The Delegation for 6.15.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

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Pulse remembrance was poignant pause from politics; capital shooting jolts silence

While Capitol Hill is still engulfed in Russia investigations, life on Main Street America goes on, especially in Orlando. This week, Orlando and fellow Floridians remembered 49 individuals whose lives did not go on past the early morning hours of June 12, 2016.

For a while on Monday, what James Comey said, or what President Donald Trump tweeted, or who leaked what was on the back burner – at least in Orlando. It was a day to come together.

“While 49 voices were forever silenced here one year ago, hope, as Harvey Milk once said, hope will never be silent,” said Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy at the remembrance event. “We must honor the lives and legacies of the Pulse victims by putting aside that which divides us and rededicating ourselves to treating one another with love and respect.”

A runner wearing a gay pride rainbow flag pauses in front of the Pulse nightclub during the CommUNITYRainbowRun 4.9K road race in Orlando, Fla. The race was one of many events commemorating the one-year anniversary massacre at the Pulse nightclub, which left 49 people dead. (Photo via the Associated Press)

Orlando’s other representatives in Congress, Democrats Val Demings and Darren Soto, joined with Murphy to introduce a resolution in Congress honoring those lost. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio did the same in the Senate.

“We will not forget the 49 men and women who were killed on June 12, 2016,” said Demings, whose district includes the Pulse nightclub. “Our community is still healing, family and friends are still mourning the lives of their loved ones, and survivors are still recovering from tragedy.”

Some have noticed the absence of major GOP elected officials at the public events. Whether or not they were invited, several Republicans did issue statements or tweeted messages recognizing the anniversary, including President Trump.

Rubio delivered his personal recollections on the Senate floor. He recalled immediately driving to Orlando from Miami when first learning of the attack last year.

“There’s no doubt this was a community that was heartbroken, but it was also a community that was unbroken that I believe woke up stronger and more united than when it went to sleep the night before,” said Rubio. “And I think ultimately, the man who committed this attack, and the people who inspired him to do so, would have been horrified at what they saw. I think they would’ve been horrified to see First Baptist Church in Orlando, a pillar of the Christian evangelical community, opening its doors to the LGBT community and welcoming in them and their families and holding services there.”

Just two days after remembering the Pulse victims, a nut job tried to kill members of the Republican Congressional baseball team and managed to shoot Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise. Without the professionalism of the Capitol Police, we would be witnessing a memorial for murder victims a year from now.

Will the shouting resume shortly, or will these two events have any effect on the atmosphere surrounding political discourse? For a few hours on Monday, some took the time to remember the lives of those taken away by hate. For a few minutes on Wednesday, a gunman apparently believed people needed to die because they were Republicans.

If this doesn’t elicit a pause in the hostilities, what will?

Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

Delegation reacts to Scalise shooting

Wednesday’s shooting on a Virginia baseball field of House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and three others shocked Capitol Hill and the nation. Scalise, practicing for Thursday’s Congressional Baseball Game with some of his GOP teammates, was playing second base when he was shot. Members of the Florida delegation were present.

Okeechobee Republican Tom Rooney had just left practice as had Ponte Vedra Republican Ron DeSantis. The alleged shooter asked DeSantis if the team on the field was the Republicans or the Democrats.

After such an emotional incident, the delegation offered comments via a statement or through Twitter. Panama City Republican Matt Gaetz, a member of the GOP team, was not at Wednesday’s practice, but tweeted “praying for my friend @SteveScalise.”

“I am praying for friends, colleagues, congressional staff, and Capitol Police, as well as any others who were injured or in danger this morning,” said Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor in a statement.

“Today is a sad day for our country,” read a statement from Panama City Republican Neal Dunn. “Leah’s and my thoughts are with Congressman Steve Scalise, the Capitol Police and staff involved in this morning’s tragic shooting.”

Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton, center, and other members of the Republican Congressional softball team, stand behind police tape of the scene of a multiple shooting in Alexandria, Va., where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was shot, on Wednesday. (Photo via the Associated Press.)

