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The race to be the Republican nominee is heating up significantly in what could be a critical week when several events will shape the futures of several Florida presidential contenders.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and three other contenders for the GOP nod — former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — are appearing Friday for The Gathering in Atlanta. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy appear Saturday.
But one Florida man will not attend. Former President Donald Trump, still the front-runner for the nomination, was disinvited from a similar event by organizer Erick Erickson in 2015, and the pundit didn’t invite him to this event.
Trump will also skip the first Republican Primary Debate next week; instead, he will sit for an online interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, The New York Times reports.
A recent news development has suddenly drawn attention to the city of choice, as Trump indeed will visit Atlanta very soon. He’s required in the next week to surrender in the city after District Attorney Fani Willis brought RICO charges against Trump for his attempts to pressure Georgia officials to overturn the 2020 election results.
Candidates taking the stage in Atlanta will do one-on-ones with Erickson at The Gathering. But on Aug. 24, contenders will converge in Milwaukee for the first Republican National Committee (RNC)-sanctioned presidential debate of the 2024 election cycle.
The big question heading into that event remains who will participate. DeSantis and Trump have qualified for the event, though to date, Trump has declined to sign a loyalty pledge confirming he will support the eventual nominee. He has suggested there’s no reason to debate but that he will tune in. “Let them debate so I can see who I MIGHT consider for Vice President!” he posted on Truth Social last month.
Sources close to Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, confirmed he would attend the event as a surrogate for Trump and that the RNC has invited Donalds to participate in panel discussions held in Milwaukee around the debate.
DeSantis has already signed the pledge and plans to attend. He had no problem promising to support any eventual GOP nominee.
He told Milwaukee news station WISN he considered it ridiculous for any Republican candidate to waffle on whether to support the eventual nominee over Democratic President Joe Biden.
“You can’t, on the one hand, say the country is going in such a bad direction, which we all believe, and on the other hand say you’re just going to take your ball and go home,” DeSantis said.
Other candidates committed to the debate include North Dakota Gov. Doug Burnum, Haley, Ramaswamy and Scott. Christie and Pence have not signed the loyalty pledge but have commented that they would.
Others also want to take the stage, but the clock is running out on qualifying. Most notable among the would-be participants is Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. Earlier this month, Suarez announced his campaign met contribution requirements, receiving checks from 40,000 unique donors from at least 20 states and territories.
Today, Suarez announced he has also met the polling requirement to appear onstage, that he must show up with at least 1% support in three high-quality national polls or a mix of national and early-state polls. He managed to beat an Aug. 21 deadline by three days.
Nevertheless, the Republican National Committee immediately rebutted his claim; two senior RNC advisers told the Miami Herald that Suarez had not yet met the criteria for the first prime-time event of the 2024 GOP Presidential Primary.
Add lab monkeys to the list of goods from China that are increasingly difficult to import into the U.S. Before the pandemic, some 60% of primates used for scientific research in America originated from China, but the eastern superpower stopped exporting animals more than three years ago in an apparent effort to control the spread of COVID-19.
Sen. Marco Rubio wants the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a plan to keep labs running without a steady supply of nonhuman test subjects. He wrote a letter to acting NIH Director Lawrence Tabek calling for such a strategy.
“Scientists have concluded that nonhuman primates are more useful for comparing how certain drugs and diseases impact humans when compared to other animals such as mice or dogs,” the Miami Republican wrote.
“As nonhuman primate testing is used to contribute to significant medical innovation, including creating COVID-19 vaccines, I request information as to what steps the agency is taking to ensure we are able to continue with continued research despite current challenges to our nonhuman primate supply.”
While the U.S. maintains a stock of domestic test subjects through the National Primate Research Centers, those need to catch up with the demand from scientists nationwide. Rubio said primates have been essential to research human diseases like Ebola, polio and strains of COVID-19.
Rubio suggests the justification for China’s ban on exporting primates seems questionable and doubts the hostile nation will return to prior practices.
