Even the latest tragedy cannot bring Americans closer together
The schism between Americans grew a bit wider over the weekend. A white supremacist fueled by hate tried to kill a group supporting the removal of Confederate statues. Sadly, he managed to end the life of one victim.
In an act that should unite our elected officials and all fair-minded Americans, it actually took us further apart. President Trump condemned the action Saturday, but when he talked about acts of violence “from many sides,” an avalanche of criticism came his way from Democrats, the media and even from some elected Republicans.
An act of terror driven by hate, which Charlottesville was, should be a rallying point. Not in this atmosphere.
Florida Democrats were more measured in their responses, for the most part than some of their colleagues from around the country. Following Trump’s explicit statement Monday, Kathy Castor of Tampa said on Facebook “The president finally denounced the KKK, white supremacists, and neo-Nazi organizations by name today after their hate-filled weekend rallies in Charlottesville. Democrats and Republicans alike urged the president to speak out.”
Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said, “The racially terrorizing violence playing out in Charlottesville must be clearly and forcefully denounced.”
Retweeting The New York Times’ account of Trump’s Monday statement, Frederica Wilson of Miami Lakes simply offered: “Seriously?” Perhaps he didn’t go far enough?
Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen tweeted “White supremacists, neo-Nazis and anti-Semites are the antitheses of our American values. There are no other “sides” to hatred and bigotry.”
Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz took to Twitter to offer “The events in #Charlottesville are deeply troubling. Violence against our fellow Americans is never an appropriate political tactic.”
Al Lawson of Tallahassee offered a statement that could be used to build bridges if anyone was interested in creating them.
“No good comes from senseless bloodshed, and we cannot let hate thrive and further divide us,” Lawson said. “We must strive harder to truly be that one nation under God, indivisible and with liberty and justice for all.”
That says it all.
Meanwhile, here are this week’s insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State.
Nelson ready to campaign on Affordable Care Act
The three-term Democrat is willing to convince voters why he should be given a fourth. Last week Nelson visited 7 Panhandle cities on a campaign tour that finished in Tallahassee. He heard a great deal about the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“No matter where I was, people were coming up to me and saying ‘thank you for standing up for us,’” Nelson said, referencing his vote against Republican attempts to repeal the ACA.
The 74-year-old Nelson is Florida’s lone statewide elected official and believes the health care issue will play a significant role in giving him another six years in the Senate. Among his likely opponents is Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who strongly hopes to see the ACA repealed. Nelson is all-in to preserve it and is happy to run on it.
“Of course — it is the law,” he told reporters at a news conference at the Tallahassee International Airport. “I want the law to work. And it’s been working; 24 million people have health insurance that never had it before.
“But it needs some fixing,” he added. One of those fixes is putting money back in to help people afford co-pays, Nelson said.
Democrats are counting on Nelson to hold his seat. Of the 34 seats up for election next year, Democrats are defending 25 of those. Nelson’s seat is considered by some analysts to be in play.
Confidence is not in short supply when it comes to Nelson. He was asked about what will be his toughest race.
“I know how to campaign,” he said. “Let’s leave it at that.”
Nelson vows to keep oil drilling moratorium
While the U.S. Senate is officially in recess, the Democratic Senator brought a bit of Washington D.C. to St. Petersburg.
On the USF St. Petersburg campus Thursday, Nelson hosted a meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which focused on the threats to the state’s tourism-driven economy.
Last year, Florida attracted 112 million visitors, generating $108 billion for the state’s economy and supporting 1.4 million jobs. But that dependence on the tourism industry means any problems (man-made or through nature) could impact that cash cow for the state’s future economy. Nelson was joined by, among others, Democrats Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist.
Nelson boasted about sponsoring the 2006 bill with then-GOP Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, calling for an oil drilling ban off much of the state’s Gulf Coast through most of 2022. That translates into a no-drilling zone through June 30, 2022, extending 125 miles off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast, reaching as far as 235 miles at some points in the eastern Gulf.
Nelson wants that ban to continue until 2027, but says it’s “vigorously opposed by the oil industry.”
Trump and Rubio BFFs?
The current relationship between Florida’s junior senator and President Trump has evolved from the 2016 campaign for the White House. The pair should not be described as BFFs, but “chummy” is the better term, notes the USA Today.
