Delegation for 6.25.24: Maduro rising — Surfside — tax-free — offsets — burn pits

U.S. Capitol
Florida's delegation is worried about the return of Nicolás Maduro.

A dictator’s re-emergence

Just a few years after Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro seemed isolated from the Western world, nations are again trading for oil and the United Nations has elevated the government’s representatives. However, the South American President’s reputation remains in tatters with Florida’s congressional delegation.

Sen. Marco Rubio this week slammed the U.N. for elevating Venezuelan Ambassador Samuel Moncada to be one of the Vice Presidents of its General Assembly. Florida’s senior Senator sent a letter to President Joe Biden asserting that the U.S. should hold the multilateral institution financially responsible.

After the U.N. elevated Samuel Moncada, Florida’s delegation wonders if this means the return of Nicolás Maduro.

“I strongly urge a complete re-evaluation of U.S. funding to the U.N. American taxpayer dollars account for more than $18 billion per year to the U.N., equaling one-third of its total budget,” the Miami Republican wrote. “This significant investment must align with American values of freedom and democracy and the original U.N. Charter’s mandate to maintain international peace and security. To empower terrorists and authoritarians is antithetical to these values and objectives.”

Rubio said the decision adds to a list of concerns about U.N. oversight, citing recent reports that the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East had materially aided Hamas ahead of terrorist attacks in Israel. He also chastised the institution for appointing Belarus diplomat Alena Douhan to head a report on China that concluded that U.S. sanctions hurt Chinese workers more than the communist nation’s policies and that the U.N. should rescind its sanctions.

Moncado’s selection showed the U.N.’s “disregard for democratic values and human rights,” Rubio said.

Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Jared Moskowitz and Republican Reps. Carlos Giménez and María Elvira Salazar introduced a bipartisan resolution that condemned several economic actions by Maduro’s government. Policies demarcated in the legislation included “embezzling billions” through the removal of gold from the Central Bank of Venezuela, declaring 12% of the country as part of the Orinoco Mining Arc to horde resources, and authorizing an illicit police force to conduct illegal raids and extrajudicial killings.

“The Venezuelan people are suffering under Maduro’s illegitimate regime,” said Moskowitz, a Parkland Democrat. “If there is overwhelming evidence of fraud in Venezuela’s upcoming election, the Biden administration must condemn and hold Maduro accountable. This regime cannot weaponize institutions to hold sham elections and take away basic rights from the people of Venezuela.”

Salazar said the policies were typical behavior of the regime. So are steps taken by the government to try and prohibit political participation in elections by winners of an opposition party Primary last year. She said the U.S. must enforce strict sanctions as Maduro silences political opposition in an upcoming election.

“As the Maduro regime does everything in its power to steal the presidential election from María Corina Machado and Edmundo González, we in the United States Congress stand strong against his tyranny,” Salazar said. “I am proud to support this resolution that denounces how Maduro is trying to lie, cheat and steal his way to staying in power. I pray the Venezuelans retake Miraflores in July.”

Giménez said the resolution would declare the U.S. stood on the side of democracy. “The illegitimate Maduro regime has threatened, intimidated and silenced its people,” he said. “With their national elections just a month away, we must condemn their blatant attack on democracy. The Venezuelan people are determined to live in a free Venezuela and the U.S. must help them in their fight for freedom.”

Rubio sponsored a Senate version of the resolution In the upper chamber with Sen. Lindsay Graham.

Remembering Surfside

Monday marked three years since a pair of condominium towers collapsed in Surfside. Sens. Rubio and Rick Scott honored victims in a Senate resolution introduced on the anniversary of the tragedy.

“It’s been three years since the Surfside community experienced an unimaginable and tremendous loss with the collapse of Champlain Towers South. We lost 98 lives that day, and countless others woke up to the heartbreaking news that they would never again see their children, friends, parents, grandparents or loved ones,” said Scott, a Naples Republican.

Surfside marks a grim anniversary. Image via the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department.

“Immediately, in the face of great danger, our first responders answered the call, and our community and organizations from around the world came together in mourning and to support those affected, especially in our Jewish community — they showed what it meant to be Surfside Strong. Today, we pray for those families who were affected by this sudden tragedy, and I am proud to join Sen. Rubio to honor the community and the 98 lives lost that solemn day.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat, issued a statement from her House office promising to push for regulations.

“Today, everyone at the local, state and federal levels are dedicated to ensuring such a tragedy never happens again. No one should have to endure the pain that the Surfside community did. This is why I am committed to advocating for higher building safety standards, more robust inspections, and increased oversight in construction across our nation,” she said.

“This commitment extends beyond buildings to encompass all our nation’s infrastructure. As a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, safety is my top priority. Our buildings, bridges, roads, and everything in between should not be collapsing. So, as we mark three years since the tragedy, my heart is with the Surfside community today and every day. I remain dedicated to amplifying their voices and concerns at the federal level, ensuring that no one has to relive the unspeakable horrors Surfside endured.”

Rubio also praised the rescue teams who responded to the crisis.

