The Delegation for 3.3.17 – Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

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Florida is known for its characters, and now it appears a few are heading from one swamp to another.

It’s no secret Floridians played a significant role in getting President Donald Trump elected. The state’s 29 electoral votes gave him an early nudge to victory, and early primary support from Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott helped solidify his GOP credentials.

So now that Trump, a part-time Florida resident himself, has taken up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s only natural some of Florida’s finest are making a move from Adams Street to K Street.

The connection between the Beltway and the Sunshine State has not been this strong in decades. That’s one of the main reasons why we launched “The Delegation.” Here are a dozen Floridians shuttling frequently between

— You can bet Alexander Acosta will be racking up some frequent flier miles in the coming years. The dean of Florida International University College of Law was recently nominated to serve as the Labor Secretary. But as a Miami native, Acosta might have more on his mind than the complexity of labor laws. The average low in Miami in January is 60 degrees. The average low in our nation’s capital? 28 degrees.

Brian Ballard, one of Trump’s moneymen in Florida, announced earlier this month he was opening an office in the nation’s capital. Ballard brought on Dan McFaul, who served as Rep. Jeff Miller’s chief of staff and communications director, and former Ambassador Otto Reich. And Susie Wiles, the Jacksonville-based political guru who ran Trump’s Florida operations, will also be making the trek.

— Dr. Ben Carson will know the flight from Palm Beach to D.C. by heart pretty soon, if he doesn’t already. Even after he indicated he wasn’t qualified to run a federal agency, Trump selected Carson to serve as the head of Housing and Urban Development. But Carson was an early supporter of Trump’s, backing him shortly after he announced he was dropping his own bid for the Republican nomination. And the two men are virtually neighbors, Carson lives in Palm Beach Gardens, just about a half an hour away from Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort. If he ever gets tired of flying commercial, maybe he can private plane-pool with Wilbur Ross, who Trump selected to serve as Commerce Secretary. The 78-year-old part-time Palm Beach County resident is the chairman and chief strategy officer of a private equity firm.

— Former Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee Chair Debbie Cox-Roush is now working with the Trump administration in the Department of Education as a special assistant to Secretary Betsy DeVos. Although her LinkedIn page simply says she is serving in the “education field in Washington D.C.,” Cox was part of a group of Dept. of Education staffers announced in late January. Roush served as the Florida state grassroots director for Trump, and then served on his inauguration committee.

— You’ll also find Marty Fiorentino hanging around Washington, D.C., for the next couple of weeks. He’s working with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. He’s doing some unofficial consulting work for Chao through the transition period. It brings him full circle in his career: He served as a counselor to her when she was deputy secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

— These fellas haven’t been hired yet, but Reps. Joe Gruters and Carlos Trujillo’s names keep popping up every time anyone talks about Floridians taking jobs in the Trump administration. Another name that keeps cropping up? Former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

— After years of being the butt of the joke, Jesse Panuccio may have the last laugh. The former head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and an attorney at Foley & Lardner reportedly accepted a position with the Trump administration in the Department of Justice. Panuccio is expected to become the Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General.

— And you can bet, Gov. Scott will be spending a heck of a lot more time in D.C. in the coming months. The Republican Governor’s Association announced Friday the Naples Republican was elected to serve as the organization’s vice chairman for the remainder of 2017, replacing former Gov. Nikki Haley, who was appointed to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. The appointment also comes as Scott is rumored to be eyeing a 2018 U.S. Senate run of his own.

#FloridaMan confirmed — The Senate voted 72 to 27 to confirm Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, as commerce secretary Monday. The former banker and investor earned billions of dollars has been dubbed the “king of bankruptcy” because of leveraged buyouts of companies in the steel, coal, textile and banking industry.

The 78-year-old was Trump’s chief adviser on trade policy during the campaign, and was the vice chairman of the 2016 Trump Victory Leadership Team. He’ll play a key role as the president tries to renegotiate NAFTA and attempts to reduce the trade deficit with China.

A Palm Beach County resident, Ross has a home on the Intracoastal Waterway. In November, the Palm Beach Post reported the home, which had a market value of $23 million in Palm Beach County property tax rolls, is located about a mile away from Trump’s second home at Mar-a-Lago.

