most recently took over as the top Republican on the Health Subcommittee, widely considered the most important subcommittee under the Ways and Means umbrella.
He would appear to be in pole position to win the race and met with McCarthy as recently as Monday along with several others in the running for committee Chair positions that still are undecided.
“Vern has the qualifications and real-world experience necessary to hit the ground running on Day One,” said Max Goodman, Buchanan’s political adviser. “It’s why he has such strong support throughout the Republican conference.”
But it will be up to members of the GOP Steering Committee who will wield the committee gavel. A decision is expected Thursday or Friday this week.
Today also marks the beginning of a new term for all returning members of the Delegation, including Sen. Marco Rubio. The Miami Republican won a third term in November, fending off a challenge from now-former Democratic Rep. Val Demings. Rubio becomes the ninth Senator from Florida ever to be sworn in for a third term in office, and the first Republican to stand for the Sunshine State this long in the Senate.
Ahead of taking his oath in the upper chamber for a third time, his office published a video touting his accomplishments from the last Congress. That included words from the Senator on the recovery efforts after Hurricane Ian as the state pulled together after a historic storm.
“This is the Florida I know and I love and why I’m honored to represent you in the United States Senate,” he said.
But he also saw reasons to believe the nation remains in trouble over supply chain disruption, illicit drug activity and terrorists “walking across our Southern border every day.”
“Our schools have become places where activist teachers try to indoctrinate instead of educate and President (Joe) Biden is making everything worse,” Rubio said.
The critical rhetoric fuels speculation about whether the former presidential candidate will make another run before his Senate seat is back up in 2028.
Rubio also marked the end of his second term by celebrating some bipartisan successes, including three bills in the omnibus package Biden just signed. That includes legislation prohibiting federal funding for programs supplying clean crack pipes, waiving fees for veterans’ groups holding events at war memorials in Washington and accelerating trading bans of securities of foreign companies that won’t open their books to U.S. auditors.
Sen. Rick Scott said it’s time for Congress to build a wall — against spending. He said the GOP caucus needs to take a hard line on everything from raising the debt ceiling to raising any taxes.
“It’s time for a reality check. In 2023, I’m going to fight like hell to hold the line on the debt ceiling and secure significant spending reforms that work to stop Biden’s reckless agenda that’s hurting too many American families,” Scott said. “I will never stop fighting for Floridians, and I won’t stop fighting the irresponsible policies that kill our economy and fuel this crisis. The status quo cannot go on — big change is coming to Washington.”
The Naples Republican is still in the minority in a Democratic Senate. That’s arguably thanks to a failure by the National Republican Senatorial Committee under Scott’s leadership to net even a single seat in the Midterms; instead, the party lost one seat from the last Congress. That undermined Scott’s failed attempt this year to push Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell aside as Senate Minority Leader.
Still, Scott pointed to a 13.9% increase in the consumer price index during Biden’s first two years in office. He blames government spending for the high inflation rate, including the $1.7 omnibus bill approved by a Democratic Senate and by the outgoing Democratic House. That’s plenty of reason for a new Congress with a GOP-controlled House to rein in spending, Scott said.
“In 2023, Republicans must start being a BRICK WALL against more spending, more debt and more of Biden’s woke agenda,” Scott said. “America’s poorest families, like mine growing up, struggle with any rise in prices. That’s reason enough to rein in Washington’s spending, but the massive price hikes we’ve seen thanks to Biden’s inflation have spread this pain to nearly every family in America. It’s clear that failed politicians in Congress and useless bureaucrats in the Biden administration have forgotten that government works for the people.”
Rep. Kat Cammack spent Christmastime abroad this year, visiting with U.S. troops in the Middle East during a congressional trip overseas. She was part of a delegation traveling to Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait, as well as Greece.
