Bill Nelson Archives - Florida Politics

Linda Geller-Schwartz: Donald Trump should act on Florida’s bipartisan support for judicial nominees

Linda Geller-Schwartz

Donald Trump has been mired in controversy his first few months in office, and by his own admission, the job of being President is harder than he thought. But Trump has an opportunity to get something meaningful done quickly and in a bipartisan fashion for Floridians. He can act on an appeal from our two Senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio to fill vacant seats in our federal courts.

These two senators have jointly asked the president to renominate three of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees to Florida’s federal courts who had been vetted and approved by both Senators, but left waiting for hearings (along with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland) when their nominations expired in January.

Sens. Nelson and Rubio’s rare show of bipartisanship couldn’t come at a better time for Florida’s federal courts. There are currently seven federal judicial vacancies in Florida and five of them are formally classified as “judicial emergencies,” meaning there simply are not enough judges to handle the growing caseload. As judicial vacancies remain unfilled, Floridians who rely on our court system are the ones who suffer.

Last year, the watchdog group Integrity Florida issued a report detailing the myriad ways that lengthy judicial vacancies delay and deny justice for Floridians. Prolonged judicial vacancies inevitably result in case delays, higher caseloads, increased administrative stress and judicial burnout. Such judicial vacancies “threaten the timely administration of justice in both criminal and civil cases” according to the report.

In their letter, the senators asked the president to renominate Patricia Barksdale and William Jung for vacancies in the Middle District of Florida, and Phillip Lammens in the Northern District. With our courts already stretched razor thin, it only makes sense to move these qualified bipartisan nominees through the process rather than starting over from scratch. To underscore this point, Nelson and Rubio make clear in their letter that “timely action is needed as the two vacancies in the Middle District are considered judicial emergencies.”

The letter also refers to the failure of Senate leaders to take “timely action in the last Congress.” In addition to the highly publicized blocking of Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, Senate Republicans in recent years have refused to act on numerous lower court vacancies, causing the number of judicial vacancies to skyrocket.

As a result, President Trump now faces the daunting task of filling more than 120 federal court vacancies. Where there are qualified, bipartisan candidates available to be renominated, it makes sense for the president to act quickly. Failing to address these vacancies threatens the stability and fairness of our justice system and delays justice for Americans seeking their day in court.

Floridians expect and deserve to have a fair and functioning judicial system, and that requires our courts to be working at full capacity. Sens. Nelson and Rubio should be commended for setting aside partisan politics for the sake of our judicial system and the public interest. For his part, President Trump should take notice and heed their advice.

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Linda Geller-Schwartz is Florida State Policy Advocate for the National Council of Jewish Women.

 

Donald Trump signs VA reform bill backed by Marco Rubio

President Donald Trump signed a bill into law aimed at reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees.

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

The measure — which passed the Senate on a voice vote, and the House on a 368-55 vote earlier this month — had the support of VA Secretary David Shulkin, and received significant bipartisan backing, including from Sen. Bill Nelson.

The bill signing comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment. The agency has been plagued with problems, and critics have complained that too few employees have been punished over the years.

“We have seen scandal after scandal come out of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and today we turn to a new chapter. The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act puts meaningful reforms in place to ensure VA employees are fulfilling their duty to serve veterans,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the vice chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, in a statement Friday. “If a VA employee is involved in misconduct, they should be demoted, suspended, or fired. Certainly not promoted or given a bonus. If a VA employee sees misconduct and wants to report it, they should not fear retaliation. This legislation is common-sense, and strongly bipartisan.”

Bilirakis wasn’t the only member of Florida’s congressional delegation who applauded Trump for signing the bill, Rep. Tom Rooney, an Okeechobee Republican, called the measure a “necessary reform” that was “long overdue and is essential to ensuring that our veterans are receiving the very best care.”

“This new law makes clear to VA managers: get the job done, or make way for someone who can,” he said in a statement. “Our veterans deserve better, and it’s time for serious accountability and oversight. I’m hopeful that we are providing Secretary Shulkin with the tools he needs to run the agency properly.”

Trump promised to reform the VA on the campaign trail, and cast the bill signing as a fulfillment of a campaign promise.

