The Delegation for 5.25.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

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Criticism of Trump budget proposal to grow upon his return from overseas

President Donald Trump presented his budget proposal to Congress this week. Like other budgets proposed by his predecessors, the term “dead on arrival” quickly becomes the operative word for those paying attention.

Usually, this event is well covered, especially on the cable news channels. This year, despite eye-popping proposals from the White House, the budget has taken a back seat.

Events in Manchester, England, and the president’s well-received foreign trip have rightfully received higher billing. While Manchester could never be predicted, give the President’s people some credit for dropping this newsmaker while he was overseas with Muslim, Jewish and Catholic leaders.

Trump’s trip to the Middle East produces the irony of high-level diplomacy and a budget proposal that would cut the Department of State by 29 percent. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reportedly seeking a 9 percent cut in the Department workforce.

Other controversial proposals include cuts to Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, 13 percent to the Department of Education and other cuts to farm programs, welfare programs and Medicaid. Winners include substantial increases to the military, border security, public safety and school choice programs.

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney holds up a copy of President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 federal budget as he speaks to members of the media in the Press Briefing Room at the White House. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney describes the proposal as fulfilling “campaign promises the president made.” St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist had a somewhat different description.

“This budget is fiscally irresponsible and morally repugnant,” Crist said in a statement. He spoke for nearly everyone in both parties by saying “it is the Congress that ultimately decides funding priorities.”

This proposal reflects the priorities (and promises) of Trump with numbers attached to them. Many in Congress want to spend more than we already are, while others want to get to a balanced budget.

Trump appears to be deploying the art of the deal with a lowball bid. Republicans in Congress will smile, but not go along with the deep cuts proposed. In the end, they may not go along with any cuts.

Or, Congress may continue with the recent practice of continuing resolutions and not even agree on a budget. The committee hearings should provide excellent opportunities for props and sound bites.

More will be paying attention by then.

The Associated Press broke down Trump‘s $4.1 trillion budget proposal in one handy graph:

Programming note: Just like Florida’s congressional delegation, we occasionally need to take a week off from the hustle and bustle from the beltway. We’re taking next week off to celebrate Memorial Day and recharge before what will likely be a busy few months before the summer recess. We’ll return Thursday, June 8. Until then, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.

Sinkhole opens outside of Mar-a-Lago

The town of Palm Beach reported Monday that a 4-foot by 4-foot sinkhole formed directly in front of Mar-a-Lago.

President Trump spent several weekends at Mar-a-Lago during his first few months in office. And as news of a sinkhole in front of the luxury resort spread, Amy B Wang with The Washington Post reported that metaphors began to pour in. A common theme of the social media feedback, wrote Trevor Nace with Forbes, had to do with how much time and money Trump has spent at Mar-a-Lago. For instance, Peter Stevenson with The Washington Post tweeted: “The swamp is draining?”

Town officials said the sinkhole appeared to be “in the vicinity of the newly installed water main. West Palm Beach Utilities distribution crews secured the area and did exploratory excavation on Monday. The Palm Beach Post reported the hole in front of the club grew to about 10-feet by 6-feet because of the digging.

Delegation members react to extension of Haitian Temporary Protected Status

Members of the Florida delegation are grateful that Haitian refugees have six more months before their Temporary Protected Status (TPS) runs out, but most feel that is not enough time. Following his announcement of the extension, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly advised those Haitians temporarily in the U.S. following the devastating earthquake of 2010 to use the time to “handle their affairs.”

In March, a bipartisan group of South Florida delegation members, as well as both U.S. Senators, wrote to Kelly urging him to extend the deadline, “within all applicable rules and regulations.” A length for the extension was not suggested.

A release announcing the extension said: “Secretary Kelly was particularly encouraged by representations made to him directly by the Haitian government regarding their desire to welcome the safe repatriation of Haitian TPS recipients in the near future.”

Sen. Bill Nelson was among those who signed the March letter urging the Trump administration extend the deadline even further. He called for an 18-month extension.

“There’s just no way that in six months the nation of Haiti could absorb 60,000 of its people back,” Nelson said on the Senate floor.

Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart did not ask for more time. “I thank “President Trump and Secretary Kelly for this TPS extension, and I support the people of Haiti as they continue to rebuild,” he said in a statement.

 “I am pleased that the Administration gave Haitians a temporary six-month extension of TPS rather than abruptly ending the humanitarian measure and throwing thousands of lives in limbo,” said Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch in a statement. “But it’s quite clear that conditions in Haiti won’t improve sufficiently in six months to justify letting TPS expire.”

Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz expressed gratitude for the six months, but called it “woefully short of what is needed.”

“There are still tent cities from the earthquake,” said Miami Gardens Democrat Frederica Wilson.

Delegation focuses on Lake O, Everglades restoration efforts

Senate panel OKs bill to provide Fed help for toxic algae outbreaks — The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved a measure by Sen. Bill Nelson that could open the door to federal assistance for states and local communities hit by toxic algae blooms.

Isadora Rangel with TC Palm reported that, under the proposal, toxic algae blooms could be considered an event of national significance. The bill authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare several algae bloom an event of national significance and determine how much money is needed to help the community address environmental, social and health effects.

It would also set aside $110 million over five years for research how to control algae blooms, like the ones that plagued Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie River last summer.

“Floridians have borne the brunt of recent toxic algae outbreaks, but by law have been unable to qualify for federal help,” said Nelson, in a statement. “Algae blooms are more than just a nuisance — it can be an environmental, economic, and public health nightmare that warrants emergency relief.”

Nelson has long worked to curb the impact of toxic algae blooms. In 2014, he shepherded a law through Congress that authorized $82 million for research to help battle outbreaks.

The 2017 measure now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

Nelson, Rubio, others invite Zinke on Everglades tour — The congressional delegation — led by Sens. Nelson and Marco Rubio — want to take Interior Sectary Ryan Zinke on a tour of the Florida Everglades.

The two senators, along with a bipartisan group of nearly two dozen representatives, sent a letter to Zinke inviting to get a firsthand look at the ongoing efforts to restore the Everglades. In their letter, the group of lawmakers said while they understand Zinke’s schedule is “incredibly busy,” they would be “honored to personally show you the River of Grass.”

“As the newest secretary of the interior, we welcome you to visit a unique treasure, America’s Everglades,” the lawmakers wrote. “As secretary, you serve as chairman of the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force and play a vital role in the effort to restore the balance of water flow and management.”

The letter continues: “The Everglades faces numerous challenges, but with a successful state and federal partnership, we are committed to ensuring future generations are able to enjoy this treasured ecosystem.”

Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Carlos Curbelo, Val Demings, Ron DeSantis, Ted Deutch, Mario Diaz-Balart, Lois Frankel, Matt Gaetz, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Brian Mast, Stephanie Murphy, Bill Posey, Francis Rooney, Tom Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, John Rutherford, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Daniel Webster, Frederica Wilson and Ted Yoho joined Nelson and Rubio in signing the letter.

F. Rooney talks Everglades projects funding — Plans have been approved, but without funding, it’s difficult to move forward.

That’s why Rep. Francis Rooney, a Naples Republican, met with representatives of the Office of Management and Budget last week to discuss funding for Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration projects authorized through the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

“The key to Everglades restoration is the funding and completion of a series of projects authorized in the Water Resource Development Acts (WRDA) of 2007, 2014 and 2016 pursuant to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP), enacted in 2000,” he said in a statement. “Additionally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs funding to complete reinforcement of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee. Florida’s entire Congressional delegation agrees on this issue and we ask that The White House include this important funding in their infrastructure budget, as President Trump promised during his campaign.”

Rooney sent a letter to Trump, signed by every member of the delegation, calling on Trump to support Everglades restoration projects. A member of the Everglades Caucus, Rooney has taken top House officials, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, on tours of the Everglades to stress the need for funding.

Nancy Pelosi travels to South Florida on Friday to support LGBTs, raise cash

The House Minority Leader will be in South Florida on Friday to attend a public event and a private gathering to raise money for Democrats. Along with Pelosi, Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch and Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz are the featured attractions.

On Friday morning, the trio will hold a public event in Wilton Manors to bring attention to discrimination against LGBTs. They will speak of their support for the Equality Act, legislation designed to include LGBT as a protected class.

The event begins at 10:45 a.m. at the Pride Center located at 2040 N. Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors.

Following the public event, Pelosi and her colleagues will head for a luncheon fundraiser at a private home in Ft. Lauderdale. Deutch will serve as host for the fundraiser, which will benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Democrats are targeting the 27th District seat currently held by the retiring Republican from Miami, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in 2018. Also, they are making a strong play to oust Kendall Republican Carlos Curbelo in the 25th District.

