Congress

Stoneman Douglas families pushing Congress to act on school safety

Parents who lost children in the 2018 Parkland high school shooting are pushing Congress to help prevent future school shootings with new legislation that would increase awareness about school-safety measures nationwide.

The “Luke and Alex School Safety Act,” introduced Thursday, is named after Alex Schachter and Luke Hoyer, two students who were killed on Feb. 14, 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The House bill was filed by Florida U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, Mario Diaz-Balart, Stephanie Murphy and John Rutherford, with the help of Alex’s dad, Max Schachter, and Tom and Gena Hoyer, Luke’s parents.

The bipartisan House proposal is a companion to a Senate bill introduced earlier this month by Florida Republican U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.

“This bipartisan and bicameral bill builds on the work of Parkland parents by requiring a dedicated home within the federal government for school security best practices and guidance that will help prevent gun violence and save lives in schools across the country,” Deutch, a Democrat representing CD 22, said in a press release.

Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, said the bill would “create a one-stop-shop for schools, families, and community officials to obtain valuable resources on school safety best practices.”

Here are more details about what the bill would do:

·       Create a federal clearinghouse with information from across the nation on school-safety recommendations, such as threat prevention, comprehensive school safety measures and incident response.

·       Recommendations made by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission would be among those included in the database.

·       Information would be stored within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

·       The U.S. Secretaries of Education, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the U.S. Attorney General would review all grant programs administered by their  agencies and identify any grant program that may be able to be used for school security improvements.

— By Ana Ceballos.

Taddeo talks Russian campaign hack on 60 MINUTES

unnamed Florida State Sen. Annette Taddeo will star in a 60 MINUTES segment Sunday night to discuss the Russian hack of national Democrats’ data that involved her  congressional campaign.

The Miami Democrat’s “campaign strategy and other sensitive data” was stolen from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in 2016.

According to the Department of Justice, “those files were hacked and dumped by Russian military intelligence units,” a press release from 60 MINUTES reads.

Taddeo lost her congressional bid, but was elected to the state Senate in a brutal special election in 2017.

Here’s the rest of the release:

Taddeo speaks to Bill Whitaker for a report that explains in detail how the Russians stole the critical information and disseminated it to undermine political candidates in 2016.  It will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Nov. 24 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

Taddeo says she was on her way to a live television debate with her opponent when she learned of the hack.  “My opponent Joe Garcia, showed up at that debate with a printout of all the documents,” she tells Whitaker.   “We’ve seen a lot [in Southern Florida.] But this was a foreign government. This was so much bigger,” says Taddeo, who says she lost to her opponent by about 700 votes.  “You know, I’ve been told by a lot of people, ‘You should stop talking about this. It’s really not good for you politically to remind people that you lost.’  But I refuse to stop talking about it. Because, again, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. And it didn’t happen to me: It happened to our democracy,” Taddeo says.

Whitaker also interviews John Demers, the assistant attorney general who runs the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, which inherited the Russian hacking case from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. There is no doubt in his mind the Russians executed the hack and strategically disseminated the documents through the online persona Guccifer 2.0. The agents behind Guccifer 2.0  then gave the data to political operatives and local journalists, and it eventually found its way to mainstream media.  “So Guccifer 2.0 is a fictional online persona,” says Demers.  “It’s all an effort on the Russian side to hide their involvement.”

Robert Anderson, who played leading roles in the FBI’s counterintelligence and cyber security divisions, tracked Russian intelligence operatives for years.  He warns in an interview with Whitaker that the Russians will be back for the 2020 election. “The thing that you need to worry about with Russia and every one of their intelligence services is they will learn from these operations…They will analyze everything they did right or wrong. And when they attack again, they will not come at you the same way,” he says.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz seeks power of the purse

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U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a South Florida Democrat, wants to be the head of the House budget committee, a powerful post now held by New York Congresswoman Nita Lowey, who is retiring next year.

Wasserman Schultz, a former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee who once served in the Florida Legislature, sent a letter to her colleagues seeking their support for her bid.