“What happened was a national disgrace and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” he said. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today we are finally changing those laws.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Bill Nelson blasts Senate health care plan, Marco Rubio says he’s looking at it

Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio released a video statement Thursday saying he won’t judge the new Republican Senate health care bill until he has studied it, while Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson blasted it.

“Now we know why they tried to keep this secret,” Nelson said in a statement issued by his office a couple of hours after the bill, which was drafted under closed doors for weeks, was released.

“This bill is just as bad as the House bill, taking coverage away from millions of people and making huge cuts to Medicaid,” Nelson added. “If that weren’t enough, it also allows insurance companies to hike rates for older Americans. Fixing our nation’s health care system shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We should be working together, not plotting behind closed doors to make it worse.”

Rubio released a video statement in which he said he made it clear that if Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to have the bill passed by the end of next week — 4th of July weekend — that might or might not be possible.

“It may take me one day; it might take me a week,” Rubio said. “I think it’s really important that we do it the right way. I think it’s important that we know clearly what we’re voting on, what its implications are, and every question is answered.”

Rubio’s nine-minute video laid out several points he’ll be looking for, all having to do with Medicaid and the individual buyer’s marketplace.

He said he wants a bill that protects pre-existing conditions, yet provides flexibility so that if someone wants to purchase only catastrophic health insurance, that will be available as an acceptable option. He also wants health insurance tax credits tied to age and income.

His other issues dealt with how the federal legislation could impact Florida uniquely, particularly dealing with Medicaid. In particular, he noted that Florida has a “low baseline” for Medicaid payments, and he does not want the state penalized by a system that builds from a baseline forward in coming years.

 

Rick Scott remains tight-lipped about U.S. Senate bid

Gov. Rick Scott remains tight-lipped about his 2018 plans, telling CNN he won’t make any decision about the U.S. Senate race until “later.”

“I’ve always said the same thing: It’s 2017. The race is in 2018. I won’t make a decision until later,” said Scott during an interview with Erin Burnett on her show Erin Burnett OutFront. “Politicians seem to worry about their next job. I’ve got 570 days to go in this job. I’m trying to make Florida No. 1 for jobs, No. 1 for people being safe … and No. 1 for education.”

Scott is widely believed to be considering a U.S. Senate run in 2018. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has already said he plans to run for re-election.

The Naples Republican has been boosting his national profile for months now. In May, he announced he would chair the New Republican, a federal super PAC aimed rebranding the Republican Party and helping President Donald Trump.

The super PAC was founded by GOP strategist Alex Castellanos, and several Scott allies have been tapped to oversee the day-to-day operations. Melissa Stone, the governor’s former chief-of-staff and campaign manager of his successful 2014 re-election campaign, serves as the executive director; while Taylor Teepel, served in the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and spent two years as former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff, is New Republican’s finance director.

If Scott decides to run, he’ll have a big-name backer. President Donald Trump has encouraged Scott to run on several occasions, including last week when they were in Miami to announce the president’s Cuba policy.

“He’s doing a great job,” the president told the crowd. “I hope he runs for the Senate.”

Scott told Burnett that wasn’t the first time Trump put him on the spot, telling Burnett that Trump “did the same thing … a week and a half ago” when he was with him at an infrastructure conference.

DSCC releases new digital ad taking aim at Rick Scott over health care

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is once again targeting Gov. Rick Scott over his support of the Republican health care agenda.

The committee announced Monday it was launching full-screen, Google takeover ads featuring new versions of a DSCC called “The Price” aimed at Scott’s support of the health care plan and its impact on Florida families.

“Rick Scott cannot escape the toxic impact his health care proposals will have: spiking costs, sabotaging care and stripping coverage for hardworking families in order to give another handout to himself and big insurance companies,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the DSCC. “This week the stakes for middle class families could not be higher — if Scott has his way the consequences for Floridians who actually work for a living will be expensive and horrific. We are standing with voters in opposing a plan that is deeply unpopular in Florida, and will hold Gov. Scott accountable for his actions.”

The 30-second spot features images of a man and woman selling their vehicle and jewelry, before appearing at the hospital bed of a child. At the end of the advertisement, the words “What will Rick Scott’s health care plan cost you?” flash across the screen.

