Some Republicans skeptical of national emergency
Is there a national emergency at the southern border? It depends on who is talking.
President Donald Trump and most Republicans show pictures of the chaos in Tijuana and tout statistics of apprehensions and crimes. Speaker Nancy Pelosi disagrees and calls the thought of a border wall “immoral” while demanding the government reopen before any negotiating begins.
After Trump walked out of a White House meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Wednesday, the President left a strong indication he was prepared to declare a national emergency. Trump said the declaration would authorize him to shift Department of Defense funds to move forward on the construction of a border barrier.
The lawsuits would follow almost immediately, and Democrats would likely be in court somewhere in the Ninth Circuit where they have found sympathetic judges in the past. Federal judges in Hawaii, Washington and California have halted previous Trump executive orders on the “travel ban,” DACA and revisions to rules covering asylum.
While the vast majority of Republicans support Trump’s position on the wall, some are wary of any declaration of emergency. Among those is Sen. Marco Rubio, who argues it could set a dangerous precedent.
“If today, the national emergency is border security … tomorrow the national emergency might be climate change,” Rubio said on CNBC’s Squawk Box.
There is little question that If and Trump declaration of emergency survives judicial scrutiny, Democratic members of the delegation would support a future president taking similar action to combat climate change. Many Democrats have used the “emergency” word for years.
Rubio acknowledged Trump’s promise to build a border wall, and he must “keep that promise.” At the same time, “we have to be careful about endorsing broad uses of executive power. I’m not prepared to endorse that right now.”
He also found some fault with Trump’s televised presentation to the nation, pointing out the President could have told the country exactly what the $5.7 billion would accomplish.
“It’s $5 billion to fund the top 10 projects on a border security program by the experts and the people in charge of doing that,” Rubio said.
Prominent conservative pundit Rich Lowry joined the chorus, writing an extensive piece in POLITICO urging Trump to avoid the move. A group featuring moderate Republican Senators is trying to forge a proposal to end the shutdown and stave off more drastic action.
In a sign Trump was likely to ignore the advice from Rubio and others, he brought along White House counsel Pat Cipollone for the Thursday visit to the U.S. border with Mexico and Texas.
Rubio sets goals on first day as chair
Less than a week after becoming Florida’s senior Senator, Rubio became a full committee chair for the first time. His Republican colleagues chose Rubio to chair the Senate Small Business Committee.
He has previously served as a subcommittee chair within the Foreign Relations Committee. Rubio also has a history of sponsoring and promoting legislation designed to help small businesses.
“As chairman, my top priority is to pass bipartisan legislation that will expand economic opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” he stated in a news release from his office. “I will continue to seek ways to improve Small Business Administration resources intended for homeowners and businesses that face hardship after hurricanes, floods, and other disasters that threaten their livelihoods.”
It did not take long for Rubio to outline his agenda as chairman. He wrote an op-ed promising to be an advocate for small businesses and provide oversight on the Small Business Administration (SBA) while also using the committee to combat China’s efforts to undermine the American economy.
“I will work with SBA Administrator Linda McMahon and members of the committee to advance a bipartisan and robust small business agenda,” he wrote. “I will continue to fight against China’s blatant interference in our economy.
“In a few weeks, we will release a report that discusses the challenges China’s “Made in China 2025” plan poses for America’s small businesses, including its harmful and potentially irreversible consequences for our economy.”
Scott: Furlough Congress pay during shutdown
Days after taking the oath of office on the Senate floor — the last member officially entering into the 116th Congress — new U.S. Sen. Rick Scott gave a strongly worded assessment of the government shutdown, which has now surpassed three full weeks.
“I’ve been a member of the United States Senate for three days, and it’s as dysfunctional as you think it is — probably even more dysfunctional,” Scott said in a statement. “The vast majority in Congress say they want border security. The vast majority also say they want to open the government. So, of course, they won’t do either.
