Divisions — Cuba — fishy — U.S. Steel — stock whales

Influence amid division

Congress enters an election year as divided as ever, with the smallest House majority since the 1930s. With the departure of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California and the expulsion of Rep. George Santos of New York, Republicans started the year with control of 220 seats. Then, news broke that Rep. Bill Johnson of Ohio will leave soon for a college presidency.

2023 was a banner year — for division in Congress.

Now, the caucus goes into the new year with new leadership. While Florida remains without a single full committee Chair in the 118th Congress, 2023 at least showed the delegation’s ability to wield the power it has. That was reflected as federal officials dominated Florida Politics’ annual Politician of the Year recognition.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, took the title chiefly for the chaos that ensued from his longtime feuding and ultimate ouster of McCarthy, a first in U.S. history. Unlike with a protracted battle for Speakership at the start of 2023, Gaetz happily supported the installation of new Speaker Mike Johnson. However, that doesn’t mean he plans to go along with the new establishment any more eagerly than the old regime.

Gaetz voted against a defense budget passed by Congress in December and had already advocated for Congress to shut down the government if President Joe Biden’s administration didn’t shift policies at the border. He traveled to Texas with the new Speaker, where members of Congress witnessed individuals crossing the border in droves.

“I’m currently in Eagle Pass, Texas, witnessing the intentional destruction of our Southern Border by the Biden administration,” he posted on social media, sharing footage of crossings undeterred by federal agents. “This video was sent to me by a Texas official. It shows how illegal aliens are being encouraged to invade our country while the fencing put up by Texas is cut open by Customs and Border Patrol. Under the corrupt orders of (Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro) Mayorkas and Joe Biden, we will never see our border protected. But if this border is not shut down, then we must shut down the government.”

Florida Politics notably named the entire Florida Congressional Delegation runners-up for the Politician of the Year distinction. That was primarily thanks to Subcommittee Chairs punching about their weight. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, a Hialeah Republican, continues to use his position as House State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee Chair to shape foreign policy and sponsored HR 2, House Republicans’ border bill. “American families are paying the ultimate price for the Biden administration’s negligence,” he posted about the bill this week. “The President must address this crisis immediately.”

Indeed, Republicans from Florida hold 10 Subcommittee gavels, including Reps. Aaron Bean (Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education), Gus Bilirakis (Innovation, Data and Commerce), Vern Buchanan (Ways and Means, Health), Díaz-Balart (State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs), Carlos Giménez (Transportation and Maritime Security), Laurel Lee (House Administration Elections), Brian Mast (Foreign Affairs Oversight), María Elvira Salazar (Western Hemisphere), Michael Waltz (Armed Services readiness) and Dan Webster (Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation).

Democrats from the state serve as ranking members on four subcommittees: Reps. Kathy Castor (Energy and Commerce Oversight), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (Veterans Affairs Technology Modernization), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Military Construction Appropriations) and Frederica Wilson (Higher Education Budget).

Cuban interference

A report on foreign election interference indicates significant efforts by the Cuban government to influence congressional elections in Miami.

The National Intelligence Council published the December report spotlighting foreign threats to elections in 2022. Significant efforts were made by several hostile powers: China, Russia, Iran and Cuba. While the efforts by the island nation were far less than other international players, they were explicitly targeted at the Sunshine State.

“We assess that Cuba attempted to undermine the electoral process of specific U.S. Congressional and gubernatorial politicians that it perceived as hostile,” the report reads. “Havana probably intended these efforts to advance its foreign policy goals, which include removing sanctions, travel restrictions, and its State Sponsor of Terrorism designation.”

The U.S. tells Cuba to back off Miami elections.

Much of the report remains redacted, and no specific pols targeted were disclosed in the publicly released sections. But it did suggest a bulk of Cuba’s efforts targeted South Florida politicians.

“Public Cuban government statements indicate that Havana views Cuban Americans in Miami as having an outsized influence on U.S. policy in Cuba,” the report said.

The report said Russia, for example, “sought to denigrate the Democratic Party.” But it noted Cuba’s efforts were more “tailored” based on the positions of specific incumbents.