“Given that the (Chinese Communist Party) has long held a goal to achieve dominance in the industries that will define the 21st century, it is safe to assume that it will continue to restrict the export of nonhuman primates in order to maintain an edge in developing the latest innovations in drug and device research,” Rubio wrote.
“Previous efforts to maintain a consistent supply of these animals, such as shifting to Cambodia, have not proven fruitful due to the discovery that Cambodian officials were illegally trafficking long-tailed macaques. Without a steady stream of foreign nonhuman primates’ imports, researchers must start thinking about alternatives that will ensure their research passes necessary safety and quality tests and is effective in treating the intended issue. Otherwise, important innovation will come to a costly halt.”
The Senator wants NIH to explore ways to increase the use of domestic primates and to find alternative sources in non-China countries and also wants to know what plans exist for expanding research that doesn’t rely on primates.
No to bows?
Florida has tried to harden schools and reduce violence. But Sen. Rick Scott said a covert effort to undercut archery and hunting classes misses the mark.
The Naples Republican signed a Republican letter from Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming. The letter goes after what 18 Senators see as a Biden administration effort to block funding to rural schools.
“While the administration claims to be eliminating dangerous activities, this guidance will, in fact, have the opposite effect,” the letter reads. “These programs provided thousands of students with the opportunity to learn proper instruction for firearm and archery safety. By including hunter education in schools, students are given the tools to be safe and responsible hunters. It is now clearer than ever that the Biden Administration will use the bill to attack the constitutional rights of Americans.”
Some Florida schools say stripping funding could hurt programming. “Not having archery at the school level as an additional enrichment program would be a deficit to our students,” said Kim McSparren, the principal of Shalimar Elementary in Pensacola, in an interview with WEAR-TV.
Rep. Matt Gaetz has spent much of Congress calling to defund federal organizations, usually out of fear that the power of government has been weaponized against the people.
Sometimes his target is a particular person, such as Gaetz’s recent attempt to remove the budget from Special Counsel Jack Smith after he indicted Trump in South Florida and Washington federal courts. Gaetz posted on Twitter last month about it and has since filed a bill with Rep. Andy Ogles, a Tennessee Republican.
“I will be introducing legislation to DEFUND Jack Smith’s witch hunt against President Trump,” Gaetz posted. “They are attacking our democracy and engaging in election interference right now. The United States Congress has the capability to stop this election interference and we must act immediately!”
But that’s not the only place Gaetz wants to take away money. On Thursday, he filed a bill to eliminate the United States Postal Inspection Services budget. He also wants to undercut the U.S. Agency for International Development and abolish the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Off the sidelines
The only thing more tribal in Florida than political parties may be college football loyalties. Yet, the story of a football player transferring to Florida State University (FSU) to be near his ailing mother has touched hearts across all traditional dividing lines.
Florida’s House delegation members joined the growing team defending Darrell Jackson Jr.’s plans to play in a Seminole jersey this fall.
Reps. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican, and Michael Waltz, a St. Augustine Republican, co-led a bipartisan letter to NCAA President Charlie Baker. The message seeks a change of heart from the collegiate sports organization and pressures the group to grant a waiver to the recent FSU transfer student.
Jackson, a Gadsden County native, played in the past for both University of Maryland and the University of Miami. But in December, he announced plans to go to FSU to be near family in Tallahassee. The NCAA, however, said switching schools means he will have to sit out a football season. The collegiate sports authority denied a waiver letting the defensive tackle play ball in a Seminole jersey this year.
But the letter from Dunn and Waltz said the decision to dismiss Darrell’s request “sends the wrong message to our student-athletes who choose to put family first when dealing with the health crisis of a loved one.”
The missive was co-signed by Florida’s congressional delegation members from both sides of the aisle, including Democratic U.S. Reps. Jared Moskowitz, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Republican U.S. Reps. Kat Cammack, Donalds, Carlos Giménez, Laurel Lee, Cory Mills, María Elvira Salazar and Daniel Webster.
