Delegation for 3.3.23: Havana Syndrome — Pine Hills — Ukraine — hurricane aid — derailment

U.S. Capitol Building from the Fifty Dollar Bill
Havana syndrome has been difficult to prove or pin down.

What syndrome?

Allegations that Havana Syndrome, a condition that afflicted 40 Cuban Embassy staff in 2016, may be tied to a hostile foreign power have been dismissed by the intelligence community (IC).

But members of Florida’s congressional delegation still want answers, with some criticizing President Joe Biden’s administration for implying the matter was settled.

This week, the Director of National Intelligence’s Office released a report concluding the outbreaks were not part of an orchestrated action by Russia or other adversaries.

“Most IC agencies have now concluded that it is ‘very unlikely’ a foreign adversary is responsible for the reported AHIS (Anomalous Health Incidents),” said Director Avril Haines. “IC agencies have varying confidence levels because we still have gaps given the challenges collecting on foreign adversaries — as we do on many issues involving them.”

Havana syndrome has been difficult to explain — or pin down.

Work will continue studying the cause of the incidents, she said stressing leadership in the U.S. embassy in Cuba took proper action reporting concerns and limiting staff presence in Havana.

But Sen. Marco Rubio remains frustrated that intelligence leaders would dismiss concerns out of hand.

“Upon first glance, I am concerned that the Intelligence Community (IC) effectively concluded that U.S. personnel, who reported AHI symptoms, were simply experiencing symptoms caused by environmental factors, illness, or preexisting conditions and is potentially rushing to a conclusion while a substantial number of questions remain,” he said.

“As I have said before, something happened here and just because you don’t have all the answers, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. I will not accept that all these reported cases were just coincidences, and I will continue to work on this issue until we receive real explanations.”

As a Ranking Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he promised to continue the investigation from the legislative branch and will continue efforts to protect embassy staff in Cuba while ensuring the government provides care to everyone affected in the past.

Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, a Hialeah Republican, questioned the motives of the findings. He suggested the Biden administration has taken steps toward normalizing relations with the communist country and dismissing the health crisis cleared an obstacle to that goal.

“The Biden Administration has spent the past two years finding ways to appease and give concessions to the Cuban regime. This report is a brazen precursor to the Biden Administration removing Cuba from the State Sponsor of Terrorism — a measure they have been working on since taking office,” the Hialeah Republican argued.

Diaz-Balart’s office emphasized that the report from Haines stated “most” intelligence agencies had reached the conclusion health problems were coincidental but did not explore which officials did not accept that conclusion.

“The speculation of the causes as ‘preexisting conditions, conventional illnesses, and environmental factors’ is not only at odds with the findings of a panel of experts and fails to adequately name the cause of what occurred, but the report is an insult to the dozens of hardworking U.S. staff and their families who suffered serious brain damage and other symptoms as a result of these ‘AHI’s.’”

Pine Hills push

Sen. Rick Scott is suggesting Gov. Ron DeSantis has good reason to suspend State Attorney Monique Worrell.

“Families in Central Florida deserve accountability. That’s why I am demanding answers from State Attorney Worrell,” Scott tweeted. “If the failures we suspect are confirmed, Gov. DeSantis would be right to remove her.”

The Naples Republican, a former Governor, posted the assessment a day after DeSantis’ Office sent a letter demanding information about past cases involving a murder suspect.

Rick Scott wants Ron DeSantis to suspend State Attorney Monique Worrell.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office arrested 19-year-old Keith Melvin Moses, who faces three charges of first-degree murder, among other crimes. He’s the lone person suspected of killing 38-year-old Natacha Augustin, reporter Dylan Lyons and 9-year-old T’yonna Major in three separate shootings Feb. 22.

Scott’s Office shortly after the arrest raised questions about Moses’ criminal record and known gang affiliations and suggested the suspect should not have been on the streets.

Worrell has pushed back against criticisms from both Scott and DeSantis.

Regarding Scott, she said the Senator has yet to send his questions directly to prosecutors in the 9th Judicial Circuit about the case.

“Thanks to a member of the news media, we are also in receipt of a letter written to me by Sen. Rick Scott,” Worrell said in a statement.

“As of today, we have not received the letter in our office. Given that Sen. Scott didn’t send the letter to our office directly, but rather posted it on social media, the State Attorney’s office will not be responding to his request. Our office remains committed to doing everything in our power to provide justice to the families who lost loved ones or were injured in this tragic shooting.”