It might seem odd that Rubio has found fellowship with someone he once called a “con man” and traded raunchy insults with on the campaign trail last year. Trump dubbed Rubio as “Little Marco” and accused him of having a sweating problem.
Rubio now says Trump has “a chance to go down as the Everglades president.” To some Floridians, that would leave “a great legacy.”
They are nearly in lock step in the country’s policy toward Venezuela. Trump’s policy on Cuba, announced in Miami two months ago, has Rubio’s fingerprints (and those of Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart), on it.
“If I have an opportunity to influence the administration’s policy in a positive direction, I’m going to seek to do that,” he told the USA Today.
During the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rubio provided the most memorable moment for those supporting Trump. While much of the testimony centered on information acquired through leaks, Rubio asked Comey this question:
“Ever wonder why of all the things in this investigation, the only thing that’s never been leaked is the fact that the president was not personally under investigation despite the fact that both Democrats and Republicans in the leadership of Congress knew that and have known that for weeks,” queried the senator.
Rubio has a keen interest in foreign policy. As the back-and-forth with North Korea continues or intensifies, what role will he play with Trump’s foreign policy team?
Report: Rubio targeted for assassination?
Earlier this month, news accounts pointed to “extra security” surrounding the second-term Republican. Reporters noticed additional protection around Rubio in July when he appeared for an interview with WFOR CBS4 in Miami.
Now we know why.
A member of Venezuela’s powerful inner circle has apparently targeted Rubio for assassination. Intelligence reports point the finger at Diosdado Cabello Rondon, the country’s former military chief and former legislator, who has had public engagements with the senator. Rubio referred to Cabello Rondon as the “Pablo Escobar of Venezuela,” referring to the late Colombian drug lord.
In a memo circulated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, an “order to have Senator Rubio assassinated” was distributed to several law enforcement agencies. Some accounts indicate no particular assassination plot was discovered and the U.S. has yet to verify the threat.
According to POLITICO, who obtained a copy of the memo, “CABELLO RONDON did indeed issue an order … to have Senator Rubio assassinated, the memo said. “Additionally, CABELLO RONDON was communicating with unspecified Mexican nationals in furtherance of the matter.”
Rubio did not offer any comment on the report.
Rubio lunches with Pence
Three Florida Democrats sign on to ‘New Democracy’ initiative
Democratic leaders are signing on to a plan, dubbed “New Democracy,” designed to tout Democrats who can “reach beyond core partisans and build governing majorities from the ground up.”
Among the first wave of delegation commits to the initiative are Stephanie Murphy (CD 7) and Darren Soto (CD 9), as well as former congressman Jim Davis.
New Democracy outlined a three-pronged approach in its introductory email: to be a forum for new ideas that can extend the party’s electoral reach to moderates, independents and disaffected Republicans; to support pragmatic candidates who can compete and win in suburban, small town and rural places; and to organize grassroots support for radically practical ideas and leaders in the major battleground states.
“Democrats don’t need to choose between center and left — we need to expand in all directions. Building a broad coalition is the Party’s best chance of rectifying today’s dangerous imbalance of political power and stopping the harmful Trump-Republican agenda,” said New Democracy director Will Marshall.
House Democrats lead Republicans in early polls
The future looks bright for House Democrats according to an initial aggregation of congressional polls from FiveThirtyEight.
The included polls, adjusted for bias, show more than 47 percent of respondents would support a Democrat for Congress next year, while just over 38 percent would support a Republican, which leaves one-sixth for the “neither,” “don’t know” or “don’t care” camps.
FiveThirtyEight only includes polls that ask respondents which party’s candidate they would vote for in their district or which party they would prefer to control Congress.
The smallest spread came two weeks after the website started tracking the numbers April 15. Democrats led 44-41 then. Their lead peaked at about 11 points in mid-May and has held between 8 and 10 for the past several weeks.
FiveThirtyEight hasn’t drawn any conclusions from the poll on which party is likely to control the House after the midterm election. Republicans won the national House vote by 1 point in 2016.
Paulson’s Principles: Can Democrats finally win the most Democratic district in America?
Of the 241 Republican House victories in 2016, 226 were by 10 points or more. One of those 10-point victories was by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in CD 27. Ros-Lehtinen, a 14-term incumbent and dean of the Florida congressional delegation, spent $3 million to win her narrow victory.