“The people of Florida deserve a government that functions. Period. And until that happens, Congress shouldn’t get paid. I believe Members’ pay MUST BE furloughed immediately as long as Americans aren’t getting government services. I look forward to working with my colleagues to make this happen as soon as possible. I campaigned on making government work, and it’s clearer now more than ever that it will be an uphill climb. But I’m committed to fighting for the values of my state and the interests of the people of Florida, and I won’t back down.”
Scott has room to talk. Now among the richest members of Congress, Scott will be donating his salary for his entire term in the Senate (as he did as Governor). He made his fortune as a CEO in the health care industry — and became even richer during two terms as Florida Governor (through a controversial blind trust).
Delegation new assignments
One of the highly anticipated changes of a new Congress is when members are appointed to a new committee or earn a promotion on an existing committee. As the week progressed, delegation members began to receive those assignments.
While Rubio is the new chairman of the Senate Small Business Committee (see above) and Rep. Ted Deutch is now heading the Ethics Committee (see below), others are set to join critical committees.
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, whose star is clearly rising, has earned a seat on the prestigious Ways and Means Committee. The committee is the chief tax-writing committee in the House.
“I am proud to serve on the Ways and Means Committee, where I will have an important opportunity to help Florida families, farmers, businesses, and seniors,” Murphy said in a statement.
Murphy’s Democratic colleague, Rep. Charlie Crist from St. Petersburg, landed on the Appropriations Committee. All spending bills must come through this committee.
“It is an honor and a privilege to have the support of my colleagues and our leadership to serve on this prestigious committee, fighting for Pinellas County and all Floridians,” Crist said in a news release.
The news this week from Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Orlando comes from the political side. She has been chosen to be one of the two national co-chairs of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s recruitment committee.
Demings will play a leading role in finding quality candidates needed to hold or expand upon the majority they won two months ago.
DeSantis urged to leave lawsuit, expand Medicaid
Every Democratic member of the Florida delegation is calling Gov. DeSantis to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), something Scott refused to do. They are also imploring DeSantis to remove the state from an ongoing lawsuit that would “rip health coverage away from American families.”
Deutch Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa led a letter to DeSantis calling on him to leave the multistate lawsuit challenging the ACA. They lamented the efforts of the Trump administration and “Republicans at every level of government” to kill what is commonly called “Obamacare.”
“We encourage you and Attorney General Ashley Moody to remove the State of Florida from the federal lawsuit that would kill the ACA and rip health coverage away from American families, including individuals with pre-existing health conditions,” (emphasis theirs) they wrote.
Acting on this lawsuit, a federal judge in Texas ruled the ACA unconstitutional.
“Following the federal court ruling last month, it is more imperative than ever for the state to withdraw and instead side with the almost 8 million Floridians with pre-existing conditions — including the 2.1 million Floridians with pre-existing conditions who have individual coverage.”
The letter goes on to tout the benefits of Medicaid expansion in both health care and economic terms. With a coinciding drop in the number of uninsured, more Medicaid coverage would lead to better treatment and preventive care.
“Medicaid expansion is also the right thing to do for Florida’s budget and economy,” they continued. “Medicaid expansion will boost jobs and enable Florida to move to a more efficient health care model.”
It was obvious the four-page letter took a great deal of time and effort to create. A quick check of DeSantis’s voting record, while he was a member of Congress, reveals his strong support for repealing “Obamacare.”
It was worth a shot.
Gaetz slams Scott’s 11th-hour actions
Sen. Scott was officially sworn into the Senate just a few hours after his successor was sworn in as Governor. But before departing Tallahassee, Scott made 84 last-minute appointments, causing some fraternal bad blood with new Gov. Ron DeSantis, his staff and transition team.
DeSantis is expected to rescind some of those appointments, but it has undoubtedly created some hard feelings. For example, it was clearly noticed that Scott left the swearing-in ceremony before DeSantis delivered his inaugural address.
While most Republicans were low-key in their criticism of Scott, Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the transition team’s co-chairs, laid it all on the table.
“When he stood up [to leave] I was wondering if he was running back to the office to make nine or 10 more appointments,” the two-term representative from Fort Walton Beach said. “He should pull back every single appointment,” Gaetz said. “That’s the advice I gave him.”
Scott expressed hope that DeSantis would keep the appointments in place.
Crist touts restoration of felon voting rights
Democratic Rep. Crist was not in Tallahassee when DeSantis was sworn in as the 46th governor. Crist, the 44th governor, spent the morning in St. Petersburg touting the first day nonviolent felons who served their time were eligible to vote.
While he was not in the capital for the ceremonies, he had a message for Tallahassee: Do not stand in the way of voting rights for these former offenders. In November, Florida voters approved Amendment 4 by 65 percent of the vote.
To watch a video summarizing the historic day in Florida, click on the image below:
“It is our job as elected officials to listen to the will of the people, not to subvert it,” Crist said at a news conference on the steps of St. Petersburg City Hall. “Let me be clear: With the passage of this constitutional amendment, nothing — not any Florida statute or executive action, nothing — should keep convicted former felons who have paid their debt to society from legally registering to vote.”
When Crist had the job DeSantis now holds, he initiated reforms to the clemency process that dramatically increased the rights of former felons to vote. During his four years as governor, about 155,000 nonviolent felons had their voting rights restored.
Delegation joins in seeking drilling ban
A bipartisan group from the Florida delegation have come together to reintroduce the Florida Coastal Protection Act seeking to ban offshore drilling around the state. Castor and Crist joined with Republicans Vern Buchanan and Francis Rooney to make the current federal moratorium permanent.
Castor was the lead author for the bill that would supersede the current ban set to expire in June 2022. The reintroduced act would also extend the ban into federal waters.
In November, Florida voters overwhelming approved an offshore drilling ban in its state constitution.
“Plain and simple, we must protect our state’s natural resources and our economy linked to our environment and treat climate change like the crisis that it is. We also have a moral obligation to be better stewards for our children and future generations,” Castor said.
The 2010 BP oil spill wreaked havoc on Florida’s economy, driving tourists away from the state even in areas that were not impacted and brought the state’s commercial fisheries to a halt as clean up efforts were underway. Florida is still using money from the federal RESTORE Act to shore up its economy and protect waterways.
The bipartisan effort would further support Florida’s constitutional ban by ensuring areas further off the coast in federal waters, which could still pose a threat to the state’s tourism, commercial fishing, and recreational sports industries in the event of a spill, are also protected.
Mast joins Dems seeking Coast Guard shutdown pay
Most of the federal government is unaffected by the ongoing partial shutdown. Among those being paid is the Department of Defense that includes most of the armed forces.
The exception is the U.S. Coast Guard, which was folded into the Department of Homeland Security DHS following the 9/11 attacks. DHS is one of the agencies caught up in the stalemate, meaning USCG members are not being paid.
To help rectify the problem, Republican Rep. Brian Mast joined with three Democratic colleagues to file the Pay Our Coast Guard Parity Act. If enacted, active duty and reserve Coast Guard members would be paid during the shutdown.
Family members are vociferously voicing their frustration with the situation.
“As one of the five Armed Services, the United States Coast Guard always upholds their duty to our country, continuing to perform critical missions that protect and defend our nation,” Mast said. “We must uphold our duty to the men and women of the Coast Guard by ensuring their paychecks continue on schedule.”
The shutdown affects 41,000 active duty and 6,200 reserve members. In addition, 8,500 civilian personnel are impacted, but the current bill would not apply to them.
Deutch named Ethics Committee chair
The delegation gained a committee chairman Wednesday when the House Democratic Caucus approved the selection of Deutch as Chairman of the House Committee on Ethics. The announcement came from Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
In a statement, Pelosi said Deutch’s “towering integrity and firm commitment to fairness and justice will be invaluable to our mission to restore transparency ethics and accountability to the Congress.” She added he is “a powerful voice for the American people and a relentless champion for the public good.”
Ethics is a unique committee in the House where both parties are equally represented. Deutch will lead a group of five Democrats and five Republicans.
“I am honored to be selected by my colleagues to lead the House Ethics Committee,” said the Boca Raton Democrat in a statement. “As Members of Congress, we must hold ourselves to the high ethical standard that our constituents expect from us. I look forward to building upon that work to ensure that all legislative branch employees can work in a safe and respectful workplace.”
The House Ethics Committee’s core responsibilities include providing training, advice, and education to House Members, officers, and employees, as well as reviewing and approving requests to accept privately-sponsored travel related to official duties. In addition, the committee is charged with reviewing and certifying all financial disclosure reports Members, candidates for the House, officers, and senior staff are required to file; and investigating and adjudicating allegations of misconduct and violations of rules, laws, or other standards of conduct.
Mucarsel-Powell nixes DACA for wall deal
With the government shutdown now three weeks old, more are calling for a deal to end the standoff. One of those quietly discussed would revive Trump’s former offer to give legal status to 1.8 million DACA immigrants in exchange for the $5.7 billion for the border wall.
That would not fly with Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami. During a recent appearance on CNN, she was asked by Jim Sciutto and Poppy Harlow if she could support such a deal.
“I haven’t seen anything that I can tell you or speak about, but I can definitely tell you that it’s a priority for us in the (Democratic) caucus to find a solution, but it’s not going to be in exchange for funding for an ineffective wall,” the first-term representative from Miami said. “And I have spoken to Dreamers that have asked me not to do this.”
Murcarsel-Powell is perfectly aligned with her caucus on the entire issue. Harlow asked why Republicans should give up anything when Democrats say they will give up nothing on the central issue of a border wall.
“Because let me tell you something. we have asked those questions, right? We have those conversations when we are all together in caucus, and I can tell you that the homeland security bill includes billions of dollars for border security,” she responded. “What we cannot do is fund something that does not make sense.”
Diaz-Balart continues quest for Miami Lakes ZIP code
Miami-Dade County is a large, sprawling area with several separate communities contained within its boundaries. Nearly all are assigned their own ZIP codes, but Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is trying to help his constituents in the town of Miami Lakes obtain one of their own.
This week, he introduced H.R. 377 that would designate a unique ZIP code for the town. If enacted, it would call upon the U.S. Postal Service to take proper action to make it happen.
Diaz-Balart pointed out the current status creates problems from “higher insurance rates to election and census confusion to branding and economic development” issues.
“For nearly a decade, I have been working alongside Mayor Manny Cid and the Town of Miami Lakes to create a unique ZIP code for the town,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement. “Legislation that I introduced in the past two Congresses have overwhelmingly passed in the House, but unfortunately were not even considered in the Senate.
Over the past four years, two similar bills have cleared the House, but were ignored by the Senate. He promises to not give up.
“I will continue to work with my House and Senate colleagues to get this bill to the President’s desk and am hopeful that Mayor Cid and the town will be granted the unique ZIP code they so desperately need,” Diaz-Balart said.
On this day in the headlines
Jan. 11, 1998 — Long talked about but never accomplished, the federal budget deficit now sits at zero. What comes next is harder as lawmakers decide whether to apply the funds to the $5.4 trillion national debt, provide tax cuts, or restore domestic programs that faced cuts under the GOP’s Contract With America.
“Where we need to restore programs, I think we should,” said Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville. “But just like I don’t believe in across-the-board cuts, I don’t believe in across-the-board restoration of funds.”
Jan. 11, 2007 — Acknowledging that his current strategy has failed, President George W. Bush announced a new approach that calls for sending 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq, but also warned its government that “America’s commitment is not open-ended.” The new plan calls for assigning top priority to ending the sectarian violence while shifting U.S. involvement into a supporting role.
“The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people, and it is unacceptable to me,” Bush said. “It is clear we need to change our strategy in Iraq.” Congressional Democrats, led by Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, pledged to block funding for the troop surge.