The ad, which the national Democratic organization says will reach targeted voters in Florida who make up key elements of the 2018 midterm electorate, is part of an ongoing six-figure digital ad buy.

Scott is believed to be preparing for a run against Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

Is $44 million worth it to ANZ bank to draw the scrutiny of American regulators?

It’s Thursday afternoon in New South Wales, Australia, where just hours ago, the High Court there (Australia’s equivalent of a federal appeals court) just ruled against Jacksonville-based APR Energy, and in favor of the Australia-New Zealand Bank (ANZ), further solidifying a case of what one Australian parliamentarian referred to as “legalised theft.”

In a long-standing international dispute that FloridaPolitics.com has been following for some time, a Florida business, APR Energy appears to be on the precipice of a $44 million taking by a foreign bank, with the full complicity of the Australian system to do so.

In early 2014 APR leased tens of millions of dollars worth of U.S.-manufactured GE turbines and other equipment to Forge Group Power Pty Ltd, a private utility in Western Australia. Within roughly a month of receiving the equipment, Forge went bankrupt.

As with most leases, APR’s agreement with Forge maintained APR’s exclusive ownership of equipment and power generation facilities. The contract further stipulated that in the case of a breach, or bankruptcy filing by Forge, all leased facilities would be returned immediately to APR in Houston, Texas. ANZ Bank ignored APR’s ownership right, as well as Forge’s contractual obligations (more on that later), and seized APR’s property as their own under the then-recently enacted Personal Property and Securities Act (PPSA).

(In what must be a bitter irony for APR, Australian Parliament recent passed a law to reform the very provision of PPSA under which ANZ seized APR’s power facilities.)

In order to get their power generation facility back, APR was forced to post a $44 million letter of credit in favor of ANZ Bank to get its own property back. Five business days after today’s High Court ruling, ANZ can draw down on that letter of credit, in its entirety.

But new evidence obtained by FloridaPolitics.com clearly points to potential fraud on the part of ANZ Bank, prior to the execution of the original lease in question.

In August 2013 — nearly 6 months prior to Forge’s bankruptcy and ANZ’s subsequent seizure of APR’s equipment — ANZ issued a letter of credit to Forge on the basis of its collateral at the time, and in full knowledge of the lease it had signed with GE International (acquired shortly thereafter by APR); a lease which explicitly said Forge had no property or security rights over the leased equipment.

This smoking gun potentially proves the fraudulent nature of the entire process by which ANZ has held a Florida company financially hostage for more than three years.

And APR is no shrinking violet, fighting for what is rightfully theirs in both the Australian court system and the U.S. political process.

Numerous Senators and members of Congress from Florida and elsewhere — including both Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson — have weighed in on behalf of APR over the years. But they’ve done so simultaneous to APR’s case winding its way through the Australian civil justice system, and they’ve been respectful of that process.

Now that the Australian courts have spoken, expect that U.S. politicians, too, will speak up clearly, and strongly, on behalf of this U.S. company being robbed in plain daylight by a foreign bank, under a set of newly revealed circumstances that are highly suggestive, if not dispositive of, fraud.

Florida Congressman Dennis Ross recently sent a letter to ANZ’s U.S. executive, Truett Tate, asking for an “explanation of this taking of APR’s … property”, and asking if Tate was willing to meet with the House Committee on Financial Services to answer additional questions on the matter.

That letter, dated April 3 of this year, has yet to receive a response from Tate or ANZ.

Separately, another member of that same committee, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, sent a letter on April 7 to Thomas Curry, the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) — the agency responsible for overseeing foreign banks in the United States — requesting his office’s attention to ANZ’s activities. Gottheimer’s letter calls ANZ’s taking a “fraudulent conveyance and transfer of title under U.S. law”, while also reminding Curry of ANZ’s previous sanctions by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the U.S. Department of Treasury, in relation to ANZ’s business in hostile foreign dictatorships Myanmar, Sudan and Cuba.