And on Thursday, the Senate voted 58-41 to confirm Dr. Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Nelson receiving plenty of input on Grouch confirmation – Florida’s Democratic U.S. Senator is getting plenty of advice on whether to confirm U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch. Between now and March 20, the date of the confirmation hearing, Nelson will hear plenty from both sides. Nelson has stated he has not made up his mind.

This week the conservative-leaning Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) announced a direct mail campaign urging Nelson to support Grouch. “CVA will continue mobilizing our activists to push Senator Nelson to support Neil Gorsuch until the moment Gorsuch is confirmed to the bench,” said the group’s Florida Coalitions Director Diego Echeverri.

On the other side, Democratic State Rep. Shevrin Jones weighed in with an op-ed column in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Jones strongly urges a “no” vote on the nominee. Gorsuch’s “record shows someone who puts his ideological agenda above the Constitution, and wealthy corporate interests above ordinary Americans,” he wrote. “I urge Sen. Bill Nelson to take a stand and defeat this nominee.”

Rick Scott goes to Washington — Gov. Scott fled the Sunshine State this week, spending several days in Washington D.C., where he met with members of the Florida congressional delegation and the Trump administration. Along the way, the Naples Republican found time snag the title of vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association and hang out with the president.

Scott’s whirlwind trip to the nation’s capital kicked off Friday, with a luncheon with Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence, according to his official calendar. That same day, Scott was elected as the vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association for the remainder of 2017, replacing former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

On Saturday, Scott met with the president to talk about the Obamacare. The Palm Beach Post reported he and Gov. Scott Walker had lunch with the president, saying the White House called it a “working lunch.” That same night, Benny Johnson of the Independent Journal Review spotted Scott dining with the president at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

There was no rest for this Florida man on Sunday. According to his official calendar, Scott had a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, before attending the White House Governors Ball on Sunday evening. His official schedule showed another full on Monday, when Scott was had meetings with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

But nothing compares to Tuesday, his final day in Washington, when Scott had back-to-back-to-back meetings with members of the Trump administration, members of the congressional delegation and several interviews with the media.

According to Scott’s schedule, the Governor did an interview with FOX News around 10:10 a.m., before meeting with Rep. Gus Bilirakis around 11 a.m. Scott met with Rep. John Rutherford around 12:30 p.m., before a meeting with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart around 1:10 p.m. He squeezed in an interview with the Washington Examiner — yes, his second interview of the day — around 2 p.m., before jetting over to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to chat with HHS Secretary Tom Price. After that was a chat with Martin Lousteu, the ambassador of Argentina; before a meeting with Diane Black, the chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee.

And if you’re the Republican Governor of the third largest state in the country and a pal of the president, there’s only one way to end a trip to Washington, D.C.:  Attend a joint session of Congress.

Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price met with Gov. Rick Scott in Washington about devising “a health care system that works better for” Floridians.

Look who else was in D.C. this week:

Trump pivot gives GOP what it wants, but will it last — Trump finally gave Republicans what they’ve spent months begging him to deliver: a pivot to presidential.

The question now is how long it lasts. Days, weeks, months — or simply until the next tweet?

Just a little more than a month into his presidency, Trump clearly wanted to use his first speech to Congress to reset a chaotic start to his administration.

 Gone was the dark tone that marked his inaugural address, replaced by optimism and pleas for bipartisan support. Standing before lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and military leaders on Tuesday night, the famously unrestrained politician was softer, sober and verged on diplomatic.

“I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart,” he said, in the opening of his hourlong speech.

But while his prime-time address wrapped his nationalistic politics in more presidential prose, it’s unlikely to overcome the deep divides created by his first few weeks in office.

— “The 12 things that mattered in Trump’s speech” via Jonathan Swan of Axios

The Delegation reax:

Marco Rubio: “I’m more excited than ever about serving in the Senate at this moment in our nation’s history and the opportunity to improve the lives of all Americans.”

Stephanie Murphy: “I continue to be concerned about the President’s undisciplined approach to national security, which undermines rather than enhances our safety.”

Daniel Webster: “The President is right, Obamacare is imploding.”

Gus Bilirakis: “One message was clear: We can keep our promises and do right by the American people if we work together.”

Brian Mast: “I know as well as any that our enemies in the Middle East literally want to destroy our way of life.”

Tom Rooney: “I am optimistic about this important opportunity for Republicans to prove to the American people that they come first and we can get the job done.”

