The Delegation for 9.28.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

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Delegation staying focused on priority issues

This week the last-gasp attempt to gut Obamacare failed. Just two days later, President Donald Trump and Republicans began to talk up tax reform. Getting relief to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico (and Floridians still suffering from Irma) was also on the minds of lawmakers.

For those who didn’t notice, some NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem Sunday. After President Trump blasted the few kneeling players, calling them SOBs, the handful of kneelers multiplied into many, forcing the issue to the top of the list around the country.

While Trump’s comments did not sit well with NFL players, Commissioner Roger Goodell, and some owners, the growing legion of kneelers did not please a good portion of the country. First-term Republican Brian Mast of the 18th District was one of those.

First-term Republican Brian Mast blasted NFL players #TakingTheKnee.

Mast, an Army veteran who lost both legs in Afghanistan, went to Facebook and posted a photo of him saluting two flags blowing in the wind. The accompanying message chided the NFL for penalizing players for celebrating touchdowns, “but won’t require respect for our flag?”

“Any player who has taken a knee to protest this great country during its anthem should already be gone,” Mast wrote.

Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz took it a step further by going after the NFL. On Tuesday Gaetz announced he had taken over as lead sponsor of legislation titled the Pro Sports Act.

Originally filed eight months ago by now-retired GOP Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, the bill would strip the league office of its current tax-exempt status. NFL teams are not tax-exempt, but the league office, which enjoys the special status, “is responsible for the construction and development of new stadiums, paid for with over 6.5 billion taxpayer dollars,” Gaetz said.

Orlando Democrat Darren Soto took a strong stand the other way, tweeting that the players’ actions were “as patriotic as it gets!” Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson retweeted comments supporting the players, but otherwise stuck matters directly involving constituents.

As a whole, the delegation remained focused on the issues listed above. Mast has a deeply personal stake in the issue, while Gaetz represents the only district in Florida basically unaffected by Hurricane Irma. Both worked in support of disaster victims over the past two weeks, while Soto has worked on behalf of his constituents following Irma and is involved in the ongoing efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

In other words, the delegation worked on disaster relief as a bipartisan unit on behalf of those who elected them, as well as those who did not vote for them. Sure, the differed and postured on Obamacare and will do the same with tax reform, but when lives and well-being are at stake, there is no daylight between them.

Now, if we could only transfer that to the other big issues …

 Nelson, Rubio seek assistance for Puerto Rico

Florida’s senators are again working together on hurricane-related issues, this time on the ravaged Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. In addition to the wind damage and flooding, Hurricane Maria also knocked out power throughout the island.

Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio wrote to Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging the Justice Department to quickly establish task forces to combat illegal activity related to Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“It is important that the federal government stands ready to assist in the difficult days after Hurricane Maria passes when hope must be available to combat despair,” Rubio and Nelson said in their letter to Trump. “However, as even the best-laid plans can be overwhelmed by natural forces, we urge your administration’s continued attention to this dangerous storm so that appropriate federal resources can quickly be made available as locally unmet needs arise.”

Rubio tweeted the “United for Puerto Rico” symbol that also includes a link for donations.

The situation in Puerto Rico is dire. On Monday, Gov. Ricardo Rossello issued a statement under the heading of “Humanitarian Crisis in Puerto Rico.” Rossello said the “devastation is vast” and pleaded to “the Trump Administration and the U.S. Congress to take swift action to help Puerto Rico rebuild.”

Rubio tours Puerto Rico devastation; calls for substantial aid

On Monday, Florida’s junior senator became the first delegation member to visit Puerto Rico following the devastation wrought last week by Hurricane Maria. Rubio got a firsthand look at the damage along with Puerto Rico Gov. Rossello, FEMA Administrator Brock Long and Resident Commissioner (nonvoting member of U.S. Congress) Jenniffer Gonzalez.

He also received detailed briefings of ongoing rescue and recovery efforts for what he described as a “crisis.” During remarks at a briefing with Long and Puerto Rican officials, Rubio called for helping the Commonwealth rebuild, but to do it in a way that helps prevent some of the devastation hurricanes like Maria can bring.

“This territory, Puerto Rico, has been impacted by not one, but three storms; Irma, 10 days later, Maria, and throughout it a fiscal crisis that it continues to confront,” Rubio said. “If we’re going to rebuild, and we will rebuild, let’s do it in a way that’s modern and resistant, for this will not be the last storm that impacts this island.”

Both Rossello and Gonzalez tweeted thanks to Rubio for his assistance.

Rubio also offered the reminder that Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States and deserve all of the help they can receive.