Sources from within the House Committee on Financial Services tell us that proposed legislation is already in drafting, and soon to be filed, that would prohibit a financial institution, domestic or foreign, from receiving the proceeds of a fraudulent transfer, such as would occur if and when ANZ drew down on the $44 million credit line with APR. The legislation — modeled after similar laws on the books in 44 states — would also create a private cause of action against the beneficiary of a fraudulent transfer, including the potential for punitive damages. It would also expose the financial institute to disciplinary action by American regulators.

That an Australian court would ultimately rule in favor of an Australian bank in this dispute, was never much in question. Now the question is going to shift rapidly to ANZ Bank, as they consider whether $44 million is worth the ire and scrutiny of U.S. lawmakers, and their potential to make continuing to do business in the United States very, very difficult.

VA reform bill backed by Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson headed to Donald Trump

A bill to reform the Department of Veterans of Affairs is heading to President Donald Trump, after the U.S. House of Representatives approved it this week.

The House voted 368-55 on Tuesday to approve the the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

The bill cleared the Senate on a voice vote last week. It now heads to Trump for his signature.

The bill had significant bipartisan support in the Senate, including from Sen. Bill Nelson, who signed on as one of 39 co-sponsors.

The measure comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment. VA employees created secret lists to cover up delays.

The VA has been plagued by years of problems, and critics complain that too few employees are punished for malfeasance. The bill lowers the burden of proof needed to fire employees — from a “preponderance” to “substantial evidence,” allowing a dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.

“At the end of the day, this bill is about holding the bad actors accountable, protecting the whistleblowers, and refocusing the VA on its missions to serve our nation’s heroes,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican during a floor speech Tuesday. “With the passage of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, we are turning the page to a fresh start for the VA.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

The op-ed Leslie Wimes apparently doesn’t want you to read

Leslie Wimes

Editor’s note: The op-ed below originally appeared on the award-winning blog, The Florida Squeeze. However, its editors took the op-ed down because it said it failed to meet that site’s editorial standards. 

“Although the tone of the piece was intended to be facetious and is based on what many believe to be reality, we were alerted to the possibility it could have been read to assert facts not in evidence impugning Ms. Wimes’ professional integrity, which the Squeeze has no reason to question,” the editors of The Florida Squeeze wrote. 

Regardless of what the editors of The Squeeze think of the op-ed AND WITHOUT the permission of the original author, I am publishing the op-ed in its entirety because, now, the piece in and of itself is newsworthy. The taking down of the op-ed has probably made the piece more interesting than if it had just stayed up.  Readers of The Florida Squeeze, Florida Politics, and all other political websites in Florida deserve to know what is at the core of the controversy. 

We have been told that Leslie Wimes complained enough that she was able to get this piece taken down. We do not have confirmation of this from the editors at The Florida Squeeze. We will let their editorial message speak for itself; they did not think it meant the standards of their site. 

We, like the Florida Squeeze, invite Wimes to write her own op-ed for publishing here, although we’re pretty sure that if she has something to share, she knows how to get the word out.

So, as the saying goes, we’re gonna just leave this right here…

One of the best pieces of advice that I learned from old hands who have held high political office is that you should never assume that you know the motives behind the actions that people take without hard evidence.

This is especially true when your inclination is that those motives are nefarious.

Leslie Wimes is a name I came to know back in 2014, and her name has kept popping up in my efforts to stay current on what is happening in the body politic over the last several years. I have my own opinions about Ms. Wimes, but instead of overtly expressing my opinion(s) I am going to stick to the facts. I am going to lay out her actions.

I am also going to lay out the actions someone would take if they were a Republican plant who had as their main objective undermining Democrats here in Florida. In the end, we will see how her actions line up with what a Republican plant would do so that everyone can judge for themselves.

Leslie Wimes and I were actually on the same side of an election when I first heard her name back in 2014. She was supporting Sen. Nan Rich for Florida Governor, and I was the Data Consultant/Director for the campaign.

I will go to my grave espousing the fact that Sen. Rich would have made the best governor of those running had she been elected, and since the other two main candidates were the current and immediate past GOP Governor of Florida there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was the most liberal candidate. That being said, Sen. Rich was the candidate that Republicans most wanted to see face off against sitting Gov. Rick Scott in the General Election.