“To the brave first responders who assisted in the recovery operations, our community owes you immense gratitude for your selfless bravery,” he said. “We must continue to honor the memory of the lives lost that day and reaffirm our support for the survivors and loved ones.”

Tax-free tips?

Workers paid in tips collect lower wages. Rep. Matt Gaetz would like them also to pay less in taxes.

The Fort Walton Beach Republican introduced a bill with Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, which would provide financial relief to service-industry workers by eliminating federal income and employment taxes on their tips.

Matt Gaetz wants to keep the tip jar tax-free.

“As the cost of living continues to rise, the hardworking men and women in the service industry, many of whom may be working a second job to make ends meet, must be allowed to keep every dollar of tip money they earn,” Gaetz said.

The Tax-Free Tips Act was filed after Donald Trump told congressional Republicans at a meeting in Washington that he would push for such a policy if he was elected as President again, as reported by The Washington Times.

Environmental offset

If the U.S. wants to spend billions on foreign aid, Rep. Aaron Bean said it should cut back on certain domestic costs to offset that.

The Fernandina Beach Republican introduced the Cutting Unobligated Tumultuous Spending (CUTS) Act, which would slash programs associated with the “Green New Deal” by $95 billion. That amount roughly equates to the dollars dedicated to a major aid package approved earlier this year.

“Americans are tired of the federal government using their paychecks as an ATM. Families across the nation pay their debts and live within their means, and the federal government should do the same,” Bean said.

Aaron Bean wants to cut back on ‘Green New Deal’ spending to offset foreign aid.

“While protecting our interests abroad is necessary for national security, we must turn our attention to tackling one of the greatest threats to America: our debt. The CUTS Act puts Americans first and changes the status quo by slashing wasteful Green New Deal initiatives and clawing back unspent COVID funds. Northeast Floridians sent me to Washington to champion fiscal responsibility — not advance Crazy Town’s reckless spending, and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

Of note, Bean supported aid going to Israel and Taiwan but voted against the portion of spending dedicated to aiding Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia.

Introducing co-sponsors for Bean’s CUTS Act include Florida GOP Reps. Neal Dunn, Gaetz, Cory Mills and Bill Posey. The legislation also has support from the pro-business group Americans for Prosperity (AFP).

“On behalf of the millions of AFP activists across the country, we are proud to support Representative Bean’s efforts to bring accountability to wasteful, duplicative, and outdated programs on the federal level,” said Chief Government Affairs Officer Americans for Prosperity Brent Gardner. “As Congress faces more pressure to align spending with tax revenues, we look forward to seeing Congressman Bean’s leadership in this arena.”

Banning burn pits

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pushed to cover health care problems veterans faced after being exposed to burn pits. Rep. Gus Bilirakis now wants to see the military discontinue the use of the disposal process altogether.

The Palm Harbor Republican introduced two bills, the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry 2.0 Act and the Burn Pit Elimination Act. The first bill calls on routine reports to Congress on treating victims and improvements to the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. The latter would redirect all funding now used on burn pit operations to instead fund the Army’s Expeditionary Solid Waste Disposal Systems as an alternative.

Gus Bilirakis is spearheading the effort to ban military burn pits.

“While we’ve made significant strides with the PACT Act, we still have a long way to go when it comes to understanding the full impact of burn pit toxic exposure, ensuring all veterans exposed received the support they deserve, and preventing future exposure to these toxins,” Bilirakis said. “These bills are an important step in the right direction as we work toward these goals.”

The PACT Act, which was championed In part by Florida lawmakers, made clear that veterans exposed to burn pits who later suffered respiratory and other potentially related ailments would have their medical care covered by the Veterans Affairs Administration. Biden, whose son died of cancer after exposure during service, vocally advocated for the bill as well.

Border blood draws?

If families don’t want to be separated at the border, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna thinks they should prove they are related to one another through a DNA test.

The St. Petersburg Republican just introduced the Family Reunification Act, which would require DNA testing of those claiming to have a familial connection with a child crossing the U.S. border and ultimately mandating the separation of the child if there’s not a positive match.

“Under the Biden administration, almost two and a half million people have crossed our borders illegally while claiming to be part of a family unit. Many of the children in these ‘family units’ are victims of trafficking and forced labor,” Luna said.

Anna Paulina Luna is calling for more DNA testing at the Southern border.

The Congresswoman pointed at testimony from whistleblowers who testified to Congress that many children taken across the border are actually sex trafficking victims and that the federal government does little follow-up after individuals crossing the border are released.

Luna said the government needs to stop incentivizing human trafficking with weak enforcement policies.

“We have greedy companies unlawfully hiring illegals, both adults and children, for cheap labor instead of hiring Americans. Not only are they exploiting these immigrants, but they are not being properly held accountable for it. We need to put an end to this.”

On the latter front, Luna also filed the Illegal Labor Accountability Act, which would triple fines for employers caught hiring undocumented workers.

Business roundtable

Rep. Greg Steube said a roundtable he held with small-business owners reinforced the need to extend tax cuts enacted in Trump’s first term.

“President Biden’s intent to raise taxes on the American people doesn’t sit well with Sarasota’s business community,” the Sarasota Republican said. “If Biden is successful, the small business federal income tax will go from 21% to 43%, an increase that will force small businesses to make tough decisions like laying off workers or increasing prices on consumers.”

