Delegation for 4.2.24: Swinging — orphans — back to Israel — slow the flow

U.S. Capitol Washington, D.C.
Two constitutional amendments are putting Florida back in play.

Game changer?

The last two election cycles have questioned Florida’s reputation as America’s largest swing state. But the Florida Supreme Court’s approval of a ballot measure on abortion rights renewed hope in blue hearts in the Sunshine State.

The news came the same day the state’s high court upheld the most restrictive abortion ban in state history and triggered a ban six weeks into pregnancy to take effect soon. While that horrified anti-abortion groups, it emboldened national Democrats to promise to fight for Florida’s battleground House seats, invest in a high-profile Senate race and make a play for Florida’s electoral votes for President.

As first reported by CBS News, President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign announced a seven-figure ad buy on abortion in response to the Florida rulings. Meanwhile, Campaign Manager Julia Chavez Rodriguez issued a memo explicitly calling the court decisions “President Biden’s Opening in Florida.”

To watch the first ad, please click the image below:

Democrats also see opportunities in both chambers of Congress. Former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, the leading Democratic challenger to Sen. Rick Scott, pounced on the state court’s abortion ruling.

“Rick Scott proudly stated he would have signed this ban — a ban with hardly any exceptions — into law if he were Governor,” the Miami Democrat posted. “Floridians are tired of extreme politicians who want to take away our freedoms. It has never been more important for us to show up this November to put an end to government interference, vote to protect abortion rights in Florida, and stop Rick Scott from passing a national abortion ban.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) issued a release detailing Scott’s record on abortion as Governor and Senator, signaling plans to invest in the state in the Fall.

“Now Florida women are facing an even stricter abortion ban, and their right to make their own health care decisions will literally be on the ballot this November,” said DSCC representative Maeve Coyle. “The fight against these new restrictions on access to abortion will shine a brighter spotlight on Rick Scott’s long, dangerous record of supporting draconian abortion bans. In November, Florida voters will stand up for women’s freedom to make their most personal medical decisions by rejecting this abortion ban and firing Rick Scott from the Senate.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) similarly signaled a belief that the decisions would help in targeted races.

“Today’s news is a serious blow for anti-abortion extremists Anna Paulina Luna and María Elvira Salazar,” said DCCC spokesperson Lauryn Fanguen, naming two Republican incumbents already in House Democrats’ crosshairs. “There’s no question that when abortion rights are on the ballot, Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike turn out to vote to protect their freedoms. Floridians know that Luna and Salazar can’t be trusted to defend their rights.”

Of note, neither Luna, a St. Petersburg Republican, nor Salazar, a Coral Gables Republican, issued any response to the Supreme Court rulings. Neither did Scott. Indeed, no Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation posted online about abortion or the state Supreme Court decisions specifically.

However, Florida GOP consultants still pointed out the many advantages that Republicans retain in Florida. As of the end of February, Florida has more than 5.2 million registered Republicans, compared to fewer than 4.4 million Democrats, with independents and third-party voters making up another nearly 3.9 million. The GOP advantage has snowballed in the last two years. While Scott won his Senate seat by barely 10,000 votes in 2018, Sen. Marco Rubio enjoyed a 17-percentage-point landslide in 2022.

Chris Hartline, a longtime Scott consultant, responded to the flood of Democratic celebrations with a meme from classic Peanuts cartoons that Florida Democrats know too well. The meme shows the fictional Lucy Van Pelt yanking a football from in front of Charlie Brown.

Orphan priority

As the U.S. absorbs Haitian refugees fleeing gang violence. Rubio urged the State Department to prioritize children legally adopted by U.S. parents.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Miami Republican noted the work of numerous churches and organizations assisting those on the island.

“In these trying times, many humanitarian groups, including Haitian diaspora organizations and religious ministries, have stood as inspirational examples and beacons of hope, kindness and compassion,” Rubio wrote.

As Haitians flee violence, Marco Rubio is urging the U.S. to make adoptions a priority.

“Despite working with constrained resources, they have assisted the most vulnerable inside Haiti, particularly orphaned children who bear the brunt of rejection, poverty and instability. These groups play a vital role in providing the most basic and essential needs, emotional and educational support and a loving environment. I humbly ask that throughout these difficult times, your department prioritize the welfare of Haiti’s orphaned children who have been adopted by Americans.”

