for the first time this Congress, Florida lawmakers gathered in Washington for a bipartisan congressional delegation meeting.
Florida Politics was there, too, as lawmakers heard expert testimony on agriculture issues.
The Longworth House Office Building meeting occurred as Congress crafted a new farm bill, legislation passed once every five years. Reps. Kat Cammack and Darren Soto — Florida’s only Republican and Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee — stressed the high stakes. Other delegation members quizzed experts and voiced their priorities for the bill.
Rep. Neal Dunn discussed the needs of Florida’s timber industry, noting wood stands as Northeast Florida’s top crop, a particularly significant product in the wake of Florida’s recent large hurricanes. The Panama City Republican wants the Farm Service Agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to supplement timber block grants.
Rep. Maxwell Frost, an Orlando Democrat, came with a focus on urban farming. He wanted to know if researchers like those at the University of Florida would receive the resources to look at efficient food production on small tracts of land.
Most of the funding in the farm bill goes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick stressed the need to maintain funding support for Florida families. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat and delegation Co-Chair, said one in seven Florida children lives under the poverty line, making Florida’s stake in that program exceptionally high.
Meanwhile, Rep. Michael Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican, greeted agriculture as a national food security issue.
He noted China purchased $2 billion of agricultural land in the United States.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Sarasota Republican and the delegation’s Co-Chair, wants to ensure SNAP builds up America’s nutrition level. He sees boosting Florida agriculture to that end.
“We have fresh fruits and vegetables here,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to get that more to families at risk — young children, everybody. It makes a big difference because we don’t have enough money to continue spending the dollars that we are on health care.”
For many members, the most significant concerns lie in trade agreements. Several noted the difficulties farmers have faced in Florida since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, most of which still need to be addressed in the subsequent United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
Rep. Scott Franklin, who represents Florida’s largest rural district, said the USDA must do several things to protect Florida’s citrus and specialty growers. He wants payment limits on crop insurance lifted above $125,000. The Lakeland Republican wants fast-tracked reimbursements for farmers after Hurricane Ian.
The first drafts of the farm bill could come out as soon as September.
Florida officials have closely followed the turmoil in Haiti, but Sen. Marco Rubio said most of the country isn’t paying enough attention. At a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing, the Miami Republican said Congress must start.
“Haiti right now is a complete disaster,” he said. “This is as bad as it’s ever been.”
“I have followed it, not just because South Florida, where I live, has an enormous Haitian American community 650 miles from Miami. Everything that happens is both heartbreaking and has a direct impact on the state of Florida and, ultimately, on the country. It’s about as bad a situation as any on the planet. It doesn’t get the attention I believe it deserves, but I know of few places on Earth right now that are confronting the challenges that they’re facing. Despite Haiti’s long history of problems and challenges, this is probably as bad as it’s been in a long time.”
He said the humanitarian crisis, with three-quarters of the nation’s major cities controlled by gangs, demands a response in itself. Criminals now control the Varreux port and the flow of fuel and medicine into town.
But he also noted an exodus of people from the island created consequences for U.S. forces. The Coast Guard intercepted 7,400 individuals fleeing Haiti for the U.S.; officials know many more have died on the dangerous trek. Thousands more have gone to other nations in the Caribbean region, such as the Bahamas.
In the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues hearing, where Rubio serves as the ranking member, he said it’s imperative President Joe Biden’s administration needs to address security concerns with urgency.
“This is not a blame assignment. This is a testament to the intricacy of this problem, how difficult it is,” he said. “What’s the way forward? Because it is having an impact on the United States. This is not halfway around the world. This, as I said, is not far from Florida and the Southeast United States.”
On the other side of the Capitol, Cherfilus-McCormick, for her part, praised legislative action on Haiti. The Miramar Democrat applauded the House passage of the Haiti Criminal Collusion Transparency Act (HR 1684), a bipartisan bill she introduced earlier this year with Rep. María Elvira Salazar.