Greg Steube tells business owners to support Donald Trump’s tax cuts.

He met with the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America, National Roofing Contractors Association and the International Council of Shopping Centers, as well as independent business owners, at an event organized within Florida’s 17th Congressional District.

“My discussion with business leaders demonstrated how successful the Trump tax cuts have been for American business owners and how important Section 199A is to their daily operations. As Vice Chair of the Ways and Means Main Street Tax Team, I’m taking their feedback to D.C. in our fight to preserve the Trump tax cuts.”

Taking down art

Some delegation members were alarmed by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to veto $32 million in funding for arts and culture nonprofits across Florida.

Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat, said the dollar slashing impacted Florida’s 22nd Congressional District especially hard, eliminating $3.1 million awarded through 51 grants to Palm Beach County organizations.

Lois Frankel blasts Ron DeSantis for slashing arts out of the state budget.

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ veto eliminating funding for arts and culture nonprofits across Florida is shortsighted. In a time of dangerous division and political tension, the arts unify people and remind us of our shared humanity,” Frankel said.

“And, importantly, they are a major driver of our economy — attracting tourists, creating jobs and boosting children’s learning.”

The vetoed funding included $26 million for cultural and museum grants and $6 million for cultural facilities. Asked about the vetoes, the Governor’s Office issued a statement to Florida Politics broadly addressing the evaluation of budget line items.

“The governor reviews every bill and appropriation that comes across his desk and uses his authority under the Florida Constitution to make veto decisions that are in the best interest of the State of Florida,” DeSantis’ Deputy Press Secretary Julia Friedland said.

Congressional commendation

A Naples veteran was recently awarded with a special Congressional Veteran Commendation. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, a Hialeah Republican, presented the honor to Brig. Gen. Kenneth Brandt at a special event last week.

“It is always a pleasure to honor the brave men and women in our community for their selfless service to our country,” Díaz-Balart posted on X.

Mario Díaz-Balart honors Brig. Gen. Kenneth Brandt at a special event last week.

“I was honored to present Brig. Gen. Kenneth E. Brandt with the Congressional Veteran Commendation for his outstanding service in the U.S. Army and U.S. Army National Guard. He is a true American hero and a pillar of our community. A heartfelt thank you to our troops, first responders and VFW Post 7721 Commander Gamal ‘Tony’ Reyes and Dr. J.B. Holmes for hosting this special presentation. Your dedication and service inspire us all.”

Brandt’s personal story will also be included in the Veterans History Project, which the Library of Congress sponsors.

Cuban American history

Ground was broken last week for the Bay of Pigs Museum and Library in Miami. The new center will focus on the story of Brigade 2506 and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, a critical moment in South Florida’s political history.

Giménez, a Miami-Dade Republican, attended a ceremony Friday. The Congressman there discussed a family connection to the historic event.

Groundbreaking marks the beginning of the Bay of Pigs Museum and Library.

“On April 17, 1961, the brave young men of Assault Brigade 2506 descended onto the shores of Cuba to liberate their homeland from communist tyranny. My own cousin was among those brave freedom fighters — they were my first heroes,” Giménez said.

“Places like The Bay of Pigs Museum and Library are vital in protecting the legacy and ensuring that the stories of the brave men that day are told for generations to come. Their story continues to inspire (not) only me but the entire nation. I am honored to have participated in this historic groundbreaking of their new museum.”

During President John F. Kennedy’s administration, the U.S. recruited 1,400 exiles to execute an invasion of Cuba from its southern coast. The plan, developed initially under President Dwight Eisenhower, anticipated that once the forces reached land, locals would support an overthrow of communist dictator Fidel Castro. But the Brigade was met with immediate heavy fire from the Cuban military and Castro, within 24 hours of the invasion, ordered 20,000 of his troops to counter the effort. The invasion was ultimately crushed in a severe blow to the administration in its early days.

On this day

June 25, 1941 — “Franklin Roosevelt prohibits racial discrimination in military” via The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History — Almost six months before the United States entered World War II, President Roosevelt signed into law Executive Order 8802. The order, which required defense contracts to include a “provision obliging contractors not to discriminate against any worker regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin,” was challenged when a U.S. merchant ship refused to take on 25 African American sailors. Roosevelt responded with a strongly worded letter stating, “Questions of race, creed, and color have no place in determining who are to man our ships.”

June 25, 1978 — “First rainbow Pride flag premieres” via History.com — Activists hoist a vibrant rainbow flag in the midst of the festivities for San Francisco’s Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day parade. According to its creator, Gilbert Baker, the crowd immediately recognized the flag’s significance. This was the rainbow Pride flag, now a ubiquitous symbol of queer pride and liberation. Gilbert, a drag queen and clothing designer, met gay rights activist Harvey Milk, dubbed the “Mayor of Castro Street” for successfully organizing San Francisco’s gay community in 1974. After his historic election to the city’s Board of Supervisors, Milk charged Gilbert to come up with a new symbol of pride for the city’s LGBT community.

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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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