Delegation for 4.5.24: Purse power — abortion bans — flooded — postal — college cash

The United States Capitol building at sunset, Washington DC, USA.
Joe Biden approves the budget for international spending — with some help from the Florida delegation.

International purse strings

A budget on international spending shepherded by Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart has now been signed by President Joe Biden. And thanks largely to the Hialeah Republican’s efforts, the funding sets in motion significant developments in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Díaz-Balart, Chair of the House State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee, laid out the impacts of the spending package at a South Florida news conference this week.

“It upholds and defends the U.S. national security interests,” Díaz-Balart said. “It supports our allies and confronts the enemies of freedom, the enemies of the United States and the enemies of their own people.”

Biden already signed the legislation as part of a larger spending deal with Congress. The foreign aid budget enacts 10% cuts to funding to Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s administration. It also dedicates $15 million to promote democracy in Nicaragua and enforces a prohibition on any U.S. funding going to support “fake elections” in Venezuela, according to Díaz-Balart.

U.S. spending to the Gustavo Petro administration gets a haircut.

Díaz-Balart also said the package forces the Biden administration’s hand on matters involving Cuba, which he called the “head of the snake” in the Western Hemisphere.

“The regime and the administration have been working hand in hand to try to get U.S. taxpayer money to go invest in the regime’s selected what they call independent entrepreneurs, which are selected by the regime,” Díaz-Balart said. “There is an absolute prohibition for funds to be used for this unauthorized purpose, including the Biden administration’s so-called entrepreneurship program.”

The package also includes consequences for governments that participate in Cuba’s medical mission programs, something Florida Republicans have routinely called human trafficking of doctors.

The budget more than doubles funding for pro-democracy broadcasts in Cuba, done through the U.S.-backed Radio Televisión Marti operation based in Miami.

Rep. Carlos Giménez, a Miami-Dade Republican, also worked this year on a funding mechanism for ways to provide internet access for the Cuban people, a step Florida lawmakers have urged since the Cuban government cracked down on communications amid massive pro-democracy protests.

“As the only Cuban-born Member of Congress, I am proud to stand with Chairman Mario Díaz-Balart to highlight key wins in the SFOPs appropriations package that promote democracy, protect human rights, counter adversarial states like Communist Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Colombia and reestablishes U.S. leadership in our hemisphere,” Giménez said at the news conference.

Amid a crisis in Haiti, Díaz-Balart said there’s funding to support the people there, including $15 million for a program helping pregnant women. But Díaz-Balart said at this point, Congress has to treat Haiti as a “failed state.”

“Resources are available to Haiti, but there has to be a plan by the administration — a real plan,” Díaz-Balart said. “I’m not talking about a PR plan. There has to be a real plan with a top line, with how much it’s going to cost, with what we’re doing specifically. And that plan has to be submitted to the Congress.”

The legislation calls on the Biden administration to consult with Congress on Haiti as far as regional and multinational security efforts.

Eyes on Florida

After a Florida Supreme Court ruling triggered a ban on abortions six weeks into gestation, Democrats in the delegation organized a field hearing on the ramifications.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat and Co-Chair of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, hosted a hearing at the Broward County Governmental Center. She co-led the event with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, and Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz co-led a hearing on Florida’s newly approved abortion ban.

The event included testimony from women already impacted by Florida’s restrictions on abortions 15 weeks into gestation. Deborah Dohort said she was forced to carry a pregnancy to 37 weeks despite a certainty the fetus would not survive because of a lack of amniotic fluid.

“My 4-year-old son had to see a therapist to understand why his brother died,” Dohort testified, as reported by CBS News. “We all really struggled with our mental health. Obviously, my physical health, it’s taken a long time for me to recover and I’m still not recovered from it.”

Wasserman Schultz said the stories were unacceptable in modern America.

“Today’s stories were profound and moving, and we all had a chance to understand and learn firsthand how people in this state and across the nation are suffering under anti-abortion policies,” said Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic Co-Chair of Florida’s congressional delegation.

