Delegation for 2.20.24: Siberian surprise — prisoner swap — flushed — Doha — abusing animals

The United States Capitol building at sunset, Washington DC, USA.
The death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny could lead the delegation to rethink Ukraine support.

Surprise from Siberia

Could the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny impact how Florida’s congressional delegation addresses the war in Ukraine?

The news Friday that Navalny died in an Arctic Russian prison drew a range of condemnations from Florida lawmakers aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Harsh words came from both sides of the aisle.

“The death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in prison is another example of the KGB officer Putin using Soviet methods to silence his critics,” posted Rep. María Elvira Salazar, a Coral Gables Republican. “Cuban exiles in Miami know what Russia is capable of. And the Kremlin, even without (Joseph) Stalin, is still soaked with blood.”

Could the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny affect how the delegation sees the war in Ukraine?

“Brave pro-democracy, anti-corruption leader Alexi Navalny dies a martyr to freedom,” posted Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat. “Let his murder galvanize freedom-loving people across the world to stand up to autocrats, including savage Putin.”

But deciphering how that translates to policy discussions in Congress may take some time. Indeed, supporters of President Joe Biden’s calls for more aid to Ukraine leveraged the news event to demand House Republicans get in line. “Navalny’s death in Russia is not a surprise but a grave reminder of the danger of Putin’s tyranny,” posted Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Hollywood Democrat. “Make no mistake: Putin is responsible for the opposition leader’s death. In Congress, we have an opportunity to stand up to Putin by supporting Ukraine and democracy.”

But while many Florida Republicans demanded some sort of accountability for Putin, they did not mention Ukraine specifically.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Miami Republican who voted against a foreign aid package days before Navaldy’s death, issued a lengthy statement of support for Russian critics of Putin but didn’t discuss the war.

“Navalny’s tragic death at the hands of the Putin bloodthirsty regime is a stark reminder that Putin and his thugs will stop at nothing to silence dissent or those who might expose the level of corruption in the Kremlin,” said Rubio, ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, was critical of Putin but suggested it wasn’t in the interest of the U.S. to invest in the Ukrainian conflict.

“When Putin feels threatened, he kills people. Navalny. (Yevgeny) Prigozhin. Ukraine. He’ll probably do it again,” Gaetz posted.

“Navalny’s courage to speak out was inspirational to many, and his tragic death will be remembered through the lens of this courage and sacrifice. Prigozhin was a well-organized thug who broke bad on Putin. The world is full of thugs and criminals. Some of them even run countries — important ones. The best way to proliferate America’s values is to put them on their most exemplary display — not to excessively entangle ourselves in disputes oceans away. Reality check: We weren’t another $60 billion to Ukraine away from saving Navalny. Sending billions more now won’t bring him back.”

Prisoner exchange?

Among Florida Republicans, some responded to Navalny’s death with statements saying Biden needs to demand something from Putin on another front. Both Sen. Rick Scott, a Naples Republican, and Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, both identified specific political prisoners and said Biden must demand their release.

“The death of Alexei Navalny is a tragedy that shows who Putin is: a ruthless thug that will kill anyone that opposes his tyranny,” Scott posted. “Biden must hold Putin accountable and demand the immediate release of Evan Gershkovich, Paul Whelan and all Americans unjustly held in Russian prisons.”

Republicans are calling for the release of journalist Evan Gershkovich. Image via AP.

Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was detained by Russia and accused of espionage. Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, has been in Russian custody since 2018, also on espionage charges, and in comments to The Guardian, has criticized the U.S. for “abandoning” him.

Buchanan identified the same two Western individuals now in Russian custody.

“In 2021, President Biden said the consequences would be ‘devastating for Russia’ if Alexei Navalny died in prison,” Buchanan posted. “Biden needs to stand strong and demand the release of every detained American, including Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich. Bring them home TODAY.”

In the water

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends individuals flush certain unused medication down the toilet. But Rubio worries that’s hurting Florida’s water supply.

The Miami Senator led a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, raising concerns about whether swirling opioids into the aquifer could be a bad idea.

Flushing old medication could be impacting Florida’s drinking water.

“As more reports are shining light on the impacts of opioids and other drugs found in wildlife and waterways throughout Florida and their potential effect on public health, it is imperative that the FDA review its flush list guidelines and update its research to reflect the current environment,” the letter reads.