Looked at one way, a 10-point victory by the senior member of the state delegation who had to spend $3 million to win by a narrow margin is a sign of concern for Republicans.
Looked at another way, a 10-point victory for a Republican in the most Democratic district in America held by a Republican is an embarrassment for Democrats
Now that Ros-Lehtinen has announced she will not run for election in 2018, CD 27 should be an easy pickup for Democrats. The district is +5 Democrat in makeup and was won by 19 points by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has already attracted seven Democratic candidates who are attracted by an open-seat opportunity in a very Democratic district.
As Kyle Klondike of Sabato’s Crystal Ball reports in his July 20 report on the 2018 election, “A Republican hold in this district would be an utter disaster for Democrats and probably be suggestive of a midterm where Republicans performed quite well by historical standards.”
None of the other seven Republican open seats are as promising for Democrats as CD 27. Even including Ros-Lehtinen’s slender 10 point victory in 2016, the eight GOP open seats had an average margin of 30 points. The other seven GOP seats may be open, but they are realistically closed to Democratic challengers.
The seven Democrats currently running for the open CD 27 seat include former state judge Mary Barzee Flores, nominated to the federal bench by President Obama, but never confirmed due to the opposition is Senator Rubio.
Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez is probably too moderate for a left-leaning Democratic primary electorate. Her comment to “give cops back their bullets” will not win many Democratic voters.
Other lesser known candidates include Mark Person, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Miami Beach Commissioner Ken Russell. Scott Fuhrman, who was the Democratic challenger to Ros-Lehtinen in 2016, is still considering another run.
Early Democratic favorites include state senator Jose Javier Rodriguez. Sixty-five percent of the residents in his Senate district reside in CD 27. Rodriguez has a history of defeating strong Republican candidates, including two of the de la Portilla brothers, Alex and Miguel.
Another Democratic favorite is state representative David Richardson, whose house district is entirely in CD 27. Richardson is the first openly gay candidate to win a legislative seat in Florida.
A final top-tier Democratic candidate is Matt Haggman, a former Miami Herald reporter who just resigned as program director of the Knight Foundation to make a full-time run for congress.
The three announced Republicans include Miami-Dade school board member Raquel Regalado. Regalado supported Democrat Alex Sink for governor in 2010 and failed to endorse Donald Trump. Ros-Lehtinen also refused to support Trump.
Another major candidate is Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro. Not only is Barreiro running against Regalado, but his wife is running against Regalado’s brother in another race.
The last Republican is Maria Peiro, who unsuccessfully challenged Ros-Lehtinen in 2016.
Will Republicans win the organization and turnout battle, or will Democrats take advantage of the significant Democratic voter registration lead and also take advantage with the growing unpopularity of President Trump. Stay tuned.
Gaetz, Dunn wish to shed light on Chinese corporate espionage
With all of the rumblings emanating from the Korean peninsula and the Asian Pacific, the two Republican legislators representing the Panhandle want to go after China for another reason. They are aiming to shed light on China’s corporate espionage and theft of intellectual property.
On Aug. 30 in Tallahassee, they will host a hearing titled “Wanton Loot: How China is Stealing Ideas from American Entrepreneurs.” The hearing will take place at 1:30 p.m. at the Turnbull Center on the Florida State University campus.
“There are too many signs to ignore the likelihood that the Chinese government is behind blatant acts of thievery of technology and symptoms designed in the United States,” said Gaetz in a release announcing the hearings. “One glaring example took place right in Tallahassee, and we’re going to hear the details so we can fight back to protect our ideas as much as our people, communities, businesses and borders in the future.”
According to the Congressmen, stolen trade secrets, counterfeiting, and other forms of intellectual property theft cost the U.S. more than $225 billion each year. China is said to be one of the main offenders, including activity involving Tallahassee’s Bing Energy.
“We in Congress cannot sit by while and watch our biggest global competitor try to get an edge by stealing from our creative, inventive and entrepreneurial society to profit from the work being done in the United States,” said Dunn, whose district includes parts of Tallahassee.
Yoho grabs lunch with small-business owners
Gainesville Republican U.S. Rep. Yoho listened to small-business owners talk about how the tax code is eating their lunch at a Tuesday meeting in Interlachen.