Ted Deutch: “President Trump’s speech was as predictable as it was disturbing.”

Mario Diaz-Balart: “It is extremely disappointing that many from both the left and right extremes are quick to criticize the President’s willingness to work with Congress to fix our immigration system.”

Trump to appeal $5.7 million loss in Florida golf club case via Susanna Nesmith of Bloomberg – Trump National Golf Club Jupiter filed notice that it wants a higher court to review a federal judge’s ruling a month ago that the club breached the former members’ contract by denying them access and failing to refund their deposits within 30 days. The judge also directed the club to pay $925,010 in interest.

Trump, who has bragged about his success in courts in posts on Twitter, is still embroiled in lawsuits that predate his election victory in November. Since becoming president he’s become the target of additional cases over his executive orders on immigration and sanctuary cities.

“We’re confident that we’ll prevail on appeal and protect the judgment,” said Seth Lehrman, attorney for the former club members.

Days until the 2018 election: 614.

Trump, Scott, Marco Rubio expected at GOP donor weekend in Palm Beach via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post – A few hundred people are expected at the Republican National Committee event at the Four Seasons. Trump, who will be spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago Club, is slated to speak at a dinner. Scott will speak to a Saturday lunch and Rubio to a dinner Saturday.

Delegation battling against Medicare fraud program — Sens. Bill Nelson and  Rubio are spearheading a bipartisan effort to keep the Medicare pre-claim demonstration project from coming to Florida, reports Christine Sexton of POLITICO.

“Home health is a critical service for our constituents and the approximately 3.5 million seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare. It plays a vital role in treating patients in a clinically appropriate manner and the location they most prefer — their own home,” write Rubio and Nelson in their letter sent Monday. “These patients are among the most vulnerable. They are typically older of lower socioeconomic status, and more likely to be disabled, a minority, or female than all other Medicare populations.”

In addition to the two senators, all Florida representatives except Reps. Matt Gaetz and Lois Frankel signed on to the letter.

Rubio meets with six state lawmakers in Washington — Senate President Joe Negron, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano and Reps. Michael BilecaJose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo, all Republicans, met with Rubio to discuss health care reform, water and flood insurance.

“I’ve known several of these state legislators for many years and even served with several of them in Florida, and our meeting was intended to strengthen the partnership between Congress and the Florida legislature as they head into the legislative session, where they will be tackling a number of issues that have a federal nexus,” he said.

“Repealing and replacing Obamacare was a top priority” among the issues discussed, followed by funding for the Central Everglades Planning Project and a long-term solution for the state’s flood insurance woes.

Rubio says he wants more details from Jeff Sessions on Russia meetings via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Rubio … wants to speak directly to Attorney General Sessions to ask about Sessions’ two meetings last year with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., a revelation made late Wednesday by The Washington Post.

Sessions did not disclose the encounters during his subsequent Senate confirmation hearings and says he didn’t meet with the Russians — who are suspected of meddling with the presidential election — over the campaign.

“I need to learn more beyond the media reports,” Rubio told NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

Democrats call for Republicans to demand Sessions’ resignation – “Attorney General Sessions lied under oath to Congress and the American people about his contact with the Russian Government during the campaign,” said DCCC spokesperson Meredith Kelly. “That’s perjury, that’s wrong, and Representatives Mast, Diaz-Balart, Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen should demand his resignation.”

Delegation’ers calling for Sessions’ resignation:

Charlie Crist: “As the former Attorney General of Florida, I find Attorney General Sessions’ actions inexcusable, and call for his immediate resignation.”

Kathy Castor: “Lying to a congressional committee while you are under sworn oath is illegal.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions should resign and at the very least must recuse himself from the investigation into illegal collusion between Vladimir Putin, the Russian government and the Trump Campaign.”

Brian Mast gets close to calling for him to step down: “Jeff Sessions needs to immediately clarify his Senate testimony and recuse himself from any investigation into Russian ties.  If he cannot commit to ensuring this process is completed with full transparency and integrity, he should resign.  The American people are demanding integrity, they are demanding answers and they deserve an unbiased investigation into the facts.”

Rubio kicked out of Tampa office because of protesters via The Associated Press — Rubio is looking for a new office location in Tampa after the owner of his current space decided not to renew his lease because of constant disruptions from protesters.