Staff for Scott said a letter was mailed to Worrell earlier this week.

Rep. Dan Webster, a Clermont Republican, echoed Scott’s call for action.

“This repeat criminal who Orange County Sheriff (John) Mina referred to as a ‘known gang member,’ has repeatedly been arrested for crimes as a juvenile and then once as an adult. Yet despite this Mr. Keith Melvin Moses was allowed to walk free,” Webster said in a letter to DeSantis.

“We simply cannot have criminals wandering our streets endangering the lives of innocent people because soft-on-crime prosecutors don’t want to prosecute crimes. I’ve co-sponsored legislation that would expose prosecutors who fail to fulfill their duties so they can be held accountable. We must protect our citizens.”

Ukraine spending

Rep. Matt Gaetz has made clear his distaste for assisting Ukraine in its war with Russia.

This week, the Fort Walton Beach Republican pressed Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General Robert Storch on what that aid has cost the U.S. so far.

He listed several corruption scandals in the Ukrainian government that have forced resignations by officials there.

Matt Gaetz is not thrilled with assisting Ukraine in its war with Russia.

“The Arms Control Act of 1996 requires end-use monitoring for certain defense articles that are sold or leased, right?” Gaetz asked Storch in a House Armed Services Committee hearing. He pressed on whether the military has followed through on monitoring the use of money sent to the Eastern European nation.

“I want to be careful here when I respond to you, Congressman, to make sure that I’m clear,” Storch replied. “We are conducting a series of evaluations that look at the controls that DOD has in place to ensure that they are taking the steps that are required.”

Gaetz pushed on the matter, but Storch said answers to many of the questions were either still under evaluation or remain classified for now. That left Gaetz unsatisfied.

“I don’t know why that report is classified,” he said. “I think the American people deserve to know if this 1996 law is being followed or not. You can’t testify that it is being followed, and so I think they can draw reasonable conclusions from that.

Hurricane protection

The Army Corps of Engineers will budget full funding to plan and execute stormwater and flood protection projects in Daytona Beach. Rep. Michael Waltz announced $3 million just appropriated by Congress for infrastructure spending.

The St. Augustine Beach Republican said that funding comes at a critical time after the coastline suffered a beating from two major hurricanes in 2022.

Michael Waltz is touting $3 million from Congress for Daytona Beach infrastructure spending.

“Hurricanes Ian and Nicole were devastating to Florida’s coastal infrastructure from our beaches and dunes to our coastal armoring. Northeast Florida has been left vulnerable and unprotected,” Waltz said. “To help address these damages head-on, I was proud to secure this funding and begin the process of rebuilding our stormwater and flooding infrastructure.”

The Congressman last year sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young and Army Corps Assistant Secretary Michael Connor about the need for better infrastructure to protect Florida’s coastline from major weather events.

Benefits for vets

While Congress has expanded benefits for soldiers affected by burn pits, Rep. Gus Bilirakis said work on behalf of vets who are disabled remains unfinished. He co-introduced the Major Richard Star Act to ensure combat-disabled veterans receive their full military benefits.

“The brave men and women who return from serving our country should be able to receive the benefits promised to them. Military retirement pay and service-connected disability compensation are two completely different benefits. One does not diminish the merits of the other,” the Palm Harbor Republican said.

Richard Star inspired legislation to support veterans with disabilities.

“I am committed to rectifying this injustice for all Veterans, and passage of the Major Richard Star Act will get us one step closer to our goal of ensuring that Veterans receive the benefits they have earned and deserve.”

He introduced bipartisan legislation with Rep. Raul Ruiz, a California Democrat. It’s named for Richard Star, a disabled veteran advocate who died in 2021 after battling lung cancer.

Bilirakis said his bill would provide benefits to more than 50,000 veterans who were medically retired from service. He voiced confidence the bill would reach the Oval Office for Biden’s signature this year.

“I’d like to thank the Veterans Service Organizations that have been tenacious in their outreach to Members of Congress throughout the country to request co-sponsorship. Because of their unwavering support, we are able to move this bill one step closer to becoming law,” Bilirakis said.

Minding the gap

Democrats in Florida’s congressional delegation say DeSantis should take action to reduce health care costs for Floridians.

Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, led a letter to the Governor urging Florida to redetermine eligibility for over 5.6 million Floridians currently covered by Medicaid.

Kathy Castor urges DeSantis to help reduce health care costs for Floridians.

Castor’s office said it’s up to DeSantis to prevent a gap in coverage or a mass disenrollment of beneficiaries including children, parents with postpartum care and many individuals during lengthy treatment.

“An estimated 72% of eligible children nationwide are likely to lose Medicaid coverage during the redetermination due to administrative barriers,” the letter states. “Children are at the greatest risk for coverage losses while they remain eligible. As the official responsible for the success of Medicaid coverage in Florida, we encourage you to send a strong message that eligible families should not lose Medicaid.

“We urge you to work with your multiple agencies and stakeholders to ensure that Florida does not see an unnecessary and harmful increase in uninsured children, postpartum parents, individuals in the midst of complex care, such as chemotherapy or other treatment and other beneficiaries.”

The eight Democrats representing Florida in Congress signed onto the letter.

“Any gap in health coverage can be devastating and potentially exposes people and families to high burdens of medical debt, so it is critical that Florida use every tool at their disposal to prevent a mass disenrollment of individuals, particularly children, from their health insurance — especially when they remain eligible. We look forward to working with you to meet our shared goal of keeping Floridians healthy and enrolled in high-quality coverage,” the letter concludes.


After a train derailment in Ohio led to chemical explosions and environmental calamity, officials in Manatee County held their breath following news of a local derailment. Rep. Vern Buchanan took a high-profile tour of the site this week alongside Manatee Sheriff Rick Wells and County Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge.

“Experts on the scene assured me that the situation is controlled and there are no propane leaks at this time, but I will be monitoring the situation closely over the next few days,” Buchanan tweeted from the site.

Vern Buchanan gets a firsthand view of the Manatee train derailment.

The Longboat Key Republican said transportation officials early on there was no great public risk after six cars came off the tracks from a Seminole Gulf Railway train. But with propane as part of the cargo, anxiety still surrounds the incident.

Manatee County public safety officials said it will take four to five days to remove the cars and reopen the rail line.

“A huge thank you to first responders for rushing to the scene and their continued efforts to keep our community safe,” Buchanan tweeted.

Worldwide democracy

Buchanan also announced a key leadership position with an internationally focused caucus in the House. The Florida congressional delegation Co-Chair will lead the House Democratic Partnership for the 118th Congress.

The 20-member bipartisan Commission partners with nations around the world to support the development of legislative institutions.

“With rising authoritarianism and extremism threatening emerging democracies around the globe, it is in our strategic interests to assist these nations,” said Buchanan. “I look forward to leading the HDP’s efforts to strengthen the democratic institutions of our partner nations.”

Vern Buchanan gets another leadership role, this time with the House Democratic Partnership.

The group works with the United States Agency for International Development, as well as the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, in an effort to strengthen democratic institutions and bilateral relationships with the U.S. Buchanan has been part of the HDP since 2011 and did previously co-chair the group with Democratic Rep. David Price of North Carolina. A Democratic Co-Chair this year has yet to be named.

Ian tax break

As much of Florida continues to rebuild from Hurricane Ian, Rep. Greg Steube said it’s time Congress offered residents a tax break.

The Sarasota Republican filed a bill to designate the Category 4 storm as a “qualified disaster” for tax determination purposes.

That would allow individuals to deduct losses from the storm by itemizing them in taxes. Net casualty loss also would not need to exceed 10% of a filer’s total gross income to qualify for a deduction.

Greg Steube said it’s time Hurricane Ian survivors get tax break.

“Through no fault of their own, Floridians and many other Americans in the Southeast U.S. are now on an expensive road to recovery following Hurricane Ian,” Steube said. “Virtually every other recent major hurricane and disasters like the California wildfires have been designated as qualified disasters for tax purposes. The NOAA ranks Hurricane Ian as the third most-costly hurricane in U.S. history,” Steube said.

“It’s common sense that Congress should pass my legislation to designate this horrific storm as a qualified disaster. Congress must do its job and provide much-needed relief to taxpayers so that Floridians can fully recover from this storm and adequately prepare for the next.”