The cause has unified those of various collegiate loyalties. Donalds graduated from FSU, but the elected officials leaving the sidelines to support Baker include Florida Gators Lee, Rubio and Wasserman Schultz. Salazar is an alumna of the University of Miami, the team Jackson transferred from.
More than $208,000 just rode the fast lane to Lake City. Cammack announced a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“I’m so excited for our brave men and women in Lake City to have the equipment necessary to help them do their jobs more safely and effectively,” the Gainesville Republican said.
“Our first responders are heroes, and it’s imperative that we ensure they stay safe while serving our communities. I couldn’t be prouder of our firefighters in Lake City. As the wife of a firefighter and paramedic myself, I know how deserving our departments are of this grant, and I know they’ll continue to demonstrate the very best of our first responder community in North Central Florida.”
Officials say the funding will help modernize the agency.
“Lake City Fire Department is very excited to receive the AFG award this year to replace our outdated air packs. As a smaller department, we are constantly seeking grants to supplement our budget,” said Lake City Fire Chief/Fire Inspector Joshua Wehinger.
“This grant will allow us to replace our aging air packs and ensure that we are creating a safe working environment for our firefighters. The support we have received from Congresswoman Cammack has been above any expectations. We are thankful for her support of all first responders. She has made herself very accessible, and for that, we are thankful.”
Members of a Democratic administration this week held an event in North Florida with a solid Republican Congressman. Rep. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, conducted a tour with Isabella Guzman, administrator for the Small Business Administration.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy in Northeast Florida,” Bean said.
“Today, I led a Small Business Tour in Nassau County to hear directly from business owners and franchises about their concerns related to inflation, supply chain challenges, and labor shortages. I will always support our small businesses and workers against burdensome regulations and champion Florida policies that help, not hurt, working families.”
The Small Business Tour started with a Nassau County Chamber of Commerce roundtable. Afterward, the two went on a Main Street walking tour with stops at Robison Jewelry Company, Pajama Dave’s, and Villa Villekulla Toy Store in Fernandina Beach.
Last week, the Salute to Agriculture Luncheon drew industry leaders to Plant City, where Rep. Laurel Lee promised to support Florida’s farmers.
“As the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, Plant City knows all too well how important agriculture is for our local and state economy, contributing more than $1 billion in economic impact every year,” Lee wrote in a newsletter to constituents.
“The agriculture industry in Florida’s 15th District employs more than 3,000 people, contributing to our growing economy. As a Member of Congress, equipping our farmers and producers with the resources they need to continue feeding America is one of my top priorities.”
Lee also helped present awards to several of Florida’s top agriculture leaders, including giving the “Good Egg” award to Bear McCullough, Chair of the Hillsborough Cattleman’s Foundation, and the Agriculturalist of the Year award to Kenneth Parker, Executive Director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.
Meanwhile, Rep. Scott Franklin visited Florida’s most prominent Native American tribe. He met with Seminole Tribe of Florida leader Marcellus Osceola Jr.
“Our team had a productive meeting this afternoon with Chair Marcellus W. Osceola, Jr. of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, along with Council Representatives from the Brighton & Big Cypress Indian Reservations,” Franklin posted on social media.
“With more than five thousand members, they are a rich and vital part of Florida’s heritage.”
He also shared photos of himself touring the Seminole Veteran’s Building in Okeechobee.
Focus on reform
Can the use of probation programs over prison time reduce repeat offending? Donalds, a Naples Republican, helped introduce bipartisan legislation seeking that result.
The Safer Supervision Act would call for a supervised release system program to direct resources to reduce recidivism and help convicts who complete sentences to reintegrate into society.
“Proud to join my colleagues in co-sponsoring this bipartisan proposal,” Donalds posted on social media. “This bill will: Promote public safety; Promote rehabilitation; Promote reintegration into society; Better ensure fed supervised release system is directing resources to most effectively reduce recidivism.”
