Delegation unites around oil drilling
Who can argue that Washington is highly polarized? That is one thing on which there is broad agreement.
But over the past few days, two newsworthy events have occurred that, for a while, brought some unity to the delegation.
President Donald Trump recently issued an executive that would open up areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans oil and gas exploration The bipartisan concern, bordering on outrage, came to the surface like a gusher.
“I urge the Trump Administration to reverse course and put the well-being of our coastal communities above oil industry profits,” said St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist, who dealt with the BP/Deepwater Horizon disaster while serving as governor.
“Florida’s beaches are vital to our economy and way of life,” said Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan.
Buchanan and Broward Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz have teamed to file a bill, the Marine Oil Spill Prevention Act,” that would extend the current drilling ban within 125 miles of Florida’s coast until 2027.
“It would be malpractice and colossally irresponsible to allow oil drilling activities to jeopardize all of that,” said Wasserman Schultz.
Sen. Bill Nelson earlier filed the same bill in the Senate. He is gratified by the policy-driven approach of his colleagues, saying “almost all, in a bipartisan way, of the congressional delegation wants to keep oil drilling off the coast of Florida.”
Nelson, joined by 16 members of the delegation, wrote to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke urging the administration to maintain the current ban in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for the next five years.
Even before the executive order, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz Panama City Republican Neal Dunn wrote to Defense Secretary James Mattis on the negative impacts lifting the moratorium could have on Panhandle military bases. Fifteen bipartisan members of the delegation signed the letter.
“We fear that combat training and advanced test and evaluation missions would be unable to continue if the moratorium was lifted,” they wrote.
One of the signers of both letters was Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She offered strong commentary.
“The potential damage to our world-renowned coral reefs, robust fisheries, pristine beaches, and tourism-supported small businesses should far outweigh any short-term benefit anticipated in the Administration’s plan,” she said in a statement.
Delegation heaps praise on Ros-Lehtinen
The plaudits quickly came in from members of both parties after Rep. Ros-Lehtinen announced she was retiring at the end of her term.
“From the moment I arrived in Congress, Ileana has been a friend and a partner,” said Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch in a long, glowing statement. “Every member of Congress should learn something from the way Ileana has conducted herself for the past 28 years.”
“To say Ileana is a trusted friend and mentor to me is an understatement; she is a part of my family, and I will dearly miss ‘mi hermana legislativa’ in the halls of Congress,” said Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart.
“Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is an incredible public servant and a close friend,” said Broward Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also called Ros-Lehtinen a great friend of Israel.
“Not only is @RosLehtinen a tireless activist for freedom and human rights, she is my friend. Florida will miss her,” said Sen. Marco Rubio on Twitter.
“I’ll miss having my friend in Congress with me, but I’m very grateful for her long, bipartisan service to our country,” said St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist.
For those who believe she will quietly fade away over the next two years, think again.
Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.
Gearing up for 2020
President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is out with a new ad focusing on his first few months in office.
The ad, called “First 100 Days,” highlights the president’s first 100 days and his “uncompromising dedication to the American people, just as he promised throughout the campaign,” according to a news release.
“In his first 100 days, President Donald J. Trump has taken bold actions to restore prosperity, keep Americans safe and secure, and hold the government accountable,” the campaign said in a news release. “The campaign is continuing President Trump’s approach of reaching out to the American people directly by highlighting his work over the first 100 days and fighting back against the continued media bias.”
The $1.5 million ad buy focuses on the president’s first 100 days in office, and includes a television ad and digital ads
Nelson wants second passport agency in Florida
Sen. Bill Nelson is calling on the Department of State to open a second passport agency in the Sunshine State.
“While states like California and Texas have three passport offices and New York has two, Florida — the third most populous state in the nation — has only one,” said Nelson in a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “To better serve the people of Florida and the millions of travelers who come to our state each year, I strongly urge you to open a second passport agency in Florida as soon as possible.”
The Orlando’s ask comes after extensive water damage forced the Miami Passport Agency to close its doors last week. As a result, travelers were told to visit offices in Atlanta or New Orleans to tackle address their needs.
“At the time of the accident, there were more than 7,000 applications in process and 177 passports printed and ready to be picked up at the Miami Passport Agency,” said Nelson. “And now, because Florida has only one passport agency in the state, Floridians are forced to travel – on short notice and at their own personal expense – to the next nearest agencies in Atlanta and New Orleans.”