The minimum donation, according to the Miami Herald, is $5,000.

Rubio, Yoho sponsor bills to help victims of North Korean regime

Florida’s Republican senator and the Republican congressman from Gainesville have each recently launched proposals on behalf of the internal victims of the brutal regime of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Rubio initiated the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2017. Among other things, the bill uses the work of a United Nations commission that found “grave human rights violations still being perpetrated against the people of North Korea” and calling for international cooperation to helping refugees.

The bill also seeks to provide North Koreans with accurate information about what is happening in their country. It is co-sponsored by Democrats Ben Cardin of Maryland and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, along with Texas Republican Ted Cruz and Colorado Republican Cory Gardner.

“The human rights situation in North Korea is horrific,” Rubio said in a release. “The United States has a moral obligation and diplomatic imperative to prioritize human rights and access to information for the North Korean people, and this bipartisan legislation would do just that.”

Access to information is precise the topic of Yoho’s Distribution and Promotion of Rights and Knowledge Act of 2017. This bill, similar to Rubio’s Senate bill, seeks to increase the use of improved American technology to broadcast truthful information about the rogue regime to North Koreans able to listen.

Yoho, the chairman of the Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has gained the support of both the full committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican and Ranking Member Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, as co-sponsors.

“I applaud Asia Subcommittee Chairman Yoho for introducing this important legislation to support new ways for North Koreans to access this information,” Royce said in a release. “I’ve long said that increased broadcasting into North Korea must be part of any strategy to address the urgent threats from the Kim Jong Un regime.”

Paulson’s Principles: Party Prospects for the 2018 Congressional Elections

It has been decades since Democrats had majority control of the Florida congressional delegation. Democrats, who held only 10 of the 27 seats entering the 2016 election, hoped to narrow the gap with Republicans. They did. They picked up one seat, leaving Republicans with a 16-11 advantage.

A potential problem for Republicans is President Trump. His approval ratings have never been above 50 percent, and they are currently at 40 percent. That is unheard of for a president only four months into his term. Even worse, only 28 percent strongly approve of Trump, while 46 percent strongly disapprove.

The firing of FBI Director James Comey has met with public disapproval out of concern that Trump was attempting to pressure Comey to drop the investigation of fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and that Trump wanted Comey to terminate the investigation of Russian influence in the 2016 election.

Republicans control the White House and the party controlling the White House almost always suffers midterm losses. Those losses are even greater when the president’s popularity is low.

Democrats have an advantage by being more motivated than Republicans. Motivation is a major factor in voter turnout. Democrats currently hold a 6 percent lead in a generic ballot.

In other words, Democrats are more likely to turn out.

Finally, Democrats are also advantaged because Republicans have more seats in play and more seats in jeopardy. Two Republican members of Congress from Florida currently represent Democratic districts.

Republican Carlos Curbelo in District 26 in Miami holds the seat with the largest Democratic advantage in the United States to be won by a Republican. Curbelo’s district has a +6 Democratic advantage.

Neighboring District 27, held by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — who just announced her upcoming retirement — won her district by 10 points even though it has a +5 Democratic advantage. Hillary Clinton defeated Trump by 19 points. Ros-Lehtinen’s departure makes District 27 the most likely Democratic pickup.

Mario Diaz-Balart, in neighboring District 25, easily won re-election in 2016 although the district is only a +4 Republican district. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has made District 25 it’s Number 3 target on its “2018 Republican Retirement Watchlist.” Number 2 on the Watchlist is Vern Buchanan in District 16 in Sarasota and Manatee County.

The two most vulnerable Democratic seats are those won by newcomers in 2016. Charlie Crist defeated Republican David Jolly in District 13, a seat which Republicans have held since 1954.

Crist has raised almost a million dollars for his campaign account, and no serious Republican has emerged to challenge him. Larry Sabato rates the district as “leans Democrat.”

Stephanie Murphy defeated long-term Republican John Mica in District 7, a district evenly split between the parties.

Republican State Sen. David Simmons, who represents much of the district, has said he is “98 percent sure” he will run. Sabato rates it a “leans Democrat” district.

Democrats should pick up Ros-Lehtinen’s seat in District 27 and, if things fall in place, have a great shot at picking up two other Republican seats. A three-seat switch would leave the Democrats with a 14-13 majority in the congressional delegation.

It would be a significant boost to the Democratic Party in fundraising and candidate recruitment.

