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Discord over leaks
The leak of intelligence regarding military actions in Ukraine prompted the Justice Department to arrest Jack Teixeira.
The Air Force National Guard technology specialist allegedly released classified documents over social media in December. CNN reports the 21-year-old headed a Discord group and shared troop movements on the server.
The situation immediately turned Teixeira into a figure of public fascination, but different members of Florida’s congressional delegation hold widely divergent opinions on whether the work he did betray the U.S. or exposed a need for further information.
Sen. Marco Rubio, ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the leak of information did damage. The Miami Republican said that based on what he knows, the release of sensitive intelligence served no higher purpose than to win Teixeira’s social capital online.
“It was posted online by a 21-year-old guy who doesn’t sound like he’s a spy for any country. He was trying to show off to his friends,” Rubio told Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade. “But you’ve seen the damage that it’s done. This is going to require, I think, a pretty comprehensive evaluation, not just of how we classify things, but how they’re compartmented, how people have access to it, how we secure it. Obviously, the distribution (of) some of these things is hundreds and hundreds of people, in this case, an IT guy on top of it.”
But Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, said after seeing the information he wants to know more. He introduced a privileged resolution to demand President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin disclose information to Congress about any U.S. troops deployed in Ukraine. The Pentagon leak shows at least 29 Department of Defense personnel visited Ukraine last month.
“The Biden Administration and other allied countries have been misleading the world on the state of the war in Ukraine,” Gaetz said.
“There must be total transparency from this administration to the American people when they are gambling war with a nuclear adversary by having special forces operating in Ukraine. I represent a congressional district with the highest concentration of active-duty military personnel. I come from a community where the protection of this type of classified information that was leaked can be life or death for family members and my constituents.”
Gaetz has recently deployed the tool of privileged resolutions to demand full House votes withdrawing troops from Syria and Somalia, though both failed.
While Gaetz and Rubio seem to hold different takes on whether the leak served or betrayed a public interest, both hold critical views of the White House’s public assessment. During a trip to Ireland, Biden told the press, “There’s nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that is of great consequence,” as reported by ABC News.
Rubio scoffed at that assessment.
“If it wasn’t a big deal, why did the Defense Secretary have to call his counterparts around the world, the Secretary of State as well?” the Senator said. “I imagine our intelligence officials have had to do the same. This downplaying of this stuff — if it’s not a big deal, why did the FBI go raid the guy’s home and arrest him in an armored vehicle? It is a big deal.”
Rubio has made an endorsement for President … of El Salvador.
The Miami Senator two weeks ago made an official visit to the Latin American nation to meet with President Nayib Bukele, who first won election in 2019. While the Biden administration is sanctioning dozens of people close to Bukele, Rubio made clear in a Compact op-ed that he’s a fan. He praised gang roundups and cracked down on organized crime.
“It takes more than arrests to restore law and order, but it’s hard to overstate how much things have improved,” the Miami Republican wrote. “Families go out at night without fear of being murdered and mutilated. Businesses sell their wares, no protection money required. In short, people are free and flourishing. No wonder President Bukele’s approval rating is approaching 90%.”
He said Bukele deserves the respect of democratically elected leaders, and said Biden needs to stop imposing his domestic agenda on someone who should be seen as a partner overseas.
“This isn’t a call to make a celebrity out of Nayib Bukele or to ignore the fragility of his nation’s democratic institutions,” Rubio wrote. “It’s simply a call to inject some common sense into our treatment of friendly nations. President Biden seems to think he can lecture and sanction anyone he wants without detriment to our own national security. He couldn’t be further from the truth.”
After House Speaker Kevin McCarthy publicly proposed a one-year debt ceiling increase, Sen. Rick Scott came out immediately in favor of the idea. The Naples Republican, who has teased support for freezing the debt ceiling before, took to social media to endorse the plan.
“Speaker McCarthy is right,” Scott tweeted. “Raising the debt ceiling with no structural spending reform is a slap in the face to hardworking American families. We must grow our economy and cut Washington’s wasteful spending.”
Both McCarthy and Scott have said any boost in the debt cap should be accompanied with significant spending cuts and policy changes.
But the news from McCarthy was viewed largely as a concession, at least in the short term, that these negotiations won’t linger. He delivered a speech at the New York Stock Exchange and promised the House would vote “in the coming weeks.”
In February, Scott said Congress needed to demand concessions from the White House, but also acknowledged a timetable.
“Congress has MONTHS to craft a plan that gets America’s fiscal house in order, stops reckless spending and prevents a default,” he said in a statement after the release of a Congressional Budget Office outlook.
Amid news of Saudi Arabia purchasing oil at discount prices from Russia, Rep. Cory Mills voiced concerns about conspiring on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s part to undermine the U.S. dollar.
“While President Putin is lining his pockets, American consumers are hurting with rising oil prices. As the world grapples with our adversaries’ geopolitical alignment, America’s position on the world stage continues to diminish because of entrenched, weak leadership,” the Winter Park Republican said.
