Democrats’ shrinking majority
When Congress reconvenes in Washington, there will be a narrower majority than ever, in part thanks to the passing of the Democratic co-chair of Florida’s delegation, Alcee Hastings.
Despite Republicans losing the White House and Senate in the last election cycle, the House GOP enjoyed successes and returned to Washington with a more sizable caucus, albeit still in the minority. Democrats began the 117th Congress with a narrow 222-211 majority in the lower chamber.
Since that time, Republicans added one seat through a special election, with Louisiana Republican Julie Letlow winning a seat her late husband Luke won before his death from COVID-19. She took office Tuesday.
Alcee Hastings’ death leaves a shrinking Democratic majority in the House.
President Joe Biden is also shrinking the Democratic majority through appointments. Biden tapped Ohio Democrat Marcia Fudge for Housing and Urban Development Secretary, New Mexico Democrat Deb Haaland for Interior Secretary, and Louisiana Democrat Cedric Richmond as a senior adviser.
With Hastings’ death after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, Democrats hold a slim 218-212 majority as of now.
The House will fill four openings, some quicker than others. A runoff for Richmond’s seat is April 24, and no Republican even filed. Per New Mexico state law, Haaland’s seat must be filled within 91 days; a special election will be on June 1, with prognosticators giving Democrat Melanie Stansbury the edge.
But it will be a wait before the House boasts full attendance. Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine set the special election to replace Fudge for Nov. 2. That will leave her seat empty for most of the year.
As for Hastings’ seat? Well, Florida law grants significant leeway to Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, in scheduling a special election in Florida’s 20th Congressional District. Department of State officials say they will consult with local elections supervisors and work out a timetable.
“Details on timing for a special election to fill the vacancy left by the passing of Rep. Alcee Hastings are currently being determined and will be announced in the future,” State Department spokesman Mark Ard told Delegation.
Perhaps as a former member of Congress, DeSantis will need to ensure that those constituents don’t go without representation for too long. Or maybe he will relish in the knowledge Speaker Nancy Pelosi can’t push an “aggressive” agenda since any given vote on bills will fail if the House loses more than three Democrats.
That said, Democrats so far have passed bills on background checks, election reform, police oversight, and massive COVID-19 relief. If that’s all that gets done, it’s a pretty substantial list of progressive priorities.
On Friday, Biden proposed a $24.7-billion budget for NASA in the 2022 fiscal year, a $1.5 billion or 6.3% boost from the prior year. A budget document released by the White House said the investment will “help spur innovation across the economy and renew America’s global leadership.”
“The 2022 discretionary request invests in developing new technologies to improve the Nation’s space and sustainable aviation capabilities; human and robotic exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond, including returning Martian rocks and soil to earth; and development of Earth-observing satellites that would produce breakthrough science and support the Nation’s efforts to address climate change.”
The Joe Biden administration is floating a $24.7 billion budget for NASA in 2022.
The budget includes $6.9 billion for human exploration of “the Moon, Mars and Beyond,” representing a $325-million hike from 2021 for the Artemis program. Several unmanned efforts like the Clipper mission to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa and the Dragonfly mission to send drones into Saturn’s moon Titan also made the cut. There’s also $1.4 billion budgeted, another $325 million hike, for development in Space Technology that could improve clean energy on Earth. A $2.3-billion Earth Space program, with $250 million more budgeted, would fund the study of climate change. The budget retains $3 billion for the International Space Station and puts aside $20 billion for a discretionary fund for building a STEM workforce.
Delegation members, of course, welcomed the investment. “Thrilled that President Biden includes nearly $25 billion for NASA in his 2022 budget, which is a 6.3% increase!” tweeted Kissimmee Democrat Darren Soto. “We are committed to getting back to the Moon, to Mars and beyond!”
Former NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, a former Republican Congressman, also praised the budget. “I am extremely pleased to see that the Biden administration has increased funding for NASA in the FY2022 budget request,” he said. “This budget continues the bipartisan Moon to Mars effort under the Artemis program. I urge the Senate to quickly confirm Sen. Nelson so that he can assess and advocate for NASA requirements.”
And while the budget will be handled for now by NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk, President Biden previously announced former Sen. Bill Nelson as his choice for a permanent administrator at NASA.
The Donald special
Sen. Rick Scott, as National Republican Senatorial Committee chair, created a new award for former President Donald Trump. Florida’s junior Senator presented the former President with the Senate campaign arm’s Champion for Freedom Award this weekend.
”This award is presented to conservative leaders who have worked tirelessly to create good jobs, protect the values that make our country great, and stop the Democrats’ socialist agenda. As President, Donald Trump delivered for the American people by appointing three pro-Constitution judges to the Supreme Court, cutting taxes for middle-class families and job creators, and securing the border,” the news release from the NRSC explains, setting up a quote from Scott himself.
Rick Scott awards Donald Trump with the first-ever NRSC presidential participation award.