The owner of the nine-story Bridgeport Center notified Rubio’s staff Feb. 1 that it would not renew its lease.

Jude Williams, president of America’s Capital Partners, says rallies outside the building have become too disruptive to the other tenants and a costly expense for the company. Rubio’s annual lease expired in December. He had been renting month-to-month since then, and negotiations for a new agreement fell apart.

Happening Monday:

Tweet, tweet:

Delegation’ers address No Labels conference – On Thursday Carlos CurbeloCrist and Darren Soto took part in the No Labels Problem Solvers Conference in Washington. All three briefly spoke to the assembled group with a message consistent with the conference theme of “Fix Not Fight.”

The event, with 800 registrants from all 50 states, was scheduled to take place on the Capitol steps, but a “snafu” relegated the gathering to an open field near the Capitol. Bullhorns replaced microphones.

“This WAS the silent majority,” Curbelo told the assembled crowd, “but it is going to become the active, loud present majority that tells every member of Congress that we want Congress to work for the American people.”

“In the first couple of weeks we have worked to do our best to solve real problems,” said Soto, offering an example of a bipartisan bill “to take on Zika, which has ravaged the state of Florida and we appreciate your support.”

“You hear the things they talk about and the things they don’t talk about,” Crist said pointing toward the Capitol. “We have to work together for the betterment of all of us.”

Gaetz praises early learning group from House floor — Freshman Republican Rep. Gaetz praised the Thirty Million Words Initiative from the House floor last week.

“This unique partnership between our community leaders and parents of our future generation will garner a secure foundation for our children to bring stronger education and allow limitless possibilities,” Gaetz said.

Thirty Million Words is a collaborative effort by researchers from the University of Chicago and Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute that aims to educate parents of children born at Sacred Heart Hospital, Baptist Hospital and West Florida Hospital on the best practices of speech and engagement during the crucial learning stage of 0 to 3-years-old.

Gaetz said in a news release that “Northwest Florida is home to some of the brightest innovators such as Quint Studer of the Studer Community Institute.  Their commitment to our community and our future generations is highly admirable.”

Yoho issues congressional call to action in op-ed — The CD 3 Republican penned an Op-Ed deriding the U.S. Court of Appeals for upholding the restraining order on President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

The third-term congressman said the judges must have “bought into the hysteria that the executive order is a ‘Muslim ban’” despite “the words ‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam,’ or even ‘Christian’ or ‘Yazidi’” being written in the order. Yoho argues that when the judiciary oversteps its bounds, as he says it did in this case, that Congress has to act.

“Right now, we are faced with a judiciary that is endangering our country’s national security, and Congress cannot sit idly by and wait for the matter to be resolved by the Supreme Court,” he wrote. “Frankly, it’s not their job — it is the job of the political branches.”

DeSantis sees political risk unless Republicans repeal and replace ACA via Michael Moline of Florida Politics — DeSantis warned that his fellow Republicans would take a political risk in failing to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and settle for tweaks to the health insurance expansion.

“The system’s architecture is flawed,” the Northwest Florida Republican said during an interview on MSNBC.

“I don’t agree with Obamacare, but I just don’t think that’s going to lead to putting a downward pressure on costs,” DeSantis said. “To the extent you’re doing something that’s not really living up to what you promised, I think that runs into problems with the voters. Because Republicans would not have taken the House in 2010 and they would not have taken the U.S. Senate in 2014 if they had just run on minor tweaks to Obamacare.”

Posey, Mast form Congressional Estuary Caucus via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — The caucus has pulled in at least 23 members so far including Democratic U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Bilirakis …  Democratic U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen of Washington and Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon and Republican Frank LoBiando of New Jersey are organizing the caucus, all of whom have troubled ocean estuaries in their districts.

Posey has been pushing for help for Indian River Lagoon for years, until recently with the cosponsorships of Democratic then-U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

“Our Lagoon is important to our quality of life, our local economies, tourism, our natural beauty, and provides a critical habitat to many indigenous species of wildlife and plant life,” Posey stated … “This new caucus will help promote and protect our nation’s estuaries like the Indian River Lagoon by giving our communities a platform in Washington to educate our leaders on the important role that our estuaries play.”