“Russia and China continue to court the energy-rich and economically strategic countries on which — for better and for worse — America continues to rely. Instead of playing geopolitical whack-a-mole to mitigate the impacts of these countries’ partnerships with our adversaries, the United States must proactively navigate these relationships, which requires us to release the chains holding back our economy and strengthen our energy industries.”
He said it’s time that U.S. leadership takes economic conflict seriously on the world stage. And that involves more domestic energy production.
“There has never been a time more pertinent than now for this administration to bolster our geopolitical influence,” Mills said. “America needs to reinstate its dominant position on the world stage to offset these skyrocketing oil prices for the American people and counter Russia’s dangerous agenda. America needs energy dominance, now.”
The Army Corps of Engineers nixed plans to start a renourishment project at Sand Key Beach in the 2024 Fiscal Year. But Rep. Anna Paulina Luna wants answers to why that decision came with little notice.
While the Army Corps said it can’t launch the project until all private landowners nearby sign off, the St. Petersburg Republican in a letter to the agency notes that hasn’t been the case for renourishments done every six years for decades. She noted Congress hasn’t rewritten the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) since 1986. So why impose restrictions now?
“Army Corps has informed Pinellas County that they intend to start enforcing this new policy, purportedly from 1996 but not enforced for the past two decades,” she wrote.
“It is a flawed requirement to require perpetual easements on private properties that will not have sand displaced. Your office has previously stated that local officials need to acquire perpetual easements on private property because of the 1986 WRDA. The law has not changed, and Army Corps has not been acquiring easements for the past renourishments, so were those past projects conducted unlawfully for three decades?”
Local governments have backed up Luna’s concerns and say preserving the beach is critical to the Pinellas County economy.
Two Hillsborough County Representatives will work together across the aisle to tackle Florida’s human trafficking problem.
Reps. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat, and Laurel Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican, introduced the National Human Trafficking Hotline Enhancement Act, which would require coordination with law enforcement when tips are phoned in through a national number.
“Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline and its operator, Polaris, have worked together with state and local law enforcement to end human trafficking,” Lee said. “But recently, Polaris has not communicated tips to law enforcement officials unless victims self-report. In order for the Hotline to operate effectively, there cannot be a divide between their efforts and those of law enforcement.”
The legislation came after 36 Attorneys General, including Florida’s Ashley Moody, wrote to Congressional leaders angry at the refusal for the hotline to transmit tips.
“Earlier this year, I called on Congress to take swift action to ensure the National Human Trafficking Hotline cooperates with law enforcement — AS INTENDED!” she said. “I am grateful Congresswoman Lee quickly answered this call and is pushing legislation to help ensure law enforcement rapidly communicates tips about suspicious activity so we can stop trafficking and save lives.”
Between 2007 and the stop in service, the hotline provided more than 15,000 to state and local agencies.
Partnering for democracy
A bipartisan group of lawmakers focused on spreading democracy around the world has been named in full. House leaders appointed members of the House Democracy Partnership, which works with parliaments to develop effective, responsive legislatures. Longboat Key Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan was tapped as the group’s new Chair in February.
Now Reps. Neal Dunn and Luna are joining him.
“Emerging democracies throughout the globe continue to be threatened by rising authoritarianism and democratic backsliding,” Buchanan said. “It is in our national security interests to work with and assist these nations. Our bipartisan team for the 118th Congress is composed of members from diverse backgrounds and political perspectives that will contribute to HDP’s work. I look forward to working with them to not only strengthen the democratic institutions of partner countries but also learn from their experiences as well.”
McCarthy named 11 GOP members to the partnership, while Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries selected nine Democrats for the group, none from Florida. Buchanan will lead the organization alongside Ranking Democrat Dina Titus, of New York.
“Working with my colleagues in both parties, I hope to help to strengthen relationships with our partner countries, expand political participation by underserved populations, and promote democratic values around the world,” Titus said.
Make it five.
Rep. Greg Steube is endorsing Donald Trump for President in 2024.
It makes him the fifth member of Florida’s congressional delegation to back Trump over Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The Sarasota Republican appeared on Newsmax.
“He’s the only person that can reverse on Day One all these disastrous policies of the (Joe) Biden administration,” Steube said. “The type of things that have happened under the Biden administration never would have happened under Trump.”
While Steube initially referred to the former President as “Donald J. Chump,” a gaffe liberal commentators pounced upon on social media, the endorsement was an indisputable win in the battle between two Florida men for front-runner status in 2024.
To watch the clip, please click on the image below:
Steube was elected to Congress in 2016, the same year Trump won his first term in the White House. He was also among the Republican members of the House who objected to certifying Biden’s election over Trump in 2020.
He follows U.S. Reps. Byron Donalds, Matt Gaetz, Anna Paulina Luna and Cory Mills, who are formally endorsing Trump for the GOP nomination.
