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Whether (and how) to finance the federal Disaster Relief Fund and the war in Ukraine has become a central issue in a fight Florida’s Senators are waging.
President Joe Biden wants a vote on a supplemental appropriations request that bundles all government operations together. But Sen. Rick Scott, a Naples Republican, brought his Federal Disaster Responsibility Act to the Senate last week. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, objected to the bill’s passage by unanimous consent.
The legislation would have isolated a vote on replenishing the disaster fund at the levels requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, plus an extra $4 billion to cover costs from Hurricane Idalia.
Senate Democrats blocked that approach, and the House remains in bitter negotiations over a continuing resolution there. Now, Democratic opponents of Scott’s move have started to hammer the incumbent on his contrary approach.
“Rick Scott is holding up billions in disaster relief money for Florida because the bill would also provide aid to Ukraine,” former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat seeking to challenge Scott’s re-election, posted on X. “He’s so opposed to funding Ukraine’s fight for democracy that he’s voting against Floridians’ needs.”
Scott’s Senate campaign has since punched back. While lamenting Democrats in Washington siding with the President’s all-or-nothing approach, he said Democrats in Florida should immediately recognize the need to replenish disaster spending.
“There’s a reason why Floridians have rejected the failed Florida Democrats multiple times,” said Jonathan Turcotte, Scott’s campaign representative. “Instead of urging their party to do the right thing and stop blocking Sen. Scott’s Federal Disaster Responsibility Act, they’re using disaster relief funding to score cheap political points. Even worse, they’re blatantly and shamelessly lying about it. Sen. Scott asked that the Senate hold a vote on much-needed disaster relief for Floridians last week, but Senate Democrats blocked it. If the failed Florida Democrats want to be useful to Floridians for once, they should tell Democrats in Washington to stop blocking relief for Florida.”
While he did not identify any of his Democratic challengers by name, the campaign release linked to a post from Mucarsel-Powell’s account.
While Biden recently used executive action to create a national Office of Gun Violence, much of the attention for the idea has been credited to Rep. Maxwell Frost. The youngest member of Congress filed a bill to establish such an office via statute, something Congress has yet to consider.
But Frost stood alongside Biden at a White House event announcing the new office. There, he discussed how the issue of gun control shaped his life and that of a generation of voters, alluding to the 2018 Parkland shooting that prompted the March for Our Lives movement.
“The President understands that this issue, especially for young people, especially for marginalized communities, is a matter of survival,” Frost said. “He’s a President who has been fearless enough to reject the gun lobby and sign the first major federal gun legislation passed in nearly 30 years, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.”
The White House event also drew several Florida figures to Washington, including Parkland father and activist Fred Guttenberg, who first met Biden after his daughter Jaime’s death.
“During this meeting, he discussed mission and purpose with me,” Guttenberg shared on X. “He told me that my desire to fight for gun safety was doable and worth it. We got to know each other. When he was elected, he promised me that he would not stop fighting to reduce gun violence and that it would be an administration priority. Thank you, President Biden, for keeping your promise.”
Gun right guardrails
A move by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, to restrict gun rights after a rash of shootings has prompted concerns in Congress. Scott introduced a bill with Sen. Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican, which would prevent a President from using a public health emergency to declare limits on Second Amendment rights.
“Democrats’ latest attempt to implement a flat-out ban on Americans’ Second Amendment rights in New Mexico under a dubious ‘public health order’ is unconstitutional,” Scott said. “We cannot let the Biden administration attempt a similar executive action to strip the fundamental rights of our citizens. Our Protecting the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Act keeps this administration in check and accountable.”
A release noted that Democratic activists for years have called on Biden and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to impose gun control policies by executive order. That includes groups who had urged the creation of the administration’s just-founded Office of Gun Violence Prevention.
A total of 21 Senators, all Republicans, signed on as introducing co-sponsors for the bill.
It’s time to suspend a rotten tomato deal with Mexico. That’s according to a bicameral letter driven by Florida lawmakers and others from agriculture-heavy states.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Miami Republican, led a bicameral letter with Rep. Jim Costa, a California Democrat, calling for the Commerce Department to suspend the Tomato Suspension Agreement in place since 2019. That agreement requires that imports from Mexico not undercut domestic growers in the U.S. market with low-quality products. But lawmakers on both sides of the article say Mexico isn’t living up to its end of the bargain.
The letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said illegal dumping of poor produce has done too much damage to tomato growers. Lawmakers want the Commerce Department to impose duty charges on imports once again.
“Immediate termination of the 2019 Suspension Agreement and imposition of anti-dumping duties is necessary to stop the destruction of the American tomato industry by unfairly traded Mexican tomatoes,” he said.