“It’s a special privilege to be with our troops during Christmas and to thank them for all they do and sacrifice to keep our nation safe,” Cammack said. “It was great to spend time with our active-duty military, reservists, and National Guardsmen and women. Their families are thinking of them not just during Christmastime, but throughout the year, and as members of Congress, it’s a rare opportunity to let these heroes (know) just how much we appreciate and support them when they can’t share the holidays with their families and friends back home.”
The bipartisan delegation was led by Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, and included members of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism.
Cammack noted one constituent among the troops she met overseas, a member of the Space Force she declined to name, shared a patch in gratitude of members spending their holidays with troops stationed abroad.
“On behalf of Florida’s 3rd Congressional District,” Cammack said, “thank you to the men and women serving our nation around the world — we will work hard to continue honoring your service and sacrifice year-round.”
Helping one refugee
While the topic of asylum for border crossers remains a touchy one among House Republicans, Rep. Michael Waltz offered vocal support for Abdul Wasi Safi, an Afghan Special Forces commando.
Veterans’ groups have rallied around Safi, who was arrested in September by Border Patrol with a group of migrants crossing from Mexico into Texas. Safi left Afghanistan after years fighting against the Taliban alongside U.S. troops.
“I fought alongside soldiers like Abdul in Afghanistan who risked their lives to build a better future for their country while keeping Americans safe,” said Waltz, a former Green Beret who served as an adviser to then-Vice President Dick Cheney during the first U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.
Waltz said the mishandling of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan created an imminent danger that drove Safi from his home country.
“Due to the Biden administration’s hasty and disastrous withdrawal, our government left behind personal information of our allies that helped us,” Waltz said. “As a result, they are now subject to Taliban reprisals and countless unable to escape have been killed. We owe it to those who risked their lives to fight with Americans to ensure their safety and it’s despicable this administration would rather deport Abdul than thousands of other migrants illegally crossing our southern border.”
Waltz and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican, sent a letter to Biden requesting Safi be granted parole while his case is adjudicated in U.S. courts. Federal law allows those facing credible fear of persecution to be granted asylum.
The last budget bill passed by the outgoing 117th Congress included $27 billion in Hurricane Ian relief and a designation of the Kissimmee River as a Wild and Scenic River.
“I was proud to cast my vote for a government funding package that makes critical investments to help our Central Florida families have a better quality of life by addressing some of our nation’s toughest challenges,” said Rep. Darren Soto.
The Kissimmee Democrat championed a bipartisan effort to designate the river, along with Buchanan, the Republican Co-Chair of the Florida congressional delegation.
Soto cheered the budget bill as a proud closing salvo for the Democratic House Caucus.
“Thanks to the leadership of House Democrats, we were able to secure funding for future hurricane preparedness, community improvement projects in Orange, Osceola, and Polk, and so much more,” he said. “As we approach the new year and a new Congress, I look forward to continuing our work to uplift working families, small businesses, and all Central Floridians.”
Soto sent a lengthy list itemizing wins for Florida’s 9th Congressional District in the budget. He also cheered provisions ensuring Puerto Rico residents and other American citizens living in U.S. territories enjoy the same access to Medicaid as those living in states.
He made special mention of efforts to earn recognition for the Kissimmee water body.
“The Kissimmee River restoration was the largest river restoration on earth and cost nearly $1 billion over many years,” Soto said. “As part of the Northern Everglades, this project is crucial to ensuring clean water flows through the River of Grass. Now that we’ve restored the river, it’s time to protect it. This will also benefit recreation, ecotourism, and habitat for Florida’s endangered species. This new law will finally move the designation process forward and ultimately preserve it for future generations. I am thrilled that our bill was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, and look forward to seeing President Biden sign it into law.”
Biden signed a law championed by Florida lawmakers honoring the last living prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials. A Medal of Honor will be presented to Benjamin Ferencz, a Palm Beach County resident.
Reps. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican, and Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat, were among the introducing co-sponsors for the legislation, as was now-retired Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat.
“It is an honor to recognize the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, 102-year-old Benjamin Ferencz, with the Congressional Gold Medal — Congress’s highest expression of civilian appreciation,” Frankel said. “Mr. Ferencz’s lifelong commitment to justice, peace, and human dignity is an inspiration to all who value freedom and humanity.”
