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Federal officials celebrated the completion of repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike, the structure which held back the waters of Lake Okeechobee for more than a century.
Improvements to the dam should improve its effectiveness at preventing flooding. The recent improvements also mark a critical step in setting up a new management plan for the lake waters.
Staff for Sen. Marco Rubio’s Office attended a ribbon-cutting celebration at the dike this week, and Florida’s senior Senator celebrated the achievements to date.
“Today’s ribbon cutting for the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike is an important milestone for water management flexibility and flood resilience in Central and Southern Florida,” he said. “I was proud to fight to secure full funding for this project in 2018 … I will continue working to improve the resilience of Florida’s communities and economy by protecting and restoring Florida’s water infrastructure and resources.”
The Miami Republican visited the dike with then-President Donald Trump in 2019 and said the completion of the project shows the political success of those efforts years ago.
Col. James Booth, Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander, said it felt good to complete the repairs. He promised it would supply a safer future for residents around the lake.
Rubio’s office reminded us that a 1928 hurricane killed thousands in the area because of lax water management at the time, showing the need for the dike.
But as a new era for Lake Okeechobee management begins, members of the delegation remain concerned about whether the changes are enough to protect their communities from environmental challenges.
With a rainy season threatening to fill Lake O to the brim, Rep. Brian Mast sent a letter to the Army Corps dissuading releases into the St. Lucie River.
“The only acceptable number of discharges to our community is zero. Anything more than that harms our community,” the Stuart Republican said.
But this week, the Army Corps released water into the river for the first time in two years. In his letter to Booth and Army Corps leadership, Mast urged to stop the water as soon as possible. He said the agency instead should fully use dispersed water management projects and other structures south of the lake to avoid any ecological damage to the St. Lucie estuary.
As it stands, the plan is to deliver 2 billion cubic feet of freshwater into the estuary each week.
In addition to the threats of an ecological imbalance, Mast has long raised concerns about discharges spurring blue-green algal blooms, offering health hazards to the communities along the river.
Sen. Rick Scott is beginning his re-election campaign, and it will be staffed with familiar names. Four of the major names involved were part of his less-than-successful stewardship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
All but one of them engaged in one or more of his three earlier successful campaigns for office since 2010.
“We’ve worked hard to turn Florida into a red state that elects Republicans up and down the ballot,” Scott said. “But I never take anything for granted. The people of Florida have elected me three times so far to fight for conservative values, stand up to Joe Biden and the radical, woke Democrats, and bring common sense to Washington. We’re going to keep fighting to do the things the people of Florida elected me to do.”
Jackie Schutz Zeckman, who most recently served as NRSC Executive Director, will run the political operation. She was central to his tenure as Governor, eventually serving as his final Chief of Staff, and moved on to the same position when Scott moved to the Senate.
Zeckman also ran his 2018 campaign when he defeated Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.
Chris Hartline will serve as a senior adviser and communications consultant. For longtime Scott observers, that name is familiar. Hartline was the spokesman for the NRSC after serving a stretch running comms for Scott’s Senate office.
Priscilla Ivasco will serve as Communications Director. Ivasco supervised media affairs for the NRSC and served in a deputy communications director role for Scott’s Senate office.
National Press Secretary Jonathan Turcotte also served in a support role with the NRSC, directing the rapid response. Before that, Turcotte worked on former President Trump’s failed re-election campaign.
Lisa Goodspeed, Finance Director for Scott’s earlier campaigns, is back on board in the same role. Longtime Scott adviser Curt Anderson will continue to advise, meanwhile, while Ana Carbonell will also serve as a senior adviser for Hispanic engagement.
A House Select Committee on China will have more voices from Florida.
Rep. Neal Dunn was one of 13 members who Speaker Kevin McCarthy named to the new panel. The Panama City Republican in the last Congress served on a Republican China Task Force.
“China is a foreign agitator and a serious threat to the United States and our allies. Overreliance on imported medical supplies from China compromises national security, the stability of our health care system, and the security of our nation overall,” Dunn said. “Biden administration policies have only liberated and emboldened China. Speaker McCarthy is correct: the danger posed by our dependence on China is dire. I’m honored to be appointed to the China Select Committee in addition to my role on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. I look forward to working with my colleagues to hold the CCP accountable.”
He joins Rep. Carlos Giménez, who announced his selection to the panel this week as well.
Locked and unloaded
Another new committee created by McCarthy, the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, will also have Sunshine State representation.
Rep. Kat Cammack was one of the GOP appointees to the group, which will work under the auspices of the House Judiciary Committee.