The letter was co-signed by Scott, Florida’s junior Senator, and by GOP Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Kat Cammack, Mario Díaz-Balart, Byron Donalds, Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin, Carlos Giménez, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, María Elvira Salazar, Greg Steube and Mike Waltz. Democrats Kathy Castor, Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, Lois Frankel, Jared Moskowitz, Darren Soto and Debbie Wasserman Schultz signed on.
Lawmakers say the suspension agreement has harmed U.S. farmers more than helped.
“The Suspension Agreement is not working, and as it cannot be modified to work under existing law, anti-dumping duties must be imposed to sufficiently remedy ongoing injury to the domestic tomato industry,” the letter states.
The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) confirmed both Gov. Ron DeSantis and former President Donald Trump will attend a major November event.
The rivals for the Republican nomination for President will speak at the Florida Freedom Summit Nov. 4. The event takes place at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee.
In confirming both Florida men will attend the event, RPOF Chair Christian Ziegler teased the list of marquee guests could grow.
“All Republican presidential candidates have been invited to attend and their attendance will be announced shortly,” Ziegler wrote in an email to party members. “The Freedom Summit will also feature other top Republican and Conservative leaders.
“I look forward to joining you for a day of celebrating Florida Freedom with a packed agenda of speeches, panels, featured events, and much more.”
The announcement came days after the state party’s annual Statesman’s Dinner for the state party that notably lacked either Trump or DeSantis from its speaker list. Instead, pundit Ben Shapiro delivered a keynote address there.
But the November event now boasts high-level draws for attendees and donors.
Negotiations around continued funding of the federal government in the past week bent increasingly to the demands of one Florida lawmaker. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Republican, made the tour of national media and reportedly met directly with Speaker Kevin McCarthy about his favored approach.
“While leadership engages in brinksmanship talk and shutdown politics, our deficit grows and our dollar devalues. Single-subject appropriations bills are what Americans want!” Gaetz posted on X.
“I am trying to return this country to a path of fiscal sanity, and the only way to do that is to stop governing by continuing resolution.”
He has insisted Congress should take up about a dozen individual appropriations bills, which likely can’t be accomplished before a Sept. 30 deadline to prevent a shutdown.
A group of about a dozen Republican lawmakers last week stopped any forward motion on a continuing resolution to even keep the government open for another month. Gaetz has primarily been the face of that intraparty opposition, making speeches on the floor threatening a motion to remove McCarthy as Speaker if demands are not met.
Yet, according to POLITICO, after a second failed defense vote in three days last week, McCarthy met with Gaetz on what budget bills should take priority.
That has fueled some speculation that Gaetz wants to seize the Speaker’s gavel from McCarthy for himself, though the fourth-term Congressman has denied as much.
“I have no interest in being Speaker,” Gaetz told News Nation’s Chris Cuomo. “I think almost anyone in Washington, D.C., that we threw a rock at would be a better Speaker than Kevin McCarthy, but it’s not a job that I’m seeking or aspire to or have any chance to obtain. We do have talented people in our conference who I think have broad respect across the varying factions or segments.”
Another health option
Two Florida lawmakers want more health care options available than what’s in the Health Insurance Marketplace. Cammack and Steube introduced the Affordable Care and Comprehensive Economic Support through Savings (ACCESS) Act, pitched as a fiscally conservative mechanism to provide an option for 5 million low-income Americans.
The legislation would allow individuals to receive contributions to a health savings account instead of reduced cost-sharing under health insurance obtained through a health insurance exchange.
“Access to affordable care has diminished over the past decade, as the prices of medical care have skyrocketed, and provider networks have shrunk. Middle-class families are getting squeezed,” said Cammack, a Gainesville Republican.
“But with money in an HSA, you can obtain the personalized services you need and see the doctors you trust, even if they’re not covered by your health insurance plan. For working families in my district and across the country, this option is a lifesaver and will give many the flexibility to afford visits and procedures they may not be able to otherwise. I am proud to introduce the ACCESS Act for many reasons, but mostly because it provides more access, more freedom for families whose health care needs aren’t being met by government-controlled health care programs.”
The Republicans said the availability of HSAs would fix restrictions on enrollees using the marketplace established by the Affordable Care Act.
“The ACCESS Act is an innovative plan to make health care more accessible and affordable for an estimated 5 million lower-income families who today struggle under the burden of high inflation and soaring medical prices,” said Steube, a Sarasota Republican.
“Our idea is simple. Give people another option — a personal health care option — so they can have better access to medical care than what they currently have. Our legislation would provide better access to affordable choices, needed therapies, and trusted doctors through directly funded tax-free health savings accounts. On top of that, our bill will save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars by making existing health subsidies more efficient. This is the kind of common-sense reform Republicans were sent to Washington to put in place.”