The flooding occurred on April 23. According to the State Department, temporary locations opened in the Miami area on May 1 to serve customers traveling “in 8 to 20 days.” Customers traveling in 7 days or less still must apply at another passport agency.
Marco Rubio’s busy week
Rubio part of political Odd Couple tackling human trafficking — The conservative Republican and progressive Democrat Elizabeth Warren have teamed up on a bill designed to help cut off funds for human traffickers. They have introduced the End Banking for Human Traffickers Act, which would help financial institutions identify and report instances of human trafficking. The end result would be prosecution of offenders and protection for victims.
While this would seem to constitute a political Odd Couple, the purpose of the legislation molds their strengths together to help victims of a horrible crime. Rubio earns high marks for his commitment to human rights, while Warren is a committed overseer of financial institutions.
“Human trafficking is a human rights violation that can happen in our own backyards without us even knowing it,” Rubio said in a joint release. “That’s why we must encourage the development and implementation of effective tools to detect and stop criminals from profiting from this heinous crime.”
Statistics reveal traffickers earn about $99 billion each year in profits from the exploitation of victims. Such large sums must all enter banks or financial institutions at some point and the bill seeks to stop the traffickers’ access to the institutions.
“We have an obligation to end human trafficking to ensure that every person can live with freedom and dignity,” said Warren. “To stop this terrible crime, we need to cut off the trafficker’s access to the banking system, and this bipartisan bill will give financial institutions and regulators better tools to do so.”
Rubio wants Russian sanctions — Florida’s junior senator is unhappy with the decision of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to forego sanctions against Russia for their meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, the committee will be moving on sanctions against Iran.
“The ranking member (Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin) and I are in strong agreement on a pathway forward and that’s what we are going to do,” said Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican. “We’re going to do an Iran sanctions bill.”
While few would be opposed to sanctioning the rogue regime, Rubio strongly believes there should be some consequences for Russia’s activities.
Corker indicated he wishes to see the results of an ongoing investigation of Russian activities by the Senate Intelligence Committee before pursuing sanctions against them.
“I think anytime is a good time for Russia sanctions given everything they’ve done,” Rubio said.
Rubio announces promotions, new hires — The Miami Republican announced Lauren Reamy, a member of Rubio’s staff since 2015, has been promoted to legislative director. Robert “Bobby” Zarate will lead Rubio’s foreign policy team after joining the staff as senior foreign policy advisor in December; while Matt Wolking has been promoted to senior communications advisor and press secretary. Rubio also announced Olivia Perz-Cubas will be rejoining his Senate Office as communications director, after serving as Press Secretary on Senate Staff; and Wes Brook is joining as a legislative assistant for energy, environment, agriculture and trade issues.
“I’m grateful for everything Sara Decker, Alex Burgos, and Jamie Fly helped us accomplish in my first term, and for all of their hard work. I wish them the very best in their new endeavors and know they will be very successful,” said Rubio. “I’m proud to welcome the new staff and look forward to the work our new team will be doing to help serve the people of Florida and pursue an important and meaningful legislative agenda in my second term.”
— Kevin Derby with Sunshine State News reports “Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen call out UN’s bias against Israel”
— Alex Leary with the Tampa Bay Times reports “Rick Scott, Marco Rubio avoid comment on Trump’s oil drilling push”
Paulson’s Principles: Will Ros-Lehtinen’s Retirement Turn Florida Blue?
The surprise announcement that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen would not seek reelection in 2018 has bolstered Democratic hopes of gaining control of the Florida congressional delegation. A flip of three seats would give the Democrats a 14-13 majority.
Just weeks ago, Ros-Lehtinen’s husband and campaign manager Dexter Lehtinen declared that “Ileana is committed to continuing to work hard for South Florida and deliver results. Her opponent, who will be running a second time for this seat, is a candidate in search of a purpose.” This didn’t sound like a candidate about to retire.
Why Ros-Lehtinen changed her mind remains unclear. Ros-Lehtinen argued she was confident of winning reelection, but stated that “to everything there is a season, and time to every purpose under heaven.”
Ros-Lehtinen was born in Havana in 1952 and fled with her parents to Miami in 1960. She received a doctorate at the University of Miami before launching her political career. Ros-Lehtinen was the first Cuban American elected to the Florida legislature in 1982, and was the co-sponsor of the Florida Prepaid College Program.