“On this island live the loved ones of American citizens who gave their lives for our country,” Rubio said. “On this island live the loved ones and American citizens who at this very moment are risking their lives for the safety and security of our nation. It is our commitment to do everything within our power to ensure that the response to this hurricane is the same as it would be in any other territory or state of this great nation.”

On Thursday, Rubio dispatched four staff members to help local officials with recovery operations.

Nelson grills nominee to head product safety agency

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held confirmation hearings for four nominees to join Trump’s administration. The three-term Democrat, who is ranking member of the committee, had quite an exchange with Ann Marie Buerkle, the nominee to head the Consumer Product and Safety Commission (CPSC).

Nelson was questioning Buerkle on reports the CPSC was trying to kill a new standard that would limit carbon monoxide emissions from newly-manufactured generators and replace it with a voluntary standard.

Bill Nelson grilled Ann Marie Buerkle, Donald Trump’s nominee to chair the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“A voluntary standard is what the manufacturers want,” Nelson told Buerkle. “How many more deaths from generators in the aftermath of hurricanes are we going to have to see before the Consumer Product and Safety Commission, looking out for consumer safety, finally gets around to saying: enough?

Nelson cited recently published reports indicating more than a dozen people have died in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma resulting from portable generators. Buerkle responded that new generators have technology that protects consumers.

He also questioned the agency’s intention to hire an executive with the portable generator industry’s advocacy association, who is against the new rule.

Climate Change Solutions Caucus membership grows to 58

The bipartisan climate change solutions caucus grew to 58 members this week with the addition of six new members. The new members include Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy.

In a release, the two caucus co-chairs welcomed Murphy and her colleagues.

“These new members are joining the Caucus amid a devastating hurricane season, where major storms are gaining strength from the warmer waters of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico,” said Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch, one of the group’s co-founders.

“The real-world implications of sea level rise have been on display for all to see in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria,” said Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo, also a co-founder of the group.

The membership is spread evenly with 29 Democrats and 29 Republicans. The other delegation members serving on the caucus are St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist and Palm City Republican Mast.

Gaetz to host country music concert

The first-term Republican is holding a re-election campaign-related event October 18 in Ft. Walton Beach. He will host a country music concert featuring Earl Bud Lee at the Green Door Music Hall beginning at 6 p.m.

Matt Gaetz is hosting a campaign-related event featuring country music performer Earl Bud Lee.

Lee is best known for writing the Grammy-nominated hit “Friends in Low Places” for and “One Night at a Time” recorded by George Strait.

Tickets are available online.

Friday Fundraiser planned for Dunn

A large group of the influence community is coming together to help the first-term Republican from Panama City gather cash for his re-election. On Friday, Carol and Walt Dover will host the event for Dunn at their farm in Havana. Carol Dover is President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Along with the Dovers, other Co-chairs include former Associated Industries President and CEO Jon Shebel and Susan Shebel.

The host committee includes former Attorney General and Secretary of State Jim Smith and Carol SmithJennifer and Ray GreenWill and Susie McKinleyBrent Sembler, the American Sportfishing Association and the National Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Lawson touts $1 million grant for electric buses

The first-term Democrat from Tallahassee announced a $1 million federal grant to expand the capital city’s electric bus fleet. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) Federal Transit Administration provided the funds toward the purchase of 15 new electric buses for Tallahassee’s Star Metro.

Al Lawson wrote to the USDOT in June offering “my full support as they continue to move toward all zero-emission busses in Tallahassee.” A basic requirement for the funding was the phasing out of diesel-fueled buses.

“This is great news for Tallahassee,” Lawson said in a statement. “The new electric buses will help to lower fuel costs and improve the air quality for our city’s residents.”

The grant allows Tallahassee to triple the number of electric buses in service. Five are now operating.

Potential Murphy opponent gets DC fundraising boost

Florida Rep. Miller’s run for the 7th Congressional District seat in Congress got a boost from some familiar names in Florida and Washington, D.C. this week. Former GOP Senator Connie Mack offered his Washington home and headlined a fundraising reception to give Miller’s campaign a lift. Sen. Rubio and former Sen. Mel Martinez are also among the headliners.

Event co-hosts included current GOP House members Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Vern Buchanan of Sarasota, Dunn of Panama City, Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach, Bill Posey of Rockledge, Francis Rooney of Naples, and John Rutherford of Jacksonville.

Texas Republican Pete Sessions, Chair of the House Rules Committee and former Chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), also served as co-host. Florida and Washington lobbyist Brian Ballard and PR guru Charlie Black were among the other co-hosts.

Miller, who is from Orlando, is seeking the GOP nomination to take on Stephanie Murphy, a first-term Democrat from Winter Park. His primary opponent is Sanford businessman Scott Sturgill.