Lead sponsors on the bill are Reps. Wesley Hunt, a Texas Republican, and Barbara Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat. Other co-sponsors include Republican Reps. Kelly Armstrong and Burgess Owens and Democratic Reps. Glenn Ivey and David Trone.
“In a time when we are still looking for ways to rectify decades of federal mandatory minimums that resulted in excessively punitive and disproportionate prison sentences, I am pleased to join my fellow sponsors of the Safer Supervision Act in making critical and necessary steps forward in reshaping and reforming our criminal justice system to work in a more fair and just manner,” Lee said.
Back to school
Be it sweet buns or broadband, Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick brought the goods to help schools get back into full swing.
Last week, the Miramar Democrat participated in a town hall in Coconut Creek, celebrating the anniversary of the CHIPS and Science Act’s bipartisan passage that aims to boost U.S. semiconductor manufacturing.
She brought accessories to help more people reach further: Cherfilus-McCormick announced $3 million in federal funds for Broward College as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program. This funding is part of President Biden’s Internet for All initiative to connect Americans with affordable, reliable high-speed internet service.
Broward College received funding for its “Connecting Broward-UP Communities (CBC)” project, which seeks to promote broadband adoption, access, and capacity at the college and ensure all residents in 11 ZIP codes have access to broadband service.
Then on Tuesday, she was at Sunrise Middle School bearing doughnuts and coffee for the staff.
“Thank you for a great visit,” Principal Ryan Atwood gushed on X, posting a picture of the Congresswoman with some staff.
Abortion fight highlighted
Much ink has been spilled and pixels spent on how the Supreme Court overturned nearly 50 years of precedent and made it so states can deny women the right to end their pregnancies.
Somehow, though, the backlash to curtailing abortion rights — which most pundits believe kept Republicans underperforming nationally in the 2022 Election — skipped Florida. Enter Wasserman Schultz, who is ready to make some noise.
The Weston Democrat’s office has announced reproductive rights advocates will join her Monday for a strategic discussion open to the press.
Undoubtedly, the current effort to introduce a constitutional amendment will be on the agenda. Steps are underway to collect nearly 900,000 signatures to get an amendment before Florida voters in 2024 that would render unconstitutional both the law now in effect that bans abortion at 15 weeks and another — awaiting a state Supreme Court decision — that bans the procedure at six weeks.
A news release also promises a discussion of another front that’s opened in the effort to stop abortions in the Sunshine State. An Orlando abortion clinic has been hit with a $193,000 fine from the Agency for Health Care Administration for the clinic’s violation of a law that requires women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion. According to reports, the fine is nearly three times what the administrative judge recommended and could put the clinic out of business.
On this day
Aug. 18, 1914 — “19th Amendment ratified, giving women right to vote” via History.com — A dramatic battle in the Tennessee House of Representatives ended with the state ratifying the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. After decades of struggle and protest by suffragettes, the decisive vote was cast by a 24-year-old Representative who changed his vote after receiving a note from his mother. The House had failed to do so twice, by two votes of 48-48. State Rep. Harry T. Burn was one of the “nay” votes. As a third vote was set to begin, Burn received a letter from his mother, Febb Ensminger Burn, that read, in part, “Hurrah and vote for Suffrage … be a good boy.”
Aug. 18, 2020 — “Democrats formally nominate Joe Biden for President” via The Associated Press — The moment marked a political high point for Biden, who had sought the presidency twice before and is now cemented as the embodiment of Democrats’ desperate desire to defeat Trump in the fall. The roll call of convention delegates formalized what has been clear for months since Biden took the lead in the primary elections’ chase for the nomination. It came as he worked to demonstrate the breadth of his coalition for a second consecutive night, blending support from his party’s elders and fresher faces to make the case.
Best wishes to Rep. Kathy Castor, who turns 57 on Sunday, Aug. 20.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch, compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol, with contributions by Anne Geggis.