In 1989, Ros-Lehtinen was elected to the U.S. Congress and is now the longest-serving member of the Florida delegation. Ros-Lehtinen’s political views are hard to categorize. She has been a steadfast opponent of the Castro regime and supported the trade embargo even after Rual Castro assumed leadership. She has been one of the most pro-Israel members of Congress.
On social issues, Ros-Lehtinen leans moderate to liberal. She is a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage. Her son, Rodrigo, is transgender. Ros-Lehtinen opposed Republican efforts to “repeal and replace” Obamacare with their American Health Care Act. Finally, Ros-Lehtinen strongly opposed the candidacy of Donald Trump.
Ros-Lehtinen has seldom faced a strong challenger in her 28 years in Congress even though the district has become progressively more Democratic. The Cook Partisan Voting Index rates her district as +5 Democrat and Hillary Clinton beat Trump by almost 20 points. Despite Clinton’s trouncing of Trump, Ros-Lehtinen carried the District by 10 points.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted Ros-Lehtinen’s District for 2018 because it is +5 Democrat, because the district trended Democrat by 6.2 points in the past four years and because Ros-Lehtinen’s 10 point margin of victory in 2016 was one of her closest races.
Scott Fuhrman, her 2016 opponent, has already announced his intent to run again. His 2016 campaign was hurt when it was found that Fuhrman was arrested in Colorado for DUI and carrying a loaded gun in his car.
Other potential Democratic candidates include educator Michael Hepburn, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, state representatives David Richardson and Jose Javier Rodriguez and former Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.
Potential Republican candidates include Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Miami Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and state Sen. Rene Garcia.
Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball has changed the rating on District 27 from “likely Republican” to “leans Democrat” based on Ros-Lehtinen’s retirement announcement. Ros-Lehtinen won the District for years in spite of its growing Democratic numbers, but she will no longer be on the ballot.
Can a less well-known Republican carry a Democratic District? It’s possible, but the odds favor the Democrats.
Survey: Most delegation members score well in Bipartisan Index
With the announcement of the impending retirement of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen next year, it is likely the delegation and the entire Congress will inch closer toward more partisanship. According to the Lugar Center and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, the House’s 6th most bipartisan member will be leaving.
Using the Lugar Center’s proprietary “Bipartisan Index,” 427 members of the House and 98 Senators from the 114th Congress were ranked. The formula was based on sponsorships and co-sponsorships of bills proposed by the other party and the frequency in which their bills attract co-sponsors from the other party.
Miami Republican Carlos Curbelo was next highest among his party members at number 11, while the 17th district’s Tom Rooney was at 52. The lowest GOP score was awarded to former Rep. John Mica at 342 with Dan Webster earning the lowest score for current Republican members with 326.
The highest Florida Democrat was former Rep. Gwen Graham, who was 9th. Earning the highest bipartisan score among current Democrats was Broward County’s Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was Chair of the Democratic National Committee when the index was compiled. The Democrats’ lowest score was awarded to Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens, who came in at number 377.
A full 18 of Florida’s 27 members finished in the upper half. New York Republican Peter King was ranked first and Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp was ranked 427th and last. He was defeated for re-election in a 2016 primary.
Both of Florida’s senators finished in the upper third of those ranked. The Majority Leader and Minority Leader were not rated.
Democrat Bill Nelson came in at number 20, while Republican Marco Rubio was rated 33rd. Republican Susan Collins of Maine was ranked the most bipartisan while Bernie Sanders of Vermont (Independent who caucuses with Democrats) was last at number 98.
Delegation lukewarm to health care version 2.0; Billboards urge Floridians to call lawmakers
The ongoing effort by House Republican leadership to pass a new health care statute is still a work in progress. After the first fiasco, where enough conservatives banded together to kill the American Health Care Act (AHCA), version 2.0 is only in slightly better health.
Proponents can afford only 22 Republican defections (forget about any Democratic votes). According to The Hill newspaper, the count stands at 21 no votes, including two from the Florida delegation. Among the Florida delegation there are 8 in support, 13 against and 6 undecideds.
Both the retiring Miami moderate Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and central Florida conservative Daniel Webster join all 11 delegation Democrats in the “no” category. Both voted against the AHCA in March.
Ros-Lehtinen is in a district that Hillary Clinton won by 20 points in November and Webster needs to see more Medicaid funding for nursing homes. Along with North Carolina’s Walter Jones, the two Floridians represent the only no votes among the GOP from traditional Southern states.
The undecideds, of which there are reportedly 57, include Brian Mast of Hutchinson Island, Carlos Curbelo of Miami, Ron DeSantis of New Smyrna Beach, Neal Dunn of Panama City, Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, and Bill Posey of Melbourne.
Coming on board with a “yes, under duress,” was Gainesville’s Ted Yoho, who voted against the AHCA.
The GOP still has plenty of work to do.
Mobile billboards circled the in-district offices of two members of Florida’s congressional delegation this week, urging lawmakers to oppose plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
The billboards, commissioned by MoveOn.org, circled Rep. Dan Webster’s Winter Garden office and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s Doral office on Tuesday. The two men were among Republicans in 17 key districts the progressive organization targeted. The billboards, according to MoveOn.org, read “Tell Congress – Not to Take Away Our Health Care. Call Now to #ProtectOurCare.”
“Republicans are scrambling to resurrect their train wreck of a health care bill and push it through Congress—and now it’s even worse. Not only are they again trying to kick 24 million Americans off of their health care, they’re also trying to end protections for pre-existing conditions,” said Jo Comerford, campaign director at MoveOn.org. “This plan would be a disaster. The American people spoke out and stopped the Republican health care law before, and we can do it again. So MoveOn members are getting the word out that health care is under attack again—and now is the time to call your member of Congress and demand they protect our health care.”
Dunn legislation seeks to reduce size of federal government
The Panama City Republican has introduced legislation with the premise the 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution literally means what it says. The 10th Amendment Restoration Act of 2017 would establish a Constitutional Government Review Commission that would determine which current federal functions should be returned to the states.
“The Constitution guarantees our liberty, and its defense requires constant vigilance,” Dunn said in a release. “In Federalist 45, Madison wrote that the federal government’s powers are ‘few and defined,’ but the states’ are ‘numerous and definite.’”
According to Dunn, the Commission would be modeled after the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), charging the group with providing recommendations for federal activities that could be returned to the states. Besides the constitutional component, Dunn’s bill contains the secondary goal of reducing the size of the federal government by sending more responsibility to the states.
“I am proud to support Dr. Dunn’s 10th Amendment Restoration Act,” said Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho, the bill’s first co-sponsor. “For far too long our federal government has been allowed to grow bigger than our Founding Fathers intended.”
The 10th Amendment states “The powers not delegated to the United States to the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Happening this week — Rubio, Buchanan to host Sarasota fundraiser for Darrell Issa — The California congressman is headed to the Sunshine State for a fundraiser hosted by Sen. Rubio and Rep. Vern Buchanan.
Billed as a private reception, the event will be held at the home of William Isaac, the managing director of FTI Consulting, and his wife Christine. The host committee also includes former Sen. Pat Neal, who has been mentioned as a possible contender for CFO, and his wife Charlene, philanthropists Dennis and Graci McGillicuddy, and Dr. Peter Wish.
Issa, a member of the House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, is running for re-election.
Happening May 15 — Soto announces town hall — U.S. Rep. Darren Soto wants a chance to try out his environmental chops in his third town hall this year.
The freshman Democrat has announced a town hall meeting in Orlando for May 15 to talk about environmental issues, particularly about banning fracking on public lands, and protecting the environment, according to his Facebook page.
Soto already has held town halls to talk about health care and issues relating to Central Florida’s Muslim community.
This will be the first of his town halls held in Orlando, at the Acacia venue on Econlockhatchee Road.
Soto serves on both the Agriculture and Natural Resource committees in the House of Representatives.
Buchanan challenger going from one circus to another
Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Zac Anderson reports on Calen Cristiani, a 27-year-old Manatee County Democrat and trampoline performer who spent nearly two decades touring with his family’s circus act.
Cristiani is now looking toward a second act “in a profession where his skills as showman could come in handy” – challenging Sarasota Republican Buchanan in the 16th Congressional District.
While it will be Cristiani’s first run for public office, he does bring some campaign experience – as a volunteer for President Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 between circus tours. Economic inequality is Cristiani’s central concern, as well as promoting progressive economic policies, a $15 minimum wage and free tuition at public colleges and universities.