The GOP elite thought that Sen. Rich would have been much easier to beat than Charlie Crist, and while I disagree with that assessment I can say without equivocation that is what they thought. So, anyone working on behalf of GOP interests would have supported Sen. Rich back in 2014.

Surely among the top goals of Florida Republicans in 2016 was to retain a GOP US Senate seat in the state, elect a Republican President, and undermine the DNC Chair who also happened to be an elected official in South Florida.

Ms. Wimes’ support of Tim Canova and Pam Keith (initially) was among her most notable efforts in the 2016 election cycle. Canova and Keith are both intelligent, impressive, and passionate Democrats who had the ability to strengthen a weak Democratic bench in Florida. Another thing that they both have in common is that they ran for offices that they had little hope of winning, and did so in a way that was divisive.

Republicans who were paying attention were likely giddy at the notion of promising Democrats running in such races. It divided Democrats, ensured that these promising candidates weren’t added to the Democratic bench of elected officials, and had the possibility of disillusioning these candidates and their Democratic supporters.

Ms. Wimes also attacked Hillary Clinton during the General Election last year, which is one of many examples of Ms. Wimes questioning why Black voters overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party. It is a fact that Black voters are the voting bloc that has been the most loyal to the Democratic Party. Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Republicans would undoubtedly support such efforts, and any efforts of any plant that they may have, by giving said person a platform from which they can work from. It is noteworthy that Ms. Wimes did a media blitz espousing messages critical of Democrats to GOP-oriented outlets right before the 2016 General Election. Oh, have I mentioned yet that these articles that I keep referencing (which I will post a link to below) by Ms. Wimes are from the Republican-run website Sunshine State News?

The one stance that Ms. Wimes has taken this year that I have the most trouble wrapping my head around being taken by any reasonable Democrat is that Gov. Rick Scott “engages” the Black community more than Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson does.

This was written in a piece attacking Democrats for not celebrating Black History Month posted at 6 a.m. on the second day of Black History Month.

For context, Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat next year. Winning that U.S. Senate seat is a top priority for Republicans this cycle. The fact that Gov. Scott has restored the voting rights to fewer people than any of his predecessors, and those 1.7 million Floridians who could get their rights restored skew very heavily toward minority communities, is one of many examples as to why Gov. Scott is no friend to the Black community. Ms. Wimes touting Republican Gov. Rick Scott in such a ridiculous way over a sitting Democratic U.S. Senator is curious.

Also curious is the fact that a candidate that Ms. Wimes has supported got encouragement to run in a Democratic Primary against U.S. Sen. Nelson earlier this year. Nelson is not the only Democratic leader in Florida that Ms. Wimes has gone after recently. Ms. Wimes has gone after new Florida Democratic Party (FDP) President Sally Boynton Brown just in the past week.

One constant complaint from Ms. Wimes is that the FDP and Democratic leaders meddle in party elections and primaries. Ms. Brown pulled out of an event because the person holding the event is a candidate in a contested Democratic primary for US Congress. Ms. Wimes railed against Ms. Brown in a display of sheer hypocrisy by Ms. Wimes. Ms. Brown even provided her phone number to Ms. Wimes and said that Ms. Wimes should be free to call with any questions she may have. Ms. Wimes continued her bizarre attack against Ms. Brown (posted below) in spite of Ms. Brown extending an olive branch.

What is telling about Ms. Wimes’ actions is not only what she does, but also what she doesn’t do.

I have nothing but love and admiration for someone like Susan Smith, even though we don’t always see eye to eye. If someone isn’t in line with Ms. Smith’s values, she isn’t afraid to say so regardless of who that may irritate.

The difference between a great Democrat like Susan Smith and Leslie Wimes is that Susan Smith dedicates her time and her money to numerous Democratic and liberal causes she believes in. There is no doubt that all of Susan Smith’s actions are geared toward making the Florida Democratic Party successful in a way that aligns with her vision for the party. Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light. It is literally nonexistent.

Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light.

It is literally nonexistent.

Here is what would be on my list of how to undermine Democrats as a Machiavellian Republican in Florida: ensure Democrats don’t build a bench by steering good candidates into races they can’t win and hope they get disillusioned when they lose, sow seeds of doubt and/or discontent into the most loyal Democratic voting bloc(s), and attack/try to undermine major Democratic institutions, elected officials and statewide candidates. The list is not mutually exclusive.

