Dems celebrate Dreamer bill
This week, Democrats celebrated the passage of the Dream and Promise Act. This legislation would protect those who came to this country with family or sponsors (Dreamers) from deportation and sets out a path to permanent resident status and ultimately, citizenship.
The bill passed along mostly partisan lines, 237-187. Seven Republicans, including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart from Miami, joined 230 Democrats to send the bill to the Senate.
“The average Floridian who arrived under (Temporary Protected Status) has lived in the U.S. for almost two decades,” said Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch. “They are our neighbors, students, teachers, business owners, community leaders and friends. Those who have made the most of the opportunities of the American dream deserve a path to citizenship.”
Dreamers meeting certain criteria can first obtain conditional lawful permanent resident (LPR) status. After 10 years, when they have met certain additional educational, military service or work requirements, can obtain full lawful permanent resident (LPR) status.
Once obtaining full LPR status, Dreamers can then apply for citizenship after an additional five years. The bill would put 2.5 million Dreamers and immigrants eligible for Temporary Protected Status or Deferred Enforced Departure on a path to citizenship.
Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa said the “legislation provides a tough, but fair, pathway to citizenship for children brought to America by their parents at a young age — children who know no other country than America.”
While supporting the bill, Diaz-Balart indicated Democrats were more interested in having an election issue than passing a bill that could actually become law and help the Dreamers.
“I voted for every version of this in the past, so I’ll vote for this. But the sad part is that they did it in a way to guarantee that it doesn’t become law,” he said. “And that’s a real shame, because you could get bipartisan support for something on this.”
“I have repeatedly stated that I want to find a solution for Dreamers — those kids who, through no fault of their own were brought to the United States as children illegally,” said GOP Rep. Ted Yoho of Gainesville. “However, this must be done in coordination with measures to strengthen our nation’s border security that would reduce illegal immigration.”
Bill proponents made the conscious decision not to include enhanced immigration enforcement or border security in the bill. That made it a no-go for most House Republicans and is expected to prevent serious consideration in the Senate.
Rubio, Scott back tariffs
If Trump has his way, Mexico will be subject to a 5 percent tariff on several good imported to the USA if they do not agree to take substantial action to stop the flow of illegal immigrants through their country. He will need to overcome some substantial opposition not only from Democrats but also from within his own party.
There is bipartisan support for tariffs on China but taking action against “a friend” is another matter. Trump said the GOP would be “foolish” for trying to stop him, despite comments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said there is “not much support” from Senate Republicans.
Trump will have the backing of both Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott. McConnell has asked Trump to meet with Congressional Republicans before implementing the tariffs.
I don’t generally like tariffs either. But what alternative do my GOP colleagues have to get #Mexico to secure its southern border,use the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to screen northbound rail cars & vehicles & act on intel we provide on human traffickers? https://t.co/9qNiRN4Mek
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 5, 2019
Scott put the ball squarely in Mexico’s court.
“I don’t like tariffs but I’m going to support the President because I believe Mexico could be a better partner,” Scott said. “They need to figure out how to reduce the number of people who are being apprehended at the border.”
Top level White House meetings that included Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, were trying to resolve the issue and prevent tariffs. Trump said from Europe that “progress was being made, but not nearly enough.”
Rubio condemns Twitter
As Europe and North America celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France (see below), many in the U.S. lamented the 30th anniversary of the Chinese massacre in Tiananmen Square. Several members on Capitol Hill marked the event, but Rubio focused on activity that took place before the celebration.
Twitter took the extraordinary step of taking down the accounts of Chinese dissidents before the anniversary, sparking outrage. Few, if any, were more vocal than Rubio, who used Twitter’s own platform to accuse them of being “a Chinese (government) censor.”
Suspicion ran rampant, especially since it involves China, who has basically removed any mention of the massacre in official documents or books. Twitter apologized for blocking the accounts, blaming the blocks on internal spam filters.
Rubio also joined with bipartisan colleagues to file a Senate resolution commemorating the anniversary. In addition to the anniversary, the resolution calls out China for “increasing repression and human rights violations by the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the use of surveillance by Chinese authorities.”
“We remember the Tiananmen Square massacre — not simply as a historical event, but as a present and poignant reminder that when the Chinese people are free to assemble, to speak and to act, they call for freedom, democracy and political reforms,” Rubio said in a release.
“Thirty years after the tragic events of Tiananmen Square, the free world is faced with an increasingly aggressive Chinese Communist government that is more repressive domestically, ignoring international norms, and is exporting its authoritarian model globally.”
Port funding sought
Florida’s ports play a significant role in the economy and Scott wants the federal government to pay what he describes as their overdue share to keep the economy flowing. This week he talked about port funding while touting his Fighting for Florida budget that calls for investing $140 million for port security and infrastructure.
Scott told reporters in Palm Beach that during his eight years as governor, the state invested $1.4 billion into Florida’s 15 seaports. He would like to get some of that back.
“One group that has not been a great partner is our federal government,” he said. “The federal government, in my eight years as governor, they did not put up their portion of the money for our ports, and it’s wrong.”
He promised to keep the issue as a major focus of his efforts. His pitch has remained the same.
“When we invest in our ports, we get more jobs. As we invest these dollars, we invest in more cranes, we improve our berthing, we do the dredge projects, we continue to get more and more [better] paying jobs,” Scott said in March at Port Tampa.
SCOTUS census ruling imminent
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is in the final days of its 2018-19 term. By June 30, decisions on important cases will be announced, but none will have the profile of Department of Commerce v. New York.
Any day, the court will decide whether the Department of Commerce will be permitted to add a question to the 2020 census asking for the citizenship of respondents. The plaintiffs argue that forcing individuals to reveal their citizenship will lead to a dramatic census undercount, affecting congressional districts and federal funding to states.
While Florida Democrats are united in opposition to the question, Scott said earlier this week that if the Supreme Court allows the question and Florida turns out to be one of those undercounted states, so be it.
“It ought to be based on citizenship,” Scott told Fox News anchor Dana Perino. “I understand the issue of would we lose some federal funding, but the truth is, what we really need to think about is, we should allocate the dollars based on citizenship; we should allocate congressmen and women based on citizenship.”
Allegations and evidence questioning the Trump administration’s motives for placing the question into the census arose last week. The lower court judge who handled the original case has put any review of the allegations on hold, meaning the Supreme Court will rule before the accusations are fully vetted.
Following oral arguments April 23, court watchers believe the conservative bloc consisting of Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh seemed poised to rule for the Trump administration.
Rutherford files PAWS Act
Veterans leaving the military suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often need help to cope with their situation. Jacksonville Republican John Rutherford and North Florida colleagues Michael Waltz of St. Augustine and Al Lawson of Tallahassee have introduced a bill designed to help those veterans as they readjust.
The Puppies Assisting Wounded Service Members (PAWS) Act of 2019 would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide service dogs to veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Rutherford acknowledged that the depression that soldiers returning home feel comes with a heavy price, noting 20 veterans commit suicide daily.
“We must do more to help those with PTSD and other service-connected forms of trauma,” Rutherford said. Providing service dogs to veterans is a proven therapy for PTSD, but for many, the cost associated with training and raising these animals is too great,” he said. “The PAWS Act will support organizations that pair service dogs with veterans to help our warfighters lead productive and successful lives once they return to civilian life.”
Waltz agrees with his colleague.
“There’s no denying the emotional and psychological benefits dogs have on humans but for our veterans, that connection is even more impactful,” said Waltz.
Lawson voiced hope that these service animals could “help to ameliorate the symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Help for estuaries
Florida is home to a large number of estuaries, some of which suffer from high levels of acidity. This week, Republican Rep. Bill Posey of Rockledge saw his bill studying the acidification of estuaries approved by the House.
The National Estuaries and Acidification Research Act of 2019,” instructs the Ocean Studies Board of National Academies to conduct a two-year study that examines the science of ocean acidification and its effect on estuaries. During the markup, Posey offered an amendment, which was also adopted, to authorize $1 million to conduct the study.
A prominent goal of the bill is to create a better understanding of coastal acidification to better manage and mitigate its effects on the nation’s estuaries and other natural treasures. Among the bill’s original co-sponsors are Palm City Republican Brian Mast and Oregon Democrat Suzanne Bonamici.
“Because estuaries are places where fresh water mixes with salt water from the oceans, preserving the delicate balance of nature is necessary but can also be challenging,” Posey said in a news release. “This critical legislation will help protect our estuaries by ensuring that we continue to study and monitor the effects of coastal acidification and I would like to thank Representatives Bonamici and Mast for their work on this issue and their important leadership in our bipartisan estuary caucus.”
The bill would benefit areas such as the Indian River Lagoon system, which runs 156 miles from Volusia to St. Lucie County. While one of the most biodiverse estuaries in the U.S., it is also in need of attention.
Other co-sponsors include Waltz and Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg. Posey, Mast and Bonamici are co-chairs of the Congressional Estuary Caucus.
As of right now, no confirmed companion measure in the U.S. Senate exists.
Cuba travel restrictions criticized
The Trump administration struck another blow at Cuba by issuing new travel restrictions. The new restrictions target travel into the socialist nation by tour groups and cruise ships.
Administration officials said the new restrictions were implemented to counter Cuba’s involvement in playing “a destabilizing role in the Western Hemisphere, providing a communist foothold in the region and propping up adversaries such as Venezuela and Nicaragua … and suppressing democratic processes.”
Tampa Bay area Democrats Crist and Castor were critical of the new restrictions. They represent an area where cruise ship travel to Cuba originated.
“Banning U.S. cruise lines and most Americans from traveling to Cuba hurts Florida’s economy and is a major step backward for U.S.-Cuba policy,” they said in a joint statement. “The American people are our best ambassadors for spreading democracy and freedom. By rolling back President Obama’s policies, we push an island nation 90 miles off our shores further into the hands of our adversaries.”
Top administration officials indicated they were pleased to reverse those policies. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said, “the previous administration made too many concessions to one of our historically most aggressive adversaries.”
Crist and Castor pointed to other adversaries, to where travel is not restricted.
“Americans can travel to Moscow, Beijing, virtually anywhere in the world, but not Havana? It doesn’t make sense,” they said.
Buchanan applauds tightened security
After several successful or thwarted terrorist attacks, where perpetrators demonstrated violent tendencies on social media, the State Department is now requiring visa applicants to provide their usernames, previous email addresses and telephone numbers. This is long overdue, according to Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan.
“I commend the Trump Administration for taking this important step to safeguard the homeland,” Buchanan said in a news release. “We have to use every tool at our disposal to protect Americans at all levels from terrorists.”
Buchanan has been a proponent of this step for as long as four years ago, when he introduced legislation to accomplish what the State Department now requires. He sponsored the Social Media Screening for Terrorist Acts in 2015.
The new rules apply to virtually all applicants for immigrant and nonimmigrant visas. When it filed its initial notice to make the change, the department estimated it would affect 710,000 immigrant visa applicants and 14 million nonimmigrant visa applicants, including those who want to come to the U.S. for business or education.
“The war on terror is constantly evolving as radical Islamic jihadists use the internet and social media sites to communicate, fundraise and recruit,” Buchanan added. “Checking social media is standard practice for thousands of employers. It’s past time we update our tactics to the 21st century and combat terrorists on digital media platforms.”
‘No’ votes panned
While Democrats are divided on key issues in Washington, closer to home, some hard feelings are developing between Republicans on the matter of disaster relief. After eight months of delays fueled by politics (on both sides), the much-needed aid for the Panhandle was approved within a $19.1 billion bill.
Following a 354-58 vote in the House to approve the funding, celebrations erupted, along with some hard feelings. Included among the 58 “no” votes from Republicans were those cast by freshman Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota and second-term Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples.
Both indicated the size and scope of the funding troubled them.
After saying he was pleased the Panhandle is getting the help it needs, Steube was troubled by “outrageous spending” with no way to pay for it.
“I ran for Congress refusing to add to the national debt, and this bill had a high price tag with no offset,” Steube said.
Rooney said the Disaster Relief Fund already contained enough to provide sufficient assistance, but the additional funding will allow more spending on disasters from as far back as four years ago. He also singled out funding for non-disaster related programs.
Fellow delegation Republicans did not immediately call out the pair, but Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican from devastated Panama City, let his anger fly.
“If I was in their district, I would vote them out,” Patronis told reporters after a Cabinet meeting the day after the vote. ““They will get what’s coming to them somewhere, somehow,” he added.
Dems want Homestead shuttered
The migrant detention facility in Homestead has been a source of controversy for months. The overcrowded facility housing migrant teens has been under intense scrutiny from South Florida Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala.
Following a recent court filing that included complaints from teens they were being held in “prisonlike” conditions, the trio took it a step further. This week they demanded the Trump administration shut down the country’s largest child migrant facility.
Last week, Mucarsel-Powell, whose district includes Homestead, blasted the administration for not having an evacuation plan in place in the event a hurricane would hit the area. The court filing was the last straw.
“Reports of dangerous and scarring conditions are becoming too common,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a joint release. “The Homestead child facility must be shut down, so we can restore our country’s values of being a refuge for immigrants.”
Companion bills in Congress sponsored by Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley and California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu, have previously called for the closing of Homestead due to the lack of a license.
With migrant family units and asylum-seekers pouring over the Southern border, officials have instead planned to expand the facility. Should the facility close, eligible sponsors would need to be located or “move them into nonrestrictive, licensed community-based residential facilities,” said Wasserman Schultz.
“After reviewing the court document, I think it’s time to take steps toward closing the Homestead facility and transferring these unaccompanied children to smaller shelters operated and overseen by experienced nonprofit groups that have welcomed immigrants for years,” Shalala said.
On this day
June 7, 2007 — A sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration laws was stopped in the Senate. A filibuster against the plan forwarded by President George W. Bush could not be overcome as only 45 of the required 60 Senators voted to cut off debate.
Both Florida Senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Mel Martinez, voted to end debate and bring the bill to a vote. The filibuster thwarted the efforts of about a dozen Senators who met for three months to balance a call for greater border security and finding a pathway to citizenship for nearly 12 million in the country illegally.
June 7, 2016 — Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner, was blasted for comments many deemed racist. Trump questioned his ability to get a fair trial in the Trump University case based on U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel’s Mexican heritage.
His comments put Republicans on the spot, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who did not pull his endorsement, but called the comments “the textbook definition of racist comments.” Ryan added, “But do I believe Hillary Clinton is the answer? No, I do not.”
This week marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of France that set the Allies on a path that would end the war in Europe less than one year later. The President’s remarks delivered just above Omaha Beach in Normandy gave true meaning to what was accomplished and how June 6, 1944, is still vividly remembered 75 years later.
“Your legend will never die, your spirit, brave, unyielding and true, will never die,” he said. “The blood that they spilled, the tears that they shed, the lives that they gave, the sacrifice that they made, did not just win a battle. It did not just win a war.
“Those who fought here won a future for our nation. They won the survival of our civilization, and they showed us the way to love, cherish and defend our way of life for many centuries to come.”