Emily’s List already backing Murphy for re-election – A group that raises money to support pro-choice Democratic women candidates wasted no time in endorsing freshman Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy for re-election in 2018.

“Since Day One in office, Representative Stephanie Murphy has been a tireless advocate for women and families in Florida,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List.

Schriock added Murphy was a “true champion for American values,” and pointed to her opposition to President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration. Schriock was also on board for Murphy’s expanding education opportunities and her pro-choice stance on abortion.

“America’s greatness is not an abstract concept to me,” Murphy said in a statement accompanying the endorsement I didn’t discover it from words on a page or lyrics in an anthem. My patriotism is the product of a life lesson instilled by U.S. service members who showed grace to desperate strangers at a time when they needed it most.”

Bilirakis hosts roundtable – The Republican held the meeting in Tarpon Springs Feb. 25 with local doctors, patient advocates, and health care industry experts.

The meeting focused on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, and the group discussed priorities including lowering costs for patients, opening insurance markets across state lines and strengthening preventive care.

Gus Bilirakis hosted a roundtable in Tarpon Springs with doctors, patient advocates, and health care experts on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act.

“I’m grateful for their input, and I look forward to returning to work in Washington packed with the ideas and suggestions of Florida’s 12th District,” Bilirakis said after the meeting.

The roundtable follows three public listening sessions held by the congressman, which saw hundreds of frustrated constituents hound Bilirakis over Congressional Republican’s plan to repeal and replace the ACA.

Crist seeks delegation action on flood insurance — The Pinellas Democrat is talking flood insurance among his colleagues in the Florida Congressional Delegation. He has written to Vern Buchanan and Alcee Hastings, co-chairs of the delegation, requesting the “reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program” soon be a featured item at a delegation meeting.

Along with the usual risks of damage to homes and business from flooding in Florida, Crist pointed out the need to act “made all the more pressing by the threat of climate change and sea level rise.”

The ultimate goal, wrote Crist, is to find “ways we can collaborate to guarantee the final product is affordable, sustainable, and thus a win for all Floridians.”

Tweet, tweet:

Crist hosting first town hall Saturday — The freshman will hold a two-hour town hall meeting at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg Student Center on Saturday starting at 10 a.m.

“My number one job is to be the voice of the people — hearing from my neighbors on issues of concern, advocating for the needs of our community, and providing updates on my work on behalf of Florida’s 13th district,” the former Florida governor said.  “My constituents are my boss, and this town hall will be an open forum for Pinellas residents to share their views and priorities so I can better serve them in Washington.”

Castor chooses ACA success story as Trump address guest —  Like many of her Democratic colleagues, Tampa’s Castor chose a woman who says her life has been improved for the better because of the Affordable Care Act as her guest for Trump’s joint address to Congress … Kathy Powers, a 60-year old single parent who works two jobs and attends the University of South Florida.

Castor met Powers back in January when she initially told her story of how she was hospitalized for chest pains back in December and had to go to Tampa Community Hospital for a series of tests, where her doctors ultimately realized that she was OK. What wasn’t OK was the bill, which Powers claims were $70,000. With subsidies from the ACA, her share came out to less than $200.

“I met Kathy here over a month ago when we had a day of action to save health care, and I was quite taken aback that we had hundreds and hundreds of people here from Tampa Family health center, who just to speak up and tell their story,” Castor said. “Kathy took the mic and told her story; I told her to tell it again, and tell it to a national audience.”

Happening this weekend – Ross to host U.S. Service Academy Information Day — The Republican will host an event Saturday to educate CD 15 high school students on the appointment process to U.S. armed forces academies.

The event will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Trinkle Center at the Hillsborough Community College, Plant City Campus, with the following schools in attendance: U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and Florida Southern College Army ROTC.

Buchanan returns from visit to Middle East — Republican U.S. Rep. Buchanan returned Monday from a tour of the Middle East, where he met with top military leaders as well as members of the armed forces from Florida.

“These patriots put their lives on the line, leaving their families and friends for months on end to fight for freedom,” Buchanan said. “It was a privilege to meet service members from Florida and witness firsthand their love of country.”

Buchanan went to Israel, Afghanistan and several African countries during the trip and met with Michael Oren, an adviser to the Israeli prime minister for foreign affairs and former Israeli ambassador to the United States, to talk about strengthening the U.S.-Israeli alliance.