The bill requires the State Department to report annually to Congress on connections between gangs and political elites in Haiti.
“Armed criminal gangs continue to wreak havoc across Haiti, fanning the flames of a worsening humanitarian crisis and leading many to fear for their safety,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “By shining a light on the connection between these violent criminal enterprises and corrupt political and economic leaders, this critical legislation will better address the chaos that has engulfed Haiti.”
She said problems have stepped up since the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in 2021. As the first Haitian American in Congress, Cherfilus-McCormick said America must actively stabilize the island nation.
“Haiti’s problems should be solved by Haitians, but Haiti lacks the necessary tools to address this ever-worsening chaos,” she said. “It’s our responsibility as neighbors and allies of Haiti, as Americans, to help Haiti strengthen its institutions and preserve the rule of law.”
Fears over the potential removal of Special Operations Command from the Florida Panhandle eased with an Air Force announcing most of the outfit will remain. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall announced 600 service members would relocate from Hulburt Air Force Base to Davis-Monthan Air Base in Arizona. But some 8,400 will stay at the Okaloosa County facility.
That was a relief to Sen. Rick Scott, who sounded alarms earlier in the week amid rumblings the entire unit could move.
“I’ve been fighting all week against the potential move of the Air Force Special Operations Command and asking for transparency from the Biden administration,” Scott said. “I just got off the phone with the Secretary of the Air Force and was informed that the Air Force Special Operations Command will continue its strong presence at Hurlburt Field.”
Scott had complained the shifting of resources came abruptly and skirted the normal Base Realignment and Closure process usually conducted by the Defense Department. He maintained the Florida base remained efficient at its military mission.
“The Special Operations Command has been at Hurlburt since 1990 — MORE THAN 30 YEARS. It’s clearly the best place in the nation to train the most lethal military force possible, and for our military members and their families to live,” he said.
“The quality of life for our service members and families in Florida, especially in Okaloosa County and the Florida Panhandle, is unmatched. These communities are known for going above and beyond to support and welcome our military community, provide opportunities for their family members and ensure their children have access to the best education possible. Our service members want to be stationed in Florida, and I’ll fight like hell to make sure they don’t lose that opportunity at the whim of a political decision by the Biden administration and that Florida’s military presence continues to grow.”
The prospect of UFOs off the coast of Florida’s Panhandle has several Florida congressional delegation members demanding a Select Committee on Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena (UAP).
Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, wrote a letter to Speaker Kevin McCarthy a day after the House Oversight Committee heard expert testimony. Florida lawmakers drove much of the conversation, with Gaetz disclosing information about an incident months ago at Eglin Air Force Base when pilots captured unexplained events on video.
Despite seeing images of what appeared to be technology more advanced than has been attributed to any country, Gaetz said the federal government has continued to classify information and silence whistleblowers.
“This issue is much bigger than the news cycle: it represents a confluence of concerning governmental actions that indicate a lack of forthrightness on the part of the Pentagon and intelligence community,” the letter reads. “No governmental program, no matter how sensitive, can be outside the view of Congress. And yet, the executive branch routinely redacts and entirely withholds information in other domains that we are entitled to and is doing so here.”
Reps. Anna Paulina Luna, a St. Petersburg Republican, and Jared Moskowitz, a Parkland Democrat, co-signed the letter, as did Rep. Tim Burchett, a Tennessee Republican who championed holding last week’s UAP hearing.
“By establishing a Select Committee to investigate the United States government’s response to UAPs, the 118th Congress will have an opportunity to work through more significant issues of government oversight (including lack of budget transparency, overclassification, and unwillingness to respond to Congressional oversight), on a discrete issue that is readily understandable by the public, and which is of grave concern to our nation,” the letter states.
The red snapper are biting.
Consequently, Dunn and Soto say it’s time to increase to allow more fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Panama City Republican and Kissimmee Democrat jointly sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo suggesting the federal government update its formula for estimating fish populations. That comes after a $12 million Great Red Snapper Count, funded by Congress starting in 2021, found three times more red snapper in the Gulf than federal counts suggest.
