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Offshore off limits
Few geographic issues have the power to transcend traditional party lines. Offshore oil drilling, though, has long held such a place in Florida politics.
That fact went on full display as Reps. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, and Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, filed legislation that would make a drilling moratorium off Florida’s coastline permanent. The two lawmakers notably represent neighboring districts in Florida’s Gulf Coast.
“Allowing drilling off of Florida’s coasts would be a colossal mistake,” Buchanan said. “As we learned from the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil explosion in 2010, our state cannot afford another spill that would threaten our economy, our environment and our way of life. As Co-Chair of the 30-member bipartisan Florida congressional delegation, I will continue working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to protect the state’s pristine coasts and beautiful waterways.”
Notably, pressure ahead of that explosion briefly led to several Republican members of Congress in 2010 toying with support for drilling. Buchanan, though, resisted calls to change his position, a move that quickly seemed validated April 20 of that year when a BP rig blew up, killing 11 workers and releasing 4 million barrels worth of oil over 87 days. Oil would eventually reach Panhandle beaches and impact international tourism around the state.
Castor has made environmental protection a cornerstone of her congressional career. Opposing drilling off the coast of her home state was an easy call for her.
“In the Sunshine State, clean water and our beautiful beaches are central to our way of life and the cornerstones of our economy, and we know that oil and gas drilling can devastate both our environment and economy,” she said. “With our bipartisan bill, Congress has an opportunity to permanently protect our coastal beaches and communities from dangerous offshore drilling.”
The legislation, if passed, would ban any oil or gas drilling along 235 miles of the Gulf Coast, 275 miles of the Atlantic coast and anywhere in the Florida Straits.
For the moment, those areas remain protected anyway. Bowing to demands from leaders in his home state, former President Donald Trump in 2020 issued a 10-year moratorium on drilling off the coasts in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. That surprised energy companies at the time, as Trump came into office with a plan allowing more expansion. Oil companies have pushed for an expansion in drilling ability for decades, regardless of which party controls the White House.
Florida lawmakers have pushed to restrict billing before. Castor worked with former Rep. Francis Rooney, a Naples Republican, in 2020 to pass a ban on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, but it never moved in the GOP-controlled Senate then. Most of the congressional Republican caucus at the time opposed the legislation, but nearly every Florida Republican supported it.
What that means for the legislation now remains unclear. Republican leadership may not hear the bill, but Florida’s 20 House Republicans together could join with Democrats and pass the bill without the help of colleagues in any other state.
Haiti remains in political turmoil, but Sen. Marco Rubio said the U.S. can help calm the economy of the island nation. He introduced bipartisan legislation, the Haiti Economic Lift Program Extension (HELP) Act, which would extend trade benefits on apparel products produced in Haiti.
The legislation would effectively broaden the types of items that could be brought into the U.S. duty-free to include more than 5,000 types of clothes and footwear. A similar program was approved in 2010 after an earthquake devastated Haiti’s economy, but that will end in 2025. Rubio’s legislation would establish a new program that runs from 2025 to 2035.
“It is in our national interest to help Haiti as it faces unimaginable hardships as a result of political corruption, natural disasters, and rampant crime,” he said. “The HELP Act is an important bipartisan measure that will extend trade benefits and boost the country’s largest industry.”
Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Dick Durbin of Illinois signed on as co-introducing sponsors, as did GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
“America is safer and better off when our neighbors are thriving,” Warnock said. “That’s why I was proud to lead this bipartisan effort to strengthen Haiti’s economic future and stability. This bill is a win-win for Georgians and the people of Haiti. It will promote a better future for us all and I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this over the finish line.”
War on drugs
What separates drug cartels and foreign terrorist groups? Sen. Rick Scott is arguing that distinctions aren’t necessary when it comes to national defense.
He and Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican, filed legislation that would designate specific groups bringing narcotics into the U.S. as Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Scott suggested that would give strength to border security to deal with criminals shipping fentanyl and other drugs through Mexico.
“For too long, (President Joe) Biden’s botched border policies have prioritized criminals and cartels over legal immigration and Americans’ safety,” the Naples Republican said.
“Dictators, cartels and bad guys around the world know that Biden is a weak appeaser with open border policies. They’re taking full advantage by trafficking evil drugs like fentanyl across the southern border, poisoning our communities and killing our loved ones. Those who knowingly distribute these highly lethal drugs are declaring war on Americans and deserve to be held accountable and classified as the terrorists they are.”
The legislation would redesignate Reynosa/Los Metros faction of the Gulf Cartel, the Cartel Del Noreste faction of Los Zetas, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel as terrorist groups. That would criminalize providing any material help to the cartels, ban entry to the U.S. for any known members, and grant the Treasury Department the ability to freeze assets.