“Over the last two years of this administration, we’ve seen the unchecked growth of the federal bureaucracy and the unfettered power of the executive branches used against the American people,” the Gainesville Republican said. “Whether it’s the (Department of Justice) going after parents concerned about their children’s education or the taxpayer funds that fueled research around COVID, we’re equipped to return accountability and transparency to the American people. It’s long past time we deliver the answers everyone deserves.”
Rep. Greg Steube also serves on the new committee. The Sarasota Republican, who continues to recover at home from a 25-foot fall, expressed his appreciation for the appointment.
“The American people have watched as the top levels of our government used counterterrorism measures to target parents at school board meetings, strong-armed Big Tech to censor conservatives, and conducted an unprecedented FBI raid at the home of our 45th President,” he said.
“Simultaneously, our weaponized bureaucracy worked hand in hand with the private sector to manipulate the public by burying damning information on the Biden family mere days before the 2020 election. This is nothing short of election interference. It’s time we investigate how the top levels of our government have actively worked against its citizens for political gain. Time to put our government back in check, America.”
Members of Florida’s congressional delegation want to double the distance from U.S. shores when federal authorities can enforce U.S. laws.
Scott introduced a bill in the Senate and Rep. Michael Waltz filed companion legislation in the House that would extend U.S. authority farther from the coast.
The Extending Limits of U.S. Customs Waters Act would allow both Customs and Border Control and the Coast Guard to execute the law 24 nautical miles from American soil. The law now allows that within 12 miles.
While the presidential proclamation in effect now allows this authority to the federal agencies, Waltz said improved technologies employed by drug and human traffickers make it important to codify the extension. He also blamed Biden for lax border enforcement leading to an influx of fentanyl and a recent increase in migrants entering the country after landing in the Florida Keys.
“Biden’s failed border policies also extend out to the sea. Over the past few months, we’ve seen an influx of drug and human traffickers washing up on Florida’s shores,” Waltz said. “We must give our federal law enforcement officials the authority to more effectively intercept and catch these criminals and keep our communities safe.”
Scott introduced the bill in the upper chamber with Sens. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona independent, and James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican. He again cited the rush of refugees from Cuba and Haiti to South Florida.
“What I saw last week in the Florida Keys is unacceptable, our country is experiencing record-high levels of illegal immigration and this needs to stop,” the Naples Republican said.
“The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations keep families in Florida and around our nation safe by patrolling the beaches, shore waters and maritime territory, conducting search and rescue operations and intercepting vessels transporting illegal drugs and the victims of human trafficking. Our bill, the Extending U.S. Customs Waters Act, will extend the United States customs waters territory to help ensure our Coast Guard and CBP/AMO has the jurisdiction and authority needed to cut down on drug and human trafficking so that families everywhere remain safe. I am thankful for the bipartisan support, and I urge all my colleagues to support this important bill.”
Targeting gun violence
Two of Florida’s first-term members boast strong connections to the gun control movement. After a series of mass shootings kicked off 2023, Reps. Maxwell Frost and Jared Moskowitz now say Congress needs to take long overdue action. The two sent a letter, along with Rep. Dan Goldman of New York, urging congressional leadership to organize a classified briefing on nationwide mass shootings.
“The devastating reality of gun violence in America makes it impossible to even process one mass shooting before another one is perpetuated,” the Democrats wrote. “When these tragic events become so common, we risk becoming desensitized to the true horror of each one and the impact they have on the victims, their loved ones, and the community.”
Moskowitz knows the impact of mass shootings on a community well. The Parkland Democrat wrote a school safety and gun control bill in 2018 that passed in the Florida Legislature after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shooting claimed 17 lives.
Frost, an Orlando Democrat, is also a victim of gun violence, and for years was active in the March for Our Lives movement that arose after the Parkland tragedy.
Both members won their House seats in the 2022 Midterm Election and were quickly named to the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and named as Vice Chairs.
The two said at the very least, Congress needs all available information about the recent rash of shootings.
A first-term member who once ran Florida’s elections will now serve on the House committee dealing with the mechanics of democracy. Rep. Laurel Lee announced her third committee appointment, this one to the House Administration Committee.
“It is an honor to be named to the Committee on House Administration under Chairman Bryan Steil,” the Thonotosassa Republican said. “The Committee works to keep the People’s House open and oversees our nation’s elections. As a former Secretary of State and Chief Elections Official for Florida, I bring firsthand experience to the Committee on how to oversee and run a successful election. Florida leads the way in conducting efficient, secure, and accurate elections, and its policies are a model for other states.
“I will work to protect the integrity and security of our elections nationwide and to build voter confidence in our election process. Thank you, Chairman Steil and Speaker McCarthy for entrusting me with this important responsibility and I look forward to working with the Committee for the 118th Congress.”