Vern Buchanan talks with Michael Oren (second from right).

In Afghanistan, Buchanan was given an overview of Afghan security and the status of counterterrorism efforts and met with Army Gen. John Nicholson, who oversees operations in the country.

During the African leg of the trip, Buchanan met with President Patrice Talon of Benin and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.

Mast hosts 4-hour town hall — The freshman Republican hosted a four-hour town hall meeting on veterans’ issues Feb. 24.

The event was originally scheduled to last an hour and a half, but more than 400 people turned up and the South Florida Republican rescheduled this afternoon to hear from each constituent who wanted to speak.

“We may not always agree on every issue, but it’s critical to listen to each other and hear all sides of an issue,” Mast said. “I stayed for four hours today so that everyone who wanted an opportunity to ask a question had an opportunity to have their voice heard.  I strongly believe that there is far more that we can agree on than we disagree on.”

His office also noted that Mast has responded to more than 3,000 questions sent to his office since he was sworn in January.

F. Rooney’s staff screens questions for call-in town hall discussion via Alexandra Glorioso of the Naples Daily News — Rooney, criticized by some constituents for not planning in-person town halls, held a well-structured, orchestrated call-in session with Southwest Florida residents that aides called a success.

The number of constituents joining the call could not be determined independently, but Rooney spokesman Chris Berardi said about 15,000 people were on the call.

But only a select few questions, screened by Rooney’s staff, were addressed during the call, which lasted about an hour. “How many times can you tell someone about Obamacare?” Berardi said. “You can’t answer the question more than once.”

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F. Rooney holding town halls today — The freshman lawmaker is scheduled to host two town halls in Southwest Florida on March 3, after the Naples Republican took some heat for not holding open town hall-style meeting. Rooney is due to hold a meeting at noon at the North Collier Regional Park in Naples, before traveling to Cape Coral for a second meeting at 6 p.m. at the First Baptist Church.

“I am looking forward to a civil and constructive dialogue with our Southwest Florida community and hearing your thoughts, concerns, and suggestions,” he said in a statement earlier in the week. “Our Nation is always at its best when we work together to find solutions to our challenges. The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants every U.S. citizen the right to freedom of speech.”

Rooney was criticized for initially choosing to hold a tele-town hall, instead of a traditional town hall meeting during district workweek last week. Rooney was in Tallahassee, where he testified before a state House committee on the federal response to Everglades restoration.

Deutch, Ros-Lehtinen help relaunch task force combating wave of anti-Semitism — With the recent rise in anti-Semitic-inspired crimes, Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen have joined with a bipartisan group of colleagues bringing awareness and possible responses to the surge. They are coming together to relaunch the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism in Congress.

More than 90 threats and acts of vandalism have been made across the country since January, prompting the lawmakers to come together. Florida has seen an uptick in bomb scares and vandalism as well.

Both Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen were founding members and co-chairs of the task force when it was launched two years ago. They will again serve in that role in this Congress.

“At home and abroad, we continue to witness anti-Semitism that is both dangerous and complex,” the members said in a joint statement. “We look forward to working with our colleagues in Congress to find innovative solutions that match the 21st-century face of this ancient bigotry.”

Florida ‘crossover’ congressional districts give Democrats glimmer of hope in 2018 via Florida Politics — Sabato’s Crystal Ball … gives a rundown of the 2016 cycle’s “crossover” congressional seats — districts that voted for one party on the congressional level, and another for president. There were 26 such seats in the 2012 cycle, and 2016 saw an increase to 35.

A dozen of the crossover seats sent a Democrat to Congress and backed Trump for president, while the remainder, including Florida’s 26th and 27th Congressional Districts, voted a Republican into Congress while backing Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Despite the jump in crossover seats … the Clinton versus Trump election may not be an “accurate gauge” of these seats true partisan leans, and says most of the districts are “more competitive on paper than in practice.”

House Democrats tap new aide for ‘toughest job in Congress’ via Sarah Ferris of POLITICO — Shalanda Young, a 10-year veteran of the House Appropriations Committee, moves into her new role as the panel’s Democratic staff director following the retirement of David Pomerantz.

Young n ground with Republicans, particularly on the programs they helped create: “It’s easy to rail against spending until you realize that’s the Head Start center where your kid goes. That’s the art program your kid gets to go to … It’s a lot different when people see what those cuts mean.”