“President Trump is a proven champion for all Americans,” Scott said. “Throughout his administration, he made clear his commitment to getting government out of the way of people’s success, paving the way for American families and job creators to reach new heights. President Donald Trump fought for American workers, secured the border, and protected our constitutional rights. We are grateful for his service to our country and are honored to present him with the NRSC’s first Champion for Freedom award.”
The first-ever NRSC award to Trump was on the same weekend he made news that may (or may not) be in Scott’s political interest. A bombshell emerged in South Florida, with whispers that Trump may be eyeing Ron DeSantis, Scott’s successor as Governor, as a potential running mate if Trump runs again in 2024.
DeSantis shared the stage with Trump this weekend; Scott appeared to have given Trump his award in a private ceremony.
Over the years, Sen. Marco Rubio was the butt of many a Jon Stewart joke, but he will stand alongside the comedian-turned-veterans advocate Tuesday to tout a cause they both share.
Stewart will appear at a news conference supporting bipartisan legislation to provide federal benefits to soldiers exposed to burn pits. Last month, Rubio introduced the bill along with New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Veterans must verify medical conditions associated with exposure to burn pits actually came about due to their time in the service.
Marco Rubio and Jon Stewart team up to address veteran illnesses from burn pits.
It’s somewhat similar to 9/11 first responders who suffered chronic conditions after working at ground zero after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York.
Stewart became a high-profile spokesman for those individuals, including testifying in Congress on the need to care for those who put their life on the line and suffered grave health consequences as a result.
Rubio and Gillibrand will be joined by Stewart and several other veteran advocates, as well as House sponsor Paul Ruiz, on Tuesday at 12:45 p.m. outside the VFW building in Washington, D.C.
One member of the delegation could be heading a key investigation on another.
The House Ethics Committee, chaired by Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch, launched an investigation into Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz. The official Congressional entity will look at allegations including sexual misconduct, illicit drug use and bribery.
It’s just one of the latest developments in a scandal that has consumed Gaetz and kept him in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The Ethics Committee is a statement announcing the investigation cautions the action “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.” But it does reflect that the committee is hearing things that trouble its members. A lot of things.
“The Committee is aware of public allegations that Rep. Matt Gaetz may have engaged in sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift, in violation of House Rules, laws, or other standards of conduct,” the statement declares.
Gaetz has repeatedly and vehemently denied any wrongdoing. However, he directed much of his defense at media reports of federal investigations, which the investigators have not confirmed in any detail.
Gaetz hired two prominent New York lawyers, Marc Mukasey and Isabelle Kirshner, to defend him in court.
Seven members of the Delegation signed on to a bipartisan letter asking for the deadline to pay taxes to move to May 17. That’s in line with action taken last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As individuals and small businesses continue to deal with the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, my colleagues and I believe aligning the estimated payments deadline with the regular tax filing deadline will streamline tax filings and help ensure accurate tax compliance” said Panama City Republican Neal Dunn.
Thanks to Neal Dunn, we have a little bit more time to file taxes.
Members signed on included Republicans Dunn, Cat Cammack, Dan Webster, Gus Bilirakis. Greg Steube and Carlos Giménez and Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
It’s a move the IRS ultimately made, granting individuals a little more than one month extra to file.
Don’t expect the House Democratic majority to bring many abortion restrictions to the floor, but Gainesville Republican Cammack plans to force the issue. The House freshman will introduce a discharge petition to bring the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (HR 619) up for a floor vote.
Cocoa-based Priests for Life has rallied support around the maneuver and considered Cammack a perfect member for the cause — as someone “whose own mother had to withstand pressure to abort her.”
Cammack will bring the petition on Wednesday, and it will remain open until the end of this Congress in December 2022. During that time, if 218 members of the House sign-on, there will have to be a vote on the bill introduced in January by Missouri Republican Ann Wagner. The bill sponsor and Minority Whip Steve Scalise will both support Cammack’s petition.
The pro-life group Priests for Life is supporting Kat Cammack’s petition for abortion restrictions.
“The right to life is the most sacred, inalienable human right afforded to us in the United States. I will always fight to protect the unborn and am honored to lead the discharge petition for H.R. 619, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act with Whip Scalise and Rep. Wagner,” Cammack said. “I urge my colleagues to stand up for what is right in putting an end to the dangerous, immoral abortion practices that take place daily in our country. I look forward to working with Republicans in Congress and everyone who stands for life in moving this bill forward toward a Floor vote this Congress.”
A similar effort in the last Congress fell short, and forcing a vote could be a challenge again. If all Republicans sign-on, there will still need to be about a half dozen Democrats who cross the aisle to join the effort.
The last go-round, only three did so, and none will do so this time. Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski lost a primary last year, while Republicans defeated Ben McAdams and Collin Peterson.
Erasing student debt
Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson last week put forward legislation to erase a massive amount of student debt. The Tallahassee Democrat introduced the Income-Driven Student Loan Forgiveness Act (HR 2034), which, if passed, will forgive such federal loans for any borrowers making less than $100,000.