Cut the cable

As lines of commerce increasingly cut off between the U.S. and China, Rep. Brian Mast said he wants underwater communication lines severed as well. He filed a bipartisan bill to require the administration to limit foreign adversaries from establishing undersea cables, and to ensure allies are helping with that effort.

“Look what they’ve done with balloons. Look what they’ve done with social media,” the Stuart Republican said. “Why on earth would we want China to control one of the most powerful communications tools on the planet?”

The Undersea Cable Control Act would invoke authority from the Export Control Reform Act to restrict sending goods to China that would be detrimental to U.S. interests.

Brian Mast wants to cut the cord with China.

With China expanding its reach with apps like TikTok, which is partly owned by the Chinese government, Mast said the spying capability of the Eastern power has grown rapidly.

“This is the exact same Chinese Communist Party that wants to topple America and put communism on top,” Mast said. “We must protect this infrastructure and technology that Americans rely on every day.”

Street protest

Several members of Florida’s congressional delegation want the street in front of the Cuban embassy in Washington named after an activist who spent his life fighting the communist regime.

Díaz-Balart filed legislation (HR 1239) to redesignate a section of 16th Street North in Washington as Oswaldo Payá Way. Republican Reps. Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz were all introducing co-sponsors, along with Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York.

Oswaldo Payá founded the pro-democracy Christian Liberation Movement in 1987 and died in 2012 in a suspicious car crash. The activist had gained international attention for his Varela Project, which rallied international support for establishing free speech in Cuba; protesting the government remains a crime on the island.

Oswaldo Payá Way would commemorate the Cuban dissident leader.

“Ten years ago, the courageous Cuban pro-democracy activist and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, was assassinated by Castro thugs, along with fellow activist Harold Cepero,” Díaz-Balart said in a statement released in Spanish. “Oswaldo Payá was targeted by the Cuban dictatorship because he was an effective and tireless defender of religious freedom and representative government.”

Salazar said the street naming would honor the Cuban patriot who faced off with Cuba’s government and now could have his name emblazoned on street signs confronting embassy officials.

“Payá paid for the ‘Varela Project’ with his own life. The Castros never forgave him for the pro-democracy uprising he provoked on the island through the Christian Liberation Movement. On the 71st anniversary of Payá’s birth, there is no better way to honor his legacy than to name the street in front of the Cuban Embassy after him.”

Giménez also thought the move was appropriate.

“This street will serve as a constant reminder of how Castro’s brutal communist regime continues to indiscriminately imprison, terrorize and murder the freedom-loving Cuban people,” the Cuban-born Congressman said.

Wasserman Schultz offered an air of bipartisanship with her support for the bill.

“In the face of violence and intimidation that spanned decades, Oswaldo Payá built a grassroots movement that demanded Cuba’s autocrats allow more freedom on the island,” she said. “I am proud to join my colleagues in honoring this human rights hero by making his presence permanent, right in front of the Cuban Embassy, as a constant reminder of his work to bring justice to the Cuban people.”

Rubio and Scott will introduce a companion measure in the Senate.

On this day

March 3, 1845 — “Florida becomes 27th state” via the Florida Department of State — William D. Moseley was elected the new state’s first Governor, and David Levy Yulee, one of Florida’s leading proponents for statehood, became a U.S. Senator. By 1850, the population had grown to 87,445, including about 39,000 African American slaves and 1,000 free Blacks. Most Florida voters did not oppose slavery. However, they were concerned about the growing feeling against it in the North, and during the 1850s viewed the new anti-slavery Republican Party with suspicion. In 1860, no Floridians voted for Abraham Lincoln, although the Illinois Republican won at the national level. A special convention drew up an ordinance that allowed Florida to secede from the Union in 1861.

March 3, 1991 — “Rodney King beating caught on video” via CBS News — Four police officers were filmed beating taxi driver King after a pursuit through the streets of Los Angeles. The video shocked the city, and the events that followed shocked the nation. King, who was intoxicated, had been caught speeding and initially tried to evade the police. When he finally pulled over and exited his car, multiple LAPD units and a helicopter were pursuing him. Taken by bystander George Holliday from across the street, the footage shows four officers tasing, kicking, and hitting King with their batons upward of 53 times.


Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles and edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol.

Staff Reports

One comment

  • Rob Desantos

    March 3, 2023 at 4:07 pm

    Keep throwing those tantrums, Little Marco

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, Wes Wolfe, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Sign up for Sunburn