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As the world awaits word on Donald Trump’s self-hyped indictment, evidence is mounting that American politics still revolves around Mar-a-Lago.
In the Sunshine State, which knows well the gravity of holding the former “Winter White House,” the potential of one citizen’s perp walk certainly overtook the conversation. A House GOP retreat in Orlando seemingly shifted into a response center as Republican leaders publicly trashed New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg. A news conference on digital currency organized by Gov. Ron DeSantis made bigger headlines when the Florida Governor alluded to “porn star hush money” prompting the possible charges.
Members of Florida’s congressional delegation also chimed in as national media clamored for opinions. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, a St. Petersburg Republican and loyal Trump backer, attacked prosecutors in a statement to The New York Times. “This is unheard-of, and Americans should see it for what it is: an abuse of power and fascist overreach of the justice system,” she brazenly asserted.
Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, went to Fox News airwaves to defend the former President. “I think this is one of the worst uses of the justice system that we’ve ever seen,” he said. “This two-tiered prosecution, this gotcha mentality with the criminal justice system, is flat out wrong.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Dan Webster, a Clermont Republican, cheered House leadership deploying its own investigatory abilities to go after Bragg.
“Outrageous that this DA abuses his power to go after President Donald Trump while failing to prosecute violent criminals in his city!” Webster tweeted in what became a familiar line of attack. “House Speaker (Kevin) McCarthy has directed relevant committees to investigate if the DA is using federal funds to support his politically motivated actions.”
But ahead of the expected indictment, Democrats in the Sunshine State seemed remarkably quiet about the potential impending arrest of a presidential candidate based in the state.
Rep. Maxwell Frost, an Orlando Democrat, spoke to local media outside of the GOP retreat in his hometown. But rather than pile on the former President, he suggested Republicans spend less time chasing headline news and more time governing.
“We haven’t seen bills on housing, we haven’t seen bills on wages, haven’t seen bills on protecting families,” Frost said. “They’re really messaging bills and it goes to show that at least this Republican majority is not interested in governing; they’re interested in campaigning.”
What’s up, doc?
More nations in Latin America have once again allowed doctors from Cuba to start missions around the Western Hemisphere. But Sen. Marco Rubio sees the trips as one more human rights violation from the communist regime.
The Miami Republican penned a bipartisan letter with Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, asking Secretary of State Antony Blinken to pressure countries about the foreign program.
“We ask that you significantly expand U.S. diplomatic efforts to end the cruel exploitation of the approximately 50,000 Cuban medical professionals who are not compensated for their work, and instead are used as instruments of oppression by the Cuban regime,” the Senators wrote.
The request came as Brazil, Colombia and Mexico are all considering launching new programs, years after some of those nations stopped similar enterprises. Brazil, for example, discontinued a program in 2019 but plans to start it again this March.
With Mexico, the letter suggests a new program would violate the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which prohibits slave labor.
Rubio for years has classified the mission programs as just that, forcing physicians to deliver foreign aid to nations abroad.
“Not only does the Cuban regime confiscate the passports, professional credentials, and salaries of the victims of these programs, they also threaten these professionals, and their families should they attempt to leave,” his letter with Menendez states.
The letter was sent days after Rubio filed a bill that would prohibit taking Cuba off the U.S. list of state sponsors or terrorism and a resolution supporting internet freedom on the island.
Sen. Rick Scott is promoting a push for the NBA to register as an agent of a foreign government after a letter accused the league of broadcasting Chinese propaganda.
The Naples Republican co-led a bicameral letter with Rep. Troy Nehls, a Wisconsin Republican, to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver raising alarms after the league allowed a video from Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang to be broadcast at Capital One Arena in Washington at halftime.
“While a message like this may be perceived as an innocent gesture at face value, it is a blatant exertion of soft power at a venue in the epicenter of our nation’s capital and gives the (Chinese Communist Party) a platform to disseminate their messaging to a national audience,” the lawmakers wrote.
Shortly after the letter was sent, America First Legal petitioned the Justice Department to require the NBA to register as foreign agents of China, citing the letter.
“Instead of putting America first, Silver and the NBA put Communist Chinese money first and subjected American basketball fans to Chinese government propaganda,” asserted Reed Rubinstein, America First Senior Counselor and Director of Oversight and Investigations. “America First Legal is proud to fight for the American people to ensure that Silver and the NBA comply with the law and register as foreign agents of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Scott’s Senate Office press shop later promoted the America First Legal action.
The comments of a Florida leader with an eye on the White House drew a direct reaction from Kyiv.
Ukraine’s President is responding directly to DeSantis’ assertion that providing funding to the eastern European nation isn’t in America’s national interest.
In an interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, editors of The Atlantic asked directly about DeSantis’ position on continued aid. Zelenskyy said if he could discuss the matter with DeSantis or anyone with the same concerns, he would respond pragmatically.