Third quarter fundraising ends Sept. 30. Campaign finance reports are due Oct. 15.

Soto draws flak for timing, location for fundraiser

While Puerto Rico got hammered by Hurricane Maria, the Democrat from Orlando defended his re-election campaign fundraiser held last week in Kissimmee, home to Florida’s most concentrated Puerto Rican population. Wayne Liebnitzky, his 2016 and 2018 opponent for the District 8 seat in Congress, blasted Soto for going forward with the event.

“I think it’s absolutely shocking, disgraceful,” Liebnitzky said. “That event needs to be canceled. He needs to postpone it to a later date.”

Soto brushed off the criticism and touted his concentration on the well-being of Puerto Rico as Maria approached.

“I have been in hourly contact with Gov. Rosello’s office, spoke at length with our House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (Wednesday) in Jacksonville about Puerto Rico, FEMA funding, and am leading letters to ensure full financial support of Puerto Rico’s recovery over the next few days,” Soto told Orlando-Rising.com.

“Our efforts and readiness to advocate for an effective federal response will not be affected by an Osceola event with local Democratic activists,” he added.

The fundraiser started at $100 for individual donations and up to $1,000 for hosts.

Soto seeks shipping waivers, price gouging action for Puerto Rico

The Democrat from the 8th District has signed on to the letter urging the federal government to suspend the 1920 Jones Act governing shipping and ease FEMA cost-sharing rules during Puerto Rico’s recovery process from Hurricane Maria.

The Jones Act requires all ships moving supplies to Puerto Rico from American ports be American and American-crewed.

The letter initiated by U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a Democrat from New York, asks Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke, asks that the federal government suspend, for one year, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, also known as the Jones Act, for shipping to Puerto Rico so that the island can more easily receive oil, power grid equipment and other critical supplies.

Darren Soto has signed on to a letter urging the federal government to suspend the 1920 Jones Act governing shipping and ease FEMA cost-sharing rules during Puerto Rico’s recovery process.

“The island is now facing an unprecedented uphill battle to rebuild its homes, businesses, and communities. Temporarily loosening these requirements — for the express purpose of disaster recovery — will allow Puerto Rico to have more access to the oil needed for its power plants, food, medicines, clothing, and building supplies,” the letter argues.

Soto took the lead on another matter when wrote a letter to Attorney General Sessions, signed by four members of the Florida delegation, Sessions to look into price gouging in Puerto Rico. The signees asked Session to include abnormally high airline ticket prices out of San Juan to current efforts to combat illegal activity.

“We are concerned that airlines are price gouging as people are attempting to leave the Caribbean, in some cases due to urgent health needs,” they wrote. “Prices have soared to over $1,500 for a one-way ticket to Florida. However, we have found that not all carriers are behaving this way.”

Signing the letter were Florida Democrats Val Demings of Orlando, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Weston, Deutch of Boca Raton and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

Crist lauds St. Petersburg pastor named House Chaplain of the Day

The first-term Democrat from St. Petersburg recently welcomed a hometown pastor to the floor of the House of Representatives. The Rev. Louis Murphy, the senior pastor at the Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, was a guest chaplain and began the day’s floor session with the opening prayer.

“Reverend Murphy truly embodies what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself,” Crist said during remarks on the House floor. “A native of Florida, truly a man of God, a man of the people, — I personally thank Reverend Murphy for coming to the People’s House and providing such a moving, thoughtful, invocation.”

Charlie Crist recognized Reverend Louis Murphy Sr. on the House floor after he served as guest chaplain, delivering the invocation in the U.S. House of Representatives. Photo courtesy Charlie Crist.

In his prayer, Murphy asked for “divine guidance and wisdom for the men and women who have been elected and sworn to represent the interests of the people of these United States of America.”

Bilirakis seeks CSX help to rectify ‘dangerous’ railroad crossings

The Republican from the 12th District is calling on CSX to address safety concerns in Safety Harbor. On Tuesday, he wrote to Chief Operating Officer Cindy Sanborn, calling her attention to the concerns.

Bilirakis listed a crossing where the “disrepair has reached a dangerous level.” He also reminded Sanborn that a previously-approved crossing arm at another crossing in Land O’ Lakes is still needed despite “confusion between the Florida Department of Transportation, CSX, and Safety Harbor regarding the funding and completion of the project.”

Bilirakis noted that due to the damage vehicles have suffered at the uneven crossing, “drivers have unilaterally created alternate driving patterns to cross the tracks, entering oncoming traffic lanes, and creating additional hazards.