Rep. Matt Gaetz forced a House vote on continued military presence in Syria. While a war powers resolution (HC 21) failed on a 321-103 bipartisan vote, it revealed strange bedfellows bind between anti-war segments of the Left and Right.
“There is no role for the United States of America in Syria,” argued Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican. “We are not a Middle Eastern power. We have tried to build a democracy out of sand, blood, and Arab militias. Time and again, the work we do does not reduce chaos. Oftentimes, it causes chaos — the very chaos that then subsequently leads to terrorism. While today’s vote may have failed, my fight to end forever wars and bring our troops home has only just begun.”
Of note, Gaetz has long taken the isolationist view against wars, including those waged by Republican administrations. The most significant moment when he seemed at odds with Trump, for example, came when he supported a similar war powers restriction to limit military action in Syria in 2020.
The resolution brought by Gaetz this week boasted the support of 47 Republicans and 56 Democrats. Unlike in 2020, no Florida Democrats supported the measure. But six other Florida Republicans backed up the Fort Walton Republican, including Reps. Aaron Bean, Kat Cammack, Byron Donalds, Anna Paulina Luna, Cory Mills and Bill Posey.
Clear for countdown
Two members of the delegation are working across the aisle in hopes of streamlining communication between rocket pads and launch teams.
Reps. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican, and Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, introduced the Launch Communications Act (HR 682), which could ease barriers to private companies obtaining spectrum licenses for use at spaceports.
“America leads the world in innovation and exploration; however, our current regulations and restrictions are holding us back from the next moonshot,” Dunn said.
“The Launch Communications Act simplifies a burdensome process so we can maintain our competitiveness and encourage further space exploration. I’m grateful to my colleagues on the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology for voting in favor of a more efficient process that benefits private companies and the federal government.”
Soto supported a similar bill in the last Congress.
“Space exploration has long been an integral part of our national goal to advance humanity, science, and innovation,” Soto said then. “However, the extent to which regulations and restrictions have been imposed on the rocket launching process only delays those who seek to make progress on this frontier.”
Members of Congress don’t like flushing money down the drain. But they do want everyone to have access to a working flush.
Rep. Cammack announced a $6.3 million grant will help the residents of Starke improve a wastewater treatment plant. The funding comes through an Agriculture Development Rural Development grant.
That’s the latest bit of federal government support. Starke also received a $9.6 million Water and Waste Disposal Grant. The city also is benefiting from a $10.6 federal loan.
Tracking gun sales
As the federal government explores tracking suspicious ammunition purchases, Democrats in Congress don’t want the Florida Legislature thwarting plans.
Rep. Maxwell Frost sent a letter to leaders of the Florida House and Senate discouraging consideration of legislation billed as privacy measures. The International Organization of Standardization in September approved a merchant category code that will allow financial institutions to flag unusual purchases of guns and ammunition.
The Orlando Democrat said that could be valuable in preventing mass shootings.
“This new MCC code will allow financial institutions to identify patterns of purchasing behavior that are associated with criminal activity, such as straw purchases and unlawful bulk purchases that could be used in the commission of domestic terrorist acts or gun trafficking schemes,” Frost wrote.
“Such coordination between financial institutions and law enforcement has been instrumental in efforts across the federal government to identify and prevent illicit activity. Banks and credit card companies use MCC intelligence to find patterns in consumer purchases to prevent human trafficking.”
But Frost worries bills in the Florida House (HB 221) and Senate (HB 214) would curtail this new investigating ability. Every Democrat in Florida’s congressional delegation signed Frost’s letter.
It’s written to Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, House Speaker Paul Renner, Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book and House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, urging leadership not to consider the legislation.
The bills explicitly prohibit Florida retailers from utilizing the new codes or otherwise classifying firearms and ammunition differently from any other retail product in ways financial institutions could independently track.
Two first-term members of the delegation joined forces to address the rising number of reported rapes within the armed services
Reps. Luna, a St. Petersburg Republican, and Jared Moskowitz, a Parkland Democrat, filed the Stop Our Sexual (SOS) Assault in the Military Act. The bill would provide tools to soldiers to better respond to attempted attacks.
“When I served in the military, I witnessed the lack of self-defense and combat training,” Luna said. “This bipartisan piece of legislation would ensure that out of the already-required physical training days each month for active-duty service members, one of those days would be designated to self-defense/combat training. Importantly, this bill does not increase the number of training days required. All members of our military will benefit from this prevention and response training. This is a no-brainer.”
Moskowitz serves as the prime co-sponsor on the legislation. In addition, other introducing co-sponsors from Florida include Mario Díaz-Balart, Donalds, Dunn, Gaetz, Posey and Greg Steube.
Rep. Laurel Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican, made her first bill filed in Congress a celebration of a tradition in her district. It was a simple resolution recognizing the cultural significance of the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City, which just celebrated its 88th anniversary.