“These voices represent the women that we all know. They are the people on the ground (who) must navigate bans, barriers, criminalization, persecution, and uncertainty. They are our neighbors, friends, colleagues, and fellow Americans.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a day later, defended the state law, which he signed. He also predicted voters would reject a voter referendum aimed at reversing the statute. He labeled that effort “radical.”

But the hearing showed the political relevance of the abortion ruling months before a critical Presidential Election. The hearing attracted most Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation to Fort Lauderdale. Attendees included Reps. Kathy Castor, Maxwell Frost, Jared Moskowitz and Darren Soto.

“Women are being forced to carry pregnancies in dire situations where doctors advise the best course is an abortion. Florida is losing doctors, medical students and residents who are fleeing to other states, and the maternal health crisis will worsen due to the abortion ban passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis. It is cruel, it is costly, and it is wrong,” said Castor, a Tampa Democrat. “Make no mistake — MAGA extremists want to criminalize reproductive health care, birth control and fertility services like IVF. Congress must act to supersede these harmful state laws, ensuring that medical decisions are made where they belong: between a provider and a patient.”

Jeffries made clear the debate in Florida will have national ramifications.

“Florida is now ground zero in the fight to protect a woman’s freedom to make her own reproductive health care decisions,” the top House Democrat said.

“As House Democrats, we are here to make clear that we stand with you to protect reproductive freedom. An extreme group of individuals in this state, led by the current Governor, are prepared by almost any means to jam their radical, right-wing ideology down the throats of the people of this state as part of an effort to try to impose a nationwide abortion ban. But we can stop them, we must stop them, and we will stop them together.”

When it rains

A recent decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to eliminate a discount on flood insurance in Lee County has locals howling. The region continued to recover from Hurricane Ian in 2022, but the federal agency said Lee County officials allowed too much unpermitted work and did not properly monitor flood hazard areas.

Delegation members urged FEMA to reconsider. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott sent a letter with Reps. Byron Donalds and Greg Steube, all Republicans, asking FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to reverse the punitive move.

Discount flood insurance in Lee County could become a thing of the past.

“In the wake of disaster recovery and skyrocketing inflation, Lee County residents now face even higher living costs as a result of this decision,” the letter reads. “We urge you to immediately conduct a thorough review of this decision, honor the original discounts and meet with local leaders to remedy any issues and keep NFIP discounts in place.”

Notably, the letter voiced gratitude to FEMA for its quick response after the storm. But the lawmakers said the recent decision will most directly impact citizens still recovering from a devastating hurricane.

“FEMA’s recent decision to lower discounts and raise premiums for some (National Flood Insurance Program) policyholders in Lee County is liable to create yet another unacceptable rise in costs for Southwest Florida families and businesses still recovering from Hurricane Ian that is catastrophic for their financial stability,” the letter reads.

“It is critical to the livelihoods of Florida families and businesses that FEMA does everything needed to work with local leaders to ensure further cost increases do not take effect.”

Bilingual outreach

As part of his re-election campaign, Scott announced a multimillion-dollar Hispanic outreach ad campaign. That kicks off with an ad promising a hard line against socialism in the U.S. and abroad.

An ad entitled “Valores,” which will run in Spanish and English in Miami, West Palm, Tampa, and Orlando, shows Scott walking with several supporters around the Memorial Cubano at Florida International University in Miami.

To watch the ad, please click the image below:

“Many Florida families have fallen victim to the evils of Communism in other countries,” Scott said in the English ad. “In Florida, we understand how socialism suffocates the human spirit. That’s why I fight against the socialist agenda in Washington.”

In a Spanish version, the bilingual Scott also provides narration.

A news release calls out Biden and former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a leading Democratic challenger, for continuing to “embrace socialism” and turn a “blind eye to dictators in our Hemisphere.”

That’s a clear swipe at policies around Cuba, Venezuela and other socialist nations in Latin America. The ad hits as the Biden administration comes under fire for failing to reimpose sanctions on Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, despite the South American regime’s attempts to keep an opposition-nominated opponent off the ballot.

Mail review

The Postal Service Office of Inspector General just sent in an audit team for Leon County’s mail services. Rep. Neal Dunn said it sends a message that took too long to deliver.

