Delegation for 2.23.24: We’re back — Paraguay — national security — AI — animal cruelty

Firefly The U.S. Capitol 62071
After more than a half-century, America is back on the moon.

Guess who’s back

The last Apollo mission concluded in 1972, but Thursday, Americans once again landed a spacecraft on the moon. And Florida had a significant role in the next step in exploration.

Much of the world saw the latest images of the moon’s surface through a camera built by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which partnered with Intuitive Machines, a Texas-based company that made the lunar lander.

In many ways, the mission reinforces a significant shift in the space industry, once an entirely government- and military-driven enterprise that largely relies on private investment today. Still, NASA Administrator (and former U.S. Sen.) Bill Nelson noted that the latest lunar voyage, like the last one to put astronauts on the moon, started at Kennedy Space Center.

After more than a half-century, America is back on the moon.

“On the eighth day of a quarter-million-mile voyage, a voyage along the great cosmic bridge from the launchpad at Kennedy Space Center to the target of the south pole of the moon, a commercial lander named Odysseus, powered by a company called Intuitive Machines, launched upon a SpaceX rocket, carrying a bounty of NASA scientific instruments, and bearing the dream of a new adventure — a new adventure in science, innovation and American leadership in space, well all of that — aced a landing,” Nelson said in a video statement.

Those companies all maintain a presence in the state of Florida if not principal operations.

The U.S. famously became the first nation to achieve a successful moon landing in 1969, and the famed Apollo missions remain the only time humans have stepped foot on a celestial body beyond Earth. Four other nations — Russia (first as the Soviet Union), China, India and Japan — have landed government spacecraft on the moon. But the Odysseus is the first private-sector spacecraft to achieve a soft landing on the moon’s surface.

Members of Florida’s congressional delegation cheered the achievement.

“Incredibly proud that our district’s own Embry-Riddle University helped spearhead the first moon landing in FIFTY YEARS!” Rep. Michael Waltz posted on X.

Rep. Bill Posey, a Rockledge Republican representing the Space Coast, said the mission was “paving the way for our return to the Moon and future exploration.”

Border patrol

Meanwhile, plans continue with NASA’s Artemis program, which anticipates a crewed mission to the moon in 2026.

The House voted last week to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, but the Senate hasn’t done anything to advance a trial.

Now, Sen. Rick Scott and other Republicans in the upper chamber are demanding a full trial in the immediate future. The Naples Republican sent a letter to Vice President Kamala Harris saying she has an obligation to oversee such an event. Beyond her official capacity in the chamber, Scott said the fact that President Joe Biden assigned her to oversee immigration policy at the start of his term meant she needs to play an active role in this impeachment.

“When President Biden appointed you as the ‘border czar’ in early 2021, he tasked you with ‘stemming the migration to our southern border.’ In accepting that appointment, you acknowledged a need ‘to deal with the root causes’ of the flows of illegal immigration across our southern border,” Scott wrote.

“As such, you should be keenly interested in learning whether a high-ranking member of your administration is one of those ‘root causes’ through his willful and persistent refusal to enforce our country’s immigration laws, frustrating the very core function of your role as President Biden’s ‘border czar.’”

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said another official will oversee the trial, Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat. Murray has suggested the problem at the border isn’t anything to do with Mayorkas or Harris.

“If House Republicans were serious about the border, they should have worked with us on the bipartisan deal we negotiated, but instead they killed it because Donald Trump told them to,” she said in a statement to the Seattle Times.

Latin American connection

Sen. Marco Rubio traveled to Paraguay for an official visit with the nation’s newly elected President, Santiago Peña. The Miami Republican made the trip to discuss the importance of bilateral relations with the U.S., along with strategies for regional security.

After a meeting, the Senator and world leader addressed the press in Asunción and discussed the benefits of a strong relationship.

Marco Rubio visits Paraguay to congratulate its new leader. Image via Rubio’s office.

“One of the things I would like to do is return to Washington and convince more of my colleagues in the North American Congress to take an interest in this issue, in a country that has enormous capacity, enormous opportunities,” Rubio told Revista Plus in Spanish.

But he also took the opportunity on his trip to Paraguay to strengthen connections on the other side of the globe. He visited with José Han, the Taiwanese Ambassador to Paraguay. He stressed his personal “unwavering support” for the nation-state. Paraguay, at the moment, remains the only nation with official diplomatic relations in Taiwan, all the more reason, according to Rubio, to maintain a solid connection to Paraguay.

Roads to security

Could road congestion in the Panhandle impact national security? Rep. Matt Gaetz held a roundtable with local civic and military leaders in Florida’s 1st Congressional District and spotlighted the impact of local infrastructure on military installations.

The event included Air Force Special Operations Commander Lieutenant General Tony Bauernfeind at Hurlburt Field and more than 60 representatives from that facility and from Eglin Air Force Base, along with local and state elected officials.

Matt Gaetz says military bases are dependent on local infrastructure.

“For the first time in a generation, I am encouraged by their commitment to working together in addressing the problems associated with protecting Northwest Florida’s military mission while simultaneously trying to protect and promote our quality of life along the Emerald Coast,” Gaetz said.

“Everyone recognizes the critical nature of protecting our bases and the jobs and resources they bring, and I think we now have the leadership in place across the board to solve some of these issues. Unless we address the congestion and housing issues head on, we are in danger of losing military missions and the billions of dollars they bring to our local economies. The key to solving these problems is having the right people in the right places to work cooperatively to make the decisions necessary for the betterment of all Northwest Florida.”

Gaetz’s Office noted there are particular issues on Highway 98.

AI input

A bipartisan task force focused on artificial intelligence will have an outsized number of Florida lawmakers on the job.

Speaker Mike Johnson named four Sunshine State Republicans to the ad hoc group: Reps. Kat Cammack, Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin and Laurel Lee.

While Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries included no Florida Democrats on the panel, that means Floridians will make up one-sixth of the group. It will be headed by California Reps. Ted Lieu, a Democrat, and Jay Obernolte, a Republican.

Florida Republicans play a significant role in Mike Johnson’s panel to study AI.

“I’m grateful that Speaker Johnson recognized my interest in bolstering innovation and improving our nation’s cybersecurity to protect our nation,” said Dunn, a Panama City Republican. “There’s a wide array of experience between my newly appointed colleagues and myself. I’m looking forward to working with this team to address the rise of artificial intelligence.”

Franklin, a Lakeland Republican, said the growing impact of AI on aspects of geopolitics makes the work especially valuable.

“In the AI arena, the world requires Congress to step up and lead. Leading experts have rightly noted there is no group or body in the world better positioned to lead on this than Congress,” he said. “We have the largest economy in the world and the preponderance of AI thought leadership and R&D is happening in the U.S. By its very nature, private enterprise will try to press the boundaries in the name of competition. Our adversaries have openly stated their desire to dominate the AI field. America must keep up with the pace of AI’s advancement.”

Dog’s best friend

Few delegation members have spent as much time fighting animal cruelty as Rep. Vern Buchanan.

As such, the Humane Society Legislative Fund offered fresh praise on the Longboat Key Republican, who earned a 100% rating on the organization’s scorecard.

Buchanan co-chairs the Animal Protection Caucus and was among just 13 lawmakers in Congress to earn a perfect score. It’s the third time he’s landed a 100% grade over nearly two decades in the House.

Vern Buchanan is a multiple Legislator of the Year winner from the Humane Society.

“As a proud dog owner, I’m honored to receive a 100% score from the Humane Society,” Buchanan said. “Protecting wildlife and combating animal cruelty are bipartisan and common-sense issues everyone can get behind.”

He also took a moment to spotlight some pet-friendly bills he’s championing this Congress, including the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act (HR 3475), Humane Cosmetics Act (HR 5399), Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (HR 3090), Better Collaboration, Accountability, and Regulatory Enforcement (CARE) for Animals Act (HR 5041) and Puppy Protection Act (HR 1624).

Cutting off Hamas

Money being sent to United Nations efforts in the Middle East would better be spent securing the border, according to Rep. Greg Steube. The Sarasota Republican filed legislation last week to permanently ban any U.S. funding going to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, and instead take money earmarked for that effort to build a border wall.

That makes Steube the latest to demand significant consequences for the UNRWA after reports that workers aided Hamas ahead of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel.

Greg Steube wants to ban money going to the U.N. for Palestinian refugees.

“UNRWA blatantly supports Hamas,” Steube said. “Americans are outraged that our tax dollars fund this antisemitic group. UNRWA staff were directly implicated in the ruthless killing of Israeli civilians on Oct. 7 and reportedly procured weapons for Hamas and assisted with logistical operations. It’s also been reported that UNRWA graduated at least 100 Hamas terrorists from its schools, further proving they seek to indoctrinate the next generation and further spread anti-Israel propaganda.”

He noted that former Trump has nixed U.S. funding for the agency in the past and criticized Biden for restoring a revenue stream.