The bicameral letter includes signatures from Scott and Reps. Aaron Bean, Scott Franklin, Anna Paulina Luna and Michael Waltz, all Republicans.

The message noted that the FDA has promised perpetual review of the list of drugs it recommends disposing of down the drain. But a flush list online hasn’t been updated since 2020. It includes medications including buprenorphine, oxymorphone, fentanyl and methadone.

Rubio’s letter points out that since the last update of the list, there has been a considerable rise in counterfeit drugs in the U.S. market, increasing the possibility even more toxins could be introduced to the water supply by the practice of flushing them.

“While we appreciate the efforts made by the FDA to prevent and reduce accidental ingestion of opioids and other high-risk drugs, we are concerned that not all the risk factors involved with flushing drugs down the drain have been properly assessed or evaluated,” the letter reads.

No on Governor?

Gaetz says he’s not running for Governor. He posted an announcement on social media the day Florida lawmakers unrolled a runoff proposal seen by some as a move to hurt his chances to win the GOP nomination should he run in 2026.

The Fort Walton Beach Republican called runoffs an unnecessary expense. But he also said if his aspirations motivated a change in state law, that wasn’t necessary.

“Runoff elections cost taxpayers millions, increase targets for fraudsters and empower establishment candidates over firebrands,” Gaetz posted on X. “They are a bad idea.”

Matt Gaetz takes a hard pass on the Florida Governorship in 2026.

“You guys in Tallahassee didn’t have to do this,” he added. “I have no plans to run for Governor.”

But Gaetz has widely been seen as a likely candidate for Governor. He’s one of many Republicans, including fellow Reps. Byron Donalds and Waltz, who are rumored to be considering the job, as Gov. Ron DeSantis can’t run again, thanks to term limits.

Many have wondered if a crowded field, with a winner-take-all Primary, would allow Gaetz to secure the Republican nomination with a plurality. Indeed, the prospect played a role in Florida Politics naming Gaetz as Florida’s Politician of the Year for 2023.

Of course, Gaetz used political wording in that he had no “plans” to run. Asked if his statement were a “Shermanesque statement” that he would not serve as Governor, Gaetz told Delegation “I said something different.”

The Congressman later added, “I think I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

Doha revisited

While Waltz has been a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, the St. Augustine Beach Republican voiced skepticism from the start about the Doha Agreement.

Biden often pointed to the 2020 treaty in Afghanistan as justification for a widely criticized withdrawal from the Asian nation, but Waltz, in a hearing last week, made clear he doesn’t buy it. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, Waltz listed the number of Trump policies Biden reversed during his first month in office.

Mike Waltz is a steadfast supporter of Donald Trump.

“Everything from the construction of the border wall, our membership in the World Health Organization, the Biden administration completely walked away from Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, tried to get us back into a disastrous Iran nuclear deal, rejoined Paris Climate Accord, ended Remain in Mexico, canceled a Keystone Pipeline, $16 billion in investment. And I could go on. All of these things were reversed on the first of the month, but yet we are supposed to believe that somehow, he was handcuffed to this deal.”

Waltz also noted that Trump didn’t rush into withdrawal before leaving office and that 2,500 troops remained on the ground and the U.S. controlled Bagram Air Base.

The comments occurred in an exchange with Afghanistan Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who defended some of Biden’s decision-making. “He thought if he stayed that he would have to go back to war, likely to go back to war with the Taliban,” Khalilzad said.

Waltz stressed that the decisions didn’t stop current renditions of al-Qaida and ISIS from planning harm on the U.S.

Remaining in Afghanistan or going to war with the Taliban is a false choice, he said.

Air support

A grant for $1 million just landed at Orlando Sanford International Airport. Rep. Cory Mills’ Office announced the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding, which will be used to rehabilitate the West Terminal corridor.

“I was pleased to hear Orlando Sanford International Airport in Florida’s 7th District was granted $1 million to improve access for disabled individuals and make additional necessary improvements to the West Terminal,” said Mills, a New Smyrna Beach Republican.

Cory Mills helped land federal money at the Sanford International Airport.

“As someone born and raised in Central Florida, I know Sanford Airport is vital to individuals traveling in the area. I’m glad to know Sanford will be able to make significant improvements that will help passengers with this FAA grant.”

Airport officials say the project will increase the size of passenger waiting areas and allow more accommodations for disabled visitors.