“I’m grateful to USPS for sending an audit team to address the current processing and delivery issues in Leon County,” the Panama City Republican said. “For months, my office has received calls from worried constituents who dealt with poor service, missing letters and packages, and other problems that frankly should not exist. I’m pleased that my office and I could deliver results by getting the OIG audit team to Leon County to evaluate several locations, including the processing and distribution center. The team will need several months to complete this process. I will share the updates with my constituents as I receive them.”

Neal Dunn is frustrated by an undelivered message.

Problems have persisted even after the Postal Service announced a $5 million investment to improve delivery service in the Tallahassee area, as reported in March by the Tallahassee Democrat.

Dunn said he and county officials want to make sure operations are up to snuff with the local post.

“Thank you to Leon County Commissioner Brian Welch for working with me to address the USPS issue,” Dunn said. “I’d also like to thank the hundreds of constituents who contacted my office with concerns, frustrations, and stories. This is an important step forward, and it would not be possible without their help.”

Veterans appeals

As patients continue to raise concerns about the Veterans Affairs Administration, Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants to make sure his constituents have some recourse.

The Palm Harbor Republican co-authored a bill with Rep. Mike Bost, an Illinois Republican who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, which would offer more choices on appealing the administration’s decisions. The Veterans Appeals Options Expansion Act (HR 7793) would streamline appeals to the Veterans Benefits Administration Board of Veteran Appeals process and change how individuals could submit evidence for dockets.

Gus Bilirakis hopes to give local veterans a recourse to the Veterans Benefits Administration Board of Veteran Appeals.

“In recent years, I’ve seen a significant rise in constituent complaints related to the bureaucratic red tape Veterans have faced when filing claims and appeals,” Bilirakis said.

“Veterans deserve to have evidence of their claims evaluated by a qualified professional in a timely and efficient manner. I’d like to thank Chairman Bost and his team for their responsiveness when I brought these concerns to their attention and for their many months of hard work in developing legislative solutions that will hopefully remove many of the barriers Veterans face when accessing the benefits they’ve earned and deserve.”

House officials say veterans seeking to appeal decisions right now face an average wait of two and a half years just to hear their concerns heard. The legislation, sponsors said, would create more avenues for appealing decisions, providing relief in caseloads for all paths.

“This bill rightfully gave Veterans more choice and control over their appeal,” Bost said. “However, there is more work to do to make sure veterans are well-served and receive timely, accurate disability compensation benefits decisions.”

Oral history

Punta Gorda Navy veteran Don Wilson became the latest Floridian to share his personal story as part of the Veterans History Project Series. Steube, an Army veteran himself, has heavily promoted that project during his time in Congress.

“Florida’s 17th District is grateful to have another American hero share their story of military service,” announced Steube, a Sarasota Republican. “Mr. Wilson’s testimony is a valuable example of patriotism for younger generations to follow.”

The oral history collection was originally started in 2000, and Steube now runs a YouTube channel dedicated to collecting tales. Wilson’s personal account of his time in the service can be viewed there now. In it, he shares how the military taught him the value of sacrifice. All videos will be submitted to the Library of Congress for its American Folklife Center, which collects veteran stories from around the nation.

“These guys and gals that go in and serve their country they’re basically signing a blank, up to and including their lives. That’s kind of a big deal.” Wilson said in the video. “People that sign on the dotted line and sign that contract to be a Sailor, Marine, Air Force Airman, or Coast Guard, they’re signing on the dotted line that they’ll give their life and that’s really powerful.”

To watch the video, please click the image below:

Protesting on the clock?

Rep. Scott Franklin already filed legislation to crack down on federal employees participating in union activities on the public dime. Now he wants to know how many federal workers were on the clock when they participated in a protest in Washington organized by the American Federation of Government Employees.

The Lakeland Republican was irked that the union has fought for years for pandemic-era remote work directives to remain in place. The Congressman suggested that 45,000 people showed up in mass for a demonstration, undermining the need to stay home.

Scott Franklin wants union business to be done off the clock.

