Delegation for 6.16.23: Justice — accountability — Suarez — status — Tampa tour

U.S. Capitol Building from the Fifty Dollar Bill
Congress seeks justice for Oswaldo Payá. I

Justice at last

The death of Cuban dissident and Christian Liberation Movement founder Oswaldo Payá prompted skepticism and condemnation of the communist regime for over a decade. A report by the Organization of American States amplified that and spurred calls for action from Florida’s Congressional Delegation.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released findings from its investigation of the 2012 car crash that left Payá and passenger Harold Cepero dead. While the Cuban government at the time blamed driver Ángel Carromero responsible and jailed him for vehicular manslaughter, the Commission took testimony from Carromero that he’d been beaten in custody and forced to confess. The Cuban government refused to participate in the investigation, which found the government responsible for Payá’s death and concluded that a state vehicle had rammed his car from behind.

Congress seeks justice for Oswaldo Payá. Image via Reuters.

Sen. Marco Rubio, ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, led a joint statement with Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and several other Senators praising the findings. Durbin and Rubio, in 2013, first issued a bipartisan call for the Commission’s investigation and said the result was “a clear verdict of what we suspected all along.”

“It is long overdue for the Cuban dictatorship to honor Payá’s and Cepero’s dream for a more open society and to stop blaming the Cuban people’s suffering on anyone but their own cruel ineptitude, mismanagement and self-enrichment,” the joint statement reads.

Sen. Rick Scott pushed in the Senate for a more provocative gesture. He and Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, sponsored legislation to rename the Washington, D.C. street outside the Cuban embassy as Oswalso Payá Way. Rubio co-sponsored the bill. The measure passed in the Senate by unanimous consent.

“A decade ago, Castro’s thugs murdered the courageous freedom and democracy activist Oswaldo Payá and his partner Harold Cepero. Why? Because they didn’t stop fighting and raising the voice for freedom in Cuba,” Scott said.

“Renaming the street in front of the Cuban Embassy in D.C. for Oswaldo Payá is not only a tribute to him and the fight for Patria y Vida in Cuba, it serves as a reminder to the Castro and Díaz-Canel regime that the United States will never forget the atrocities and human rights violations that the Cuban dictatorship has committed against its people.”

Scott also called for President Joe Biden’s administration to condemn the Cuban government as illegitimate and treat political leader Raúl Castro and current Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel “like the murderous thugs they are.”

In Florida, that’s likely to face little argument. While Cuba has its sympathizers in Congress, the Florida Democratic Party welcomed the Commission’s findings.

“We welcome the conclusion of the investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights into the death of pro-democracy activist Oswaldo Paya and human rights defender Harold Cepero, which is further proof of the cruelty of a regime that persecutes those who stand against it,” said FDP Chair Nikki Fried.

“Despite the pain of loss, the family of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero can breathe the air of justice. We recognize the courage of Rosa Maria Payá and Ofelia Acevedo for not allowing the legacy of these freedom fighters to be forgotten.”

Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar, all Miami Republicans and Cuban Americans, posted on social media also praising the Payá family for pursuing justice.

“The (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) finally declared what we all knew: Oswaldo Payá was savagely murdered by the brutal Castro regime in Cuba,” tweeted Giménez, the only Cuban-born member of Congress. “Rosa Maria Payá and her family have championed their brave father’s cause and have never wavered in their fight for Cuba’s freedom!”

Accountability for Maduro

Regarding another Latin American hostile nation, Several delegation members sought consequences for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s regime. Salazar, a Coral Gables Republican, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, introduced the AFFECT Human Rights in Venezuela Act, with Rubio filing companion legislation in the Senate.

Rubio has a group of bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate, including Democratic Sens. Ben Cardin of Maryland, Tim Kaine of Virginia, and Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee.

Florida’s delegation members want Nicolás Maduro to be held accountable.

“While the Maduro narco-regime actively seeks international legitimacy from far-left governments in our region, the free world must remember the criminal nature of this despotic dictatorship,” Rubio said. “The people of Venezuela have been subjected to unimaginable hardships, as documented by the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission. We have a moral duty to fight for justice and ensure Maduro and his thugs are held accountable.”

The bill calls for multilateral efforts to hold Maduro accountable for human rights violations in the South American nation.

“Venezuelans have endured a decade of suffering under Nicolás Maduro, whose assault on democracy and human rights have precipitated a refugee crisis second only to Ukraine in the 21st century,” Wasserman Schultz said. “The U.S. can’t solve this problem alone. But it’s imperative that we coordinate with international partners to improve conditions on the ground and advocate for the release of political prisoners while ensuring accountability to lay the groundwork for a future democratic transition.”

Salazar serves as Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. Notably, Rep. Joaquin Castro, that Committee’s ranking Democrat, also signed onto the bill. So did Rep. Michael Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican.