“Plant City’s strawberry industry is a critical part of our local community’s economy and history. With over 10,000 acres of strawberries planted every year, we produce the best winter strawberries in the world,” Lee said. “The annual Florida Strawberry Festival is the heartbeat of our community, celebrating the annual harvest and the men and women who work tirelessly to provide the best strawberries in the nation. I am proud to introduce my first bill to honor the festival and our strawberry industry’s contributions to American agriculture.”
I had the honor to speak at this year’s 88th Strawberry Festival Parade Luncheon in Plant City!
The @FLStrawberryFst is one of my favorite traditions, celebrating our farmers and producers as we continue to be the winter strawberry capital of the world. #FL15 pic.twitter.com/Ej7R7R19sY
— Congresswoman Laurel Lee (@RepLaurelLee) March 7, 2023
Dueling a Musk-ateer
Before journalist Matt Taibbi got up from his appearance in front of Congress, he might have had a few burn marks from the grilling that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz administered during Thursday’s hearing on how Twitter handles government requests.
At first, he said “it depends” when the Weston Democrat asked him whether journalists should avoid being spoon-fed information. And then she rolled back a quote from him on the Joe Rogan podcast.
“Once you start getting handed things, you’re lost. … You just can’t cross that line,” she said. “Do you still believe what you told Mr. Rogan? Yes or no.”
“Yes,” he said.
“Now you crossed that line with the Twitter files,” Wasserman Schultz said.
“No,” Taibbi replied.
“It’s my time; please don’t interrupt me,” she snapped. “Elon Musk spoon-fed you his cherry-picked information. … You violated your own standard and you appear to have benefited from it.”
After that, his Twitter followers doubled, she noted. And paid subscribers to his Substack took off in return for becoming Musk’s mouthpiece, she declared.
“It’s probably a wash, honestly,” Taibbi said. “I’ve just hired a group of people to …”
Wasserman Schultz interrupted, “Reclaiming my time. Attention is a powerful drug, eyeballs money, prominence, attention. It all points to problems with accuracy and credibility. … Hypocrisy is the hangover of an addiction to attention.”
A federal Parents Bill of Rights (HR 5), which mirrors legislation (HB 1467) passed last year in Florida, giving parents the right to inspect books and other teaching material, is headed for a full House vote.
But it didn’t get out of the House Committee on Education and Workforce before Rep. Frederica Wilson, the ranking Democrat, gave it a blistering critique, noting that it says nothing about the essentials of education that involve actual investment.
Nowhere in this bill of rights does it mention the tools of education, the facilities, or a guaranteed minimum salary for the teachers, like her bill that asks for a guaranteed starting teacher salary of $60,000 a year, the Hollywood Democrat noted.
“Stop wasting our time and come back with a Bill of Rights that will help American families survive and live out the American dream,” Wilson said. “Put our children and families over politics and deliver what they really need.”
Return to K Street
Ballard Partners, Florida’s highest-grossing lobbying firm, is launching a new practice group focusing on veterans’ issues.
Former Rep. Jeff Miller, who previously served as Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, will Chair the Veterans Practice Group.
Ballard Partners’ news release said the practice will provide advocacy services addressing veteran health care, housing, mental health and suicide prevention.
“Former Congressman Miller dedicated his public service career to serving veterans,” said firm founder and President Brian Ballard. “He will be joined by other partners in our firm who have distinguished public service experience addressing the needs of our nation’s veterans.”
Miller added, “During my time in public service, I was dedicated to finding better ways to provide our veterans with the assistance and services they have earned and need. Our firm’s partners have extensive public sector experience serving veterans at both the state and federal level and will bring that same dedication to assist veterans through our firm’s new veterans practice group.”
On this day
March 10, 1982 — “U.S. bans imports of Libyan oil” via The Washington Post — President Ronald Reagan’s administration formally banned further imports of Libyan oil and accused Libyan ruler Col. Muammar Qaddafi of “a particularly outrageous” attempt to kill possibly hundreds of U.S. officials and their families by planting plastic explosives in stereo speakers at an American club in Sudan. State Department officials claimed “we know” such explosive devices were prepared in a neighboring country by Libyan intelligence officials, who then supervised the loading of the speakers on a plane bound for Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.
March 10, 1969 — “James Earl Ray enters plea of guilty in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. slaying” via United Press International — Hinting a conspiracy existed, Ray was the only person in court to suggest others may have taken part in the April 4, 1968, sniper slaying of the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Ray pleaded guilty in a deal with the prosecution that he will be sentenced to 99 years in the Tennessee State Penitentiary at Nashville, instead of taking the chance that a jury might sentence him to death in the electric chair. A jury of 12 men, including two Negroes, was selected from the first 12 names on the jury list. Each juror agreed to the deal.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles and edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol, with contributions by Anne Geggis.