I would do all this while making sure that I never actually supported a Democrat over a Republican. If (s)he needed a platform from which to do all this, I would offer television and other media outlets like Sunshine State News to spread messaging beneficial to Republicans.

It is funny how this all seems to overlap perfectly with Ms. Wimes’ actions. Again, I am not saying that she is a GOP plant. Just because something walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and acts like a duck doesn’t mean that it isn’t a unicorn that lays golden eggs. I leave it to you to consider the facts and come to your own conclusion.

Ms. Wimes Sunshine State News article catalog: http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/taxonomy/term/307

Ms. Wimes’ odd Facebook response to Ms. Brown (I blacked out her phone number for privacy purposes):

Sean Phillippi

(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas or hate mail to ThePhlipSideFL@gmail.com.)

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Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.

Did Republican state and national leaders mail in their Pulse appearances?

In one of the more biting moments in the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” mathematician Gerald Lambeau, played by Stellan Skarsgård, apologizes to his old friend, psychologist Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams, for having missed the funeral of Sean’s wife.

“I got your card,” Sean snapped, not at all disguising his anger.

Did we just see state and national Republicans mail in [or tweet in] their condolences and best wishes for Orlando’s one-year observation of the Pulse mass-murder that killed 49 and tore out the heart of a community?

Orlando is increasingly becoming a Democratic stronghold, but plenty of Republicans still thrive in Central Florida, and plenty get elected, and the area is worth fighting for. The local GOP contingent was well represented, by Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, several county and city commissioners, several state lawmakers and others. But, except for Democrats U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Val Demings and Darren Soto, who all spoke at one event or another event, none of the state and national political leaders made much of an appearance at Orlando’s Pulse activities.

There’s a real chance state and national Republican leaders weren’t asked to come, discouraged to come, or just knew that their appearances would be, at best, awkward. There has been widespread criticism that too many of them just never fully acknowledged the pain in Orlando was both about a terrorist attack and about the biggest hate crime against gays in American history.

And Monday’s commemorations all were intimate, mostly involving only those public figures who had been there with Orlando throughout.

Some Republicans tried to do something.

Gov. Rick Scott was the lone state or national leader who came to Orlando, but it was a stealth appearance, not announced in advance, and apparently without any remarks. He stopped for a private breakfast at the Orlando Police Department headquarters, and then for an unannounced brief visit to the Pulse nightclub Monday morning, essentially a photo-op. He did not attend any of the major events, and he did not let anyone know he was stopping by Pulse, not even Pulse owner Barbara Poma.

Marco Rubio took to the floor of the Senate Monday evening and made an emotional Pulse speech, full of very personal observations, and acknowledgment that, whatever else the tragedy was, it also was an attack on Orlando’s gay community.

“Obviously the attack was personal for the 49 families with stories of their own and of course the countless others who were injured. I know it was personal to the LGBT community in Central Florida,” Rubio said on the Senate floor. “As I said Pulse was a well-known cornerstone of the community, particularly for younger people. And as I said earlier This was deeply personal for Floridians and the people of central Florida, and I’ll get to that in a moment because I’m extraordinarily proud of that community.”

And he and Nelson introduced a resolution Monday in the Senate to commemorate Pulse.

Murphy, Demings, and Soto also introduced a Pulse remembrance resolution in the House of Representatives, and also spoke on the floor Monday. And all three found time to speak in Orlando, to Orlandoans, first.

Unlike Nelson, Murphy, Soto or Demings, Rubio was nowhere to be seen in Orlando during the observations that began at 1 a.m. and ended at midnight Monday.

Others in state and national GOP mailed or tweeted it in, and continued to miss the point that Orlando sees the tragedy both as a terrorist attack AND a hate crime against gays.

President Donald Trump did not come, nor did he send any White House or Cabinet delegates or surrogates to Orlando. He did not make any proclamations, though he did tweet, including a picture montage of the 49 murder victims.

“We will NEVER FORGET the victims who lost their lives one year ago today in the horrific #PulseNightClub shooting. #OrlandoUnitedDay.” Trump announced on Twitter Monday.