“My thoughts are with Congressman Scalise and all those injured in today’s ballpark shooting,” said Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy in a statement. “This type of senseless violence against any American is unacceptable.”

“We are all Americans first, regardless of party. We are all on the same team. And we’re praying for those injured in this heinous attack,” tweeted Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

GOP Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted “My prayers to @SteveScalise, staff and @CapitolPolice.”

“Joining @RepRutherfordFL to stand strong together for #NorthFlorida as we wish a swift recovery to @SteveScalise & @CapitolPolice & others,” tweeted Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan tweeted “My staff and I are safe. Praying for @SteveScalise, congressional staff and @CapitolPolice officers involved.”

“Praying for @SteveScalise and others shot @ baseball practice. There are too many damn guns in America!” tweeted Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson.

“Sending thoughts & prayers to @Steve Scalise @CapitolPolice & others shot this morning. We must stand together in face of this terrible news, tweeted Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch.

The Congressional Baseball Game will be played as scheduled Thursday night.

Magazine: Trump hotel Washington’s newest “bog”

Time Magazine is using this week’s cover story to present the opinion President Trump’s pledge to “drain the swamp” is a failure with the recently-opened Trump National Hotel in Washington serving as Exhibit A. The magazine describes the hotel’s opulence in great detail, including prices for amenities such as cocktails and a “couples massage.”

The cover includes a view of the hotel’s atrium with “THE SWAMP HOTEL” emblazoned in all-caps.

According to the story, “People pay these prices for more than just booze, caviar and back rubs. That’s partly because a president who once promised to ‘drain the swamp’ of influence peddling now owns the city’s newest bog.”

Photo via Time Magazine

Foreign dignitaries and diplomats, lobbyists and some administration insiders are frequent patrons, prompting a claim from the story that “the potential conflicts of interest are dizzying.” The story quoted law professor Kathleen Clark of Washington University of St. Louis.

“Of course, it’s a scandal,” she said.

Upon his inauguration, Trump turned over his business interests to his adult children, but the billionaire is still dogged with stories like this. He has pledged to turn over any profits from foreign governments – hotel or otherwise – to the U.S. Treasury.

“This plan offers a suitable alternative to address the concerns of the American people,” said Sheri Dillon, his lawyer.

Nelson: Zika vaccine needs to be “affordable to all who need it”

As federal officials consider granting a French drug maker the right to sell a Zika virus vaccine, Sen. Bill Nelson wants to make sure the vaccine is affordable and accessible to those who need it.

In a letter to U.S. Army Acting Secretary Robert Speer this week, Nelson, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called on the U.S. Arm to address the issue of affordability before granting Sanofi Pasteur an exclusive license to sell the Zika vaccine. The request comes after reports that the company has refused the Army’s request to set an affordable price for the vaccine.

“If the Army chooses to move forward with its plan to provide Sanofi Pasteur an exclusive license to sell this vaccine, it must first obtain assurances that the vaccine will be affordable to sell to all who need it,” said Nelson in his letter. “Providing a single drugmaker exclusive control over a desperately-needed vaccine could create an environment in which the vaccine is unaffordable to those who need it most.”

Nelson said given the “considerable federal investment and the need for the vaccine,” he believes it is critical that the vaccine be “available and accessible to the taxpayers who already invested in the research and development of the vaccine.”

There were 1,122 cases of travel-related Zika virus and 285 locally acquired cases of Zika reported in Florida in 2016. So far this year, there have been 75 cases of Zika reported — 59 of which are travel-related, while 4 are locally acquired cases.

“Until we have a vaccine, the Zika virus will continue to threaten families and babies in Florida and across the nation,” said Nelson in his letter. “I urge you to consider the impact that an exclusive license could have on the affordability of the Zika vaccine. Failure to limit the vaccine’s market price could make it inaccessible to thousands of Floridians who need it.”

Rubio joins bipartisan coalition to combat human trafficking

The second-term Republican joined several of his colleagues from both parties to address the crime of human trafficking and helping the victims of that crime. A bipartisan coalition has come together to introduce two bills which concentrate on the issue.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act would reauthorize important programs designed to prevent trafficking plus promote justice for survivors, provide services for victims and increase and enhance the federal government’s response to the crisis.

Those joining Rubio in sponsoring the bill include Republicans John Cornyn of Texas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Bob Corker of Tennessee. Democratic co-sponsors are Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Diane Feinstein of California.

The Abolish Human Trafficking Act would reauthorize federal programs that provide support and resources for the victims of this form of modern day slavery.

Nevada’s Dean Heller and Utah’s Orrin Hatch joined their GOP colleagues from the previous bill as co-sponsors. Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Delaware’s Chris Coons and Oregon’s Ron Wyden also joined their colleagues from the other bill.

“Victims of human trafficking need help from their communities as they reclaim their lives,” Rubio said in a release. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in fighting against traffickers and doing everything we can to protect and support their victims.”

Rubio, Diaz-Balart helping craft Trump Cuba policy

Florida’s Republican senator and the Republican congressman from Miami will welcome President Trump to their hometown as the president delivers remarks concerning Cuba, the birthplace of their parents.  USA Today reports Trump will “announce a rollback from relations with the communist island nation 90 miles from Key West.”

Reports suggest it will not be a wholesale rollback from the policies of former President Obama. Experts are confident Trump will neither close the U.S. Embassy nor break diplomatic relations restored in 2016. It will include things important to Rubio and Diaz-Balart.

“I am confident that I will be very pleased with what the president will announce Friday,” Rubio told USA Today. “I want to support the Cuban people and their aspirations for economic and political freedom and I always have been.”

Edwardo Clark, a Cuban-American, holds an American flag and a Cuban flag as he celebrates outside the new Cuban embassy in Washington on  July 20, 2015. President Donald Trump is expected to announce a rollback of relations with Cuba during an event in Miami later this week. (Photo via the Associated Press.)

The Floridians are most interested in ensuring additional resources going into Cuba reach the Cuban people. One of the strategies proposed by Rubio in 2015 calls for a prohibition of financial deals with Cuba’s military and security forces.

“It is not in the interest of the United States or the people of Cuba for the U.S. to become a financier of the Cuban regime’s brutality,” Rubio said at the time he introduced a 2015 bill, some of which is expected to be contained in the Trump policy.

Rubio faces criticism for growing “too cozy with the White House.” They believe Trump’s outreach to his former presidential rival has something to do with Rubio’s place on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who is investigating the Russian attempts to influence U.S. elections.

Gaetz announces USDOT grants for Panhandle airports

Rep. Matt Gaetz is telling constituents he is not just bringing home the bacon, it will be flying in. More than $2.6 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation is coming to the 1st District to fund needs at local airports.

The bulk of the grant – more than $2.1 million – is targeted to the Eglin Air Force Base/Destin-Ft. Walton Beach Airport to “rehabilitate” 2,000 feet of combined taxiway.

The Bob Sikes Airport in Crestview and the Destin Executive Airport will share almost $500,000 to address rehabilitation of aprons. Pensacola International Airport receives $43,000 to clear obstructions from land acquired for further airport development.

“Northwest Florida has always been a popular destination for tourism, business, and government travel,” said the Fort Walton Beach Republican. “The $2.6 million in grants from the Department of Transportation will allow Northwest Florida’s popularity as a travel destination to continue to grow now and in the years to come.”

The funding is expected to be received before September.

Rutherford tapped for Judiciary Committee

Rep. John Rutherford received a new committee assignment this week when he was appointed to the House Judiciary Committee. Rutherford, the former Duval County Sheriff and a Jacksonville Republican, brings years of relevant experience.

“As a former Sheriff, I have committed my life to strengthening the justice system in Northeast Florida, and I am grateful for this opportunity to reestablish constitutional order across our nation,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Chairman (Bob) Goodlatte and thank him for appointing me to a strong committee focused on upholding the constitution.”

Among the issues the committee undertakes is criminal justice, patents and copyrights, the law regulating foreign surveillance, and immigration law, among others.

“I am pleased to welcome John Rutherford to the House Judiciary Committee,” said Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican. “His expertise on our criminal justice system makes him particularly well-suited to serve on the Judiciary Committee.”

Three other members of the delegation currently serve on the Judiciary Committee. They include Ponte Vedra Beach Republican Ron DeSantis, Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz and Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch.

With the appointment, Rutherford will now serve on three committees. He currently serves on the Veterans Affairs Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.

Bilirakis: VA accountability bill holds ‘the bad actors accountable’

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. Democrats Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Frederica Wilson were the only members of Florida’s congressional delegation who voted against the bill.

The bill, backed by Sens. Rubio and Nelson, 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.

“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 repercussions,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican during a floor speech this week. “Of course, the vast majority of VA employees are hardworking and dedicated professionals. 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.”

Bilirakis said the country is “turning the page to a fresh start for the VA” with the passage of the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act.

Soto publicly neutral before Puerto Rico vote, strong advocate for statehood afterward

The Orlando Democrat had far more than a passing interest in last weekend’s plebiscite in Puerto Rico gauging the island’s interest in becoming the 51st state. He is not only the first Floridian of Puerto Rican heritage in Congress, many of his constituents trace their roots to there as well.

Going into the vote, Soto was careful not to take sides. He and Alaska Republican Don Young led a delegation of election observers.

“The decision on Puerto Rico’s ultimate political status has to come from the people, and it’s not my place to try to tell them how to vote,” Soto said before polls opened.

Sen. Marco Rubio urged a good turnout to “communicate the will of the people to local and national leaders.” Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo urged “all citizens to participate in this plebiscite” while Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also urged “the good people of Puerto Rico to make their voices heard.”

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy openly advocated for a statehood vote, saying “I believe Puerto Rico should discard its territory status and become a state or sovereign nation.” Her remarks are in line with House Democratic Whip, and the House’s second-ranking Democrat, Steny Hoyer who said “I hope they will vote for statehood and remain part of our country as a full and equal member of our union.”

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello celebrates the results of a referendum on the status of the island at the New Progressive Party headquarters in San Juan on Sunday. The governor announced the territory overwhelmingly chose statehood in a non-binding referendum held amid a deep economic crisis. (Photo via the Associated Press)

When the votes were counted, there was good news for statehood supporters mixed with disappointing results. The good news was 97 percent of those voting went for statehood. A major disappointment was only 23 percent of the electorate bothered to turn out.

With the results in, Soto was unhindered to become an advocate for Puerto Rican statehood.

“The people of Puerto Rico have spoken,” Soto said in a statement. “By an overwhelming margin, they have voted for statehood. I said I would respect – and fight for – their wishes and that’s exactly what I intend to do. This is now a matter of civil rights and equality.”

On Thursday, Gov. Ricardo Rossello will be in Washington to deliver the results to Congress. He will take part in an event at the National Press Club to discuss the plebiscite. Joining him will be Young and Soto.

Soto is well aware that the Republican-controlled House and Senate may be reluctant to approve statehood, but he will strongly urge his colleagues to respect the wishes of Puerto Rican voters as well as those of many of his constituents.

War of Words erupts over Dodd-Frank rollbacks

Battle lines are developing on yet another issue on Capitol Hill. This one involves the Republican version of financial regulation, known as the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017, which passed the House late last week, 233-186 along party lines. It now moves to the Senate.

The legislation takes aim at one of the signature bills enacted during the Obama Administration. Congress passed, and then-President Barack Obama signed, the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, which brought sweeping reform and more regulation of the financial and banking industry following the financial crisis of 2008.

Republicans such as Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart spoke for Florida Republicans who feel Dodd-Frank has done more harm than good. That is why they are promoting the Republican plan.

“By making it easier for entrepreneurs to gain access to capital and removing bureaucratic red tape that hinders innovation, the Financial CHOICE Act encourages and incentivizes job growth,” said Diaz-Balart in a message to constituents.

“Without the hindrance of the Obama administration, the Financial CHOICE Act will immediately improve the economy, which has long since been plagued by restricted access to capital and regulatory burdens that make it impossible for small businesses to compete,” Orlando Republican Daniel Webster wrote to his constituents.

Florida Democrats, of course, have a far different take, using Main Street as a launch point. One believes the bill should be renamed.

“Today, we could be working on nonpartisan improvements to Dodd-Frank, making it work for better for Main Street,” St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist said on the House floor prior to voting against the bill. “But instead, we have the Wrong CHOICE Act.”

“Now is not the time to adopt Donald Trump’s dodgy Wall Street de-regulation schemes,” said Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. “Main Street simply cannot afford them.”

Soon, it will be the Senate’s turn.

Delegation goings-on

Save the date:

Spotted: Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Democrat, attended the premiere part for season four of the Starz show “Power,” according to POLITICO. The network hosted the premiere part at the Newseum, and Democratic Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, Yvette Clarke, Lacy Clay, Brenda Lawrence, Lisa Rochester Blunt, Tony Cadenas, Andre Carson and Donald Payne Jr. also attended.

Pace named AP Washington bureau chief

The Associated Press has tapped Julie Pace to serve as its new Washington, D.C. bureau chief, the wire service announced this week.

Pace, who formerly served as the AP’s White House correspondent, is the “right person to lead this team as the Trump administration rocks the nation and the world,” said Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Sally Buzbee.

“Throughout the 2016 campaign and into the early days of the Trump administration, the depth of Julie’s reporting and the clarity of her analysis has enriched our report,” Buzbee said in memo this week.

As bureau chief, Pace will continue to write and report, and guide the overall news bureau with a focus on the presidency – leading a team of four deputy bureau chiefs. Two deputies will focus on newsgathering: one on the White House, Congress and politics, and the second overseeing other beats such as national security and education. A third deputy will handle visual and digital presentation efforts.

The fourth deputy will focus on video newsgathering, working with Head of U.S. Video and Radio News Denise Vance and her team at the BNC during the transition later this year and into 2018, to a cross-format operation in D.C.

Former Trump advisor offers insight into capital priorities

A former member of President Trump’s transition team is set to delve into a wide range of priorities facing lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and Tallahassee.

Scott Mason, a senior policy advisor with Holland & Knight and a former member of Trump’s transition team, is scheduled to speak at a cocktail reception hosted by Holland & Knight at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

The reception, according to the invitation, is meant to give attendees insight into “early days of the Trump campaign, the transition process and President Trump’s agenda.” Mason is also expected to provide perspective on how Trump’s priorities will fare in D.C., as well as the politics surrounding the administration in general.

Those interested in attended the reception should register by Tuesday.

Take a bow

Members of Congress, media personalities, and consultants took to the stage this week to participate in “Will on the Hill,” an annual tradition where notable Washingtonians take the stage and act out Shakespeare’s greatest hits with a twist, reports Will Costello with the Hill.

The annual event is hosted by the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Now in its 15th year, the bipartisan event supports the company’s education, artistic and community engagement programs, including in-school workshops and online learning resources.

The Hill reported the cast — which included Ian Kahn, who plays George Washington on AMC’s spy series “Turn,” Maulik Pancholy, who played Alec Baldwin’s assistant on NBC’s “30 Rock,” and Florida Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch and Darren Soto — poked fun at themselves in a production of “Met by Moonlight,” a riff on Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Rep. Ted Deutch (left) dressed up for the annual “Will on the Hill” performance. (Photo via Rep. Ted Deutch’s Twitter.)

In the “Will on the Hill” performance, Oberon, played by Kahn” and Puck, played by Pancholy, encounter two park rangers, and then the four “try to stem the flow of people fleeing the heat of D.C. in the summer.” The show ended, The Hill reported, when the two park rangers “realized that Oberon and Puck were the real tourists and sent them away.”

The event, according to The Hill, raised $510,000 for the Shakespeare Theatre.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.