“This funding will allow us to relieve congestion, improve connectivity, and provide additional passenger seating options in West Terminal,” said Nicole Martz, President and CEO of Sanford Airport Authority. “We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to enhance the passenger experience at our airport and to continue our mission of being ‘Simpler, Faster, Better.’”

Rare ailments

For more than a decade, the Creating Hope Act provided children with rare diseases with access to new medications. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants to make sure that doesn’t change.

The Palm Harbor Republican announced he’s leading the charge to reauthorize the federal program, which incentivizes pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs, especially for child patients.

Gus Bilirakis is fighting for people with rare diseases to continue having access to new medications.

“Children are not little adults, and despite their significant need, many kids throughout the country are suffering with rare diseases that don’t have treatments or cures because of the small population impacted by their individual condition and the high cost of bringing these specific treatments to market,” Bilirakis said.

“The Rare Pediatric PRV (priority-review vouchers) program has been an effective tool for incentivizing the development of new and improved treatments for children with cancer and other rare diseases. I’m proud to help lead the charge in offering hope to these families by ensuring this successful initiative continues to help rare disease patients nationwide.”

He introduced bipartisan legislation with Democratic Reps. Nanette Barragán and Anna Eshoo of California and Lori Trahan of Massachusetts, as well as Republican Reps. Michael Burgess and Michael McCaul of Texas.

Patient advocacy groups cheered the bill.

“As many as half of those living with a rare disease are children, and developing treatments for these patient populations is particularly challenging. The significant uptake in pediatric rare disease research and drug development in recent years demonstrates the importance of the incentives created by the rare pediatric disease priority-review voucher program for our community,” said Peter Saltonstall, president and CEO of the National Organization for Rare Disorders.

“More than 95% of rare diseases still lack any FDA-approved treatments and without a timely program reauthorization, we risk losing the vital progress we have made toward finding treatments for so many pediatric rare diseases. We are thankful to Reps. McCaul, Eshoo, Bilirakis, Barragán, Burgess, and Trahan for introducing this important bill, and urge Congress to quickly reauthorize the Rare Pediatric Disease PRV program before the Sept. 30, 2024, deadline.”

Abuse is abuse

Those who beat animals often go on to abuse humans in their own families. Now, Buchanan wants authorities to watch signs and hopefully save a spouse or child from violence.

The Longboat Key Republican introduced a bipartisan bill, the Animal Violence Exposes Real Threat of (AVERT) Future Violence Act, with Rep. Dina Titus, a Nevada Democrat. The legislation would prompt the Justice Department to study connections between animal and domestic abuse and then recommend policy changes to Congress to prevent such an escalation. The bill would also provide $2 million for mental health experts, law enforcement and animal welfare organizations to fight abuse against humans and animals.

Cruelty to animals is a red flag for other physical violence, says Vern Buchanan.

“Not surprisingly, deranged individuals who abuse innocent animals are significantly more likely to go on to commit violence against people,” Buchanan said. “In fact, studies have shown that nearly 40% of known animal abusers commit crimes against humans as well. I’m pleased to lead efforts with Congresswoman Titus to study the troubling connection between domestic abuse and animal violence.”

The bill boasts support from major animal rights groups, including the ASPCA, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Animal Welfare Institute, Humane Society Legislative Fund, and law enforcement organizations, including the National Sheriffs’ Association and National Organization for Victim Advocacy.

Pressuring Maduro

A decision by the Venezuelan government to push United Nations human rights officials out of the country has Florida’s delegation on both sides of the aisle fuming.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Co-Chair of the Congressional Venezuela Democracy Caucus, released a joint statement with Salazar, the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, and Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, slamming Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s actions.

Delegation members trash Nicolás Maduro’s attempt to push out U.N. human rights officials. Image via AP.

“We are deeply concerned by reports that the Maduro regime has ordered the United Nations human rights office to suspend its operations and leave the country, based on spurious accusations that it works on behalf of ‘coup plotters and terrorist groups,” the statement reads.

The lawmakers released the statement with Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat and ranking member of Salazar’s committee.

“This is simply the latest assault on democracy after the Maduro regime reinstated its ban on opposition leader María Corina Machado’s presidential candidacy and forcefully disappeared several pro-democracy organizers and human rights defenders.”

Salazar hosted a roundtable in Congress with Machado, an opposition leader kept off the ballot in Venezuela.

The lawmakers issuing the statement co-introduced the AFFECT Human Rights in Venezuela Act (HR 4086) last year and called for the sanctions-driving bill to be swiftly taken up in the House.