“As we experience one of the most consequential periods in our democracy, I am increasingly reminded of the very important power that rests solely with the Congress, a co-equal branch of government,” Wasserman Schultz wrote in the letter distributed to the media yesterday by her office.

The Broward County Democrat wrote that she wants to ensure the House Appropriations Committee has “strong and strategic leadership” that will make the committee process “more inclusive, accessible and even more transparent for all members.”

Wasserman Schultz notes that she’s served on budget subcommittees for 11 of her 14 years in Congress, including her current stint as the first woman to head the combined Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee.

As chairwoman of the sub, she said she’s worked to ensure vets have “the resources and support” they’ve earned.

“I also have led the fight to protect these vital resources against President Trump’s unconstitutional raid on our military and their families to pay for the border wall boondoggle.”

 

National Dems get into Good-Buchanan grudge match

bullseyeNational Democrats have put a target on Congressman Vern Buchanan, adding the Southwest Florida district to its roster of “offensive battlefield” seats.

The latest move makes a total of three Florida seats currently held by Republicans the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hopes to flip next year.

But battle for CD 16 has an interesting twist: State Rep. Margaret Good, a Sarasota Democrat, defeated Buchanan’s son James last year in a high-profile race for the open House seat.

So the battle between Good, a Sarasota lawyer who drew national attention for flipping a seat that had been held by Republicans, and Buchanan, who’s served in Congress for more than a decade, could shape up to be a super Sunshine State grudge match.

Here’s Good’s reaction from a press release issued after the DCCC announced it was adding CD 16 to its targeted congressional seats:

“This campaign is about the people in this district—about healthcare, water quality, and good-paying jobs. We want a representative that listens to and works hard for her constituents. That’s the kind of representative I am and this campaign reflects that work ethic. I welcome everyone and anyone who wants to work for the best interest of the people of our community to join us.” — State Rep. Margaret Good.

And here’s what DCCC Political Director Kory Kozloski said in a memo about the race for CD 16, which includes parts of Sarasota and Manatee counties, and other battleground battles:

  • In 2018, the Democratic House candidate earned 45.4% of the vote, the strongest performance for a Democrat since Florida’s redistricting in 2012, and a 5.2-point improvement on 2016.
  • The district is 32% college educated — outpacing the statewide numbers by 11% — and is almost 90% suburban, a major factor as Republicans struggle to manage a nationwide exodus of suburban voters from the Republican party.

Buchanan now has the dubious distinction of joining Republican U.S. Reps. Ross Spano and Brian Mast on the national Dems’ hit list, a position the congressmen are likely to use to drum up support in GOP circles.

 

Hammer gets an ‘F’ from NRA mutineer

We-the-People-Header-1Marion Hammer’s report cards can make Republicans tremble and Democrats cheer.

But now the onetime president of the national gun-rights group, who also serves on its board of directors, is the one who doesn’t make the mark, according to an NRA donor staging a leadership coup.

David Dell’Aquila filed a federal lawsuit against the NRA earlier this month, alleging that the gun-rights group misled contributors, as reported by The Wall Street Journal earlier this month:

A donor to the National Rifle Association filed a lawsuit against the gun-rights group, seeking class-action status, and claiming the group’s funding solicitations were “intentionally and materially false” because the NRA spent donated funds on executive perks, large legal fees, and other expenses unrelated to the group’s core mission.

Dell’Aquila’s mutiny isn’t isolated to federal court. He’s also drumming up support to rid the NRA of its CEO, Wayne LaPierre, amid reports of lavish spending that included $275,000 on spendy suits and a $39,000 single-day spree at a tony Beverly Hills boutique.

Dell’Aquila’s launched a website — “Help Save the NRA” — to recruit other gun-rights advocates to join the demand that LaPierre and the board of directors get the boot.

“We are a well-organized team that has substantial money, resources and support. Although a few high-dollar donors desire to be anonymous, they and our rank-and-file NRA members are the life sustaining blood of the NRA and demand new leadership, accountability and transparency,” Dell’Aquila wrote in a letter to the board, posted on the website.

Dell’Aquila — who’s donated at least $100,000 to the group and had pledged millions more, according to the WSJ — crafted a report card scoring members who serve on the board of the NRA, notorious for the “grades” the group hands out to state and federal legislators.

He gave “A” grades to members who “advocated the replacement of Mr.LaPierre, and/or publicized one’s removal from committee(s) due to questioning leadership, spending, policies, etc,” Dell’Aquila wrote.

And he bestowed “F” grades to members who support “LaPierre and his leadership team with insufficient oversight.”

Hammer was among more than two dozen members who received a failing grade.

The rationale Dell’Aquila gave for Hammer’s “F?”  She “wrote letter in support of WLP.”

Last month, Hammer penned a missive following a contentious NRA meeting. In the July 14 email, the NRA past president advised members of the group that “we must now move on.”

Hammer not only took the failing grade in stride, she flipped it into a compliment.

“When it comes to grading NRA Board members, it is my view that “F” stands for Freedom Fighter because  every NRA Board Member that Mr. Dell’Aquila graded with an “F” has been fighting to protect his Second Amendment rights and his Freedom for many years.  The fact that he is unappreciative, or perhaps ignorant of the continued personal sacrifices of those he arbitrarily and cavalierly maligns, speaks volumes,” she wrote in an email to The News Service of Florida, when asked about the report card.

Among the demands of Dell’Aquila and his junta: the removal of all past NRA president from the board of directors. That would include Hammer, of course.

Dell’Aquila is also demanding that the board cancel its upcoming “cruise/fishing adventure” in Alaska, questioning the $100,000 price tag for the Alaska board meeting.

“If you can justify such an expense given the current financial crisis of the NRA, you have the ears of over a 100 million voters who want to understand your rationale for this, and literally a dozen other financial irregularities,” Dell’Aquila wrote.

And, because Florida, the leader of the mutiny has someone in mind to take LaPierre’s place: political firebrand Allen West, a former Sunshine State congressman who serves on the NRA board of directors.

“There is a cabal of cronyism operating within the NRA and that exists within the Board of Directors. It must cease, and I do not care if I draw their angst. My duty and responsibility is to the Members of the National Rifle Association, and my oath, since July 31, 1982, has been to the Constitution of the United States, not to any political party, person, or cabal,” West wrote in a statement posted on his website in May.

 

Deutch, Scott join chorus demanding firing of former principal who questioned Holocaust

Casting doubt on whether the Holocaust took place not only cost a Boca Raton high school principal his leadership post, but created waves in Washington, D.C.

A day after Palm Beach County school administrators reassigned William Latson from his onetime job as principal of Spanish River Community High School for comments he allegedly made about the Holocaust, Florida Congressman Ted Deutch chimed in.

School officials said Latson made a “grave error in judgment in the verbiage” Latson used in April 2018 when responding to a mother’s inquiry about Holocaust education at the high school.

“I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Latson wrote.

School officials said Latson was counseled after his comments were reported, and that “he also spent several days at the United States Holocaust Museum to increase his personal knowledge.”

Despite the efforts, “his leadership has become a major distraction for the school community,” and Latson was reassigned to a district position, officials said.

But in a press release issued Tuesday, Deutch took umbrage at the words used by both Latson and district officials.

Deutch, the founder of the Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism, said he was “shocked” that the high school principal couldn’t say that the Holocaust “is a factual, historical event.”

“And I cannot believe the school district labeled this incident and the principal’s leadership a ‘distraction,’” Deutch said.

As a result, Deutch said he wants to make Holocaust education a bigger priority at the national level.

“My Task Force, together with Senator Jackie Rosen and her colleagues in the Senate, and Elan Carr, the Administration’s Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism, will make Holocaust education a national priority,” Deutch said in the release.

“Holocaust denial feeds anti-Semitism, which leads too often to violence and death, here in America and around the world. Bold steps are required – by all of us – to ensure the history of the Holocaust and the Nazis’ efforts to eradicate the Jewish people are never questioned – anywhere,” he added.

