Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics — Week of 2.4.24

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Matt Gaetz's crusade against Kevin McCarthy may have won him points with the GOP base, but it's causing Republicans in Washington to continue sputtering.

Former President Donald Trump got a mixed bag of legal news this week as he continues campaigning for the GOP presidential nomination.

On Tuesday came a searing appeals court ruling finding Trump does not have blanket immunity to protect him from criminal charges related to his conduct after losing the 2020 election.

At issue are prosecutors’ claim that Trump broke the law to try to hold onto power despite losing the election.

But Trump has tried to shut down that case before it starts by arguing Presidents cannot be charged after leaving office for actions even tangentially related to their official duties unless impeached and convicted by Congress. Because the Senate did not convict Trump after he was impeached for his Jan. 6 conduct, his attorneys argue he can’t later be charged criminally.

The appeals court handily rejected that argument, leaving the Supreme Court as the last refuge for Trump’s pleas. But some legal experts said the appeals court ruling was so thorough, it’s possible SCOTUS could decline to even step in, which would leave that appeals court finding in place.

Trump did get some good news from the Supreme Court in another case, however. Justices both conservative and liberal appeared broadly skeptical of arguments that Trump should be kept off the 2024 ballot under the Constitution’s so-called “insurrection clause.”

It’s unclear how the court will rule or on what grounds, but after hearing the direction of Justices’ questioning to lawyers on both sides, it’s likely some if not all of the court’s liberal wing will join conservative Justices in issuing a ruling that will allow Trump to appear on ballots in Colorado, Maine and any other states that attempt to keep him off.

While that may be good news, this week did draw attention to the fact that this is just the tip of the legal iceberg for Trump. Republicans still have a chance to select a candidate that doesn’t have a mountain of legal questions left unanswered as Democratic President Joe Biden deals with continued questions about his fitness to serve. But Republican voters so far have seemed content with nominating their own problematic candidate.

Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.

Winners

Honorable mention: Kathleen Passidomo. Passidomo got some good news regarding her Live Healthy plan, as the House has agreed to the same spending level found in the Senate version.

The proposal is Passidomo’s top priority this Session. Among other big changes, the legislation would help fund colleges and universities to train more medical, nursing and dental students, as well as offer loans to open more clinics.

While the House is matching funding levels in the overall bill, there may still be some policy language to work out, according to Rep. Michael Grant, the House bill sponsor.

But the House agreeing to add millions to its version to get it in line with the Senate product is a major step toward this plan becoming law. Credit to Passidomo for pushing for these much-needed changes.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Disney. The entertainment giant rebounded after a legal setback last week to beat earnings estimates, tease new park and cruise expansions and announce a major investment in one of the biggest gaming companies around.

Wednesday’s earnings call prompted a 7% rise in extended trading share prices thanks to news the company was successfully cutting costs in addition to a few major announcements. Disney finally confirmed a long-rumored ESPN streaming service, which will also offer a bundle with Warner Bros. Discovery and Fox. That could be a game changer in terms of how TV viewers consume content.

Disney also unveiled a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, which is behind the gaming juggernaut Fortnite and distributes several other high-profile games, including Rocket League and Fall Guys.

Disney CEO Bob Iger spoke at the earnings call and responded to new details about Universal’s new Epic Universe park. While Iger was light on details, he did say the company is set to spend $60 billion over the next 10 years on its theme parks and other experiences, such as cruises.

Despite some conservatives foolishly targeting Disney, the company is as relevant as ever and looks to be making moves to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

The biggest winner: Jennifer Bradley. Bradley had harsh words for White supremacists during a heated hearing on a bill that would protect Confederate monuments, responding to several commenters who spoke on the bill Tuesday evening.

The legislation advanced out of the Senate Community Affairs Committee. The public comment period, however, featured multiple speakers voicing concerns about the “culture war” prompting these monuments to be removed. And one outright confirmed, when asked by GOP Sen. Alexis Calatayud, that he was advocating for White supremacy.

Democrats were appalled by the scene and walked out of the vote. The episode also prompted a severe rebuke from Bradley.

“I am going to be up on this bill, but I want the record to be perfectly clear. The comments that I heard today from several gentlemen — and I’m looking right at you — were vile, they were bigoted, they were racist,” she said.

“They are what is tearing apart our state. They are what is driving a wedge between people. And you are the reason I am vacillating on whether or not to even vote ‘yes,’ because it looks like I endorse your hatred. And I do not.”

And while the measure moved out of its second of three committee stops, subsequent reporting shows the bill could end up stalling out because of the display Tuesday night.

Democrats were rightly outraged, but without GOP allies speaking out in a Republican supermajority Senate, the Democrats’ complaints weren’t likely to move much. Credit to Bradley for speaking out against the dark underbelly of society backing efforts like this. Hopefully it will prompt Republicans to do the right thing and leave these decisions to local governments where they belong.