“President Trump was right to cut off UNRWA’s funding. It is despicable that Biden decided to restart this funding, which has funneled hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to a group that facilitates terrorist attacks on our allies,” Steube said. “My legislation will prevent a single American dollar from funding UNRWA and divert any unspent funding to America’s national security by continuing border wall construction. Our border is completely overrun, including by hundreds of terrorists. One thing is clear: walls work. Under Trump’s presidency, illegal crossings drastically decreased in areas where the wall was built.”

Posey was an introducing co-sponsor for the bill.

Helping Panama vets

Many U.S. service members returned home from deployments to the Panama Canal with health concerns tied to herbicide exposure. María Elvira Salazar is helping spearhead an effort to guarantee those veterans health coverage.

The Coral Gables Republican co-led a letter with Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, urging the Veterans Affairs (VA) Department to expand benefits and services for veterans who developed cancer and other health conditions after service in the Panama Canal Zone.

Maria Salazar is pushing for more health care options for service members who fell ill at the Panama Canal.

“At least 400 veterans who served in the Panama Canal Zone (PCZ) have now developed cancer, heart disease, or other health issues consistent with herbicide exposure,” the letter reads. “However, they have been consistently denied the disability compensation and recognition they desperately need and deserve. … We strongly urge you to use the processes within the PACT Act to provide PCZ Veterans with the compensation they earned and need. We look forward to working together to ensure all our veterans receive the compensation they deserve.”

The message references 2022 legislation that expanded coverage for veterans suffering conditions after exposure to burn pits, and that also covered those exposed to herbicides found in Vietnam and South Korea. The legislation didn’t specifically spotlight those who served in the PCZ, but the lawmakers say the VA can administratively extend the coverage.

The letter was co-signed by Florida Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Cammack and Brian Mast.

Hardening ports

While Rep. Carlos Giménez has often questioned whether Biden was too soft on China, he praised a recent move to bolster port cybersecurity and avoid using Chinese contractors at those locales.

The Miami-Dade Republican chairs the House Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee, and he released a joint statement with Homeland Security Committee Chair Mark Green and other Subcommittee Chairs in the silo.

Carlos Giménez reluctantly praises the Biden administration for increased port security.

“In light of our Committees’ warnings about the grave threats posed to our maritime security, this is the right move by the administration,” the statement reads. “It is deeply troubling that the vast majority of ship-to-shore cranes at U.S. ports are manufactured by the Chinese state-owned company, ZPMC, and the operational technology, sourced from various global suppliers, is often installed in China. Many of the cranes’ operational components are manufactured by the Swiss firm ABB, which partners closely with ZPMC and the U.S. government.

“The United States must not give the CCP another way to infiltrate our critical infrastructure, conduct surveillance and espionage, steal intellectual property, and potentially throttle our port activity altogether. The threat is real — we now know Chinese-affiliated hackers, Volt Typhoon, maintained access to our critical infrastructure, including the maritime sector, for five years before discovery.”

The Republican House leaders did suggest that the administration could still be more vigilant about Chinese influence but wanted to give credit where due.

“This announcement does not end the threat, but it is a meaningful step to counter it,” the statement reads. “The follow-through will be essential. We will continue conducting a rigorous investigation into the threats posed by the CCP’s access to our ports. Our Committees will continue urging the Biden administration to strengthen the resilience of our critical infrastructure and to resolve vulnerabilities in our supply chains.”

On this day

Feb. 23, 1904 — “Senate resolution ratifies the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty” via the Capitol Visitor’s Center — By the 1880s Congress considered a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans necessary for commerce and defense, but disagreements about its location stalled any action. Then, the USS Maine exploded in Cuba. The battleship USS Oregon, stationed on the West Coast, took two months to reach the Caribbean to provide support in the Spanish-American War. The long voyage convinced Congress that a canal was imperative. In 1902, Congress authorized the purchase of a project initiated by France on land owned by Colombia to complete the construction of the Panama Canal.

Feb. 23, 1991 — “U.S. peace terms denounced by Iraq” via The New York Times — Iraq’s government denounced President George H.W. Bush’s demand that Iraqi forces begin withdrawing from Kuwait in 24 hours was “shameful” and appeared to pin its hopes for peace on a Soviet initiative. The ruling Revolutionary Command Council said in a statement read by a representative that Iraq was for peace and was working “to support the Soviet initiative and to facilitate its success.” The council also denied charges by Bush and other American officials that Iraq was setting fire to oil wells in Kuwait as part of a “scorched earth” policy.

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Darren Soto, who turns 46 on Sunday, Feb. 25.


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

Staff Reports


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