Homes for teens
Substantial investment from Hounding and Urban Development could keep some children off the streets in Tampa Bay. Castor announced a grant for the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative. Worth $4,644,758, the funding will be used for building housing and providing housing support and wraparound services.
“Florida’s lack of affordable housing is causing mortgages and rents to skyrocket across the state while pricing my neighbors out of the market entirely,” the Tampa Democrat said.
“As housing costs in Florida have steadily risen, the number of people experiencing homelessness rose for the first time in over a decade in 2022 — and our kids are impacted the most. In fact, people under 18 years of age make up the highest percentage of those experiencing homelessness in Hillsborough, according to THHI. It’s important for kids to grow up in safe and nurturing homes. THHI, foster care advocates and other critical community partners are ready to stretch dollars from this significant grant to keep our community’s youth healthy and housed — out of shelters, cars and motels.”
The funding comes from $60.3 million for HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Initiative. Tampa ultimately became one of 16 communities nationwide to receive the dollars.
Help for Haiti
Haiti still needs help, according to Cherfilus-McCormick, a Miramar Democrat. And both Republican and Democrat members of the Florida delegation agree.
Cherfilus-McCormick, the first Haitian American member of Congress, filed legislation to extend the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement/Haiti Economic Lift Program (HOPE/HELP) trade preferences for a decade.
“To create long-term stability in Haiti, there must first be a solid foundation for economic opportunity and growth,” said Cherfilus-McCormick, Co-Chair of the Haiti Caucus. “The HOPE/HELP trade preference program has helped do just this, boosting the apparel sector and spurring job creation across the country. At a time when Haiti finds itself plagued by uncertainty, this program must continue uninterrupted.”
Reps. Frederica Wilson, a Hollywood Democrat, and Salazar, a Coral Gables Republican, co-sponsored the bill.
“I’m proud to co-sponsor the HELP Extension Act, which, alongside the HOPE Act, sends a resounding message of support to our friends and neighbors in Haiti in its crisis brought by violence and instability,” Wilson said. “This legislation aids our economy, reinforces our commitment to Haiti, and aligns with our efforts to strengthen supply chains and reduce reliance on challenging trading partners like China. Reintroducing this bill is crucial during this critical moment in Haiti’s history, and we must ensure this program does not expire.”
Salazar, Co-Chair of the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, said the aid had regional implications.
“In the middle of a crisis of biblical proportions in Haiti, it is vital that businesses remain in the country to provide jobs, growth, and stability,” Salazar said. “The HOPE/HELP trade programs employ over 10,000 people in Haiti, and I am fighting to renew these programs for another 10 years. Congress must ensure these policies continue for the good of the Haitian people and stability in the region.”
María for María
Salazar also made the case directly to Biden that fair elections in Venezuela remain critical to U.S. interests.
She sent a letter to the President calling for the administration to defend presidential candidate María Corina Machado from a smear campaign by sitting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
“I am writing to you about the best chance we have for freedom and democracy in Venezuela and the vital need for you to protect it,” Salazar wrote. “Maduro is frightened by the popularity of the front-runner Maria Corina Machado and is trying to sabotage her campaign and intimidate her into backing down. Do not let him succeed.”
More than political abuse, Salazar also suggested Maduro’s allies in the Ejército de Liberación Nacional terrorist organization have threatened Machado’s life.
“These moves directly violate the right of the Venezuelan people to a fair and democratic election,” Salazar wrote. “The upcoming Presidential Primary Election on Oct. 22, 2023, represents the best chance they have to rid themselves of more than 20 years of socialist tyranny. It is vital we secure that chance for them.”
On this day
Sept. 26, 1986 — “Ronald Reagan vetoed harsh economic sanctions against South Africa” via UPI — President Reagan vetoed harsh economic sanctions against South Africa Friday night, telling Congress that ‘we must stay and build, not cut and run’ from conflict in the racially divided country. Reagan hoped to sustain his veto by offering to impose a new round of sanctions in line with Western Europe’s decision to ban imports of South African iron and steel and bar new investments in the white-ruled country. Both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly for the sanctions with enough margin to provide the two-thirds vote to override the veto.
Sept. 26, 1789 — “George Washington completes first Cabinet” via ThoughtCo — President Washington made the last two appointments to his Cabinet, Edmund Randolph as Attorney General and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. Randolph had been a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and had introduced the Virginia Plan to create a bicameral Legislature. Jefferson was an essential founding father who had been the central author of the Declaration of Independence. He had also been a member of the first Congress under the Articles of Confederation and had served as a minister to France for the new nation.
Best wishes to Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, who turned 62 on Monday, Sept. 25, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who turns 57 on Wednesday, Sept. 27.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch, compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol.