Legislation

Delegation for 7.15.22: Statuary — code busting — tomatoes — true grit

Proud Mary

The first sculpture depicting a Black American in Statuary Hall now stands, and she represents Florida.

The unveiling of Mary McLeod Bethune’s statue brought the Florida delegation together to celebrate history. Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Hollywood Democrat, spoke at a ceremony Wednesday on what it means to swap a Confederate general with a Civil Rights leader.

“We are rewriting the history we want to share with future generations,” Wilson said. “We are replacing a remnant of hatred and division with a symbol of hope and inspiration by placing Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune in Statuary Hall, among our nation’s historical giants. As the senior Black member of Congress from Florida, I am extremely proud to break yet another glass ceiling in this hallowed hall of democracy.”

Fredericka Wilson greets the first Black American to stand in Statuary Hall. Image via Twitter.

Statuary Hall holds two sculptures from each state; it’s left to state governments to send the sculptures. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith stood for Florida since 1922, but the Florida Legislature voted to replace him in 2016. A selection process chose Bethune, a groundbreaking Civil Rights leader in the early 20th century, as a replacement.

Sen. Rick Scott, while still Governor, signed a law in 2018 to commission the statue of Bethune and send her to Washington. “Bethune was a wonderful person and a great Floridian who represents the values of our state, and today her statue joins the company of so many of our nation’s great and historic figures,” Scott said.

“I’m grateful for the work of sculptor Nilda Comas, Bethune-Cookman University, the Bethune Statuary Fund, and Chair Nancy Lohman for all of their hard work leading to this historic day. Today is a day we all have been working toward for years.”

The only bit of controversy at the ceremony was that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held no speaking spot for Scott. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gave up his time to Florida’s senior Senator, Marco Rubio. Multiple speakers mentioned Scott in their own remarks.

The bulk of Rubio’s words, of course, spoke to Bethune’s groundbreaking life.

“She was a great American. An American who refused to accept that her humble beginnings or the color of her skin were a limit on her dreams and on her destiny. And an American who, in the face of the ignorance, the cruelty and the prejudice of others, refused to surrender to bitterness or cynicism or despair,” Rubio said.

Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat, and Rep. Michael Waltz, a St. Augustine Beach Republican, sponsored the federal legislation passed in 2020 to codify Bethune’s place in the hall. Both heralded her formal arrival.

Mary McLeod Bethune: Standing proudly for Florida.

Demings hopes the statue introduces more people to Bethune’s larger legacy. “I urge all Floridians to read Dr. Bethune’s last will and testament, in which she wrote of the power of hope, love, faith, responsibility to our young people, and thirst for education,” she said. “She worked to make America better for all people, and it is more than fitting that she should be here representing us in the People’s House.”

Waltz, whose district includes Bethune-Cookman University, said Bethune made the life of Floridians richer by founding a school for children of railroad workers in northeast Florida.

“She started a school with a dollar and fifty cents to train African American young girls and to teach. It wasn’t without challenges, though,” Waltz recounted. “In one of the stories, the KKK, after the school was up and running, came marching on the small girls’ school with torches, with robes and on horseback. She already had a plan. She told her teachers to disperse, she hid her students, and she stood alone at the gate and stared them down. Madam Speaker, in my military career I’ve seen some tough cookies, some tough women, and I guarantee you this is the toughest one in the Hall today.”

Tax decoding

A new report from the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) forecasts some increase in taxes for nearly every income group in the county. Scott pounced on the news, asserting this violated President Joe Biden’s oft-repeated promise not to raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year.

“It’s never been a secret that Democrats want to raise taxes on hardworking American families, and now the nonpartisan JCT has made clear just how disastrous their plans truly are. Families in Florida and across the country are already paying Biden’s raging incompetence tax as prices at the grocery store and the pump keep climbing, but that’s not enough for the radical Left — they want the Feds to get more of your money too,” Scott said.

Rick Scott never wastes an opportunity to blast Joe Biden.

“This isn’t just a tax hike on giant corporations or the wealthiest Americans — the Democrats are raising taxes on every single income bracket. It shows once again that in Washington, there are those of us that make plans and fight every day to cut taxes, and then there are the Democrats who put raising taxes as priority No. 1. Tax increases are never the answer but pushing higher taxes during a record-breaking inflation crisis is shameful and disgusting. I will never support raising taxes and will fight this reckless tax-and-spend agenda with every tool at my disposal.”

The comments seemed especially notable as a Midterm agenda released by Scott this year came under fire for suggesting “all Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount. Currently over half of Americans pay no income tax.”

The JCT report does show those making between $10,000 and $20,000 a year would see taxes go down by 0.6% under the Democratic tax reforms proposed. But earners outside that range will see federal income taxes jump by at least 3.9%. Those making under $10,000 will see a 7.3% increase. For incomes greater than $20,000, taxes go up progressively with income levels.

One factor Scott doesn’t address is that the present law would result in increases for most Americans even if Congress passed no changes to the tax code — with some groups seeing less increase under the proposed changes. The largest increase in revenue collections under the plan would fall on those making upward of $1 million a year.

Off the tomato truck

​​Trucks bringing crops from Mexico to the U.S. aren’t always filled with only tomatoes.

The Agriculture Department for years fought covert drug smugglers operating under the guise of food importers. Now, members of the Florida delegation want action to stop it.

Rubio and Scott led a letter signed by most Florida Representatives and members of the Georgia delegation seeking an update on recent efforts to stop the covert trafficking.

The letter cites a 2020 report that included a commitment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Commerce Department and U.S. Trade Representative to support American food producers and to analyze narcotics seizures with imports.

Are there really tomatoes in that truck?

“As you know, drug smuggling in food shipments from Mexico is systemic, and such cases are not isolated incidents,” the letter reads. “Further, fruit and vegetable growers in Mexico are routinely extorted by drug cartels. In February, we were troubled, but not surprised, to learn that the USDA had to suspend avocado imports from Mexico following a death threat made to a USDA-APHIS inspector. Also in February, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized $2.9 million of methamphetamines, which were found in a shipment of onions from Mexico. This is just one among many instances of deadly drugs being found in produce shipments from Mexico.”

Lawmakers asked for information on whether Mexico in particular proves to be the source of most drug shipments, how the USDA works with Border Patrol to interrupt the illicit activity and whether any contamination issues arise for food later consumed by Americans.

Florida co-signatories on the letter include Republicans Gus Bilirakis, Kat Cammack, Mario Díaz-Balart, Byron Donalds, Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin, Carlos Giménez, Brian Mast, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, María Elvira Salazar, Greg Steube and Daniel Webster and Democrats Al Lawson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Showing GRIT

Gainesville Republican Cammack’s American GRIT PAC unrolled a fresh round of endorsement of blue-collar conservatives running for Congress. The most recognizable name on the list, Alaska Republican and former Gov. Sarah Palin, may grab some headlines. She also backed Eli Crane of Arizona, Anthony D’Esposito of New York, Allan Fung of Rhode Island, Jen Kiggans of Virginia and Amal Torres of Maryland.

“I’m proud to announce the next wave of candidate endorsements as we get closer to taking the House back this November,” Cammack said. “This group is full of small business owners, veterans, and parents who are dedicated to making a difference and putting our nation back on the right track.”

Kat Cammack has grit — and a PAC to prove it. Image via Facebook.

Cammack in March announced the formation of her PAC, which looks to bring more working-class Representatives into the House. Perhaps more significant to Cammack’s future, it could mean the first-term Congresswoman holds greater influence among the next class of lawmakers at a time when she aims for a leadership position in the conservative Republican Study Committee.

The Congresswoman notes the first seven candidates her PAC endorsed earlier this year all won Republican Primaries and are one step closer to setting up an office in Washington.

Funding the police

The moderate New Democrat Coalition endorsed a bill (HR 5768) championed by Demings, who happens to be running for Senate against Rubio on her law enforcement background. The Violent Incident Clearance and Technological Investigative Methods (VICTIM) Act of 2021 would authorize Justice Department grants so police agencies could improve clearance rates on homicides and nonviolent shootings.

Val Demings is championing a bill to help cops clear out a backlog. Image via Reuters.

“Real life is quite different from what you may see on television,” Demings said. “I saw as a detective, detective sergeant, and chief of police that gun crimes are oftentimes difficult to investigate and solve. Simply put, many agencies lack the resources they need to bring justice to these cases and closure for families. Half of gun murders in the United States go unsolved, and victims are often left with no justice and little support. This legislation would inject critical new funding into America’s law enforcement agencies to hire and train detectives and specialists specifically committed to investigate unsolved crimes, comfort victims, and bring the guilty to justice.”

The coalition endorsed the legislation along with several policing bills awaiting passage.

“As Members of Congress, we have no higher duty than to ensure every American is safe in their community,” said NDC Chair Suzan DelBene, a Washington Democrat. “That’s why New Dems are working with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to invest in effective public safety programs that help prevent crime and protect the rights of all Americans. New Dems will work to get these bills signed into law so we can ensure every American is truly safe no matter where they live.”

No monkeying around

As the spread of monkeypox continues, St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist pressed the Biden administration to get ahead of a pandemic and avoid mistakes made in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We spent the first year of the COVID pandemic fighting a disease we couldn’t treat or vaccinate against,” Crist said. “Well guess what? For Monkeypox, we have a vaccine, we have treatment, and we have tests. We can — and must — be doing more to keep this illness from spreading.”

He penned a letter to Biden asserting efforts to date have fallen short.

Charlie Crist wants a more initiative-taking effort for the next pandemic. Image via Facebook.

“I have received dozens of calls from constituents, friends, community leaders, and medical providers looking for answers from federal, state, and local health officials,” Crist wrote. “Among their questions: Where can I get vaccinated as a preventive measure? Where can I get tested in a timely manner? Where is the data on how this disease is spreading through the community? What do I tell my patients? Unfortunately, this information has remained elusive. Respectfully, and in the interest of getting this right for all of us, I have several suggestions for improving the federal response.”

Crist asserted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must do a better job at distributing and approving vaccines for high-risk groups, including gay and bisexual men. He noted the U.S. owns a million doses of vaccine produced by JYNNEOS but won’t bring them into the country from a storehouse in Denmark until the Food and Drug Administration authorizes the shots.

“Regrettably, advocates I have spoken with believe the delay to be bureaucratic red tape,” Crist wrote.

Making a PACT

​​Legislation passed in the House that was inspired in part by the sacrifice of Tampa Bay veterans.

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (Honoring Our PACT) Act of 2022 (HR 3967) addresses burn pits, Agent Orange and other health issues faced by soldiers exposed to chemicals while on duty.

“We are one step closer to keeping our promise to veterans who suffered toxic exposure and devastating health impacts,” Rep. Kathy Castor said. “Now President Biden is poised to sign our bill into law and provide for over 3.5 million of our veterans, including many here in Tampa, the benefits they have earned. The Honoring Our PACT Act will treat toxic exposure as a cost of war by addressing the full range of issues impacting toxic-exposed veterans, including expanded access to earned benefits and health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Tampa Bay veterans inspired Kathy Castor to push for more service member health care.

Castor noted work by Florida figures like retired Army Col. D.J. Reyes, who advocated for an expansion of benefits for years. “I am grateful that DJ shared just how important this bill is, and I proudly voted yes on behalf of DJ and other Tampa neighbors who served our nation,” Castor said. “Now, the bill will head back to the Senate for a final vote before making its way to President Biden’s desk. Our toxic-exposed veterans have honorably served our nation, and now, with passage of this bill, Congress is finally holding up its pact to address the needs of our service members once they return home.”

For Clearwater Republican Bilirakis, the victory in passing the bipartisan legislation felt bittersweet. He issued a statement acknowledging the advocacy of constituents as well, some of whose appeared on prior versions of legislation he carried. The Congressman spotlighted two voices, Iraq veteran Lauren Price and Guam veteran Lonnie Kilpatrick, who succumbed to health issues before the PACT Act could become law.

“Lauren developed a terminal illness due to her exposure to burn pit toxins in Iraq. Despite her illness, she was passionate about making sure her brothers and sisters in arms would finally be able to access the medical care and benefits they had earned. Lauren worked tirelessly to help me craft legislation and testified at multiple Congressional hearings,” Bilirakis said.

“Lonnie spent years battling the VA to prove his service-connected Agent Orange exposure because his records were sealed by the Department of Defense (DOD). After my personal intervention in Lonnie’s case, the DOD was able to confirm his exposure to the VA. Subsequently, the VA approved his retroactive disability claim just days before Lonnie succumbed to his illnesses. Lonnie died knowing that his family would have those financial resources.”

Bilirakis said families of the advocates should take comfort that the work will mean brothers and sisters in uniform will enjoy benefits earned through years of work.

Story of Tet

The story of Punta Gorda veteran Steven Hull just became part of the Veterans History Project Series. He’s the latest constituent of Sarasota Republican Steube to be included in the federal project.

“GMSM Hull served our Country at a controversial time in our history, and he served diligently with his whole heart,” Steube said. “I know his account of Vietnam-era wartime will be an informative and inspiring addition to the Veterans History Project collection.”

Hull’s story can be seen on YouTube and will be preserved for the historical record. He spoke about experiencing the Tet Counteroffensive unfold during his time in Vietnam. He served on the U.S.S. New Jersey BB-62 at the time.

“They awoke us at 2:30 in the morning and we started firing,” Hull recalled. “When the next day came around, 24 hours later, they had to pull us from the gun line because we’d built up so much brass,” Hull said. “We live in the greatest country on the face of the earth and it’s worth defending and serving. I think every young person should spend two years of service for their country in some respect. War is a terrible, disruptive thing, but freedom is not free. Someone has to pay the price and serve.”

The Veterans History Project Series launched in 2000.

To watch Hull’s story, click on the image below:

Backing safer condos

​​Months after collaborating on a condominium safety bill, Reps. Crist and Wasserman Schultz introduced new legislation, the Rapid Financing and Critical Condo Repairs Act, to make high-rises safer places to live. If passed, the legislation would provide condo associations with federally backed loans to cover structural repairs to buildings.

“We enable homeowners to finance both the purchase of a house and its rehabilitation costs, but condominiums are not eligible,” Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, said. “This commonsense legislation offers a solution to help condo owners and associations to obtain financing for needed repairs and ensure their buildings are safe.”

The matter became a Florida priority following the collapse of a condominium tower in Surfside, which killed 98 occupants.

After Surfside, Debbie Wasserman Schultz pushes for federal condo safety rules.

“The Champlain Towers condo collapse brought to light the serious flaws in how condo buildings are maintained and repaired — and we must do all we can to avoid another tragedy,” Crist said. “To save lives, associations should have access to financing as soon as a critical problem is found. As we saw in Surfside, waiting for special assessments to be collected can cause deadly delays. Our bill would provide an immediate financing option to begin repairs and keep residents safe and in their homes.”

Rapping the Mapping

Leaders of the Latino Jewish Caucus, including Díaz-Balart and Wasserman Schultz, condemned activity in Massachusetts they dubbed antisemitic. The Mapping Project, an outgrowth of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, hosts online an interactive map of Jewish community organizations purportedly to disrupt those supporting “colonization of Palestine.” The Anti-Defamation League, one of the organizations identified on the map, called the move a “threatening” one, and Florida congressional leaders agreed.

“The Mapping Project has explicitly stated that the intention of its collective mapping is to reveal local Jewish entities and networks to specifically dismantle and disrupt them,” read a joint statement from co-Chairs of the Latino Jewish Caucus.

The Latino Jewish Caucus work to fight hate crimes.

“We have witnessed far too many hate-based attacks on places of worship, businesses, schools, and public facilities, to wait silently for the next incident to take place. Antisemitic attacks have risen by 42% in Massachusetts while nationwide there has been a 34% uptick. As members of the Latino Jewish Caucus, we stand united with the Jewish community in our response to condemn this hate and xenophobic actions that provoke antisemitism, hate motivation, or incitement of violence.”

The bipartisan caucus is co-Chaired by Díaz-Balart, Wasserman Schultz, New York Democrat Adriano Espaillat and Washington Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler.

Remain in Mexico

If the Supreme Court won’t force Biden to preserve former President Donald Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy, Miami Republican Giménez says Congress should instead. He filed the Migrant Protection Protocols Act to codify the policy, which would require migrants crossing the southwestern border to return to Mexico and await any court proceedings before appearing in immigration court in the U.S.

If Joe Biden won’t protect ‘Remain in Mexico,’ maybe Congress will. Image via AP.

“The weak and gutless decision by the Biden administration to reverse the Remain in Mexico Policy incentivizes Mexico to pass its border security responsibilities to the United States rather than dealing with the influx of migrants from Central and South America at the Mexican border,” Giménez said. “Right now, the vast majority of migrants seeking asylum from their home countries are not actually from Mexico, but rather, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and even countries such as Cuba, Haiti, and beyond. If the true intent of these migrants is to seek refuge from brutal regimes and harsh living conditions in their home countries, then it would make sense for them to apply for asylum in Mexico rather than engage in the dangerous and treacherous journey to the United States.”

Cammack signed on as an introducing co-sponsor to the legislation.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to end the Migration Protection Protocols was a devastating blow to our border and national security,” she said. “One of the only remaining tools at our agents’ disposal, the border crisis will only worsen without the necessary steps taken to safeguard MPP and its demonstrated success. I’m glad to join Rep. Gimenez and my colleagues in enshrining MPP into law and returning law and order to the southern border with this important change.”

On this day

July 15, 1971 — “Richard Nixon announces visit to communist China” via History.com — During a live television and radio broadcast, President Nixon stunned the nation by announcing he will visit communist China the following year. The statement marked a dramatic turning point in U.S.-China relations, as well as a major shift in American foreign policy. Nixon was not always so eager to reach out to China. Since the Communists came to power in China in 1949, Nixon had been one of the most vociferous critics of American efforts to establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese. His political reputation was built on being strongly anti-communist, and he was a major figure in the post-World War II Red Scare.

July 15, 1980 — “Billy Carter files as foreign agent” via The Washington Post — President Jimmy Carter’s brother registered as a foreign agent after a court order and revealed that he has received $220,000 in cash, almost $3,000 in gifts and almost $16,000 in travel expenses from Libya for work done during the past two years. In his registration statement, Billy Carter described the $220,000 as installments on a $500,000 loan he was promised by the Libyan government. Carter said he had requested the loan in return for his services. There was no indication Carter would have to repay the loan, which Carter’s registration statement said was agreed to without notes or anything in writing.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol.


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