Losers

Dishonorable mention: Spring Break rabble-rousers. Gov. Ron DeSantis came out forcefully multiple times this week to make clear the state will make efforts to stop Spring Break chaos this year.

With Spring Break season just on the horizon, the Governor said law enforcement will be out in force to ensure there is order during a time when college students love to let loose.

“We’ll have resources that both Highway Patrol and Florida Department of Law Enforcement will be working with, not just Miami Beach, but wherever in the state,” DeSantis said, adding that the State Guard could also play a role in enforcement.

The next day the Governor reiterated that promise.

“Anywhere that any local governments, local communities that want our assistance, we want to be there,” he said. “But we’ve had to go into Miami Beach and help out and we want to do that on the front end so that we’re not spoiling it for everybody else.”

Those pronouncements come after Miami Beach already decided to call for curfews and closures to help prevent any out-of-control behavior. That’s a change from recent years, when Miami Beach reacted only after violence. It seems the state and local governments are working hard to get ahead of any incidents this year, and that should serve as a warning to those looking to cause trouble.

Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Victoria Méndez. The Miami City Attorney is in legal trouble of her own, facing a civil lawsuit and a Florida Bar investigation over alleged ties to a house-flipping scheme that targeted vulnerable residents.

The civil suit by resident Jose Alvarez alleges that Méndez pointed Alvarez toward her husband, Carlos Morales, when Alvarez was looking to sell a family home he inherited. That home was subject to more than $270,000 in fines at the time, and Alvarez said the city would not work with him to resolve those fines. So he decided to sell.

Morales, Méndez’s husband, owns a company that buys and sells homes. But Alvarez’s lawsuit says not only did Morales resell the home for a $165,000 profit, the city after the sale waived those pending fines, allowing Morales’ company to make a hefty profit.

The Florida Bar is also investigating allegations that this is a pattern Méndez and Morales have been using to prey on residents who were looking for financial help.

It’s bad enough to have these allegations flung at an official tasked with enforcing the law. But adding insult to injury, a judge overseeing that civil lawsuit was forced to mute Méndez’s microphone during a virtual hearing this week as she testified.

“I will not tolerate her taking over control of the courtroom to make speeches and not answer the question,” Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge David C. Miller said.

The Judge accused Méndez of “making a political speech” as she accused him and the plaintiffs of targeting her and her family. The judge repeatedly tried to interject, but Méndez reportedly kept talking.

“Now I’ve been forced to mute you,” Miller said. “You refuse to stop talking when I’m trying to address you.”

Again, this is the City Attorney for one of the state’s premier localities, and she can’t even follow a judge’s simple instructions.

The biggest loser: Matt Gaetz. We covered the persistent effort by Gaetz to oust former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a move that ended with McCarthy resigning from the House early and declining to finish his term. Mostly, we listed Gaetz as a winner during that time, as he was accomplishing his narrow goal of making McCarthy’s life a living hell.

But we’ve also noted when Gaetz’s mutiny backfired, and this was certainly another such example.

The House Republicans looked like complete fools this week when they failed basic math by calling a vote to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas without having enough votes to actually impeach him.

House Republicans only needed one vote that day. You know who could have given that vote? Kevin McCarthy! But unfortunately for the House GOP caucus, Gaetz’s antics drove McCarthy out of Congress entirely.

Yes, McCarthy was a bit spiteful for leaving. But can you blame him after the embarrassment Gaetz put him through?

The Mayorkas debacle wasn’t the only failure for the GOP this week. House Speaker Mike Johnson — who stepped in to replace McCarthy after a prolonged search for a new Speaker — also failed to bring up a stand-alone funding bill for Israel. That effort was also shot down.

That bill was a harder sell, as it required a two-thirds majority to pass. But even here, Gaetz has been one of the loudest voices against traditional Washington spending tactics and has led an effort to undermine major spending policies.

We don’t disagree with many of Gaetz’s critiques. But we do question the wisdom of cultivating a response that includes just failing to pass major funding initiatives whenever you don’t get your way.

When we were naming Gaetz as a winner, we did so given his goal to disrupt McCarthy and ultimately force him out. For some, these are still wins even with all of the chaos, as there is pervasive skepticism of Washington among much of the GOP base. These failures are just further proof that the Deep State reigns supreme, or something like that. That cohort will no doubt continue cheering Gaetz for standing tall.

But these embarrassing episodes are the result of the dog catching the mail truck. Gaetz had no plan after ousting McCarthy, and it looks like Republican dysfunction is now a permanent feature of the House until this year’s election either grants them more room to work with or flips control back to Democrats.

The more the GOP falls on its face, the more that latter outcome looks likely. And if Democrats do win in 2024, it will be thanks in no small part to Gaetz.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


One comment

  • Impeach Biden

    February 11, 2024 at 6:47 am

    Not a single word about that impromptu press conference Sloooooow Joe had the other night. The poor guy is done. Even the Demo friendly press is beginning to question his ability to read the teleprompter. The press can no longer protect Joe. He is done.

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