Rep. Vern Buchanan kicked off the 118th Congress by filing 10 bills, laying out an agenda in legislative terms. Those range from fiscally conservative bills about balancing the budget to addressing local environmental concerns like red tide.
“As we begin the new Congress, we need to focus on getting our country and our economy back on track,” he said. “I look forward to a productive year in the new House majority and am committed to making our country and our communities safer and more prosperous.”
As far as fiscal matters, the Sarasota Republican filed a proposal to amend the constitution and require Congress to pass a balanced budget and a bill to prohibit Congress from giving itself a raise. He also proposed hard-line immigration proposals including a prohibition on anyone affiliated with a gang entering the U.S., while granting law enforcement authority to deport individuals based on that.
The new Chair of the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee also filed a number of bills about patients’ access to medication. The Mandating Exclusive Review of Individual Treatments (MERIT) Act would ensure coverage of potentially lifesaving drugs and new treatments for Medicare beneficiaries. Another bill, the Permanent Telehealth from Home Act, would guarantee the ability to access a physician of choice using remote communication. Another health-care-related bill would allow military service members a way to safely dispose of surplus prescription drugs, including opioids.
On the environmental front, he filed the Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act, which would allow for federal major disaster declarations in the event of algae outbreaks. Another bill would upgrade manatees from “threatened” to “endangered” status under the Endangered Species Act.
The Buchanan-authored American Innovation Act would quadruple the startup costs small-business owners can deduct from their federal income taxes to $20,000, an effort to spur entrepreneurship. The Thin Blue Line Act would toughen penalties on anyone convicted of murdering a police officer or first responder.
The subject of socialism in South Florida carries particular weight with large populations of immigrants who left other Latin American nations under leftist rule. Rep. María Elvira Salazar said Congress should decry the political philosophy as a body.
The Coral Gables Republican and Cuban American leader co-introduced a concurrent resolution, along with Republican Majority Leader Steve Scalise to decry the “failures and horrors” of socialism.
“The district I represent is one that knows the failures of socialism all too well,” Salazar said. “My constituents understand firsthand the consequences socialist ideology brought to our continent: misery, oppression, and exile. I am proud to introduce a resolution that makes it clear, socialism fails wherever it has been tried, and we don’t want it here.”
The resolution slams socialist leaders from history like USSR leader Josef Stalin and Cuban President Fidel Castro, as well as many in place today like Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Regarding Salazar’s own ancestral home of Cuba, the resolution specifically recounts how “the Castro regime in Cuba expropriated the land of Cuban farmers and the businesses of Cuban entrepreneurs, stealing their possessions and their livelihoods, and exiling millions with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”
The bill had 73 other introducing co-sponsors, all Republicans, including Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Buchanan, Cammack, Mario Díaz-Balart, Matt Gaetz, Giménez, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Waltz and Daniel Webster.
A controversial proposal to release low-level offenders without posting bail has some cities in Miami-Dade County concerned. Now a former Miami-Dade Mayor serving in Congress has come out against the plan. Giménez issued a statement slamming the proposal.
“Miami-Dade County is not Chicago, New York or San Francisco. Woke socialist cash bail reform programs have led to skyrocketing crime across our nation,” Giménez said.
“As Mayor of Miami-Dade County, we successfully reduced crime by innovating and enforcing the rule of law. In fact, Miami-Dade has welcomed thousands who have fled the crime-infested cities which have abolished or reformed their cash bail programs. Our County must never follow the path of America’s decaying liberal cities. I wholeheartedly oppose any effort to abolish cash bail in Miami-Dade County.”
The proposal could still go into effect sometime this year, the Miami Herald reports, as corrections facilities deal with overcrowding.
On this day
Jan. 27, 2017 — “Donald Trump issues travel ban on Muslim countries” via CNN — Trump banned citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for at least the next 90 days. The executive order barred all people hailing from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — or at least 218 million people, based on 2015 data published by the World Bank — from entering the United States. Those countries were named in a 2016 law concerning immigration visas as “countries of concern.” But the executive order also makes clear those seven countries are just a starting point for a likely broader ban. The order exempts diplomats and members of international organizations from the ban.
Jan. 27, 1992 — “Bill Clinton accuser defends story, plays tapes” via The Washington Post — The woman who claimed she had a 12-year affair with Arkansas Gov. Clinton defended her story but refused to answer questions about clear discrepancies in the account of events she sold to a supermarket tabloid. Gennifer Flowers, a former television reporter and lounge singer from Little Rock, released selected excerpts from tapes she claimed to have made of her telephone conversations with the Democratic presidential aspirant late last year. While granting that his 16-year marriage to Hillary Clinton has had difficult periods, the candidate has denied having an affair with Flowers.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch, compiled by Jacob Ogles, and edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol, with contributions by A.G. Gancarski.