On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott also called for the firing of Latson, not just his reassignment.

“There is no excuse for what he expressed. There is no excuse for holocaust denial. There is no excuse for anti-Semitism of any kind,” Scott tweeted.

The Washington chatter may have prompted the Palm Beach County school district to schedule a press conference about the matter.

Palm Beach Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy said Tuesday afternoon he will address reporters at the Fulton-Holland Educational Services Center in Palm Springs at noon tomorrow.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Randy Fine, a Palm Bay Republican who is Jewish and who was one of the first legislators to demand that Latson be fired, continued to pile on.

— By Ana Ceballos.

 

 

Watch it: Deutch rocks “singer-songwriter” caucus

Congressman Ted Deutch has a stellar rep for his efforts to protect musicians’ rights to their intellectual property.

Keeping his playbook up-to-date, Deutch, a piano-playing Democrat whose South Florida district includes portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties, this week announced he and U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican, are relaunching the congressional “Songwriters Caucus.”

“The caucus will serve as a forum for Congress to engage with America’s songwriters and explore policy issues that affect their often-unrecognized contribution to the music industry,” a press release issued by Deutch’s office reads.

We caught up with Deutch via text to find out who’s at on his list of favorite singer-songwriters.

“Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Taylor Swift (yes, really), Ed Sheeran” Deutch responded.

“Lennon and McCartney!” he added later.

We dug up this old clip of Deutch, a former state senator, tickling the ivories during his initial run for Congress in 2010. (Warning: The audio and video quality of the clip stinks, but the piano playing don’t.)

 

Here’s the rest of the press release:

“Congresswoman Roby and I share an appreciation for music and the talented artists who write the songs we love. But these hard-working artists may not always get the recognition and compensation they deserve,” said Congressman Deutch. “We’ll lead this caucus to explore the industry from the songwriters’ perspective, to educate our colleagues about the issues facing the American songwriting industry, and to consider legislative options for ensuring a fair system for these artists.”

“I have a deep appreciation for the hardworking artists who create the songs and music so many Americans know and love,” said Congresswoman Roby. “I am thrilled to work alongside my colleague, Congressman Deutch, on the bipartisan Songwriters Caucus to ensure that these men and women are properly compensated and recognized for their creative work. Together we will tackle the many issues facing our songwriting industry in effort to improve the system.”

Congressional subcommittee chair: GOP take on Amendment 4 “an act of defiance”

A day after a congressional panel held a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Democratic U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch and Alcee Hastings filed legislation to make it easier for voters to fix signature mismatches.

Even if Congress doesn’t pass the South Florida Democrats’ federal legislation, the elections changes they’re proposing will almost certainly go into effect here in the Sunshine State.

Giving voters another chance and more time to fix their mismatched VBM signatures  is one of the provisions included in a an elections package (SB 7066) on its way to Gov. Ron DeSantis. The proposal also includes the Republican-controlled Legislature’s controversial plan to carry out a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to felons who’ve completed their sentences. Murderers and people convicted of felony sexual offenses are excluded from the “automatic” vote-restoration.

Under the provision included in the elections package, felons would have to pay all financial obligations — including restitution, fines and fees — before having their voting rights restored. Judges can waive the fees and fines, or order community service in lieu of payment.

“As this subcommittee continues to travel the country, I can think of no better place than here in Florida, a state that is no stranger to having its elections become the focus of national attention,” said U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat who chairs the Committee on House Administrations Elections Subcommittee.

Fudge called Florida’s passage of Amendment 4, which more than 5 million voters supported, a “watershed moment for civil rights.”

Echoing other critics’ objections to the plan, the congresswoman blasted Florida lawmakers’ handling of Amendment 4, saying it amounts to a modern-day poll tax.

“They blatantly ignored the will of the Florida voters that approved the measure in a retroactive act of voter suppression. It is an act of defiance by this legislature,” she said.

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum was among the witnesses at yesterday’s hearing, which addressed issues related to the 2018 elections, such as faulty ballot design, rejection of VBM ballots and recount litigation.

A joint press release issued by Deutch and Hastings cites a report by University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith, who found that 15 percent of vote-by-mail ballots submitted by Parkland voters aged 18 to 21 were nearly three times more likely to be rejected than those of voters in the same age group statewide.

Smith’s analysis found that 15 percent of the VBM ballots sent by the young Parkland voters were tossed. Students in Parkland launched a national voter registration effort following last year’s horrific mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School left 17 students and staff dead and another 17 people injured.

Here’s more from the South Florida Dems’ press release:

The “Protecting American Votes Act” will require elections officials to make two attempts to notify voters when their ballots are rejected based on a signature mismatch—by mail in addition to either text, phone, or e-mail. It will also require states to provide at least ten days from the date of notice to cure the mismatch to verify their identity and ensure their vote is counted. Officials who review signatures will also be required to participate in formal training and provide a report to Congress detailing the number of ballots that are rejected and description of the notification and cure process the state uses to protect voters. These reforms reflect several of the changes the Florida legislature included in SB 7066 to reform its election laws.

 

 

 

Bigger, better, stronger? Panama City officials plead for aid

Months after Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida Panhandle, Panama City officials are calling out both state lawmakers and Congress to adequately fund disaster relief.

The appeal comes in a two-and-a-half-minute video that highlights successful recovery efforts while expressing the agonizing wait for assistance that has stretched to 200 days.

The storm that crippled Bay County left behind 31million cubic yards of debris, or 12 million truckloads, created a housing crisis and displaced thousands of students, Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki explains as he takes viewers on a tour of his community.

“We know that we need help from Tallahassee and Washington,” Brudnicki says as he wraps up the video. “With your help we can rebuild Panama City bigger, better and stronger. Thank you.”

Brudnicki and City Manager Mark McQueen are off Monday to D.C. for several days of meetings with members of Congress and various federal agencies.

By Jim Turner.

Gaetz takes on Cuomo after going viral over Parkland exchange with Parkland dad

After making international news for scolding the parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teens who were among the 17 students and faculty gunned down a year ago, Congressman Matt Gaetz spent nearly 11 minutes in a verbal slugfest with CNN’s Chris Cuomo last night.

Gaetz, a Panhandle Republican who is one of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top advisors, made national news after a heated exchange with Manuel Oliver, whose 17-year-old son, Joaquin (Guac) Oliver, was among the 14 slain students killed at the Parkland school a year ago.

The confrontation between the former Florida House representative and the grieving dad came during a congressional hearing on gun violence. Oliver repeatedly yelled out when Gaetz, a fierce ally of President Donald Trump, brought up The Wall as a critical solution to the issue. Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter, Jaime, was also among the victims and who was sitting next to Oliver, also loudly objected to Gaetz’s take.

Video of Gaetz pointing his finger at Oliver and Guttenberg, and questioning whether  the men should be booted from the committee went viral.

Last night, Gaetz — a strong NRA proponent — told Cuomo he “wasn’t trying to get Mr. Oliver thrown out” of the committee.

Gaetz said he was concerned for a woman who was “violently raped in a gun-free zone” who was seated in front of Oliver.

“He didn’t mean to intimidate her, but they did,” Gaetz said.

When pressed by Cuomo about why he brought up illegal immigration during a debate about gun violence, Gaetz said he “wanted to highlight the fact that there are victims of gun violence who would be in a better position today” with a wall across the southern U.S. border.

“I did not want to throw the guy out,” he said. “A wall will mean fewer people will die at the hands of illegal aliens.”

Oliver later told CNN he found Gaetz’s remarks at the committee hearing, at which universal background check legislation was discussed, was “pretty offensive.”

“No. 1, I don’t think you’re qualified for this. No. 2, you’re asking us to waste time. You are wasting time from us really to go ahead and solve the problem,” Oliver said. “If this is how this is going to work, I have to stop this guy. I have to let the nation know he’s wrong.”

Watch Oliver on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.