“My Venezuelan constituents in Miami know the abuses the Maduro regime carries out against the people it claims to represent,” Salazar said, stressing how Latin American politics are a domestic issue in Florida.

Added Waltz, “For a decade, Nicolas Maduro has used his corrupt regime to carry out human rights abuses against the Venezuelan people and destabilize the region. We must continue to urge the international community to condemn Maduro’s actions and support freedom in Venezuela.”

Status for Venezuelans

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers wants a legal path for Venezuelans in the U.S. to stay here legally.

Republican Salazar and Democratic Reps. Darren Soto, Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson filed a bill to change the legal status of any Venezuelans in the U.S. before the end of 2021. The Venezuelan Adjustment Act would reclassify all such individuals as permanent legal residents.

“With the help of President Joe Biden and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, we have delivered Temporary Protected Status and a new parole program to help hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees in Florida and throughout the nation,” said Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat. “Now, Venezuelans living in the United States need a pathway to permanent legal status in order to have greater stability.”

Darren Soto is looking to change the legal status of Venezuelans in the U.S.

Earlier this year, Salazar filed legislation creating a path for legal residency for many immigrants. She said exploitative governments like the one led by Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela create a security issue for the U.S.

“The oppression of the Maduro regime and the failure of socialism of the 21st century has led to the world’s worst refugee crisis,” Salazar said. “As a result, thousands of Venezuelans in Miami face an uncertain immigration situation and cannot return to Venezuela. I am proud to co-lead the Venezuelan Adjustment Act to provide refuge for those who have endured incredible suffering, so they do not have to return home to face the wrath of the dictatorship.”

Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic co-chair of Florida’s congressional delegation, said the U.S. must address the millions of refugees coming to America.

“Venezuela’s refugee crisis has displaced 7 million people,” she said. “President Biden has taken concrete action to protect our Venezuelan friends and neighbors by providing Temporary Protected Status and humanitarian parole. I’m proud to support his efforts by pushing for a humane, legal pathway to those who have fled poverty and persecution.”

Wilson, a Hollywood Democrat, said the U.S. must do more.

“The Venezuelan families who have sought refuge in the United States are escaping the perils inflicted by an authoritarian and oppressive regime,” she said. “As the Venezuelan community endures the ongoing humanitarian and political crisis that has overtaken the country, our nation must step up to provide the support the Venezuelan people need,” said Rep. Wilson.

“I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing the Venezuelan Adjustment Act, a bipartisan effort to provide a pathway to permanent residency to qualifying Venezuelans in the United States. It is our duty to ensure those who have sought asylum have a pathway to permanent legal status as they continue to contribute to our local economy.”

Suarez in

Republican Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is now officially running for President. That makes him the third significant Florida candidate in the race behind former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Suarez is the first Hispanic candidate from either party running for President this year and the third from Florida, after Trump and DeSantis.

He has been openly mulling a presidential bid since before his landslide re-election in November 2021. In February, he embarked on a 10-city tour with Trump adviser Ja’Ron Smith.

Francis Suarez doubles down on a presidential bid.

The tour was ostensibly to share information and best public safety and crime prevention practices. But some of the stops — including Iowa and New Hampshire, where crime is relatively low — didn’t fit the trip’s mission but are states Republican presidential candidates are expected to visit during next year’s Primary race.

Jack’d up?

As politics roar around Trump’s Miami arraignment, Rep. Matt Gaetz wants groundwork laid for a future investigation of the investigation.

The Fort Walton Beach Republican and Trump loyalist sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding the Department of Justice preserve all records regarding Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation.

“The work of Special Counsel Jack Smith is both highly irregular and of extraordinary public concern,” Gaetz said.

Matt Gaetz wants to investigate the investigators.

“Indeed, it is of such concern that the Department of Justice has fielded multiple requests of Congress from individual member offices and full Committees. My office alone fields numerous calls (from) constituents asking about the Special Counsel, his authorities, and how his office is structured. It is beyond debate that this simple staff list cannot be withheld from Congress or the public on the basis of attenuated and entirely fantastic privacy concerns.”

Gaetz also trashed members of Smith’s team, including deputy Karen Gilbert, who had resigned from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Florida in 2009 due to misconduct during her stint leading a narcotics division. She also donated to Biden’s presidential campaign and past efforts supporting former President Barack Obama.

“While there are innumerable valid legislative purposes for this request, it should be obvious that doing due diligence in vetting an office that has apparently done no vetting of its own personnel, or worse, might affirmatively be seeking to staff with sanctioned lawyers and partisan hatchet-men (and women), is an entirely appropriate purpose and one small reason I am requesting this information,” Gaetz wrote.

Pulling on REINS

The House made clear it wants greater control over administration rule-making. The chamber took up Rep. Kat Cammack’s Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act and passed it on a near-party line vote.