“If we will not have enough weapons, that means we will be weak. If we will be weak, they will occupy us. If they occupy us, they will be on the borders of Moldova and they will occupy Moldova. When they have occupied Moldova, they will (travel through) Belarus and they will occupy Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia,” Zelenskyy argued.
“That’s three Baltic countries which are members of NATO. They will occupy them. Of course (the Balts) are brave people and they will fight. But they are small. And they don’t have nuclear weapons. So, they will be attacked by Russians because that is the policy of Russia, to take back all the countries which have been previously part of the Soviet Union.”
The interview happened after DeSantis told Fox News in a questionnaire that “becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia” was not a “vital national interest” for the U.S.
Flagship course change
The main district office for Rep. Matt Gaetz has moved from Pensacola to Crestview. The Fort Walton Beach Republican announced he’s opening the “flagship office” in Florida’s 1st Congressional District in Northwest Florida State College’s Robert L.F. Sikes Center.
“While my staff will still maintain a presence in Pensacola, the new Crestview office will allow us to have greater accessibility to all Northwest Floridians as it is more centralized in the Panhandle,” Gaetz said. “Northwest Floridians have expressed an increased desire to meet with our district staff in person, and my team is ready and eager to serve you.”
Tales from the crypto
While 2022 didn’t provide a lot of confidence in the private cryptocurrency market, Rep. Neal Dunn said a federal investment isn’t the answer. He slammed exploratory efforts by President Joe Biden’s administration on creating a Central Bank Digital Currency.
Dunn, a Panama City Republican, said such a system would allow the administration to weaponize the financial sector. He condemned such an approach the same day DeSantis called for the Florida Legislature to ban such a system in the Sunshine State.
“Today’s announcement from Gov. DeSantis sets the stage for Florida to, once again, lead the nation in responding to the recent bank crisis,” Dunn said. “If we’ve learned anything from countries like China, it’s that those who control the money also control the people. The Florida Legislature should block the use of central bank digital currency and I am joining Gov. DeSantis in calling on other states to do the same.”
Colitis knows no party lines. Rep. John Rutherford, a Jacksonville Republican, is working across the aisle to raise awareness of the disease. He and Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a New Jersey Democrat, relaunched the Crohn’s and Colitis Caucus in the House, dedicated to educating Congress and the public about the causes of inflammatory bowel disease.
“As a co-chair of the Congressional Crohn’s and Colitis Caucus, I am committed to working toward solutions for those living with inflammatory bowel disease,” Rutherford said. “Through our bipartisan efforts this Congress, Rep. Gottheimer and I will lead the way forward to secure research funding, raise awareness and fight for cures. Thank you to the thousands of IBD advocates across the country working alongside us and furthering our goals.”
The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation will work closely with the House caucus on determining what’s needed to find cures and treatments.
“We’re going to be bringing both Democrats and Republicans together to boost cutting-edge research, to help find treatments and cures, and to improve the quality of life of those impacted by these diseases,” Gottheimer said.
Saving Social Security
Florida receives the second-highest amount of Social Security spending and serves as home to the second-highest number of Medicare recipients. Rep. Gus Bilirakis said it’s important Congress preserve both institutions.
He filed legislation to create the nonpartisan Commission on Sustaining Medicare and Social Security, which he said can ensure the long-term sustainability of the federal programs.
“Medicare and Social Security are sacred because so many seniors depend upon them. We have a moral obligation to honor our commitment and protect these programs in perpetuity. However, we can no longer afford to kick the can down the road and ignore the financial reality that these programs, as currently structured, will become insolvent unless we take action,” the Palm Harbor Republican said.
He noted Republicans and Democrats came together before, creating a similar commission chaired by Alan Greenspan. The national commission delivered a report to Congress in 1983.
“While I am willing to consider many potential options for addressing this situation, we must make sure no current senior is negatively impacted by any potential changes to the programs. By establishing this Non-Partisan Commission, we can take the politics out of the equation and find the best path forward. (Former President) Ronald Reagan and (former Democratic House Speaker) Tip O’Neal did so in the early ‘80s. The Commission worked then, and I believe it will work again.”
Tampa International Airport could finally get a new air tower soon. President Biden’s proposed budget includes funding to replace a tower that has stood guided airplanes to strips in Tampa Bay for 51 years.
“The Tampa International Airport air traffic control tower is in dire need of replacement,” tweeted Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat. “Faulty elevator, leaky pipes and structural issues have been problems for years. Under (the) Biden budget, (the Federal Aviation Authority) can replace the tower to keep flying public safe and controllers focused on the skies.”
She announced the inclusion of the line item at a news conference with airport CEO Joe Lopano, who noted the existing tower is the second oldest still in operation in the country.