“This new framework would appropriately increase the quota for Gulf of Mexico anglers and stimulate the economy,” the letter reads.
A total of 25 members of Florida’s congressional delegation from both sides of the aisle signed the letter. The bipartisan message comes as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers new rules limiting boating on the Gulf Coast.
“Fishing is a critical part of Florida’s economy, and red snapper fishing is essential to the Panhandle’s economy,” Dunn said. “Thanks to the independent research through the Gulf of Mexico Red Snapper Count, the absolute abundance of red snapper in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico was estimated at 110 million fish, which is three times more than the federal government’s estimate. This data, combined with the state management of the fishery, is great news for the state of Florida and our fishing community.”
Soto said he trusts the report’s accuracy and feels the federal government must respond accordingly.
“By ensuring we have an accurate count of red snapper in the Gulf, we are investing in a critical industry that keeps our state moving forward,” Soto said. “We must support our Florida anglers on the federal level by permitting the use of multiple data points to improve the Gulf’s red snapper season and support Florida’s fishing industry.”
An average of 57 babies are born dead in the U.S. each day. Rubio and Rep. Kathy Castor want answers as to why.
Castor, a Tampa Democrat, introduced a bipartisan bill in the House to increase research on, and ultimately seek prevention of, stillbirths. She filed the Stillbirth Health Improvement and Education (SHINE) for Autumn Act in the lower Chamber with Democratic Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois and GOP Reps. Young Kim of California and Dave Joyce of Ohio.
“Together, we can address the serious maternal and infant health crisis that is tearing families apart and causing significant pain and trauma,” Castor said. “Long-standing disparities among racial and ethnic groups persist, with Black women more than twice as likely to experience stillbirth as White women. With nearly one out of every four stillbirths estimated to be preventable, we need real change that will lead to measurable improvements in outcomes for mothers and babies.”
Meanwhile, Rubio filed a companion bill in the Senate, which he will champion alongside Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat.
“The U.S. stillbirth rate is unacceptable and must be addressed,” Rubio said. “Losing a child is an unimaginable tragedy, and we should use all resources available to prevent this devastating loss of life. I am proud to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation that would employ resources to significantly lower the number of stillborn babies in the United States.”
The post is named for Autumn Joy, a stillborn infant in New Jersey in 2011. Mother Debbie Haine Vijayvergiya has since become a national advocate for stillbirth education. “I’ve spent every day since working tirelessly to give a voice to her and the hundreds of thousands of babies that have been born still since,” Vijayvergiya said, praising the bill’s re-introduction.
Working the homefront
When the National Guard gets deployed overseas, guardsmen must end up demanding time off their day jobs. Fears about whether a job awaits back home may soon be eased by Congress thanks to a delegation member’s bill.
The House Veterans Affairs Committee advanced legislation (HR 3943) that protects guardsmen from job discrimination in their civilian careers. The Servicemember Employment Protection Act, sponsored by Franklin, strengthens existing protections in the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA) by increasing injunctive relief when individuals are wrongly denied employment and mandates covering any court costs individuals incur. It also covers protection in the event of medical injuries related to service.
“As a former Naval aviator and business owner, I know the importance of ensuring our National Guard and Reservists can deploy when called upon without worrying about job security when they return,” Franklin said. “It’s been nearly three decades since Congress passed comprehensive re-employment rights for service members, so this review and update is long overdue.”
If the legislation passes, it will require updates to Congress on compliance with the law. That follows up on investigations of USERRA’s effectiveness earlier this year.
It’s easy to forget that, at first, the raw grief and anger that Majority Stoneman Douglas High School massacre survivors brought to Tallahassee could not move lawmakers to even start debating more significant restrictions on gun ownership.
Six days after a gunman’s carnage left 17 dead and 17 more injured at the Parkland school on Valentine’s Day 2018, a procedural vote to debate an assault weapon ban failed.