Unlike those, he also announced his support after DeSantis started calling members of the delegation asking them not to announce Trump endorsements, according to NBC News’ Matt Dixon.
Florida currently boasts 20 Republican U.S. Representatives. At this point, a quarter of those have publicly come out for Trump.
The bipartisan year-end omnibus included dollars to help ensure women in South Florida have access to health care. The Promise Fund of Florida received approval for more than $2.7 million in federal funding, allowing the organization to expand access to breast and cervical cancer detection, services, and treatment for women facing financial and cultural health barriers throughout South Florida.
Reps. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, all Democrats representing parts of Broward or Palm Beach counties, worked with Promise Fund on the community funding project requests and in securing final congressional approval. The funding will be utilized to help Promise Fund support under-resourced South Florida women in navigating the health care system and getting access to the care they need regardless of health insurance status.
Wasserman Schultz also introduced a bipartisan bill this week aimed at protecting children from online and sexual abuse. The Weston Democrat and Rep. Wesley Hunt, a Texas Republican, filed the Project Safe Children Act, a modernization of law enforcement tools.
“Digital predators constantly devise new ways to evade law enforcement that dictates relentless innovations in how we protect our kids,” Wasserman Schultz said.
“We must do everything possible to identify, rescue, and support children who are harmed, without sacrificing our responsibility to stop abusers in their tracks and hold them fully accountable under the law. I am proud to sponsor this legislation that will empower and mobilize law enforcement to get sex offenders off our streets and away from our children’s screens.”
Project Safe Childhood was first authorized in 2006 as a national initiation to fight child exploitation. The new bill aims to expand upon that effort by better-coordinating state and local law enforcement and the federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces. That involves new training protocols for identifying and rescuing child victims. It also sets up the empowerment of prosecutors to target offenders committing crimes across state lines.
Sens. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, have filed a Senate version, showing bicameral support.
Hunt said protecting children is something all parties can agree upon.
“I am honored to help lead this bipartisan effort to protect our children from online abuse and sexual exploitation,” he said. This effort also helps identify and rescue victims. The Project Safe Childhood Act of 2023 empowers law enforcement and prosecutors to protect what is most precious to us all, our children.”
Cementing a legacy
A Boys & Girls Club in Miami Gardens now bears the name of a member of the delegation. Rep. Frederica Wilson was on hand Friday for the grand opening of the Dr. Frederica S. Wilson Club at Skyway Elementary School. And she didn’t come empty-handed.
The Hollywood Democrat, who used to be the principal of Skyway, presented a $6.4 million check. That includes funding for use at the new club bearing her name, as well as for other Boys & Girls Club of Miami-Dade including the NFL Club in Gwen Cherry Park and at the Northwest Facility.
“Many of us who work in education know after-school intervention is critical. We can either choose to pay to invest in our children now or pay later by building prisons and detention centers. We’ve seen firsthand how programs like these can make a difference in our students’ lives,” Wilson said at the event.
“It’s programs like the Boys & Girls Club and the 5000 Role Models, their work and their successes that have allowed me to expand my mission of increasing in-school dropout prevention programs throughout our community. Boys & Girls Clubs have been a testament to what is possible with the resources we already have and the impact it makes. I’m honored to be here celebrating the grand opening of the Dr. Frederica S. Wilson Club and delivering a $6.4 million investment to our community.”
The club bearing Wilson’s name will be a 2,500-square-foot learning center including a computer lab with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math resources. The existing gym and sports fields will also be refurbished.
While Wilson was the principal of Skyway, the school launched the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project focused on bringing positive male role models to mentor students.
On this day
April 18, 1775 — “Paul Revere makes Midnight Ride” via The Paul Revere House — Dr. Joseph Warren summoned Revere and gave him the task of riding to Lexington, Massachusetts, with news that British soldiers stationed in Boston were about to march into the countryside northwest of the town. According to Warren, troops planned to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, two leaders of the Sons of Liberty. It was thought they would then continue to Concord to capture or destroy military stores — gunpowder, ammunition, and several cannon — that had been stockpiled there. In fact, the British troops had no orders to arrest anyone — Dr. Warren’s intelligence on this point was faulty- but they were on a major mission out of Boston.
April 18, 1983 — “Suicide bomber destroys U.S. embassy in Beirut” via History.com — The U.S. embassy was almost completely destroyed by a car-bomb explosion that killed 63 people, including the suicide bomber and 17 Americans. The terrorist attack was conducted in protest of the U.S. military presence in Lebanon. In 1975, a bloody civil war erupted in Lebanon, with Palestinian and leftist Muslim guerrillas battling militias of the Christian Phalange Party, the Maronite Christian community, and other groups. During the next few years, Syrian, Israeli, and United Nations interventions failed to resolve the factional fighting.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch, compiled by Jacob Ogles and edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol.