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The Delegation for 7.27.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

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Democrats “Better Deal” receives ho-hum response from Delegation

President Donald Trump has been in office for six months. With all the tweets, nonstop coverage of “Russian collusion,” and a fractured GOP, it would seem logical that Democrats would be in a strong position going into next year’s midterm elections.

Polls and money say otherwise. Congressional Democrats’ strategy of “resist” and “delay” is not paying off according to the ABC News/Washington Post poll. Released last week, the poll showed 37 percent of Americans believe the Democratic Party “currently stands for something,” while 52 percent believe that it “just stands against Trump.”

In the money race, the Republican National Committee (RNC) already has $44.7 million cash on hand with no debt, while the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has $7.5 million while carrying $3.5 million of debt.

As a way to demonstrate they stand for the middle class, national Democrats looked to re-brand themselves with a new slogan called “A Better Deal.” Instead of simply being the anti-Trump party, they are seeking to reclaim some of the working-class voters they lost in the previous election.

The response from Florida Democrats has been underwhelming. Only one of the delegation’s Democrats, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, has a strong statement of support on her website.

“Too many families are struggling, feeling they have been left behind in a system that’s rigged against them,” said Frankel. “The American people deserve a better deal that offers a brighter, more secure economic future.”

Without mentioning the new slogan, Kathy Castor of Tampa tweeted “Democrats in Congress are focused on better jobs and wages for Americans.” Al Lawson of Tallahassee tweeted the fact sheet provided by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Progressive columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune wrote Democrats “still need to offer a better deal, even if they don’t have a better slogan.”

Eugene Robinson, the progressive columnist from The Washington Post said the slogan is “not terribly bold,” while MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, the former Republican from Pensacola, called it “bland,” “vanilla,” and “terrible.”

Republicans, predictably, mocked the new brand.

“After losing to Republicans at the ballot box year-after-year, this is the best they have to offer?” said RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. “Today’s recycled Democrat talking points do nothing to change the fact that the far-left has taken hold of the Party and continues to push a message of resistance and obstruction.”

Over the coming weeks and months, will the party focus on jobs, health care and wages instead of Russia? Will the media let them?

In the era of Trump, no one knows for sure.

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

Few delegation members weigh in on health care vote

The Senate’s vote to begin debate on the Republican health care legislation captured the media’s attention, if not the rest of the country, on Tuesday. With Sen. John McCain returning to cast a vital procedural vote, the debate moved forward.

Understanding the vote was to begin debate, the delegation was not uniformly outspoken following the outcome, which was not decided until Vice President Mike Pence cast the decisive 51st vote.

“This senator never thought that on the issue of the vote that we would see a vote to advance a bill that to so many feel like it is going to harm so many of our fellow Americans,” said Florida Democrat Bill Nelson on the Senate floor. “Obviously, we can disagree on specifics, but we have seen that particular expression of opinion of harm, we’ve seen that expressed over and over and over.”

Florida’s junior senator, Republican Marco Rubio, did not speak on the floor and did not issue a statement.

Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement “this repeal attempt is cruel at its core and I will oppose it every chance I get.” She went on to say “it is time for Republicans to put an end to this destructive effort and work with us to update and improve the Affordable Care Act.”

Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy was one of 88 House Democrats who signed a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan urging a bipartisan repair of the Affordable Care Act.

“We strongly support the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and oppose any effort to repeal it,” they wrote. “We are ready to work with you in a bipartisan manner to stabilize and improve the individual market.”

The issue crept into the race for Florida governor with former Congresswoman Gwen Graham of Tallahassee launching a salvo toward Washington.

“Senate Republicans’ new repeal shell bill is a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will result in drastic cuts to Florida’s seniors on Medicaid, higher costs for working families and less coverage for millions of Americans,” Graham said in a statement. “It is heartless politics at its worst.”

Trump transgender ban generates strong response

President Trump’s decision to ban transgenders from serving in the military elicited reactions from Republicans as well as Democrats. He announced the ban via a Wednesday morning tweet.

Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the mother of a transgender son, also took to Twitter, but in full opposition to the new policy.

“No American, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, should be prohibited from honor + privilege of serving our nation #LGBT,” she tweeted. She pinned the tweet to the top of her Twitter page.

“President Trump’s mean-spirited decision to exclude qualified and dedicated Americans from our military has no legitimate justification,” said Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch in a statement. “In the face of our Commander In Chief’s bigoted tweets, I’m standing proudly with the LGBT community and am committed to fighting his shameful, harmful policy.”

Republican Senators calling out the president included Arizona’s John McCain, Iowa’s Joni Ernst, Alabama’s Richard Shelby and Utah’s Orrin Hatch.

Among the few willing to speak out in support of Trump’s action was Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

“I applaud President Trump for keeping his promise to return to military priorities — and not continue the social experimentation of the Obama era that has crippled our nation’s military,” Perkins said.

Iowa GOP Congressman Steve King also added: “we don’t need to be experimenting with the military.”

Changes in paid leave for federal workers expand some, narrow others

Changes in the rules for paid leave for federal workers would clarify — and narrow in some cases — when agencies grant paid time off without reducing available vacation time or other paid leave.

The Washington Post explains that “administrative leave” has been mostly informal, and varied among agencies. Some policies kept employees away from work — still paid, though — for extended periods as they consider taking disciplinary actions or during appeals.

Changes are part of a 2016 law ending the practice, creating new forms of leave — clarifying the practice of “investigative leave” while discipline is being considered and “notice leave” after discipline is ordered but before taking effect.

New rules show how agencies can keep employees in paid status while not at work, as well as specify the length of time. The law also creates a “weather and safety leave” for severe weather or similar conditions, as well as outlining other administrative leave, such participating in agency-sponsored volunteer events or blood drives.

Rubio urges sanctions on Venezuela

Ahead of a July 30 vote in Venezuela to rewrite that country’s constitution, Sen. Marco Rubio is calling for sanctions on the Marxist regime headed by Nicolas Maduro. In a letter to President Trump co-authored by New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, Rubio already calls the upcoming vote “fraudulent.”

“As the economic and political conditions in Venezuela continue to deteriorate and generate a humanitarian crisis, the Maduro regime has responded with repression and brutality,” the senators wrote. “We believe that the time has come to impose additional sanctions against those individuals who have led Venezuela into the abyss.”

The letter identified ten individuals “deserving of sanctions,” including a Brigadier General and the director of the national police.

Lilian Tintori, wife of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, greets an anti-government protester as they gather for a march in Caracas on July 22, 2017, to protest President Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution. Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Robert Menendez have called for additional sanctions, citing an ongoing humanitarian crisis. (Photo via The Associated Press.)

“Sadly, there is no shortage of individuals deserving of sanctions,” they wrote. “We intend to provide you with additional names in the days to come.”

Rubio is chairman of the subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that oversees the western hemisphere and human rights. Menendez is the ranking member.

“Your leadership will send a clear message to those who violate fundamental freedoms, and may also discourage others acting on behalf of the Maduro regime to continue the systemic repression and violation of human rights,” the senators wrote.

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration announced they would sanction 8 of the names on the senators’ list and add five more.

Same sanctions bill, different headlines

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed legislation imposing sanctions on three of the biggest headaches facing the U.S.: Russia, Iran and North Korea. By a vote of 419-3, the House passed the Countering Adversarial Nations Through Sanctions Act designed to “counter aggression” by the governments of those three countries.

Within the delegation, both Democrats and Republicans expressed strong approval for the bill’s passage, but with a different focus on what the bill contained.

Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford exemplified the reaction from several Republicans. Rutherford praised passage of the bill through a release titled “Rutherford Votes to Sanction North Korea, Russia, and Iran.”

“From North Korea’s nuclear ambitions to Russia’s illegal activities in Ukraine and attempts to interfere in our and other democratic elections, to Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, we must use every tool at our disposal to hold these regimes accountable for their actions,” said Rutherford.

Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch represented Democratic reaction in support of the bill’s passage. The headline of his release read “Rep. Deutch Applauds House Passage of Russia Sanctions Bill.”

“We cannot allow a direct attack on our democracy to go unpunished,” Deutch said. “Months after every one of our intelligence agencies confirmed that Russia interfered in our elections, the House has finally responded by passing sanctions against those culpable.”

Deutch’s version was closer to headlines in the major media as headlines in The New York TimesWashington Post, CNN, and USA Today, referred only to Russia.

Dunn’s veteran-owned enterprise bill passes House

The House of Representatives passed a bill sponsored by the Panama City Republican designed to assist veteran-owned businesses. The Ensuring Veteran Enterprise Participation in Strategic Sourcing Act requires the Veterans Affairs (VA) work within the federal government to ensure veteran-owned enterprises are given preference in government contracts.

“We will forever be in debt to our nation’s heroes, which is why we should be doing all we can to ensure they are taken care of when they come home, ” Dunn said in a statement. “We need to hold the VA accountable to the veterans it serve, and this legislation does just that.”

Dunn worked with California Democrat Jimmy Panetta on the bipartisan bill. Before the vote, Dunn urged his colleagues to support the measure.

“Over 10 years ago, Congress gave veteran — and service disabled veteran-owned small businesses — the highest preference to compete for VA contracts,” Dunn said on the House floor. “Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in the Kingdomware case that this preference applies in all situations, even when the VA uses contracts awarded by other agencies. It is the right thing to do, and I urge all members to support it.”

It passed unanimously by voice vote.

House approves Murphy’s small business bill

Rep. Stephanie Murphy saw her first bill pass in the Republican-led Congress this week.

The Microloan Modernization Act of 2017 sailed through the House on a voice vote with no dissensions. It now goes to the Senate for final approval. The bill reforms the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Microloan program and encourages small business owners to get loans of up to $50,000.

Murphy, who called small businesses the backbone of the nation’s economy, said the bill would help jump-start new businesses and create jobs in Central Florida by connecting more entrepreneurs to the capital they need to start and grow their enterprises.

“As a former businesswoman, I know that access to capital is the greatest challenge facing new and growing businesses. That’s why I’m proud my Microloan bill passed the House with bipartisan support,” said the Winter Park Democrat, who serves on the House Small Business Committee along with fellow Democrat Al Lawson of Tallahassee. “Obtaining a loan can mean the difference between a small business starting up and succeeding or struggling and shuttering.

Under the Microloan program, SBA makes loans to nonprofit organizations known as intermediaries, who make short-term loans to small businesses and nonprofit child care centers. Murphy’s bill would increase the total amount an intermediary can borrow from SBA from $5 million to $6 million, giving small businesses and entrepreneurs greater access to microloans.

The bill was the first legislation written by Murphy, who was sworn into office 6 months ago. Among the 11 bipartisan co-sponsors was Orlando Democrat Darren Soto.

Soto announces grants for Central Florida airports

Two Central Florida airports will get an assist from the federal government.

Rep. Soto announced two regional airports — Kissimmee Gateway Airport and Bartow Municipal Airport — will receive $2.7 million in grants from the Department of Transportation for improvements. The money will be used to carry out improvements to meet federal design standards.

“I am happy to announce that the Kissimmee Gateway Airport and the Bartow Municipal Airport have received $2.7 million in federal grants for critical enhancements to the airports’ infrastructure,” the Orlando Democrat said in a statement. “The funds will upgrade the airports’ infrastructure, making it safer for the millions of visitors to central Florida.”

The money will be used for improvements to runway guard lighting, runway paving and drainage. The upgrades are part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Runway Incursion Mitigation program.

Bilirakis introduces ‘Pups for Patriots’ legislation

Rep. Gus Bilirakis is taking steps to make sure veterans get the help they need, even if that comes in the form of a four-legged friend.

The Palm Harbor Republican recently introduced legislation — dubbed the Pups for Patriots Act — that promotes the use of service dogs for veterans by establishing new VA pilot program that works with nonprofit service dog organizations.

“The benefits of service dog therapy can in some ways go beyond anything that comes in a pill bottle,” said Bilirakis, the vice chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, in a statement. “Many of us have known the unconditional love dogs bring us in our lives. This bond can do wonders to help our nation’s heroes as they deal with their invisible wounds.”

Army veteran Joe Aguirre, who suffered from PTSD, drapes a tattooed arm across the back of his service dog, Munger, in Fayetteville, N.C. in March 2016. (Photo via The Associated Press.)

Bilirakis said the legislation would help support dog therapy as an alternative treatment “by connecting the VA to the many qualified nonprofits nationwide who train and provide service dogs.”

Bilirakis isn’t the only lawmaker pushing for legislation to allow pups to be used to help veterans. Nebraska Republican Sen. Deb Fischer and New Jersey Democrat Sen. Cory Booker reintroduced legislation — dubbed the Puppies Assisting Wounded Service members (PAWS) Act — earlier this year, which would provide veterans suffering from PTSD with access to a service dog. The House version of the bill was introduced by Florida Republican Ron DeSantis.

Bilirakis has long been an advocate for alternative treatments for veterans. Last year, his bill to promote treatments like outdoor sports therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and accelerated resolution therapy was signed into law.

Buchanan urges Senate to quickly pass hearing aid legislation

Rep. Vern Buchanan is urging the Senate to step up the pace in taking up a bill designed to assist those suffering from hearing loss. In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Sarasota Republican urged the Senate to take up the measure before leaving for any August recess.

“Let’s help reopen the world to seniors who struggle to hear everyday conversations with their family and friends,” Buchanan wrote. “Before the Senate adjourns for its summer recess, I urge you to pass bipartisan legislation that will make hearing aids more affordable for our nation’s seniors.”

The Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act, co-sponsored by Buchanan, was folded into the FDA Reauthorization Act of 2017, which passed the House on July 12. The bill is designed to drive down costs by allowing people with a mild to moderate hearing loss to purchase hearing aids without a doctor’s prescription.

“Nearly 50 million people have some degree of hearing loss — more than diabetes, cancer or vision impairment,” Buchanan said in his letter. “The impact of hearing loss, particularly among seniors, can lead to isolation and other health problems including anxiety and depression.”

Buchanan cites reports that hearing aid costs could be brought down from several thousand dollars to “a few hundred dollars.”

Veterans bill co-authored by Mast unanimously passes House

A bill designed to provide better educational benefits for wounded warriors and co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Mast passed the House this week. The vote on the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act was 405-0. It now moves on to the Senate.

The bill extends educational benefits to all honorably discharged Purple Heart recipients, regardless of their length of service. It also contains numerous other veterans’ benefits. The measure is personal for Mast, who earned a Purple Heart in the U.S. Army when he lost both of his legs following an explosion from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

Rep. Brian Mast, a military veteran, applauded the passage of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance A, saying providing a “high-quality education to these heroes is the least we can do.” (AP Photo)

“When my time in the Army was cut short, I was fortunate to be able to use funding from the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to get my degree at Harvard. Without it, I may not be a Member of Congress right now,” said the Palm City Republican. “Providing a high-quality education to these heroes is the least we can do, which is why I’m proud to have led this effort to ensure that every single Purple Heart recipient who is honorably discharged can get the benefit of this great program.”

This bill brought both parties together to support those who were injured serving their country.

“Our veterans and military families deserve — and have earned through their service and sacrifice — the best care and benefits,” said St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist. “We owe them nothing less.”

The bill is named after the late Harry Colmery, known as the principal architect of the GI Bill in 1944.

Frankel blasts Trump Administration for ACA outreach cutbacks

Rep. Lois Frankel is criticizing a decision by the Trump administration that cuts public information efforts surrounding enrollment in the Affordable Care Act. Contracts with vendors offering online and in-person assistance during open enrollment were shelved affecting 18 U.S. cities, including Tampa, Orlando and Miami.

“This action will make it more difficult for consumers to find the best insurance under the Affordable Care Act,” the West Palm Beach Democrat said in a statement. “This is a cruel and deadly move by the President of the United States.”

Rep. Lois Frankel blasted a decision by the Trump administration to cut public information efforts surrounding enrollment in the Affordable Care Act.

Existing contracts for the outreach services will expire on August 29. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services claim they have sufficient resources to assist consumers.

“CMS has a robust assistance program in place to help consumers with enrollment, including in-person assistance,” the agency said in a statement. “In addition, CMS operates a year-round exchange call center to assist consumers by phone with all of their enrollment needs.”

This move coincides with a recent announcement cutting the open enrollment period from three months to 6 weeks. Open enrollment begins November 1 and ends December 15.

Florida has five insurers participating in the ACA exchange in 2017.

Feds arrest Wasserman Schultz aide

Imran Awan, the House staffer at the center of a criminal investigation that could impact dozens of Democratic lawmakers, was arrested this week for bank fraud and has been prevented from leaving the country, reports Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan of POLITICO.

Awan, who served as an aide to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, pleaded not guilty to one count of bank fraud in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. He is accused of attempting to defraud the Congressional Federal Credit Union by obtaining a $165,000 home equity loan for a rental property. Those funds, according to the POLITICO report, were then included as part of a wire transfer to two people in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

Awan, a longtime IT staffer, has worked for more than two dozen Democrats since 2004, and is at the center of a criminal investigation related to procurement theft. POLITICO reported in February that several of his relatives, including his wife Hina Alvi, were also being investigated in the procurement scam.

Luke Rosiak with The Daily Caller reported that FBI seized smashed computer hard drives from Awan’s home. According to the report, Awan tried to get the hard drives back.

Awan was arrested Monday before boarding a flight to Lahore, Pakistan. His wife and children have already left for Pakistan, and POLITICO reported that federal agents do not believe Alvi has any intention of returning to the U.S.

Paulson’s Principles: The “Efficiency Gap” may turn politics upside down

Most people, including most political activists, have not heard of the “efficiency gap.” Political activists better read about the efficiency gap and its potential implication on congressional elections. Republicans, in particular, have much more to lose if the U. S. Supreme Court upholds a federal district court decision overturning Wisconsin’s partisan gerrymandering based on the use of the efficiency gap.

For over 200 years, the federal courts have refused to overturn partisan gerrymanders because they viewed them as “political questions” best left to the state legislature. The Supreme Court came close to overturning a Pennsylvania partisan gerrymander, but deadlocked 4 to 4.

In October, the U. S. Supreme Court will once again hear a case involving partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin, Gill v. WhitfordIn 2010, Republicans won control of the state legislature for the first time in 40 years. Although Republicans and Democratic vote totals were fairly evenly split, the new Republican maps allowed Republicans to win 60 of 99 legislative seats while winning only 48.6% of the vote.

A federal district court ruled that Republicans had gone too far in drawing district lines and ruled the maps an unconstitutional violation of the “equal protection clause.” It was the first time in over 30 years that a court rejected a partisan gerrymander.

The Wisconsin challenge to the Republican map was based on the “efficacy gap,” a tool developed by two law professors to measure partisan gerrymandering. Nicholas Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee looked at “wasted votes” in congressional elections. All of the votes of the losing candidate were considered wasted votes, as well as all votes over 50% plus 1 for the winning candidate.

An efficiency gap of 7% was considered acceptable. Anything over 7% was a sign of partisan gerrymandering. Stephanopoulos and McGhee concluded that on a national basis, Republicans were advantaged by 25-30 seats in the 2012 congressional election; by 14-21 seats in the 2014 election and by 11 to 17 seats in 2016.

In Florida, the efficiency gap showed a Republican advantage of 2.6 seats in the 27-member congressional delegation in 2012 and 2014 elections, and by 1.5 seats in 2016. The smaller Republican advantage in 2016 was due to the state court redrawing of congressional districts.

The Republican National Committee (RNC) calls the efficiency gap “a tool that advances the partisan interests of the Democratic Party.” In their brief filed with the Supreme Court, the RNC argued that the gap was due to geography and not partisan gerrymandering.”

Professor Daniel Smith of the University of Florida notes that Republicans have done a better job of fielding quality candidates and running effective campaigns in competitive districts.

Democratic consultant Steve Schafer contends that Democrats have an institutional problem of selecting “the first person who raised his hand, and that was not always the best option.”

If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court decision in overturning Wisconsin’s partisan gerrymander, the impact could turn the political world upside down.

Not only would Wisconsin have to quickly redraw its congressional districts to prepare for the 2018 election, but one-third of the states would find themselves in the same position because they did not meet the standards of the efficiency gap. Florida is one of those states.

Will the court uphold precedent that they have held to for 200 years, or will the court find the efficiency gap is a viable tool in calculating unconstitutional excesses in partisan gerrymandering?

North Florida Neighbors brings in $10K from helicopter company

A political committee that backed Republicans Matt Gaetz and Neal Dunn in 2016 brought in $11,000 during the first half of the year, according to new reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

North Florida Neighbors, which spent close to $800,000 during the 2016 election cycle to back Gaetz and Dunn, received three contributions between January and June. Records show Integrated Independent Physicians Network gave the super PAC $1,000, while Vertol Systems Company, Inc. and James Montgomerie, the company’s president, each gave $5,000.

The Destin-based company operates out of the Destin Airport and has a contract with the Defense Department to train helicopter pilots.

The committee spent about $1,700 during the reporting period on accounting and legal fees and incurred $2,000 for debt services from i360 LLC., a Baltimore-based voter data company.

North Florida Neighbors had about $18,500 cash on hand at the end of June.

Gaetz and Dunn represent Florida’s 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts, respectively. The two districts serve all the Florida Panhandle. So far, neither has drawn a challenger for the 2018 election cycle.

D.C. movements

Mack IV starts new firm — Former Rep. Connie Mack IV is teaming up with three partners to launch a new D.C. lobbying firm.

Mack, a Fort Myers Republican, is launching Black Diamond Strategies with Rick Wiley, the former political director for Republican National Committee, campaign manager for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s presidential bid, and a former Trump campaign official; Doug Davenport, another Trump campaign official who operates Davenport Ventures, and Hans Klinger, the former chief of staff to Texas Republican Mike McCaul.

Former Rep. Connie Mack IV has started a new lobbying firm, Black Diamond Strategies, with three other political operatives.

“We all have our own different experience and knowledge base,” Mack recently told POLITICO Influence. “We determined we’re stronger working together than individually.”

POLITICO Influence reported the firm has already signed seven clients, although Mack declined to disclose them. The partners are will maintain their current companies to handle existing clients, but POLITICO Influence reports new clients will be signed through Black Diamond.

Mack, who served in the U.S. House from 2005-2-13 and who launched an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in 2012, is the head of Mack Strategies. Mack and Klinger currently represent GEO Group, a private prison operator, through Mack’s firm.

Personnel note: Christina McGarry joins HLP&R Advocacy — McGarry, who served as a legislative aide to Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, has joined HLP&R Advocacy as a policy associate, according to POLITICO Influence.

McGarry worked for the Miami Republican from November 2014 until April 2017. Before working for Diaz-Balart, she spent about six months as an intern for Washington Republican Rep. Doc Hastings. McGarry received a bachelor of arts in history from the University of Virginia, according to her LinkedIn page.

HLP&R is a bipartisan government affairs and public policy firm. The firm, according to its website, serves as advisers to more than 30 of the country’s best-known organizations, including five Fortune 100 companies.

Uber hires Ballard Partners for D.C. work

Ballard Partners’ D.C. client roster just keeps growing.

Tony Romm with CNBC reports that Uber has tapped Brian Ballard and his firm to lobby for friendlier regulation in Washington, D.C. The ride-hailing company’s decision to add Ballard to its team of D.C. lobbyists seems like a natural one; Ballard and his firm are also registered to represent Uber before the Florida Legislature.

Romm reports that Uber’s decision to hire Ballard in D.C. reflects the “great degree to which tech companies are trying to forge new ties with a president that many in liberal-leaning Silicon Valley did not support during the 2016 election.”

Uber, according to POLITICO Influence, also retains Capitol Tax Partners, the Federal Hill Group, Invariant, and the Doerrer Group.

Ballard opened his D.C. outpost earlier this year, building on his relationship with President Donald Trump. Ballard, who served as the finance chairman for Trump’s Florida campaign and a top adviser during his 2016 presidential bid, quickly built up a team and a client roster, which includes Amazon and the government of Dominican Republic.

POLITICO Influence reported Ballard Partners brought in $2.3 million in domestic lobbying revenue in the second quarter and reported another $660,000 in foreign revenue to the Justice Department.

Tampa Bay to D.C.

Tampa Bay commissioners visit White House — At least four Tampa Bay county commissioners accepted invitations to attend a meeting at the White House this week, reports Andrew Dunn with the Tampa Bay Times.

Pinellas Commission Chair Janet Long and Pinellas Commissioner Charlie Justice, both Democrats, were scheduled to fly to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to meet with various members of the Trump administration as part of the Florida County Commissioner Conference, which was organized by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. Pasco County Commissioners Kathryn Starkey and Jack Mariano, both Republicans, are also expected to attend the same conference Thursday.

All of the county commissioners in Florida were invited to attend.

Florida is the second state to have a conference. More than 60 Pennsylvania county commissioners attended a similar meeting earlier this month.

Long and Justice, the Tampa Bay Times reported, were also hoping to meet with local members of the congressional delegation to make the most of their trip.

SpottedBrad Miller, the CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, participating in a recent U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs roundtable on public transportation. Miller presented on the PSTA’s mobility partnerships with Uber, Lyft and taxi companies.

Brad Miller, the CEO of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, discussed the PSTA’s mobility partnerships with Uber, Lyft and taxi companies during a recent House committee discussion. (Photo via the PSTA.)

Florida’s ‘Most Beautiful’

The Hill’s 50 Most Beautiful list is out, and — probably not surprising to anyone who hails from the Sunshine State — several Floridians made the cut.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy told Judy Kurtz she would love “nothing more to bury (her) face in a cupcake” but has to keep a gluten-free diet, or else she’ll get sick. That means she keeps a stash of Kind bars and Fruit Roll-Ups with her for snacks on crazy days and makes up for those indulgences, according to Kurtz, “with running and yoga.”

Rep. Stephanie Murphy was named one of The Hill’s “50 Most Beautiful” people.

You’ll also find 25-year-old Janie Blanco, who currently works for Invariant, on the list. Blanco told The Hill’s Morgan Chalfant that although she loves D.C., she “misses the beaches of her home state of Florida and longs for some good Cuban food.”

Ashley Morgan, a 25-year-old Fort Lauderdale native and Florida State graduate, told Ellen Mitchell with The Hill she is training for the Army Ten-Miler in October and spends six days a week working out. Morgan is a staff assistant for Sen. John McCain.

— Editors’ note: Last week, we encouraged readers to go and vote for Florida’s handsomest hounds in the Independent Journal Review’s “Cutest Dogs on Capitol Hill” competition, where two pups — Nola, a French bulldog belonging to Cesar Gonzalez, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s chief of staff, and Riggins, a Welsh terrier belonging to Joanna Rodriguez, Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s communications director — were battling it out for the golden doggie bowl.

Well, the results are in, and while neither dog landed in the top spot, Floridians should be “pawsitively” proud of their showing.

Riggins, Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s office dog, landed in the No. 9 spot on IJR’s “Cutest Dogs on Capitol Hill” list. (Photo via Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s Twitter)

Riggins landed in the No. 9 spot; while Nola was named the 6th cutest dog on the Hill. Also making the Top 25 list: Brady, a Brittany spaniel who belongs to Elizabeth Fusick, Rep. Ron DeSantis’ communications director.

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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.

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