“Canceling student debt will help increase economic activity and provide our nation’s graduates with the relief and opportunity they deserve,” Lawson said. “Students and families are taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt to pay for a quality education. Large amounts of student loan debt prevent young adults from making large purchases, like cars and homes, and it prevents them from having the capital necessary to contribute to our economy in innovative and creative ways. The Income-Driven Student Loan Forgiveness Act will alleviate pressure on our borrowers and give them a better start in life.”
Al Lawson is looking to wipe out a massive amount of student debt.
He estimates the legislation as written will help 43 million Americans living with a collective $1.6 trillion in student loan debt by wiping out 100% of their undergrad loans.
Statistics provided by Lawson’s office show 69% of college students take out loans for school. Moreover, 40% of African American families feel the burden of student loan debt, and many take on more to ensure children can attend college. Lawson, who represents a minority-majority district, said the bill, therefore, provides a means of closing a racial wealth gap as well.
Gold Arrow Families
Suicide claims the lives of 22 U.S. military veterans each day, and Sarasota Republican Steube said Congress needs to recognize the toll that takes on families. He introduced a resolution calling for the recognition of these survivors as “Gold Arrow Families.”
“Often overlooked, veterans’ family members make a great sacrifice in service to our country,” Steube said. “Unfortunately, without the necessary assistance, sometimes this sacrifice ends up in tragedy for family members, like Army Specialist Ashley M. Taylor, who took her own life after her husband, Army Private Bailey C. Taylor, died by suicide. We all need to come together to not only raise awareness for the mental health issues affecting our veterans and their families but also to provide crucial resources to those in need so we can prevent another tragedy like this again.”
The tragedy of Ashley Taylor brings ‘Gold Arrow Families’ to the forefront.
He referenced a married nuclear specialist and combat medic who died by suicide less than five months apart, leaving behind a young son.
The recognition would offer a similar but separate denotation from Gold Star Families, who survive a service member dying through active service.
Steube said it’s essential to raise awareness and provide for these grieving families’ needs by offering resources for coping with the loss.
Miami Republican Maria Elvira Salazar will help prepare the nation for America’s 250th-anniversary celebration.
Congress set up the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission to help organize those festivities, which will arrive on July 4, 2026, running through 2027. The body works with public and private groups intending to set up more than 100,000 sanctioned programs to help commemorate the historic occasion.
“I am thrilled to welcome Rep. Maria Salazar as the eighth congressional member of our bipartisan Commission,” said Daniel DiLella, chair of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission. “Congresswoman Salazar’s experience as a passionate advocate for democracy aligns with our mission and values. Her representation of Florida’s 27th Congressional District furthers our goal to reach each and every American during this historic milestone.”
Maria Salazar will help America celebrate its 250th birthday.
Salazar is the first member of Congress from Florida named to the commission. She joins Sens. Robert Casey and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Reps. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, Dwight Evans of Pennsylvania and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey. That body also includes several other private and ex officio members.
“As the daughter of exiles who fled tyranny to find freedom in America, I am beyond honored to serve on the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission,” Salazar added. “It is a privilege to work together and celebrate this incredible country, a beacon of freedom and democracy, that welcomed so many in my community with open arms.”
Lobbying for porno?
A former delegation member will lobby on behalf of a company amid a child porn lawsuit.
Mercury Public Affairs just signed on Webgroup Czech Republic as a client and assigned Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat, to handle a case for the controversial content provider, LegiStorm reports.
Webgroup owns the pornography website XVideos and needs someone interfacing with Congress about online speech and communications, as well as any internet compliance issues.
Joe Garcia goes to bat for an adult website. Image via AP.
Public disclosures list Garcia as one of two lobbyists, along with Michael McSherry, taking on the load.
The decision to hire Mercury came after the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Law Center brought forward a class-action lawsuit on behalf of sex trafficking victims who say the online platform distributed video of child sex abuse for profit. The suit includes the account of an unidentified girl who says she and other minors were trafficked to Prague, Czech Republic, where the porn was allegedly produced before being shared across the company’s various sites.
On this day
April 13, 1934 — “Congress passes Johnson Debt Default Act” via POLITICO — Many governments allied with the United States during World War I subsequently defaulted on their debts. In response, on this day in 1934, Congress passed the Johnson Debt Default Act. The law barred those nations from negotiating any further loans until they had repaid their debts in full. Sen. Hiram Johnson, a California Republican, shepherded the legislation through Congress. Sen. Gerald Nye, a North Dakota Republican isolationist, also played a major role in advancing the act. He said bankers and munitions makers had drawn the United States into World War I to profit financially.
April 13, 1861 — “Union forces surrender at Fort Sumter” — After a 33-hour bombardment by Confederate cannons, Union forces surrender Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor. The first engagement of the Civil War ended in a Rebel victory. The surrender concluded a standoff that began with South Carolina’s secession from the Union on Dec. 20, 1860. When President Abraham Lincoln sent word to Charleston in early April that he planned to send food to the beleaguered garrison, the Confederates took action. They opened fire on Sumter in the predawn of April 12. Over the next day, the Rebels hurled nearly 4,000 rounds toward the black silhouette of Fort Sumter.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by A.G. Gancarski, Ryan Nicol and Scott Powers.