“The REINS Act is the single largest regulatory reform in decades and will save the American people trillions each year in compliance costs,” said Cammack, a Gainesville Republican. “It’s long past time we limit the rampant executive overreach that makes up the fourth branch of government and rein in the nameless, faceless bureaucrats in basements across Washington, D.C. I’m grateful to my colleagues for their support of this effort in seeing this bill past the finish line.”

The bill would require any significant new rule proposed with an executive branch agency to be approved by Congress before implementation. That would cover any change with a $100-million economic impact, cost increases to consumers, industries or state and local governments, or anything compromising competition in the free market.

Kat Cammack is pushing for greater control of White House rule-making.

Conservative and pro-business groups say the federal government needs such reins so that a bureaucratic state can’t impact the marketplace.

“The biggest spenders in Washington, D.C. are not liberals in Congress but rather the unaccountable bureaucrats spending billions with only a pen and a power trip,” said Tarren Bragdon, CEO and president of the Foundation for Government Accountability. “The REINS Act would restore congressional oversight over the bureaucracy and tame inflation by putting a check on the flood of federal spending from the executive branch. The real policymakers in America are the army of bureaucrats — at least 2.1 million — who keep their jobs no matter who’s elected.”

But only one Democrat, Main Rep. Jared Golden, supported the bill. That leaves the legislation with an uphill path in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Clearer Kabul picture

Before serving in Congress, Rep. Cory Mills led civilian evacuations of Afghanistan during a widely criticized U.S. withdrawal from the nation. In the House, the Winter Park Republican has pursued further information and accountability around the August 2021 exit.

Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, including Mills, pushed for the release of diplomatic cables showing dissent about the timetable and strategy for withdrawal and leaving the country to Taliban rule. Mills said this needs to be the start of an investigation, not the close of one.

Cory Mills pushes for the release of diplomatic cables showing dissent about the Afghanistan pullout.

“This proves exactly what we suspected all along — this administration had a clear and defined warning of what was happening on the ground and what would take place if no action was taken,” Mills said.

“They expressed with a high degree of confidence that the Afghanistan National Defense Force could not hold the Taliban, and Americans and our allied partners would be left behind in harm’s way unless the U.S. corrected course in our withdrawal. However, as every American witnessed, there was no course correction, there was no serious re-evaluation of contingency plans, and as a result, Americans were murdered and stranded. The Biden administration failed every one of these Americans and their families.”

POLITICO reports that after the cable release, Secretary of State Antony Blinken conceded at a Foggy Bottom gathering of diplomats the U.S. “could and should” have done more. But he also repeated concerns delaying withdrawal “might send the wrong signal to Afghans and to the government that we’d lost confidence in it and precipitate exactly what we hoped to prevent, which was its collapse.”

At home, the chaotic departure from Afghanistan brought a sharp shift in Biden’s favorability ratings from which he has never recovered, as shown in aggregate polling by FiveThirtyEight.

Mills reminded 13 service members lost their lives in the withdrawal when bombs detonated at a Kabul airport.

“Tragically, instead of taking responsibility for these catastrophic decisions, this administration has taken extraordinary steps to cover up its failures and obfuscate Congress’ efforts to provide transparency and accountability to the American people,” Mills said.

Schiff whiff

First-termer Rep. Anna Paulina Luna forced a vote on a privileged resolution. Still, the St. Petersburg Republican ultimately couldn’t get the GOP-controlled House to go along with a partisan effort to punish Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat.

Luna’s resolution acted on anger at Schiff, who led the House Intelligence Committee during Trump’s first impeachment. The resolution sought to censure Schiff and fine him $16 million, half the cost of the Russia investigation.

But ultimately, 20 Republicans voted against such action, with some saying it would set a dangerous precedent.

Adam Schiff pulls out a squeaker. Image via AP.

“If a simple majority of the House can lay claim to $16 million from one member of Congress, our Republic is doomed if Democrats ever get the majority back,” said Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican.

Most Florida Republicans voted for the resolution, though Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican, was among the dissenters.

Luna disagreed with the argument against her proposal but said she would pursue the action again next week without the financial component.

“20 Republicans voted with Democrats to stop the ethics investigation, censure, and recommended fine of Adam Schiff,” she tweeted. “So, there is no confusion (as some did not accurately read the bill), I will be filing a privileged motion to censure and send Schiff to ethics for investigation. See you next week Adam.”

For his part, Schiff has been fundraising for a Senate bid off Luna’s resolution.

“Today’s partisan and failed attempt to censure me is a badge of honor that I will wear proudly,” the Democrat tweeted. “MAGA Republicans are going after me because I dared to hold Donald Trump accountable. These efforts to intimidate me will not succeed. I will always defend our democracy.”

Tour of Tampa

Rep. Kathy Castor led a colleague from the House on a tour of Tampa Bay as funding proposals began to come together for the coming year. The Tampa Democrat hosted Rep. Mike Quigley, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies.