Bilirakis said it was a deserved honor.
“Certainly, Ben Ferencz, who has spent more than 50 years prosecuting war crimes and genocide, qualifies for this prestigious honor,” he said. “Throughout history, humanity has encountered many faces of evil. Our brightest moments as an international community have been those in which we present a united front in our efforts to identify and eradicate its presence. Mr. Ferencz has been at the helm leading that important work, and I am humbled to help honor him.”
Rep. Brian Mast also saw a measure honoring Americans — those lost in the 2012 Benghazi attacks — become law. Bipartisan legislation he introduced with Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts will award the Medal of Honor to former Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Navy SEALs Glen A. Doherty and Tyrone Woods and airman and State Department officer Sean Smith. All were killed on Sept. 11, 2012, when terrorists invaded the U.S. embassy in Libya.
“These four Americans represented the best of our country. They were committed to advancing the cause of freedom around the globe, and they gave their last breath for that fight,” Mast said. “I cannot think of a more deserving recipient of the highest civilian honor Congress has to offer.”
The attack became a political flashpoint at the time, occurring as President Barack Obama sought a second term. But it was revisited over the next four years as Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State at the time of the attack, unsuccessfully ran for President.
The bill (HR 310) was passed by voice vote in the House and by unanimous consent in the Senate, and nothing of the controversy about the attack was mentioned in a release from Mast’s office celebrating the President’s signature.
Forty-six Cuban exiles affected by a leak of their personal information will not be deported back to the island nation. All were freed from transitional centers after Rep. María Elvira Salazar raised alarms with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The Coral Gables Republican sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last month after Immigration and Customs Enforcement mistakenly published the names, birth dates, nationalities and detention locations of 6,252 asylum-seekers, including the 46 individuals set free.
“The publication of the personal information of more than 6,252 at-risk, vulnerable, asylum-seeking individuals could have a disastrous effect on their lives,” Salazar wrote. “As a result of this leak, the safety of these 46 Cuban asylum-seekers simply cannot be assured.”
The data leak occurred as DHS was considering the deportation of those exiles and 57 others. Salazar in her letter, sent before the decision to free those compromised individuals, suggests the administration should think twice before cutting any deal with Cuba that involves sending refugees back to the island.
“This incident demonstrates how dangerous and risky it is to maintain close diplomatic relations with totalitarian dictatorships like Cuba,” she wrote. “Anything that is said in a meeting with the Cuban regime can and will be used against the political opposition, which is in constant risk of detainment and torture. The safety and well-being of refugees fleeing from the regime must be the guiding principle of our Cuban migrant policy.”
On this day
Jan. 3, 1993 — “George Bush, Boris Yeltsin sign treaty to slash nuclear arsenals” via The Washington Post — President Bush and Russian President Yeltsin signed the broadest arms reduction pact in history in a glittering Kremlin ceremony. Yeltsin said he has asked President-elect Bill Clinton for an early summit meeting “to pass the baton” of U.S.-Russian relations. The START II treaty, hailed by Yeltsin as one of Bush’s proudest legacies, would cut by two-thirds the nuclear arsenals of the two countries. Its signing, Yeltsin said, “gives mankind hope for a nuclear-free world” and will stand as a testament to the end of the Cold War.
Jan. 3, 2019 — “Nancy Pelosi re-elected Speaker despite narrow majority” via POLITICO — Pelosi was elected Speaker of the House for the 117th Congress, clinching the gavel for the fourth time as she prepared to steer the sharply divided chamber through the final turbulent days of the Donald Trump era. Pelosi won 216 votes to secure the speakership with five Democrats breaking ranks to support someone else or vote present. All Republicans voted for House Minority Leader McCarthy. Now, Pelosi must lead one of the slimmest House majorities in decades — Democrats hold just 222 seats to Republicans’ 211.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol.
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