The luncheon was put on by the Main Street Growth & Opportunity Coalition and the Putnam County Republican Executive Committee and saw Yoho, small-business owners and other supporters dish about pro-growth tax reform, which Putnam County REC Chair Tom Williams said was a “critical factor for both the success of small businesses and the success of our country.”
The third-term CD 3 congressman said he walked away from the meeting encouraged ahead of Congress’ attempt to tackle comprehensive tax reform, a tentpole of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and a longtime priority of congressional Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“Today’s meeting reaffirmed my belief that now is the time for action. As a business owner myself, I know how badly these reforms are needed and look forward to getting this issue across the finish line with my colleagues in Congress. Americans need relief now,” Yoho said.
DeSantis to take part in AFP-FL ‘Un-Rig the Economy’ town hall series
The Republican from Ponte Vedra is heading to three major Florida cities this summer to talk tax reform.
DeSantis is scheduled to take part in Americans for Prosperity-Florida’s “Un-Rig the Economy” town hall series. The series is meant to give activists a chance to hear about the current situation in D.C. and energize them about what’s to come.
“AFP has been leading the charge on calling for Congress to un-rig the American economy,” said Chris Hudson, the state director for AFP-FL, in a statement “We hope the rest of the Florida delegation will join Congressman DeSantis in fighting back against the current rigged tax system by joining our effort to pass pro-growth tax reform. Americans want a system that’s based on simplicity, efficiency, equitability, predictability, and creates no new burden on taxpayers. We want to speak directly to Floridians who want to help fix our broken tax code.”
In addition to DeSantis, attendees will hear from local leaders and members of Americans for Prosperity’s federal affairs team about the need to enact comprehensive tax reform.
The summer town hall series kicks off Aug. 24 with a town hall in Miami, followed by a town hall scheduled on Sept. 19 in Fort Lauderdale and Sept. 28 in Orlando.
Posey plans meeting, belated ‘welcome home’ ceremony with Vietnam vets
With this year marking the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, the Rockledge Republican will be among those observing the milestone. Posey intends to host a gathering Aug. 22, at 10 a.m., at the Veterans Memorial Center on Merritt Island.
At least in part, the event will include a “Welcome Home Ceremony,” a many-decades-late gesture for many servicemen and women who came home from Vietnam unceremoniously at a time of a deeply divided America.
The event is being held in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Memorial Center & Museum, and the JROTC programs of Bayside, Merritt Island, Palm Bay, Eau Gallie, Rockledge and Viera high schools.
Medal of Honor Recipient SFC Melvin Morris, retired from the U.S. Army, will be the featured guest speaker.
“Our men and women in uniform and their families continue to make great personal sacrifices to defend our freedom. We owe them all our gratitude and this Service Day, and Welcome Home Ceremony is one way we can show our military veterans how much we appreciate their service,” Posey stated in a news release.
Murphy wears passion for immigration reform
The Winter Park Democrat is passionate about achieving immigration reform in the U.S. Congress. In fact, she wears it as a badge of honor.
Murphy, an immigrant from Vietnam, was sporting a T-shirt with the words “I AM AN IMMIGRANT” emblazoned on the front. Dubbed “the girl rescued at sea” during her 2016 campaign for Congress, Murphy proudly describes herself as an immigrant.
“Our nation’s diversity is its strength. Opportunity and freedom keep the American dream alive,” she tweeted with the photograph of her wearing the shirt.
The shirt comes from the nonpartisan immigration reform group, FWD.us, an organization started by the technologies industry including Microsoft, Facebook, Dropbox, Airbnb and others.
“We’re grateful to Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy for participating in the “I Am An Immigrant” campaign, a powerful movement that encourages people to celebrate their heritage and share what it means to be an immigrant in America,” said Pete Boogaard, communications director for Fwd.us.
Webster helps recover more than $1 million in back pay for military members
While America’s veterans are owed a great deal for their role in defending the nation, the Clermont Republican is helping District 11 and other veterans receive financial debts owed to them. Since January, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs awarded Florida veterans more than $1 million in compensation, pension or retroactive payments.
To assist his constituents, Webster’s staff works with County Veterans Services offices and liaisons to provide the necessary paperwork to the VA.
“We owe our military a debt we can never repay,” Webster said. “Yet, sometimes our veterans’ attempts to receive the benefits or compensation they have earned are met with delays. Working with veterans whose claims have gone beyond the expected time frame for processing is taken seriously at my office.”
Some veterans are able to recover combat-related compensation along with retirement disability pay. Current programs are aimed to recover some (or all) retired pay that some retirees waive when they opt for VA disability compensation.
Bilirakis goes to bat for blind and visually impaired
The Republican from District 12 has introduced a bill designed to help ensure blind and visually impaired Americans have equal access to Medicare and Medicaid services. Among other things, the legislation would “ensure communications, including written materials, are accessible for the blind, visually impaired or individuals who self-identify as such, and how individuals are informed of these options.”
According to the American Council for the Blind (ACB) and the American Foundation for the Blind, written materials from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are often provided in inaccessible print. The bill would require the Government Accountability Office to determine if CMS is in compliance.
“Today, whether it’s large print or text-to-voice technology, blind and visually impaired Americans, like myself, are more readily able to access information than ever before,” said Bilirakis in a release. “Receiving critical health care information from Medicare and Medicaid should be no different.”
Bilirakis joined with California Democrat Anna Eshoo to introduce the bill. It is endorsed by the ACB, the AFB and the Perkins School for the Blind.
Castor, Deutch celebrate Social Security’s 82nd birthday
On Monday, Democrats Castor and Deutch recognized Social Security’s 82nd anniversary of becoming law. In West Tampa, Castor visited the Phyllis Busansky Senior Center, where she dismissed the idea the program was going bankrupt, saying it “couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Latest projections suggest the Social Security Trust Fund will run out of reserves in about 17 years. By that time, across-the-board benefit cuts may be necessary, threatening the financial well-being of millions of American retirees.
Everybody needs to pay their fair share, Castor told the seniors, which is why she is co-sponsoring legislation to raise the Social Security cap on taxable wages, currently locked at $118,500 Changes to the tax cap could close from a quarter to near nine-tenths of Social Security’s solvency gap, depending on how they were structured, says the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“If we could lift the cap for Social Security, we would ensure the solvency for about 45 years, taking it up from 2030 to up 2075,” Castor said. “These are important fixes that we should get ahead of now rather than waiting until a crisis happens.”
Meanwhile, in South Florida, Deutch tweeted his support for Social Security, saying it was why he introduced legislation “to extend the Trust Fund’s solvency and boost benefits to keep pace with rising costs.”
Save the date: Bilirakis to host transportation roundtable
The Republican from Florida’s 12th Congressional District will co-host a Transportation Summit Monday, Aug. 21, from 6:00 to 9 p.m. at Pasco-Hernando State College’s Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch in Wesley Chapel. Joining Bilirakis will be Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore and, Florida DOT Secretary David Gwynn.
Social Security Actuary: Crist bill extends solvency to 2064
The St. Petersburg Democrat provided evidence that if his Save Social Security Act of 2017 were to pass, the venerable program would be solvent for another 47 years. Crist released a detailed letter from Stephen C. Goss, Chief Actuary of the Social Security Administration, who assessed the proposed bill.
“Assuming enactment of the proposal, the projected trust fund reserve depletion year for theoretical combined OASDI (Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance) and DI (Disability Insurance) trust funds would be extended to 2064,” Goss wrote. “Under current law, the projected trust fund reserve depletion year for the combined trust funds is 2034.”
Crist’s bill, introduced in March, also includes a tax cut for middle-class Social Security recipients, while taxing the benefits of the top 25 percent of seniors. To help pay for his proposal and ensure extended solvency, Crist proposes to “Scrap the Cap” on the amount of wages subject to Social Security taxes.
The cap now stands at $127,200 in annual salaries. Crist’s bill, his first as a Congressman, calls for every dollar earned above $300,000 to be subject to Social Security taxes, while maintaining the break for wages above the current cap, but below $300,000.
“Social Security is a contract the federal government made with Americans 82 years ago (this) week – if you work hard and pay into the system, it will be there for you in your golden years,” Crist said. “I’m proud that our bill helps bolster Social Security benefits for the 170,000 seniors I’m honored to represent in Pinellas County, keeping the program strong for future generations.”
T. Rooney snags FAA grant for Sebring airport
Sebring Regional Airport will get $415,775 from the Federal Aviation Administration to redo its WWII-era apron thanks to the Okeechobee Republican, who announced the grant this week.
“Serving on the Appropriations Committee, I make it a priority to fight for funding for federal programs that benefit our local economy, like the FAA’s airport improvement grants,” the CD 17 Republican said. “It’s rewarding to see the hard work of our local leaders, who work diligently to apply for these grants year after year, pay off.”
The two-runway airport was originally constructed in 1940 as Hendricks Field and was used to train crews to fly the iconic B-17 Flying Fortress during World War II.
Airport director Mike Willingham said the grant money will allow the Highlands County airport to update the 106,000-square-yard apron – the name for the area where planes park, board and refuel—- for the first time since World War II. The redesign will allow the airport to handle heavy commercial jets and bring new jobs to the area.
“Our sincere gratitude goes out to Congressman Rooney and staff for their assistance in making our community a better place to live and work,” he said.
Mast, Curbelo targeted beneficiaries of $2.5 million ad buy
Right-leaning public policy group American Action Network is dropping $2.5 million on TV ads that will start airing this week 24 congressional districts nationwide, including a pair held by South Florida Republicans.
The 30-second spot features an Ohio metal worker named Albert who lost his job due to his employer not being able to keep up with foreign competition.
“America’s tax code is so complicated – we can’t be as competitive,” the ad says. “Thousands of jobs like mine are lost to places like China. So when I see Congress working to cut taxes for working families, and bring jobs back, I know how that matters.”
The ad closes with a request for viewers to tell Curbelo and Mast to “keep fighting for tax reforms that bring the middle class back.”
AAN Executive Director Corry Bliss said the group is committed to standing up for “Americans just like Albert” who have seen their jobs head overseas.
“It’s time for Congress to act and defend hardworking Americans and their families across the country,” he said.
Hastings hosting Tamarac town hall
Hastings joins Democratic state Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Coral Springs to host a Legislative Update Town Hall at 12:30 p.m. at Kings Point, 762 Nob Hill Road in Tamarac. “I’m extremely proud to partner with Congressman Alcee Hastings on this important legislative update for our constituents,” Moskowitz said. “Providing an update and hearing directly from the people affected by the issues we debate in Washington or Tallahassee allows us to better serve our fellow Floridians.” This event is open to the public.
Deutch touts growing support for campaign spending amendment
The Boca Raton Democrat is promoting an increase in the number of co-sponsors for his bill to amend the Constitution, which calls for limits on campaign fundraising and expenditures. “Support for my #DemocracyForAll Amdmt is now up to 115 co-sponsors. It’s time to overturn Citizens United and #GetMoneyOut,” he tweeted.
By their ruling in Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed groups and committees to fund unlimited political ads through Election Day. Deutch and supporters maintain Citizens United allowed big money to drown out the voices of everyday voters. Before the ruling, some states put 30 or 60-day limits on campaign advertising.
Deutch’s amendment proposal, initially launched in 2015, seeks to make the Supreme Court ruling moot by placing fundraising and expenditure limits directly in the Constitution. With Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, chances for passage are not bright.
Joining Deutch as co-sponsors are Florida Democrats Kathy Castor of Tampa, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Darren Soto of Orlando, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Weston, and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens.
The effort is aligned with freespeechforpeople.org.
Wasserman Schultz feels heat from staffer scandal
After the Weston Democrat resigned last year as national party chair at the Democratic National Convention — where she was booed at her speech at a Florida delegation breakfast — she is now facing criticism on a number of fronts, including Democrats.
At issue: Wasserman Schultz refusal to explain her continued employment of Imran Awan, an information technology staffer who since February was under a federal investigation for an alleged equipment and data scam. Democrats were baffled that South Florida Democrat did not fire Awan until July 25, one day after authorities arrested him at the airport as he was about to leave for Pakistan, after wiring $283,000 there. Awan’s dismissal came six months after about two dozen House Democrats sacked four of Awan’s relatives and a friend, all of whom were under investigation.
Last week, Wasserman Schultz broke her silence on the issue, claiming she was a victim of “right wing media” attacks based on anti-Muslim bigotry aimed at Awan in the others. But Democrats are increasingly dismayed over her stubborn attitude, political missteps and harm to the Party’s image ahead of the 2018 midterms
“We wish she would go away and stop being so public by doubling down on negative stories,” Nikki Barnes, a progressive Florida DNC member told POLITICO. Barnes feels Wasserman Schultz left the national party “in shambles,” particularly with the hack of DNC servers and WikiLeaks release of embarrassing internal emails. Wasserman Schultz’s defense doesn’t make sense, Barnes said: “It doesn’t sound like racial profiling … there must have been something for her.”
Immigrant groups urge Diaz-Balart to oppose Trump
More than 100 immigration rights activists are urging Republican lawmakers in Florida to firmly oppose President Trump‘s proposals to increase funding for immigration enforcement as deadlines for budget decisions near in Congress.
Advocates from Texas, New Mexico and Washington D.C. expressed anger at Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami for backing a spending bill that provides $1.6 million for Trump’s controversial border wall. Other bills would add immigration agents and judges.
Activists targeted Diaz-Balart because he is a House Appropriations Committee member. They’re also concerned that other Cuban-American representatives in South Florida will side with the administration.
One demonstrator, Dian Alarcon, said Diaz-Balart’s office told a smaller group Tuesday the border wall measure would not likely pass the Senate. Diaz-Balart’s aide Cesar Gonzalez told reporters he would not comment.
Army Corps gives input in Florida-Georgia water war
In a court brief, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed with a special master’s recommendation in the interstate suit over Apalachicola River flows that no ruling in the case can change the Corps’ operations in the river basin, reports Lloyd Dunkelberger of The News Service of Florida.
The Corps said it “may remain possible to design a consumption cap that would provide Florida with additional water at some points” but added that a more extensive ruling would be viewed as “part of the constellation of laws to be considered by the Corps when deciding how best to operate the federal projects in the … basin for their congressionally authorized purposes.”
Late last month, Florida’s entire congressional delegation wrote a letter to President Trump asking that the administration and the Corps remain “neutral” in the dispute.
Asked if he was confident that Florida would win a favorable decision from the Supreme Court, Sen. Bill Nelson said: “I’m confident that at the end of the day the right thing is what should be done. The right thing is, all right, Georgia, you’ve got to start sharing your water like Mother Nature intended, instead of holding it all up for you.”
MacDill in good shape to avoid next round of closures
A new round of military base closures could come in 2021, but this time it could happen without at a Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) to weigh community input before picking which installations will get the ax.
If that proposal falls through, however, Florida’s 20 installations should be in good shape to weather the storm, according to Anthony Principi, who led the 2005 BRAC.
Principi said BRAC commissioners look at public input and the level of development around military bases. That factor was a leading driver in a $1.3 million state land deal to keep residential development away from MacDill Air Force Base, though the possibility of a hotel on the property still “raises a red flag.”
The mission comes first, however, and retired Air Force Col. Rich McClain said moving MacDill “will not only be a political nightmare but a financial burden on the Pentagon and the BRAC process” due to the base serving as home to the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command.
Trump administration offers cigar makers reprieve from regulations
Premium cigar makers will benefit from a relaxation of requirements to provide detailed information on their product to the federal government. The Trump Administration has given cigar makers, along with those producing pipe and hookah tobacco, until 2021 to provide product and testing information on their products.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Obama administration had ordered cigar makers to provide the information by this summer, but last week granted the reprieve.
Meeting the requirements would cost the producers between $1,500 and $23,000 per blend. Such conditions would undoubtedly affect the last operating cigar factory in Tampa.
“This is an opportunity,” Eric Newman, president of the J.C. Newman Cigar Company, told the Tampa Bay Times. “It is an opportunity to keep cigars in Cigar City. The sentiment in Washington is that over regulation kills small business.”
Others are not happy with the delay. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids sees no reason for the delay. However, new, larger warning labels must be placed on cigar boxes beginning next year.
Diaz-Balart staffer weds in Washington
Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Katrina Valdes, 26, Diaz-Balart’s Washington communications director, married Joseph Bishop, also 26, who is a government contractor also in Washington. Both are 2013 graduates of George Washington University and had many mutual friends through their respective Greek organizations, though they did not meet until after they had both graduated.