The tour with Tampa Housing Authority President and CEO Jerome Ryans included stops in Encore, the West River Redevelopment and Robles Park Village, all housing projects that count on federal funding.

Kathy Castor gives the fifty-cent Tampa tour.

“Housing that is affordable remains a top priority across the Tampa Bay area, and I am committed to strong, continued federal support to ensure our community partners like the Tampa Housing Authority have the resources they need to help families keep a roof over their head,” Castor said.

“Improving access to safe, affordable housing is a win for all our neighbors. It boosts our economy, supports job growth, makes our communities healthier and helps families thrive. I’m grateful to my friend Rep. Quigley for his commitment to improving housing and transportation in Tampa Bay and across the country, and I look forward to working together with our community partners on this important work.”

Quigley expressed support for the projects during his visit.

“During today’s visit, we’ve seen firsthand the power of federal investment to build stronger communities,” the Illinois Democrat said.

“These investments help create affordable housing, spur economic growth in underserved neighborhoods, and connect communities previously isolated by outdated infrastructure. But our visit also makes clear that there is much more work to be done. As the lead Democrat on THUD, I am committed to protecting housing and transportation funding so cities like Tampa and Chicago can continue to use federal funding to invest in their communities. I’m hopeful that one day very soon, I can return to these developments and see the numerous lives that have been changed as a result.”

Ghost guns

Rep. Jared Moskowitz continues to make curbing gun violence a top issue through two new bills introduced in the House.

One targets so-called “ghost guns,” firearms sometimes made entirely of plastic that are largely undetectable by metal detectors and many security scanning systems.

The other deals with the effects of live shooter response efforts in schools.

Jared Moskowitz fights the good fight over ‘ghost guns.’

“We are in the midst of a gun violence crisis in this country and must take every step possible to ensure no other communities experience the tragedy like the one we experienced in Parkland,” the Parkland Democrat said.

One day before, Moskowitz filed HR 4074, which would ban the online distribution of blueprints and instructions for 3D printing guns. The bill has since been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, which includes Reps. Matt Gaetz and Laurel Lee of Florida, both Republicans.

The use of ghost guns in U.S. crimes has risen more than 1,000% since 2017, according to a February report from the Department of Justice. Police requests submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for tracing ghost guns skyrocketed from 1,629 in 2017 to 19,273 in 2021, the report said, while noting the data is likely underreported.

Leaving the Hill

One of Diaz-Balart’s longtime staffers is leaving Capitol Hill and jumping to the private sector.

Laura Hernandez-Smith has worked in the Hialeah Republican’s office for the past seven years, starting as a staff assistant, a congressional aide, and, for the past four years, as Communications Director.

In that role, she coordinated Hernandez-Smith’s time leading comms for Florida’s longest-serving delegation member for a stretch that included two presidential impeachments, a presidential inauguration, the Jan. 6 attack and a pandemic — her boss was the first member of Congress to contract the COVID-19.

Longtime congressional staffer Laura Hernandez-Smith heads to the private sector. Image provided.

The Florida International University alum will now work as an account director at ROKK Solutions, a bipartisan public relations firm PR News included in its annual “Agency Elite Top 100” last year.

“I’ve learned and grown more than I could’ve ever imagined, and I’m excited to embark on this new journey,” Hernandez-Smith said. “My deepest and most sincere ‘thank you’ to all of you whom I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from over the years. I look forward to continuing our shared work in a different capacity.”

Starting Monday, Andrea Morales will take over as Diaz-Balart’s Press Secretary.

On this day

June 16, 1970 — “Police wound four in Miami unrest” via The New York Times — The police shot four men — two Whites and two Negroes — on a rooftop tonight as racial violence spread into three Negro sections of Miami. Looting was scattered through all three sections — Brownsville, Liberty City and Coconut Grove — and attacks on automobiles driving through the areas were commonplace. Black people driving through the areas blared their horns and waved fists outside their vehicles. Police officers moved in to disperse looters in the Liberty City and Coconut Grove sections after violence spread from Brownsville, experiencing its second night of disturbances peppered with gunfire.

June 16, 2017 — “Individual travel scrapped under Trump’s new Cuba policy” via Reuters — Trump’s rollback on his predecessor’s liberalization of travel to Cuba will all but eliminate a burgeoning market for independent tourism, forcing would-be visitors into organized trips, experts said. That policy change could be bad news for airlines that have been helped by demand from solo travelers and families who have booked seats for ad hoc informal “cultural exchanges” that had passed muster under former President Obama’s loosened rules. Under directives announced by Trump, independent travel to Cuba from the United States will once again be forbidden, complicating the already tricky-to-navigate industry.


Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch, compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol, with contributions by Jesse Scheckner and Drew Wilson.

Staff Reports

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