The adopted children, in many cases, have run into “significant obstacles” in coming to the U.S., Rubio wrote, complicated by the evacuation of U.S. Embassy staff from Port-au-Prince.

“As the situation in Haiti has reached a critical juncture, it is incumbent upon us to join forces and make a positive difference in the lives of Haiti’s orphaned children,” he wrote.

Return to Israel

Scott traveled to Israel for his sixth trip and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his administration. Upon his return to Naples, Scott spoke to the media about his first trip since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks thrust the country into war.

“Israel changed on Oct. 7, 2023, when Iran-backed Hamas terrorists attacked and killed thousands of innocent people — but I made clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu and members of his administration that I stand firmly with them in making sure this day will not mark the end of the Jewish State,” Scott said.

Rick Scott joins a meeting of Jewish leaders to discuss the ongoing war in Gaza.

“I reiterated this commitment when I spoke to family members of individuals taken hostage and IDF Soldiers who have seen and fought terrorism firsthand. They’re scarred by the unimaginable horrors of Iran-backed Hamas terrorists beheading babies, raping young women, murdering their loved ones and capturing their children to be held hostage. I saw the devastation Israel faces with my own eyes in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. The joyous community I visited years ago is now destroyed and reeling from the aftermath of Oct. 7, with so many of its residents missing or dead.”

Scott met with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, War Cabinet Member Benny Gantz and War Cabinet Observer Gadi Eisenkot. He stressed that he supports Israel’s continued military pushback.

“My visit to Israel has only reinforced the undeniable fact that the United States and Israel have a common security interest in destroying Hamas and getting hostages back home today,” he said. “At the Western Wall, I left a prayer for every hostage taken on Oct. 7 to be freed today and returned home. War is terrible, but Israel cannot rest until Hamas is destroyed and the hostages, including Americans, are home. I know that God is with the Israeli people and will deliver victory to his people and the Jewish State.”

Leaker love

The Republican-controlled House has continued investigating the finances of Hunter Biden, the President’s son. Rep. Matt Gaetz said Congress must protect federal employees who are aiding the effort.

The Fort Walton Beach Republican sent a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson urging him to have House counsel intervene in Hunter Biden’s lawsuit against the IRS. Gaetz believes the lawsuit intends to outlaw whistleblowers who could expose information about criminal activity by any member of the President’s family.

Matt Gaetz is seeking protections for whistleblowers.

“We should be doing everything we can to protect these brave whistleblowers,” Gaetz wrote.

He attached a copy of Biden’s lawsuit.

“A cursory read of these materials should make clear to the House Office of General Counsel that the rights of the House are implicated in this case and not being adequately represented to the Court by the DOJ (Department of Justice),” Gaetz wrote.

“To give but (one) example among many: the complaint takes an extremely narrow read of Internal Revenue Code § 6103’s whistleblower provisions, a read which DOJ does not contest. The House clearly has an interest in the broadest possible read of the subject matter that an individual may properly disclose to committees of Congress.”

Clean routes

Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, hosted an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leader in Kissimmee. The agency touted infrastructure investments in Central Florida.

EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe participated in a roundtable at Buenaventura Lakes Library to discuss water projects funded through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, the Water Resources and Development Act and the Infrastructure Law. The EPA, for example, provided Orange County with $5 million through the Clean School Bus Program to purchase 20 electric school buses over the next five years.

Darren Soto holds a roundtable discussion on the EPA and Florida’s water quality.

“Every school day, 25 million children ride our nation’s largest form of mass transit: the school bus. The vast majority of those buses run on diesel, exposing students, teachers, and bus drivers to toxic air pollution. At EPA, we are accelerating the transition to electric and low-emission school buses in America, helping to secure a healthier future where all our children can breathe cleaner air,” McCabe said.

“Thanks to the leadership of Congressman Soto, President Biden secured historic investments in America to fund thousands more clean electric school buses in school districts across the country, saving school districts money and improving air quality at the same time.”

Soto has announced $13.7 million in funded community projects in his district, $5 million of which will go to water projects.