“I urge you to come to a swift resolution of these safety issues for the benefit of our community.”

Buchanan: Hurry and pay Madoff victims

The Republican from Sarasota is telling the U.S. Department of Justice to hurry up and start compensating victims of Bernard Madoff’s elaborate Ponzi scheme. The fund, authorized in 2012 to disperse billions to those defrauded by the imprisoned Madoff, has yet to release any of the $4 billion in forfeited cash.

“We’re going to hold their feet to the fire,” Buchanan told The Washington Post. “It’s a lot of money tied up, and our goal is to do whatever we can to get it flowing.”

Buchanan, a member of the House’s Ways and Means Committee and co-chair of the Florida delegation, get involved in the issue when learning the attorney overseeing the account had racked up $38.8 million in billings, which is $38.8 million more than victims have received. He wrote to Attorney General Sessions in May asking the government to speed things up.

Vern Buchanan is asking the DOJ to hurry up and start compensating victims of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

The attorney, Richard Breeden, blamed the Justice Department process, which receives and processes requests for compensation from individuals who did not invest with Madoff. Many of those requests are denied, but the evaluations are time-consuming.

“It’s been way too long,” said Buchanan. “The victims haven’t gotten a dime.”

Buchanan was informed by the Justice Department last week that payments would commence by the end of 2017.

“I want to be hopeful this is the first step,” Buchanan said. “If not, we’ll look at additional pressure we can bring, myself and maybe other leaders in Congress. For now, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.”

Florida was second only to New York in the number of people ripped off by Madoff.

Frankel, Ros-Lehtinen introduce bill to protect seniors during disasters

In the wake of the tragedy caused by Hurricane Irma at the Hollywood nursing home — the death toll is now up to 11 — the West Palm Beach Democrat and Miami Republican are trying to prevent a reoccurrence. The two lawmakers introduced the Protecting Seniors During Disasters Act, which prescribes an analysis on how senior citizens and nursing home residents can be cared for during disasters like Hurricane Irma.

In addition to the nursing home tragedy, Frankel and Ros-Lehtinen point to the thousands of seniors who live alone. They mention those on lifesaving electrical medical equipment who might be placed in jeopardy after extended power outages.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, where 11 seniors died from Hurricane Irma.

“Hurricane Irma here in Florida made it abundantly clear that our seniors are at much greater risk for harm than the general population,” Frankel said in a release. “The tragedy at the Hollywood nursing home, where more than 10 patients died due to an apparent lack of air conditioning in sweltering conditions, must never be repeated.”

The legislation would bring together top government officials and local disaster relief experts to evaluate ways communities can protect vulnerable seniors during natural disasters.

“Our bill would ensure that proper disaster plans and responses would be in place for nursing homes,” added Ros-Lehtinen.

Senators Nelson and Rubio have offered companion legislation in the Senate.

Deutch chides GOP to hurry up on CHIP extension

Heading into September, Congress knew several things, including raising the debt ceiling, needed to be done by the end of the month. With that issue no longer on the to-do list, the Democrat from Boca Raton reminded his colleagues that reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is still on the menu.

In remarks on the House floor, Deutch points to 375,000 Florida children, an 9 million overall, who depend on the program. With a Saturday deadline looming, he demanded, in highly partisan terms, to take action quickly.

“CHIP expires at the end of this week, but renewing it has taken a back seat to a cruel health bill motivated by a political vendetta and the hope of unlocking billions from campaign mega-donors,” Deutch said. “I hope my colleagues in the majority will waste no time joining me in supporting this vital program.”

The leadership of the Senate Finance Committee, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, previously announced an agreement on a CHIP extension.

Deutch comes up short again in spelling bee

While the Boca Raton Democrat has a way with words, he can also spell all of them. On Tuesday night, he competed in the National Press Club’s Press vs. Politicians Spelling Bee.

Both the press and politicians began with 7-person teams. As the participants dropped away one-by-one, it came down to Deutch against Todd Gillman, the Washington Bureau Chief for The Dallas Morning News.

Ted Deutch has a way with words, competing in the National Press Club’s Press vs. Politicians Spelling Bee.

When Deutch could not come up with the correct spelling for “stela” a stone used as a monument, he left Gillman with the opening he needed to win. When the journalist correctly spelled “somatotype,” a term used to categorize the human physique, Gillman could claim victory and leave Deutch finished as the runner-up for the second straight year.

“I was excited to be the last member of Congress standing,” Deutch said. “But that’s two years in a row, and I’d really like to win this thing. Now that there’s actually a championship belt, I’m going to come back and work twice as hard.”

The event benefited the National Press Club Journalism Institute.

 

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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.