Gaetz targets invasive species with Reef Assassin Act

The Fort Walton Beach Republican is proposing legislation designed to protect Florida coral reefs and native fish from a carnivorous invasive species. The bill, known as the Reef Assassin Act, provides incentives to those who would help in the effort to rid Florida waters of the menace.

Lionfish, native to Pacific and Indian Ocean region, are now in coastal Florida waters and prey upon species such as red snapper and grouper. They also are known to damage Florida’s iconic coral reefs. The legislation provides that those providing dead Lionfish tails would be given “tags authorizing fishing for coveted reef fish.”

Volunteers show off a lionfish during the FWC’s 2017 Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival in Pensacola last week. (Photo via Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

“By providing red snapper, bay grouper, triggerfish, and amberjack tags to those who kill lionfish, we can use our resources to protect our resources,” Gaetz said in a release.

Gaetz says the lionfish population in the Florida Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico has exploded in the past three decades. Female lionfish can release up to 2 million eggs per year.

“We applaud Congressman Gaetz for his new incentives-based legislation, and for bringing creative solutions and heightened awareness to the lionfish threat,” said Brian Yablonski, Chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The bill already carries broad, bipartisan support within the delegation. Co-sponsors include Democratic Reps. Hastings, Lawson and Soto; along with Republican Reps. Ron DeSantis, Neal Dunn, F. Rooney, T. Rooney, Ros-Lehtinen, Mast Yoho and Rutherford.

House passes Buchanan’s bill to enhance punishment for cop killers

Late last week, the House passed the Thin Blue Line Act, a bill sponsored by the Sarasota Republican. The vote tally was a bipartisan 271-143.

The bill’s primary focus would make the killing of a police officer or first responder an “aggravating” factor when determining the sentence for offenders. The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

“America’s police officers and first responders are the first ones on the scene to help those in harm’s way,” Buchanan said in a statement following passage. “Getting this bill signed into law will protect those who serve our communities and send a clear message: targeting or killing our first responders will not be tolerated.”

Last year, 11 Florida police officers were killed in the line of duty.

Joining Buchanan as co-sponsors of the bill were Florida Republicans Brian Mast of Hutchinson Island, Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Bill Posey of Rockledge. All delegation Republicans voted for the bill except Tom Rooney of Okeechobee and Carlos Curbelo of Kendall. Neither cast a vote.

Most Florida Democrats were among the 48 in their party voting in favor. The only “no” votes came from Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Weston. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens did not cast a vote.

Mast, Curbelo receiving thanks for AHCA vote via mail

Already supported by digital and television ads, constituents of the two South Florida Republicans will soon have “thank you” mailers show up in their mailboxes. The American Action Network (AAN), a conservative group with close ties to Speaker Paul Ryan, will drop mail pieces expressing gratitude for the vote of 24 other Republicans in addition to the two Floridians.

“The AHCA will give families real choice, better coverage, and lower premiums,” said Corry Bliss, Executive Director of the American Action Network, in a release. “AAN will continue to promote the AHCA and thank lawmakers for keeping their promise and fighting for better health care.”

This marks the third different media outreach undertaken by AAN on behalf of Curbelo and Mast, part of a core group of endangered Republicans. Shortly after passage, the group announced television and digital media ads.

The television ads began this week. A smaller radio ad buy did not include the two Floridians. Ryan was one of the very few listed in all four buys.

Deutch backs sunlight on “dark money”

On a media conference call, the Boca Raton Rep. Deutch joined with Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse to promote legislation designed to increase reporting requirements for presidential nominees and high-level appointees. The Conflicts from Political Fundraising Act seeks to enhance current law by requiring nominees to disclose their political contributions or solicitations.

Current law only requires the revelation of personal financial information. The intent of the legislation is to address a concern that nominees and appointees could receive funding from entities they would be called upon to regulate.

“Because of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizen’s United decision, big money has too much influence in our elections,” said Deutch, a co-chair of the Democracy Reform Task Force. “That’s why we need to be certain that presidential nominees aren’t going to put their own political interests above the interests of the American people.

For his part, Whitehouse repeatedly used the term “dark money.” During the confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch, Whitehouse focused a great deal of his time focusing on this issue.

“We ask high-level appointees to disclose their financial relationships, which may have a serious influence on the work they do if confirmed,” Whitehouse said. “We also need to ask about financial relationships, which can be just as thorny.”