Young, who has a master’s degree in health from Tulane University, said she never expected to spend her career on federal appropriations, let alone become a self-described “storm-chaser.”

Florida delegation staffers implicated in IT investigation – A potential blockbuster investigation is quietly underway on Capitol Hill involving employees of Florida’s Congressional Delegation. According to Buzzfeed News, the investigation of five House information technology (IT) employees began in early February after officials were alerted to improprieties.

The U.S. Capitol Police began an investigation into possible theft of equipment and unauthorized access to House IT systems without lawmakers’ knowledge. Politico later reported that five individuals were “under criminal investigation” and immediately stripped of their access to House networks.

The subjects of the investigation worked more than 20 Congressional Democrats including Ted DeutchDebbie Wasserman SchultzFrederica Wilson, and Lois Frankel as well as former Representatives Patrick Murphy and Gwen Graham.

The Daily Caller reported the “rogue congressional staffers also took $100,000 from an Iraqi politician” while they had access to the House systems.  Some of the targets no longer work for members, while at least one still serves in an advisory capacity.

Some of the staffers have been fired by a few legislators, but the Florida members have only confirmed that one of those implicated, Imran Awan, no longer works for that member (Deutch). None of the current or former legislators are under any investigation, nor are they suspected of any wrongdoing.

The Delegation Interview with Syl Lukis, Ballard Partners proconsul in D.C.

FP: Why did Ballard Partners decide to open an office in Washington, D.C. now?

SL: Ballard Partners decided to open an office in DC primarily because after President Trump won the presidency, we were overwhelmed with requests by current Florida clients with issues in DC to help them there. We were not asked to take over their operations in DC; rather, simply to enhance their lobbying teams there. Many if not most of our Florida clients lacked DC relationships with the Trump campaign. Brian, on the other hand, did. Our clients knew well that he was the President’s longtime lobbyist in FL, his FL finance chairman, and a co-chairman of President Trump’s inaugural committee. The phone started ringing November 9.

FP: What challenges do you think the firm faces as it grows and expands in the nation’s capital?

SL: The challenges that Ballard Partners face in DC are similar in nature to any new business venture: finding the professionals who can ensure a successful enterprise. I believe that we are successful in Florida because our team is substantive, knowledgeable about officials serving in government and experienced in government relations. We are not totally there yet in DC. And we clearly don’t want to be seen as the “Beverly Hillbillies” coming from FL to take over the Nation’s Capitol.

Accordingly, the challenge is to learn our way around the place and not be so bold as to think that we can be all things to all clients. We are a boutique firm primarily providing services to our clients in need of assistance in getting through red tape in the new Trump Administration. Thus, given Brian’s somewhat unique and historic position with the Trump organization and our partner Susie Wiles’ position as the FL campaign manager, our firm is familiar personally and professionally with a significant number of the individuals who will be working in the Trump administration, including several members of the cabinet and their senior staff. Therefore, our focus, at least initially, will be on assisting clients with executive branch matters. Our challenge as we grow is to institutionalize our firm in DC as we are in FL with the capability to provide a full set of legislative and executive services.

FP: When it comes to federal issues, where do you think Ballard Partners can make the biggest impact?

SL: As noted, our biggest impact on behalf of our clients will be with the executive branch. Although we have hired an experienced and well known and respected former Staff Chief to former FL Congressman Jeff Miller, Dan McFaul, our focus remains the administration. Dan was on the Defense transition team and is intimately knowledgeable about those and Veterans issues. He provides the firm with a unique skill set and will be of tremendous help with those agencies. As we grow, Dan will also be a tremendous asset to clients in need of legislative services.

FP: You’ve spent more than two decades representing Florida interests in D.C. How has the influence industry changed over the years, and what impact will the Trump administration have on the industry going forward?

SL: I spent 23 years in DC in my first incarnation there as a lobbyist and lawyer primarily representing South Florida communities. I never liked the word “influence” and always preferred “input”. I saw my role as trying to provide input into government decisions by providing detailed information about the client’s issues and desires. Typically, government workers do not have time to understand the nuances of client issues coming before them. To that extent, I do not believe that things will change that much in the Trump administration. While our firm is new there and has the good fortune of having been on the Trump team and thus may have an advantage in the early stages of his tenure, the established firms in DC will eventually find their sea legs and find their way in the new administration. The lobbying corps there are consummate professionals and exist to advocate on behalf of their clients — as they do in Tallahassee and elsewhere.