“It was also great to be able to talk with students at Meadow Woods Middle School about EPA’s commitment to fostering a greener future,” he said. “Recognizing that young people are the leaders of tomorrow, it’s crucial to demonstrate our dedication to a cleaner environment. And what better way to illustrate this than by joining them on a journey aboard an electric bus.”

Celebrating volunteers

Rep. Gus Bilirakis honored 92 volunteers working with nonprofits and governments in Citrus, Hernando and Pasco counties at an annual Heroes Among Us event.

“I was inspired when reading the submissions that were sent in as nominations,” the Palm Harbor Republican said. “From a Veteran with PTSD mentoring others as they return from the battlefield to a retired nurse who has found a way to continue providing critical health coaching for chronically ill patients even after she has lost her own vision, to parents of an autistic child funding classroom renovations in public schools which are designed to ensure children of all ability levels reach their highest potential.”

Gus Bilirakis stands tall for local veterans.

A range of individuals was recognized, from youth-focused groups like the YMCA of the Suncoast and Gulf Coast Manatees Homeschool Group to some with conservative missions like The Pregnancy and Family Life Center.

“The individuals who are being honored truly represent the best of the best in our community,” Bilirakis said. “They’ve given of their time, talent and treasure. At a time when we could all use a reminder of the good that takes place each and every day in communities across the country, I am honored to help celebrate the impact that these everyday heroes are making.”

Junk insurance

Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Kathy Castor has supported crackdowns on “junk plans,” health insurance options that offer little to any with preexisting conditions. The Tampa Democrat filed legislation this Congress, the Throw Away Junk Plans Act (HR 711), limiting such offerings.

The Biden administration announced last week that it would also pursue that route through executive action. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced efforts to prevent insurance companies from misleading consumers into buying health plans that discriminate based on preexisting conditions and provide little or no coverage when consumers need it the most.

Kathy Castor is looking to end ‘junk’ health insurance.

Castor cheered the move and said it would regain ground lost when former President Donald Trump granted insurers greater leniency.

“For years, I fought the Trump administration’s expansion of insufficient Junk Plans that have discriminated against Americans with preexisting conditions and, all too often, left unknowing American families on the hook for costly medical bills,” Castor said.

“Junk Plans are no substitute for meaningful, comprehensive health insurance and often lack critical consumer protections provided under the ACA. I applaud the Biden-(Kamala) Harris administration for taking action to crack down on Junk Plans to protect Americans from being duped into buying plans that do not provide the coverage they expect and need.”

Medicare Advantage hike

In a more bipartisan health care fight, Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican, co-led a letter with Soto to CMS asking it to reconsider a hike in its Medicare Advantage rate.

Berkeley Research Group figures the proposed increase in the program’s rates will increase Medicare Advantage enrollees’ medical costs by 4 to 6%, with the federal government’s share dropping by just 0.16%. Soto and Buchanan said this could impact seniors’ level of care in particular and undermine an otherwise successful program.

Darren Soto and Vern Buchanan team up to help keep Medicare rates low.

“I am deeply concerned about the administration’s proposed rate notice for Medicare Advantage health plans,” Buchanan said. “At a time when more than half of the Medicare beneficiary population is enrolled in an M.A. plan, coupled with still stubbornly high levels of inflation that is pinching the pocketbooks of everyday Americans, the last thing we should be doing is raising health care costs on our nation’s seniors, many of whom are living on fixed incomes.”

The letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure was signed by 18 House members from both sides of the aisle.

Soto said the price hikes could hurt patients regardless of political persuasion.

“Medicare Advantage stands as a cornerstone, offering accessible health care to over 30 million seniors and individuals with disabilities across the nation, including 2.7 million in Florida alone.” He said it is imperative to uphold these vital components to preserve the quality and accessibility of health care for Medicare Advantage recipients.

Stop the flow

A rapid drop in water quality on the Treasure Coast has Rep. Brian Mast demanding an immediate change to discharge procedures in Lake Okeechobee.

“We went from water that was Bahama blue to water that you can’t even see your hand in,” the Stuart Republican said. “A two-week pause in discharges, as recently announced, is a woefully inefficient half measure. The only way to prevent another lost summer is a long-term halt.”