“We believe strongly that independent experts should be protected as they investigate and promote accountability for Nicolás Maduro’s crimes against humanity, which have precipitated the largest peacetime refugee crisis in human history,” the statement reads.

“The U.N. Fact-Finding Mission has documented abuses of state power at the highest levels, including extrajudicial murder, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and arbitrary detention.”

Anything but independent

After a Cuban company working with the U.S. embassy in Havana fired an employee for criticizing the government, Salazar wants the administration to cut ties.

The Coral Gables Republican sent a letter directly to Biden raiding her concerns about MadWoman, a registered MIPYME (a Spanish anagram for independent small businesses) doing business with the State Department.

“The company fired a young man for saying ‘¡Ajaho la dictadura!’ — ‘Down with the dictatorship!’ on his social media. It is completely unacceptable for our embassy to be working with a company that fires people for criticizing the Cuban dictatorship.”

Maria Salazar takes issue with a Cuban company that fired an employee who spoke out.

Salazar goes on to call the company a front for the communist regime, noting a call from the government prompted the employee’s firing. She also said MadWoman’s offices are in a building owned by Cimez, a military-led conglomerate already facing U.S. sanctions.

She criticized the administration for allowing MadWoman to get a contract and inviting its owners to state events.

“It goes without saying that the Cuban regime is totalitarian in every way — it prides itself in maintaining strict control over every single aspect of the Cuban people’s lives,” Salazar said. “The 11J protests in 2021 ought to remind the Biden administration that the Cuban people live under constant repression and censorship. The case of MadWoman proves that the myth of the “new Cuban entrepreneurs” is exactly that — a myth.”

LNG craving

A Biden administration ban on new permits for liquefied natural gas plants already prompted pushback from several GOP Florida lawmakers. Now, the House has taken a step to override the move, approving the Unlocking our Domestic LNG Potential Act (HR 7176).

While the pill passed 224-200 with less than 10 Democratic votes, the Florida delegation broke along party lines. All eight Democrats representing Florida cast nay votes, with Republicans supporting it (sans Salazar, who missed the vote).

Franklin said Congress should reverse the administration’s action.

Republicans are irritated by the Joe Biden administration’s stance on LNG.

“From the moment President Biden took office, he began systematically dismantling our nation’s energy independence in the name of virtue signaling to a small group of climate alarmists and D.C. liberal extremists,” the Lakeland Republican said.

“This war on our domestic energy sector raises costs across every imaginable sector of our economy, killing jobs and burdening hardworking Americans. It doesn’t just leave our economy crippled and vulnerable; it endangers our national security and increases our dependence on adversaries to meet our needs. We have every resource available here at home to revive our economy, rebuild American energy independence, and become a net exporter of great American products again. This important bill will reverse the misguided pause on natural gas export projects and ensure the U.S. can rise to the growing energy challenges of the coming decades. I urge the Senate to swiftly pass this measure.”

On this day

Feb. 20, 1864 — “The Battle of Olustee” via Florida State Parks — More than 10,000 cavalry, infantry and artillery troops fought a five-hour battle in a pine forest near Olustee in Florida’s largest Civil War battle. Three U.S. Colored Troops, including the now-famous 54th Massachusetts, took part in the battle. The battle ended with 2,807 casualties and the retreat of Union troops to Jacksonville until the war’s end just 14 months later. A re-enactment is held every February. Scenes for Civil War movies, including the 1989 movie “Glory,” have been filmed during the re-enactments.

Feb. 20, 1962 — “Liftoff of Friendship 7” via NASA — On this mission, John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth. His Friendship 7 capsule launched aboard a Mercury-Atlas rocket, and during his almost five-hour flight, he circled Earth three times before splashing down in the Atlantic 800 miles southeast of Bermuda. Computers controlled the trajectory, but Glenn asked engineers to get NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson to check the orbital equations by hand on her desktop mechanical calculating machine as part of the preflight checklist.


Peter Schorsch publishes Delegation, compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol.

Staff Reports


  • Dont Say FLA

    February 20, 2024 at 2:48 pm

    Putin apparently thinks his Pocket Pussy DJT will be President again.

    Sadly, he might be right about that.

  • Abuse is Abuse

    February 20, 2024 at 2:49 pm

    Has anyone heard from Flop Gov’s new dog lately?

Comments are closed.


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