Florida House looking for summer interns — Florida’s embassy in the United States capital is now accepting applications for summer interns.

The Florida House on Capitol Hill, the only state embassy in the nation’s capital, offers internship programs for Floridians who are juniors and seniors in college. Interns get to spend six to eight weeks working at Florida House, and one day each week shadowing a Florida congressional office. Students receive a $1,000 stipend for six weeks of their time to help offset the costs associated with living in Washington, D.C.

Interested students are asked to complete an application, and send it — as well as a cover letter, resume, and one or two references — to jordan.pic@floridaembassy.com, with “Intern Application” in the subject line. Applications for the summer program are due April 1.

Florida Seaports meet with Delegation in D.C. – Representatives from seven Florida seaports made a trip to Washington, DC, to meet with the the Delegation and push seaport infrastructure improvements, security policies and freight development to the front of lawmakers’ minds.

“Florida continues to be key player in the global marketplace – there isn’t a type of cargo our seaports can’t handle,” Florida Ports Council Chairman and Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson said. “The importance of continued support of seaport infrastructure at the federal level is crucial to maintaining this momentum.”

Port Canaveral, Port Everglades, JAXPORT, PortMiami, Port Panama City, Port of Pensacola, and Port Tampa Bay each sent a representative to the meetings and were joined by Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and Florida Department of Transportation officials.

The group met with Reps. Rutherford, Webster, Mario Diaz-Balart, Dunn, and T. Rooney, and Sens. Nelson and Rubio.

Florida attorney Jordan Blumenthal goes to Becker & Poliakoff – The South Florida-based law firm hired Blumenthal for its Government Law and Lobbying Practice Group in the Washington, D.C. office. He was the senior legislative assistant and counsel to former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Democrat who represented the Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

“We are pleased to welcome Jordan to our firm as part of our ongoing commitment to align our firm with the industry’s top professionals and meet a growing demand for our counsel in Washington,” said Gary C. Rosen, managing shareholder of the firm.

Blumenthal focuses his practice on federal lobbying, but also has experience in Florida politics.

SpottedChristopher Ruddy, a West Palm Beach resident and CEO of Newsmax, in the Oval Office on the day after President Trump’s joint address to Congress. Ruddy tweeted the president said “Many tell me best speech I ever gave.”

Spotted: Matthew Ubben, the executive director of the Florida Transportation Commission, at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Washington Briefing luncheon featuring Transportation Secretary Chao.

Spotted: Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman, Chair Sam Seevers (former mayor of Destin) and external affairs director Erin VanSickle in D.C. this week. Spellman also serves as Chair of America’s Service Commissions (ASC), based in DC.

Holland & Knight brings aboard Wifredo Ferrer — H&K announced Wednesday that they would bring on U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo Ferrer as the new head of the Global Compliance and Investigations Team.

“Willy Ferrer is one of the most respected government officials in South Florida. He has an impeccable reputation in our profession,” said Steven Sonberg, managing partner of Holland & Knight. “We are proud that he has chosen to continue his remarkable career at Holland & Knight.”

Ferrer announced last month that he would step down as U.S. Attorney on March 3, a standard move after the White House changes political parties.

The firm said Ferrer will focus on international and domestic investigations for corporate clients, including Foreign Corrupt Practices Act matters and will also use his background in health care and financial services regulation to advise companies on compliance with federal and state laws.

Cherry blossom peak bloom this year could be the earliest on record via Perry Stein of The Washington Post — A mild winter means cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin could reach peak bloom in record fashion. Organizers of the National Cherry Blossom Festival announced the blossoms are expected to hit peak bloom between March 14 and March 17. As a result of the early bloom, the monthlong festival will begin March 15, five days earlier than planned. The festival will run through April 16.

Cherry blossoms are seen on a tree in front of the Washington Monument.

The earliest peak bloom in the city is March 15, recorded in 1990, according to National Park Service records. In 2014 and 2015, peak bloom occurred April 10 — the latest the city had seen in a decade.

“Peak bloom” refers to the point when 70 percent of the cherry blossoms along the Tidal Basin are in bloom.

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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.