Curbelo, Murphy assume leadership roles in millennial-focused caucus

The Congressional Futures Caucus, an arm of the Millennial Action Project, has tapped the Kendall Republican as a co-chair and the Orlando Democrat as a vice-chair. Their new roles were announced at a Tuesday event at Facebook’s Washington office.

The Caucus membership consists of about 25 members who are aged 45 or younger. The group’s mission statement says “These members come together across partisan lines to creatively and pragmatically for nonpartisan common ground on issues facing America’s next generation, such as enhancing American competitiveness and innovation.

Curbelo, 35, will serve with the other caucus co-chair, Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Senema, 40. Joining Murphy, 37, as the other vice-chair is Wisconsin Republican Mike Gallagher, 33.

Mr. Ingoglia goes to Washington

Blaise Ingoglia took a quick jaunt to Washington, D.C. last week, as part of a small delegation of Republican leaders who met with President Donald Trump and Reince Priebus to talk about issues important to their communities.

Ingoglia, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida and a state representative, was one of 10 party leaders from swing states to meet with Trump and Priebus to talk about issues important to their states. The Spring Hill Republican said he was others in attendance included the chairs of the Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Michigan Republican parties.

Rep. Blaise Ingoglia was one of 10 state party chairs invited to the White House last week to meet with President Donald Trump. (White House Photo by Shealah Craighead via Facebook)

“It was a little surreal,” he said of his Oval Office meeting. “If you know the president, he’s very welcoming. He likes to talk; he likes to get feedback. It was a very humbling experience.”

Ingoglia said he talked with Priebus about the temporary protected status for Haitians, which the Trump administration announced Monday it would extend for another six months.

Ingoglia said the president and Priebus asked lots of questions about what the federal government could do to help communities within the state, and Ingoglia said what was impressive is they didn’t care if the issues were Democratic or Republican issues, they just “wanted to reach out to (as many) community leaders as possible.”

Ballard Partners adds third foreign client

Brian Ballard is continuing to grow his reach, inking a deal this week with the government of Turkey.

The firm signed a $1.5 million contract with the Turkish government, which will be represented by former Rep. Robert Wexler, reports Marc Caputo with POLITICO Florida. The new contract comes after Ballard Partners signed agreements with two other international clients, the Dominican Republic and the Socialist Party of Albania, the Balkan nation’s ruling party.

Ballard told POLITICO Florida he was excited about the firm’s “growing international practice” and he looks forward to working “with this important US and NATO ally.”

The new contract could be one of the firm’s most controversial. Earlier this week, The Associated Press reported Turkey summoned the U.S. ambassador in Ankara to protest what it called “aggressive and unprofessional actions” by U.S. security against Turkish bodyguards in Washington during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit.

Florida House intern speaker series kicks off June 8

The Florida House on Capitol Hill’s popular intern seminar series is back.

The annual series is one of the most popular and successful education programs and gives Florida college students a chance to interact and exchange ideas with each other, members of the Sunshine State’s congressional delegation, and business and government leaders.

Rep. Ron DeSantis kicks off the 2017 Florida House Intern Seminar Series on June 8. Other speakers this year include Rep. Stephanie Murphy on June 15, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart on June 22; Rep. Brian Mast on June 29, Rep. Kathy Castor on July 13, Rep. Charlie Crist on July 20, and Rep. Vern Buchanan on July 27. A tour of the U.S. Supreme Court is tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m.

Seminars begin at 8:30 a.m., with a light breakfast served at 8 a.m. The seminars take place at Florida House. Students interested in attending can RSVP to each event at rsvp@floridahousedc.org.

The Florida House on Capitol Hill is the only state embassy in the nation’s capital.

D.C. porta-potty industry booming

The first few months of the Trump administration have been good for the portable toilet business Washington, D.C., reports Perry Stein with The Washington Post. The reason? Increased protests on the Mall mean a greater need for porta-potties.

The National Park Service requires demonstration permit holders provide one portable toilet for every 300 participants, 20 percent of which must be wheelchair-accessible. That means, for example, the Women’s March on Washington needed nearly 600 loos.

The Washington Post reported that portable toilet rental companies said an increase in political advocacy has translated to boom times. The National Park Service has experienced a 30 percent increase in permitted protests compared with this time last year.

“All I’m going to say is that we love the activism. I’ll leave it at that,” Rob Weghorst, the chief operating officer of Virginia-based portable toilet rental company Don’s Johns told The Washington Post. “It’s been good. It’s made for an interesting and lucrative spring.”