T. Rooney’s big idea to fix Congress; bring back earmarks
Rep. Tom Rooney floated the idea that if Republicans had restored a limited form of earmarks just after the election, a health care bill would have passed the House and tax reform would be on its way. When Republicans gained control of the House In 2010, they ended the much-abused practice of members of Congress setting aside projects in their districts.
Rooney told Jon Ward of Yahoo! News that by November there had been enough votes to revive earmarks. But the Okeechobee Republican resisted filing a vote at the request of House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“I was asked to sort of let this percolate for a while. We would address it in the first quarter,” Rooney said. “And then Paul asked if we could push it to the second quarter because we had health care and everything going on.” Rooney is still hopeful that the issue will return in the next few months, and he regrets he didn’t push harder last year.
Mast wants to award Congressional Gold Medal to Americans killed in Benghazi
Rep. Brian Mast introduced legislation this week to posthumously award the Congressional Gold Medal to four Americans who were killed during the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Mast — who filed the bipartisan legislation with Reps. Stephen Lynch, Duncan Hunter, and Susan Davis — said he hoped to honor the legacies of Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, and Sean Smith.
“These four Americans worked daily to advance the ideals our nation was founded on and lost their lives in the service of our country during the attack on our diplomatic mission in Libya,” he said in a statement. “Our bipartisan legislation recognizes their bravery and sacrifice with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor that Congress has to bestow.”
Lynch, the lead sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement the country owes it the men’s “families to honor their legacy, courage and selfless sacrifices with the Congressional Gold Medal.”
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress to express public gratitude for distinguished patriotism and heroism.
Deutch co-introduces LGBT Equality Act
Rep. Ted Deutch joined 193 of his colleagues this week to introduce legislation guaranteeing equal protections for the LGBT community.
The Equality Act amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity education, employment, housing, credit, federal jury service, public accommodations and use of federal funds.
“From Stonewall to Pulse, the LGBT community has endured decades of intolerance, violence, and repression. But this inspiring community has always turned moments of darkness into hope and activism. As the American people embrace equality and our courts rule in favor of justice, it’s time for Congress to lift the last legal barriers to full equality,” said Deutch, the vice chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and the chair of the LGBT Aging Issues Task Force, in a statement.
“Whether you’re a student struggling with identity questions or a homeless LGBT person seeking support just to get by, you should be able to look to your government for equal protections, not fear state-sanctioned persecution,” he continued.” As a proud friend and ally, I pledge to use my voice and vote to demand full equality for the LGBT community.”
Want a friend in Washington? Get a dog
It’s a tip that every aspiring politico has heard once or twice in their career, and now Alex Gangitano with Roll Call introduces you to some of the pups who have made the House and Senate their homes away from home.
Maya, an 11-year-old mutt, has been Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s office dog since 2008. Ros-Lehtinen, who recently announced she was retiring at the end of her term, said the pooch was an “instant hit” with her South Florida constituents.
“Maya is a people person and greets everyone, from constituents to other members of Congress, excitedly and pleasantly,” the South Florida Republican told Roll Call. “When we do have long days, Maya’s easy smile and playful nature is a great boost to everyone’s mood! She even has her own hashtag, #MayaAndFriends!”
Rep. Deutch brings his West Highland white terrier to work with him to play with staffers’ dogs who frequent the office. He takes pride in having a pet-friendly office, and said there’s “nothing quite like the excitement and unconditional love of a pet.”
“Our canine co-workers keep our entire office energized,” he told Roll Call.
Over in the Senate, Matt Wolking, press secretary Sen. Marco Rubio, has brought his Pembroke Welsh corgi to the office few times over the past few months during district work weeks. Wolking said Oskar, who has his own Instagram page, brings smiles to everyone who sees him.
Don’t read on an empty stomach
Tom Sietsema with The Washington Post is out with his annual spring guide to the dining scene in D.C. He calls it a “collection of highs, lows, and in-betweens on the dining scene;” we call it droll inducing.
Sietsema placed Mirabelle, the restaurant from restauranteur Hakan Ilhan, in the No. 1 spot on his list of the year’s 10 best new restaurants. According to Sietsema, “former White House chef Frank Ruta spares no expense on his guests.” Also on the Top 10 list: Sfoglina (No. 2); Himitsu (No. 3), which the WaPo called a “modern Japanese Jewel worth lining up for;” and Fish by Jose Andres (No. 8).