BIG DAY AT TPA: @USRepKCastor and our CEO Joe Lopano announced that the FY2024 budget proposed by @POTUS includes replacing the @FAANews air traffic control tower at TPA!
The process may take several years; the 51-year-old tower is the second-oldest in the country. Stay tuned! pic.twitter.com/nypoph4sl7
— Tampa International Airport ✈️ (@FlyTPA) March 20, 2023
As red tide once again slams the Gulf Coast, Rep. Vern Buchanan said the federal government needs to find more solutions to save the ecology — and preserve the health of citizens. He held a roundtable in Bradenton Beach on the conditions as Karenia brevis blooms at sea.
“On the Suncoast, we rely on clean water and white sandy beaches to support our economy and our way of life,” the Longboat Key Republican said.
“Red tide has wreaked havoc on marine life, our waters and the many businesses that rely on Florida’s tourism-based economy. Today’s roundtable was a productive discussion on enhancing Southwest Florida’s natural resources to protect our economy and environment for generations to come. We must take immediate action to combat red tide.”
The Co-Chair of Florida’s congressional delegation already introduced the Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act (HR 74), which would make communities experiencing natural phenomena eligible for federal major disaster designations. He fought in 2019 for the National Institutes of Health to set aside $6.25 million to study the long-term health effects of red tide. Buchanan also secured $8 million for research into red tide as part of a $100 million package signed by Trump looking at ways to combat harmful algal blooms.
At the roundtable, Buchanan brought together numerous coastal business owners impacted by blooms right now. Those included Ed Chiles, founder of Chiles Hospitality. The son of former Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, the businessman said the region was “fortunate to have a senior member of Congress” like Buchanan representing its interest.
Rep. Jared Moskowitz is brainstorming ideas about how the federal government can best play a role in solving housing affordability problems. The Parkland Democrat held a recent roundtable with Broward County business leaders. He said the goal was a frank and honest conversation between all stakeholders.
“There’s no denying that we face a housing affordability issue in Broward County, further exasperating homelessness,” Moskowitz said. “Thousands of our fellow citizens do not have a home. It’s time we have an honest conversation about housing affordability and homelessness. I hope this roundtable will start a productive dialogue among community leaders and help us find common-sense solutions to this growing issue.”
Moskowitz said he wants to engage the Housing and Urban Development Department and other federal agencies. He said the input gathered at the Fort Lauderdale event will inform his work. Business leaders suggested partnerships would be the key to success.
“It’s incredibly important to address homelessness and the housing crisis in our community. For our organization, policymakers, and community leaders to come together like this is a powerful way to affect change,” said Fran Esposito, CEO of Broward Partnership. “This is an opportunity to continue our collaborative efforts to find and fund reasonable solutions.”
D.R. in the house
Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart embarked on some regionally significant diplomacy in the Caribbean. The Hialeah Republican, now Chair of the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee, traveled to the Dominican Republic for a meeting with President Luis Abinader on strengthening the relationship with the U.S.
He said they discussed shared interests such as nearshoring, combating narcotrafficking and deepening trade and investment ties.
“Under President Abinader’s leadership, the Dominican Republic has become a valued friend and ally, contributing to regional security, promoting freedom, and supporting democracy in our hemisphere,” Díaz-Balart said. “The U.S. and D.R. will continue to work together to confront the challenges of drug trafficking and the (People’s Republic of China’s) malign influence in the region and help stabilize Haiti while addressing its impact on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.”
The U.S. in 2007 enacted a trade agreement with the Dominican Republic, and the nations of course share national security interests.
“(The Dominican Republic) has a flourishing tourism and agriculture industry, and we must do all we can to encourage continued economic progress for this important friend and ally and cooperate on the mounting security challenges,” he said. “I thank the gracious people of the Dominican Republic, particularly President Abinader, for their warm hospitality. I look forward to strengthening this key relationship and continuing our important work together.”
On this day
March 21, 1965 — “Martin Luther King Jr. begins the march from Selma to Montgomery” via History.com — In the name of African American voting rights, 3,200 civil rights demonstrators in Alabama, led by King, begin a historic march from Selma to Montgomery, the state’s capital. Federalized Alabama National Guardsmen and FBI agents were on hand to provide safe passage for the march, which twice had been turned back by Alabama state police at Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference decided to make the small town of Selma the focus of their drive to win voting rights for African Americans in the South.
March 21, 2018 — “Mark Zuckerberg apologizes for Facebook’s ‘mistakes’ over Cambridge Analytica” via The Guardian — Facebook is changing the way it shares data with third-party applications, Zuckerberg announced in his first public statement since reporting that the personal data of about 50 million Americans had been harvested and improperly shared with a political consultancy. The Facebook CEO broke his five-day silence on the scandal that has enveloped his company in a Facebook post acknowledging the policies that allowed the misuse of data were “a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it.”
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles and edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol.