U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta has resigned after criticism of his handling of the Jeffrey Epstein case as a then-U.S. attorney was reignited in recent days.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Acosta said he felt it was the right decision, and didn’t want to serve as a distraction in his role as Labor Secretary.
“We have an amazing economy,” Acosta said.
“We have unemployment lower than we have seen literally in my lifetime. And the focus needs to be on this economy and job creation.”
President Donald Trump, who joined Acosta outside the White House Friday, said the decision was entirely Acosta’s. Acosta added he felt the media was focused on his handling of the Epstein case rather than the successes of the American economy.
“As I look forward, I do not think it is right and fair for this administration’s Labor Department to have Epstein as the focus rather than the incredible economy that we have today,” Acosta said.
Acosta said he called Trump Friday morning and informed him of his decision.
Some responses from Florida’s delegation include:
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson:
— Rep Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) July 12, 2019
U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala:
— Rep. Donna E. Shalala (@RepShalala) July 12, 2019
My hope is that the victims of Jeffrey Epstein may soon find the justice that has eluded them for so long. 3/3
— Rep. Donna E. Shalala (@RepShalala) July 12, 2019
Dems fear Obamacare’s demise
If a hearing this week before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit is any indication, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, may be in trouble. Two of the three judges hearing the case asked pointed questions of lawyers representing Democratic attorneys general and the House of Representatives, leaving observers to speculate the panel will invalidate the law passed in 2010.
Both judges, Jennifer Walker Elrod and Kurt Engelhardt, are appointees of former President George W. Bush and Trump, respectively. They questioned the constitutionality of the law once the December 2017 tax cut law included a provision invalidating the requirement that Americans either purchase health care or pay a tax.
Judge Carolyn Dineen King, an appointee of former President Jimmy Carter, remained silent throughout the 90-minute hearing.
The thought of invalidating the law brought condemnation of Trump and his administration from Democrats who describe the President as “cruel.”
“This lawsuit would raise out-of-pocket costs for premiums and for prescription drugs,” said Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz during a conference call with reporters. “That would be devastating for our senior population in Florida.”
Miami Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell said the stakes are high.
“The health care of millions of Floridians is on the line,” she said. “Trump and the Republicans are trying to do in the courts what they failed to do in Congress, which is to repeal our entire health care law.”
The hearing was the result of an appeal by the Democrats following their defeat in a federal district court in Texas. The original case was filed by the Republican Attorney General of Texas and joined by 19 other states, including Florida.
Should the law be struck down, Republicans will be in the same position as they were a year ago when they tried to repeal the law and replace it with an alternative. Democrats were not required to do anything as the GOP could not even agree among themselves on a new plan.
Coverage for preexisting conditions, a key component of Obamacare, will be at the top of the list if the law is struck down. Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor set the stage shortly after the hearing was concluded.
“Republicans, with the unfortunate support of our own State of Florida, pressed in court to destroy affordable health care coverage for millions of Floridians and Americans,” she said in a news release. “If the GOP and President Trump prevail in Texas v. U.S. in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, coverage for preexisting conditions and other consumer protections will end.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last month “Everybody I know in the Senate … is in favor of maintaining coverage for preexisting conditions.”
It sets up opportunities for the extreme factions of both parties to fight with their leadership. Last year’s GOP battles with the Freedom Caucus could be re-fought while the progressive Democrats could seek something closer to Medicare for all.
The loser at the appeals court level will certainly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, likely pushing the final fate of the law beyond the 2020 election. The campaign ads are probably in the development stage.
Targeting Chinese metal monopoly
China has a monopoly on mining rare earth materials that leaves the U.S. vulnerable when it comes to purchasing computers and advanced technologies. Weapons systems and advanced aeronautics also leaves much of the world at risk if the Chinese would try to withhold access to these products.
Reports that the Chinese wish to gain leverage in the ongoing trade talks with the U.S. has led Sen. Marco Rubio to file legislation to boost U.S. manufacturing of rare earth materials. The RE-Coop 21st Century Manufacturing Act would establish a privately funded, operated, and managed Rare Earth Refinery Cooperative responsible for coordinating the establishment of a fully integrated domestic rare earth value chain to serve U.S. national security interests and restore American competitiveness of critical advanced manufacturing industries.
“As the Chinese government and Communist Party aggressively subsidize and invest in their own economy at our expense, we must shift our policies to restore the competitiveness of critical American industries for the 21st century,” Rubio said in a news release.
Rare earths, a group of 17 metals considered critical for multiple sectors in the U.S., including national defense, are used to produce a number of products ranging from smartphones, cameras and nuclear rods. While not actually rare, China accounts for more than 95 percent of global output, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
“Continued U.S. dependence on China for the mining and processing of rare earths and the manufacture of those metals into useful products is untenable — it threatens our national security, limits our economic productivity, and robs working-class Americans of future opportunities for dignified work,” Rubio added.
Lower drug price plan
Few will argue that many prescription drugs carry high price tags. Some of those drugs are lower in countries such as Europe and Canada, leading Sen. Rick Scott to file legislation that would guarantee Americans receive the same prices as those outside the U.S.
Earlier this year, he launched the America First Drug Pricing Plan. The bill prohibits charging “American consumers more for prescription drugs than they charge consumers in other industrialized nations.”
My bill simply requires that drug companies CANNOT charge American consumers more for prescription drugs than the lowest price they charge in Canada, Europe or Japan.
Watch the clip from my speech on the Senate floor yesterday. pic.twitter.com/poJxtAzd7a
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) July 11, 2019
This week, Scott tried to jump-start progress on the bill by heading to the Senate floor to extol the benefits and seek support.
“American consumers are subsidizing the cost of prescription drugs in Europe and Canada and all over the world,” he said. “Why should we do that? Why would we, American consumers, who make up 40 percent of the market for prescription drugs, pay two to six times more for drugs than consumers in Europe or Canada or Japan?”
Scott’s bill has one co-sponsor, Missouri Republican Josh Hawley.
Trump talks environment
Earlier this week, Trump held an event at the White House designed to tout his environmental record while also ticking off success stories helped by a thriving economy. Among those successes was his commitment to Everglades restoration.
He did not mention climate change but did point to America becoming the top exporter of “clean, affordable, American natural gas.” While those in the East Room applauded his message, critics lamented Trump’s removal of Barack Obama-era regulations and his dismissal of climate change as signs he is not serious about the issue.
“He’s living in his own reality,” said Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA Administrator under President George W. Bush. “He’s definitely in another world.”
Later, a Floridian ended up sharing the spotlight with the President. Trump called up Bruce Hrobak, owner of Billy Bones Bait & Tackle of Port St. Lucie, to describe how Trump’s policies have impacted him and his business.
“Mr. President, you’re not only doing a tremendous job all the way around,” he said, “but you jumping into this environment brings my heart warmth.”
Hrobak, who has been a loud voice against the discharges of polluted water from Lake Okeechobee, was in Washington only 10 days after perhaps nearly losing his life. He and his son, daughter and two friends had to be rescued after their boat sunk in the St. Lucie inlet.
Also on the invitation list for the event was Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein and Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam, who most recently served as Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Yoho lauds FEMA reimbursements
Federal reimbursements for recent disasters has been a sore spot among members of the delegation, but some relief for a storm that hit two years ago is finally on its way to North Florida. Gainesville Republican Ted Yoho calls that welcome news.
Marion County is finally receiving $9 million in FEMA reimbursements after hurricane Irma caused significant damage in 2017 and forced the county to remove 365,115 cubic yards of debris. Fortunately, the county had a healthy solid waste reserve fund, enabling them to front the money ahead of reimbursement.
“Since Hurricane Irma battered our state and communities, our office has been working diligently to ensure recovery monies made their way to affected communities,” Yoho said in a news release. “This has not been an easy or seamless process. Often the wait for funds has resulted in communities doing a perpetual shuffle of funds to keep projects moving and facilities working.”
Marion County was among the first counties to be reimbursed. The county awaits millions more in reimbursements for other necessities.
Alachua County, part of which is also represented by Yoho, received nearly $2 million in June for debris removal.
Bipartisan election bill filed
Election security has become a high-profile issue, especially in Florida where voting systems in two unknown Florida counties were hacked. St. Augustine Republican Michael Waltz and Winter Park Democrat Stephanie Murphy have become bipartisan partners on tackling the issue.
Recently, they introduced a bill to require notifications on both the state and local levels in cases where voter and election databases have been hacked. The Achieving Lasting Electoral Reforms on Transparency and Security Act is a response to discoveries in the spring that Russian hackers infiltrated computer networks of two Florida counties before the 2016 elections.
“It has now been nearly two months since Florida delegation members were briefed by the FBI on the two hacked counties in Florida — and the voters in these counties still don’t know if Russians have accessed their personal data,” Waltz stated in a news release.
“The one thing that is indisputable in the Mueller report is the fact that Russia interfered in our election. In Florida, it is unacceptable that the Russians know which systems were hacked but not the American voters who are the true victims of this intrusion,” said Murphy.
The bill, officially sponsored by Murphy and co-sponsored by Waltz, has already attracted 16 other co-sponsors, including Florida Democratic Reps. Shalala, Darren Soto, Ted Deutch, Charlie Crist, Mucarsel-Powell and Wasserman Schultz. Republican co-sponsors are Reps. Yoho, Matt Gaetz, Ross Spano, Brian Mast, Mario Diaz-Balart, John Rutherford and Vern Buchanan.
This is not the first time Waltz and Murphy have teamed up. Recently, they made a joint appearance at the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida to share their views and a desire to work together where possible.
House adds Crist amendment
The National Defense Authorization Act will soon be taken up in the House, but in the meantime, several amendments are being added. One comes from St. Petersburg Democrat Crist that would require the Pentagon to plan for climate change and rising seas.
The amendment would direct the Secretary of Defense to make fortifying military installations against flooding and rising sea levels a top priority. It would also require the military to work with agencies such as NASA and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to incorporate tracking changing climate and rising sea levels into their building plans for new installations while fortifying existing ones.
“Climate change is causing seas to rise, stronger storms and greater flooding — and our military bases are not taking these threats into account when planning for the future,” Crist said in a statement. “This amendment requires the military to harden our bases and installations to better withstand storms, flooding and rising seas, enhancing our military readiness and better protecting our service members.”
According to the Pentagon, there are already six Florida bases that are faced with recurring flooding issues because of climate change.
This $733 billion bill authorizes FY2020 appropriations and sets forth policies for Department of Defense programs and activities, including military personnel strengths. The White House has threatened a veto for not providing an additional $17 million for military needs and, Republicans claim, for only including Democratic priorities.
Conservation caucus formed
A new Republican-centered environmental policy group was revealed this week, carrying the name of the party’s most renowned conservationist. Both Mast and Gaetz are among the charter members of the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus, formed to embrace and promote efforts to advance conservation and address environmental issues.
“In Florida, we know all too well what happens when the environment is neglected,” Mast said at the launch of the caucus. “As a result of decades of abuse, toxic algal blooms are now causing a massive public health crisis.”
Mast has been a constant critic of the release of toxic water from Lake Okeechobee, which has been a leading cause of algal blooms in South Florida.
Other issues the caucus intends to target are health risks from water pollution, ensuring “fishable and swimmable” water, reducing ocean plastic pollution, and increasing access to America’s public lands and waters for outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing.
“As conservatives, there ought to be a time where we work to conserve something,” Gaetz said. “While our differences in this town do matter, nothing matters more than the fact that we share the same planet.”
Other charter members include Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Steve Daines of Montana, Rob Portman of Ohio and Richard Burr of North Carolina. Joining Mast and Gaetz on the House side is Rep. Will Hurd of Texas.
As the caucus’ namesake, President Theodore Roosevelt is often described as the nation’s first conservationist President. Among his accomplishments was the establishment of more than 230 million acres of public lands.
Principal draws bipartisan outrage
Outrage from around the country followed the revelation that a Florida high school principal took a neutral stance on whether the Holocaust occurred. The exchange with a parent occurred one year ago, but it only recently came to light through reporting by the Palm Beach Post.
Deutch, who represents the area where Spanish River Community High is located, was incredulous when he learned of the words attributed to principal William Latson.
40% believe less than two million Jews were killed.
I am just shocked that the Spanish River principal couldn't say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event. And I cannot believe the school district labeled this incident and the principal's leadership a 'distraction.'
— Rep. Ted Deutch (@RepTedDeutch) July 9, 2019
The Palm Beach County School District reassigned Latson to the district office, much to the chagrin of those who were upset with his remarks. Latson blamed the parent for his reassignment, prompting Scott and others urge stronger action by the school district.
“This Principal should have been fired, not simply reassigned. There is no excuse for what he expressed,” Scott tweeted. “There is no excuse for Holocaust denial. There is no excuse for anti-Semitism of any kind.”
Liberal PAC targets Spano
A familiar target of Democrats and progressives for 2020 is Spano the first-term Representative from Dover. Another progressive group has stepped forward to help defeat him.
End Citizens United (ECU), a liberal political action committee (PAC) founded in 2015, announced their 12 first round of targets and Spano is high on the list. Spano defeated a well-funded Kristen Carlson in 2016, but came under intense scrutiny for his campaign funding and reporting.
The PAC supports candidates who support a campaign finance overhaul. Topping their list of desires is defeating candidates who accept donations from corporate PACS.
They lay much of the blame for the large increases of money in campaigns to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United case decided in 2010.
“These 12 incumbents represent the worst of Washington’s corrupt establishment, and their decades in office are a stark example of how corporate special interests and dark money conspire to rig our political system,” ECU President Tiffany Muller said in a statement.
While Spano is the only Floridian on the list, other targets include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, moderate Republican Susan Collins of Maine and appointed Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona, who is serving the term of the late Sen. John McCain.
In addition to Spano, other targets include GOP Reps. Duncan Hunter of California, David Schweikert of Arizona, and Chris Collins of New York, who have also had legal difficulties involving campaign finance.
Congressmen: Cuba sponsors terrorism
With Cuba continuing its support of the embattled Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and Colombian rebels, the U.S. has sought to sanction the communist island nation. Two South Florida Republicans want to take even stronger action by designating Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Reps. Francis Rooney of Naples and Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami urge Cuba to be reclassified just four years after they were removed from the list.
“We believe returning the Cuban regime to the State Sponsors of Terrorism list is necessary to rectify a major remaining mistake of the previous administration,” they wrote. “Doing so is consistent with President Donald Trump’s tough policy and would hold the regime accountable for actions that endanger U.S. security interests and destabilize our hemisphere.”
Cuba was originally put on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List in 1982 under President Ronald Reagan. As part of normalizing relations with Cuba, President Obama agreed to remove them from the list as of May 29, 2015.
“Despite this decision, Cuba has continued to support known terrorist and corrupt dictators such as the regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, and harbor known terrorists sought by American law enforcement,” said Rooney in a joint news release.
Those countries currently on the list include North Korea, Iran, Sudan and Syria.
“I look forward to working with the Trump administration to continue its commendable policy of applying pressure to oppressive, anti-American dictatorships,” Diaz-Balart said. “Classifying Cuba as a terrorist state is an important next step in that robust policy.”
Big money rolls in
Second quarter fundraising reports are due in the coming days, but two Florida Democrats have already announced they are doing quite well in their bids for reelection. With the election 16 months away, Mucarsel-Powell and Crist are raising significant amounts in their attempt to thwart current or potential opponents.
Mucarsel-Powell announced her campaign raised $600,000 during the quarter, bringing her total over $1 million since taking office just six months ago. She will report $950,000 cash on hand.
Crist, who seeks a third term representing District 13, announced that he had raised $431,000 for the quarter. While that was less than his Democratic colleague hauled in, he has $2.3 million cash on hand.
The former Governor has a Republican opponent who has demonstrated some fundraising ability. Former House and Senate aide Amanda Makki announced a $220,000 haul during the first month of her challenge to Crist.
Mucarsel-Powell will also be the beneficiary of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) Frontline program, which assists those in races deemed to be potentially vulnerable. In April, the DCCC appointed Crist as a regional vice-chair.
On this day
July 12, 1984 — Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale made history by selecting Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate, making her the first woman nominated for the No. 2 job. Gov. Bob Graham said Mondale “has recognized this is a time for a bold and important statement.”
Florida Democratic Party Chairman Charlie Whitehead said the selection means “Florida is up for grabs.” President Reagan avoided direct criticism, agreeing the choice was a breakthrough, “like appointing Sandra Day O’Connor to the Supreme Court,” who he appointed in 1981.
July 12, 2015 — Negotiations on a deal that would slow down or halt Iranian nuclear development are in their final stages, according to the head of Iran’s nuclear agency. He described the status of the negotiations as “almost over.”
Secretary of State John Kerry has worked with five European allies to reach an agreement after missing two previous deadlines. If a deal is reached, the Republican-led Congress is expected to pass resolutions of disapproval, which would then likely be vetoed by Obama.