Brian Mast seeks to slow the flow from Lake O.

He publicly called for the Army Corps of Engineers to halt any water releases from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie Estuary. On the subject, he sent a letter to Col. James Booth, Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander, noting that the in-development Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual doesn’t advise continued discharges under current conditions.

“The ongoing discharges are not only incredibly damaging to our estuary but also directly contradict the (Corps’) best available science and modeling,” Mast wrote. “I urge you to immediately cease discharges to the St. Lucie Estuary.”

In estuaries, blue-green algal blooms and red tide have often accompanied past discharges in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

Fight for freedom

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz encouraged the administration to extend humanitarian parole to Cuban artists Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and their families.

The Weston Democrat, who co-chairs the Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus, sent a letter to Blinken stressing her support for protests against the communist government on the island. Wasserman Schultz was the first member of Congress to sponsor Cuban prisons of conscience under the Defending Freedoms Project and said the administration should show support for those at the heart of the Patria Y Vida movement.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz is calling for a ‘humanitarian parole’ to Cuban artists Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez and visual artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

“When State Department officials next engage in migration talks with the regime, I urge you to instruct them to prioritize the immediate, unconditional release of Maykel and Luis Manuel and commit to strict punitive measures against regime officials if they are not freed,” Wasserman Schultz wrote.

Castillo Pérez, a Cuban rapper, and Otero Alcántara, a visual artist, have been jailed now for three years since first inspiring protests in the streets of Havana and throughout Cuba. Wasserman Schultz said the government in Cuba has subjected the artists to poor prison conditions and put their health at risk.

“As Maykel and Luis Manuel’s sponsor and principal advocate in Congress, I encourage you to join me in raising public awareness of the Cuban regime’s treatment of them and hundreds of other pro-democracy activists to ensure that their sacrifice on behalf of Patria y Vida — fatherland and life — was not made in vain,” she writes.

Parrothead post

Is Margaritaville about to get its own ZIP code?

Rep. Carlos Giménez filed legislation to rename a Key West post office after the late lyrical legend Jimmy Buffett, who died in September.

“Jimmy Buffett will always be an icon and champion for our beloved Florida Keys,” Giménez, a Miami-Dade Republican, said. “His music, vision, and entrepreneurship produced a lasting legacy in our community and introduced the world to the Florida Keys. With songs like ‘Margaritaville’ and ‘Cheeseburgers in Paradise,’ Jimmy Buffett became an icon to millions of fans known as ‘Parrot Heads’ and embodied the lifestyle of island escapism.

Carlos Giménez hopes to honor Jimmy Buffett by renaming a Key West post office.

“He loved Florida and the Keys and dedicated many efforts to protecting the manatees, supporting the Everglades, and safeguarding the island waterways. It is my privilege to represent the Florida Keys in Congress, and I am proud to memorialize this true legend of our community and rename Key West’s post office in his honor.”

Nine fellow Republicans in the Florida congressional delegation signed on as original co-sponsors. Ironically, Buffett donated and campaigned for numerous Florida Democrats. But there’s always room in politics for changes in attitudes.

Giménez wants to rename the post office on Whitehead Street.

On this day

April 2, 1513 — “Juan Ponce de Leon lands in Florida” via the Florida History Network — The Spanish explorer is credited with coming ashore and claiming “La Florida” for Spain. While it has long been accepted that de Leon landed with his three caravels near St. Augustine and became the first European of record to see the peninsula, scholars have recently challenged the details of that historical account. Mariner Douglas Peck used modern navigational technology to conclude de Leon landed on Melbourne Beach and published his conclusion in Florida Historical Quarterly in 1992. As a result, both St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach commemorated the 500th anniversary of the landing.

April 2, 1866 — “Andrew Johnson officially declares end of Civil War in Florida” via the National Archives — President Johnson declared that the insurrection that had existed in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida and Virginia was at an end. The one exception was Texas. Later that summer, the President declared that the insurrection in Texas was suppressed. With that proclamation, the United States officially closed a costly, bloody, and deadly chapter in its nation’s history that started at Fort Sumter several years — and hundreds of thousands of lives — earlier.

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

Staff Reports


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