Twenty-three days after lawmakers came to Parkland and saw the site of terror and death in the 1200 Building, the Legislature passed laws that put the state among just a few who restrict long gun sales to those 21 and older and allow judges to take away firearms from those deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Moskowitz is now aiming for the same effect on his congressional colleagues. He’s going to lead a bipartisan congressional group on tour Thursday, Aug. 3, of the same building. The MSD High School alum’s recent tweet seemed to imply that members will find an issue that unites them all.
“To my Colleagues across the aisle: I don’t care about your politics, or if we agree, please come tour my high school with me.” the Parkland Democrat wrote. “We are going inside the building. It’s exactly as it was on the horrific day, Feb. 14, 2018.”
The building is set to be demolished after a re-enactment of the shooting that’s being done to create evidence in a lawsuit.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture quickly became one of the most popular destinations in Washington after it opened in 2016. The dean of Florida’s delegation wants a similar Smithsonian dedicated to celebrating Latin Americans — but he wants it done right.
Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart met with Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III last week about a current Smithsonian exhibit entitled “Latinos in America.” The Hialeah Republican co-chairs the Congressional Hispanic Conference (CHC) with Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Texas Republican. The two caucus leaders expressed a desire for the exhibit, a precursor to a full museum, to look beyond the notion Hispanics were always victims of oppression or criminals.
“As longtime supporters of the National Museum of the American Latino, we feel it is important to accurately chronicle the story of Latinos in America,” the two Republicans said in a joint statement.
“The act that created the museum in 2020 required that the ‘board of trustees shall ensure that the exhibits and programs of the museum reflect the diversity of viewpoints held by Latinos on the events and issues related to Latino History in the United States.’ Our members share a profound interest in highlighting the remarkable and diverse accomplishments of Hispanic Americans; we were deeply disappointed and offended by the current exhibit.”
Several conservatives in Congress expressed anger when the preview exhibit suggested the U.S. stole a third of Mexico in 1848 and that most Cuban Americans were descended from those seeking prosperity rather than escaping communist oppression. That prompted threats for Congress to defund the project.
But the meeting with CHC leaders appeared productive, with Smithsonian leadership promising a review process on the material. The caucus leaders said they would relay to the House Interior and Environmental Appropriations Subcommittee that the museum should be funded.
“Hispanics are not victims or traitors; instead, they are the backbone of our American society, and the Smithsonian leadership now understands that” the statement closed.
The Okaloosa darter fish just swam off the federal Endangered Species list.
Shannon Estenoz, the Interior Department’s Deputy Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, will travel to Niceville on Wednesday morning to celebrate the status change. A ceremony will be at Eglin Air Force Base at 8 a.m.
The Interior Department plans to highlight several conservation successes throughout the year to mark the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act.
More than 90% of all Okaloosa darters live in six streams managed by Eglin, a reason the Interior Department will highlight the partnership with the Panhandle base. The fish first landed on the endangered list in 1973, but efforts to restore native waterways and reduce erosion have helped grow the population from 10,000 a half-century ago to more than 600,000.
On this day
Aug. 1, 1914 — “First World War erupts” via History.com — Four days after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Germany and Russia declared war against each other, France ordered a general mobilization, and the first German army units crossed into Luxembourg in preparation for the German invasion of France. During the next three days, Russia, France, Belgium and Great Britain lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and the German army invaded Belgium. The “Great War” that ensued was one of unprecedented destruction and loss of life, resulting in the deaths of some 20 million soldiers and civilians.
Aug. 1, 1876 — “Colorado becomes a state” via the Library of Congress — After its first bid for statehood was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, Colorado entered the Union on the year the United States celebrated its centennial. Thus, the 38th state is known as the Centennial State. The Anasazi cliff dwellers were among the early inhabitants of the land encompassed by Colorado. They were forced by drought and other factors to abandon their Mesa Verde homes in the late 1200s. Colorado’s population comprised the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute peoples during European exploration and settlement.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch, compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol, with contributions by Anne Geggis.