“If employees can show up to the office to protest, they can show up to work,” Franklin said.

He and Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, sent a letter to acting Labor Secretary Julie Su seeking answers on how many union members participated in the protest.

“We are simply fighting for transparency and exercising our oversight authority,” Franklin said. “Sen. Ernst and I believe the Labor Department should tell taxpayers how much it costs when employees rally outside their office instead of serving the public. If there is a gross misuse of taxpayer funds, Congress should hold them accountable and make adjustments in next year’s budget.”

Hall of Famer

Two Miami-area Congresswomen, one past and one present, took their places next to famed environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, pioneering Rep. Carrie Meek, and Julia Tuttle, the “Mother of Miami.”

Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Hollywood, who represents Florida’s 24th Congressional District, and former Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represented Florida’s 27th Congressional District, were inducted Tuesday into Miami-Dade County’s Women’s Hall of Fame. The two were installed alongside Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. The county’s Hall of Fame was started in 2021.

Frederica Wilson is inducted into the Miami-Dade County Women’s Hall of Fame.

People protesting the violence in Gaza interrupted the proceedings in the Miami-Dade Commission Chambers.

A Junkanoo band was also on hand to make some noise to honor Wilson, the first Bahamian elected to Congress.

“I stand here today, not only as myself, but as a representative of the countless Black women who have fought so long for progress and for justice in our community,” Wilson said. “I was raised to fight and to persevere and how to start good trouble. So, from the pioneering suffragists who fought for a woman’s right to vote to the fearless activists who continue to champion civil rights and social justice today, the women of Miami-Dade County have shaped the course of history but note that our work is far from over.”

College money

When Rep. María Elvira Salazar showed up at a job fair at Miami-Dade College’s Padrón Campus, she brought a check for $3 million. The money, funded by the recently passed Consolidated Appropriations Act, will help the school renovate the Dyer Federal Courthouse into a workforce development and culture center.

Maria Salazar visits Miami-Dade College’s Padrón Campus, bringing a large check.

“Miami-Dade College has been a leader in this community for over 60 years, helping cultivate the public sphere of education, innovation, and leadership that makes Miami the envy of the world,” said Salazar, a Coral Gables Republican.

“I am proud to present $3 million that I was able to secure for Miami-Dade College’s Dyer Courthouse renovation. I also want to thank the college for allowing us to use this beautiful space for more than 60 companies to come and offer members of our community a job. That’s democracy, that’s capitalism.”

The check was presented at a job fair Salazar’s office helped organize. The college welcomed the federal support.

“I want to thank Congresswoman Salazar for her hard work, leadership, and dedication to our community. She has helped us here at Miami-Dade College make investments that continue to build and lift our community,” said Miami-Dade College President Madeline Pumariega. “Congresswoman Salazar leads with heart and passion for the American Dream, and stands tall and firm for a free America, a free Latin America, and a free Cuba.”

On this day

April 5, 1792 — “George Washington exercises first presidential veto” via — The bill introduced a new plan for dividing seats in the House that would have increased the number of seats for northern states. After consulting with his politically divided and contentious cabinet, Washington, who came from the southern state of Virginia, ultimately decided that the plan was unconstitutional because, in providing for additional representatives for some states, it would have introduced a number of representatives higher than that prescribed by the Constitution. After a discussion with the President, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter that votes for or against the bill were divided along perfectly geographical lines between the North and South.

April 5, 1962 — “Neil Armstrong pilots the X-15” via Knowledge Spectra — The renowned NASA astronaut who would later become the first man to walk on the moon achieved a remarkable feat in the world of aviation. Armstrong piloted the X-15 rocket plane to an astounding altitude of 54,600 meters, equivalent to approximately 179,000 feet. This momentous achievement marked a significant milestone in the exploration of space and pushed the boundaries of human flight. The X-15 program, conducted jointly by NASA and the United States Air Force, aimed to gather critical data on high-speed and high-altitude flight. The X-15 rocket plane was a cutting-edge experimental aircraft designed to reach hypersonic speeds and explore the edges of Earth’s atmosphere.


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

Staff Reports


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