Rubio also sent his tweets — three of them.

“One year later, we honor 49 of our fellow Americans of @pulseorlando and continue to pray for their families.” Rubio tweeted, and “The #PulseNightClub tragedy was rooted in a hateful ideology that has no place in our world. #OrlandoStrong,” and The #PulseShooting was an attack on the LGBT community, Florida, America, and our very way of life. #OrlandoUnitedDay”

U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis, Bill Posey and Daniel Webster, who each have districts that are not quite Orlando but close enough to include Orlando suburbs and many who were deeply affected by Pulse, did not make any Orlando appearances.

DeSantis put out a statement, and Webster mentioned Pulse in a Facebook post. Both focused on terrorism, a true angle to the tragedy, but one that continues to divide along partisan lines, as neither made any mention of the attack being on Orlando gays.

“The massacre at the Pulse nightclub represented the face of evil in the modern world. Fueled by a putrid ideology, the terrorist indiscriminately killed dozens of innocent people, forever devastating their families and loved ones. Orlando rallied in response to the attack in a remarkable fashion. It is incumbent on our society to root out radical Islamic terrorism from within our midst,” DeSantis wrote.

“Today, we remember the 49 innocent lives tragically lost due to a horrific act of terror in Orlando one year ago. Our prayers continue to be with the surviving victims, loved ones and all those affected,” Webster wrote on Facebook.

Scott also signed a proclamation on Friday, declaring Monday as Pulse Remembrance Day, surprising some in Orlando with his clear acknowledgment — lacking in some previous statements — that Orlando’s LGBTQ community had suffered mightily and needed acceptance.

Other Republicans followed the same pattern of DeSantis and Webster, ignoring the LGBTQ hate crime angle.

Attorney General Pam Bondi tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“Today we honor those lost in the #Pulse attack & the citizens & first responders who ran toward danger to save lives.” Bondi tweeted.

Agricultural Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam both put out a statement, and tweeted, but did not come to Orlando.

“On the anniversary of the Pulse attack, we pause to remember the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken, their loved ones who continue to mourn and heal, and the first responders who put themselves in harm’s way for their fellow Floridians without hesitation,” Putnam wrote. “We also remember how Orlando, the Central Florida community and the entire state came together amidst such tragedy. People stood in lines for hours to donate blood, generously gave their time and money to total strangers and worked together to meet the needs of all those impacted. This anniversary is not just a solemn milestone to remember those we tragically lost, but it’s also a reminder of the strength, courage and compassion of the people of Florida.

“My prayers to all family, friends & loved ones of the 49 victims who were suddenly and senselessly taken one year ago today,” Putnam tweeted. And then, “And to the 1st responders in Orlando who put their own lives in danger to help others in need, TY for your strength, courage & compassion.”

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson backed VA reform bill clears the Senate

A bipartisan bill to reform the Department of Veterans of Affairs by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees is headed to the U.S. House, after clearing the Senate on a voice vote this week.

Sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

Rubio said he was “incredibly pleased that (his) Senate colleagues … passed the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Act.”

“It’s bipartisan and what it basically does is it’s now going to give the VA secretary the power to fire and dismiss bad employees and also to protect whistleblowers who come forward,” he said in a prepared statement earlier this week. “We’ve been working hard on this for years. Today is a great day. I can’t wait to get it to the president’s desk.”

The bill had significant bipartisan support, including from Sen. Bill Nelson, who signed on as one of 39 co-sponsors.

“The brave men and women who have served our country deserve the very best care our nation can give them,” said Nelson during a speech on the floor before the vote. “This bipartisan bill will help improve the quality of care our veterans receive by reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

The measure comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment. VA employees created secret lists to cover up delays.

The VA has been plagued by years of problems, and critics complain that too few employees are punished for malfeasance. The bill lowers the burden of proof needed to fire employees — from a “preponderance” to “substantial evidence,” allowing a dismissal even if most evidence is in a worker’s favor.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, opposed the bill. But the measure was viewed as more in balance with workers’ rights than a version passed by the House in March, mostly along party lines.

The House could vote on the Senate passed version of the bill next week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

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