The indicators certainly could include Díaz-Balart, a Hialeah Republican and Cuban American. He handily defeated Democrat Christine Olivo in November but released a stern statement about the threat of foreign interference in U.S. democracy.

“Once again, the Cuban regime’s aggressive, anti-American activities underscore the pervasive threat posed to U.S. national security,” he said. “The intelligence community’s report on the Cuban dictatorship’s interference in U.S. elections should provide a much-needed wake-up call to the Biden administration to stop any further appeasement in the form of unilateral concessions. Now is the time to impose tough consequences, including tighter sanctions, on the malevolent dictatorship that seeks to damage our democracy.”

Other Cuban Americans representing South Florida include Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Giménez and Salazar, all Republicans and Cuban Americans who won re-election in 2022. The fact that Cuba didn’t take the party into account in elections could mean they also tried to influence elections for pro-sanctions South Florida Democrats like Wasserman Schultz, who also coasted to another term.

The report indicates Cuba sought to establish relationships with media members who held “critical views of members of Congress.” It also said a network of social media accounts amplified derogatory content was “almost certainly covertly tied to the Cuban government.” While all identified efforts were in Florida, intelligence officials said Cuba “probably attempted to shape impressions of other U.S. politicians.”

Fishing for data

Sen. Rick Scott wants the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to better respond to fishery disasters. The Naples Republican led a letter to Janet Coit, NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, calling for immediate implementation of deadlines imposed by the Fishery Resource Disasters Improvement (FREDI) Act.

“Prior to the enactment of FREDI, the fishery disaster assistance process had been met with a high degree of frustration from stakeholders and policymakers,” Scott said.

Rick Scott tells Janet Coit that there’s something fishy going on.

“It was impossible to track the progress of a disaster assistance request through NOAA’s online system. Under FREDI, NOAA now has clear deadlines to make timely decisions for determinations and approval of spending plans, which stakeholders in our states are desperately waiting for.”

Three other Republican Senators, including Rubio, signed the letter, which calls for allowing stakeholders to follow the status of assistance requests.

“We believe it is important for stakeholders to understand and track the step-by-step process for a fishery disaster request,” the letter reads. “This tracking would allow stakeholders to follow the process from submission of data to decisions made by NOAA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Stakeholders would be able to follow the status of their request as each division of NOAA examines the data, just like consumers track packages through the shipping process from a vendor to delivery.”

Steely resolve

Rubio worries a Japanese company could soon control America’s strongest metal. The Miami Republican, with Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and J.D. Vance of Ohio, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking the administration to block the acquisition of U.S. Steel by the Nippon Steel Corporation, an international company based in Japan.

“The transaction marks a turning point for an icon of American industry and has dire implications for the industrial base of the United States,” the letter reads.

The letter said U.S. Steel was choosing the Japanese buyer despite other offers from American companies. However, the decision was made to go with Nippon based on the interests of current shareholders and without national security in mind.

U.S. Steel will soon be under new ownership.

“Despite the absence of any security-focused deliberation on U.S. Steel’s part, domestic steel production is vital to U.S. national security,” the letter states.

“Democratic and Republican administrations have both acted decisively over the last 40 years to bolster the industry. The endurance of President Trump’s Section 232 tariffs on steel imports demonstrates that the preservation of the domestic steel industry remains vital to our national security. Trade protections can and should induce foreign investment that expands domestic production and creates American jobs. This corporate takeover is out of step with those goals.”

The letter suggests the purchase can’t be viewed in a vacuum and that the U.S. already has a trade deficit and $14 trillion in trade debt. “Over the last five years, we have run an average annual trade deficit of more than $65 billion with Japan alone,” the letter notes.

As Chair of the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States, the Senators want Yellen to block the acquisition because Nippon’s allegiances lay with a foreign state.

U.S. Steel has no locations in Florida.

Safer roads

The City of Ocala just saw $104,000 in road funding roll into town. The Marion County city secured a grant from the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) program, announced Rep. Kat Cammack.

“I’m excited to see the City of Ocala making excellent use of this grant,” the Gainesville Republican said. “Safer roadways are important for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists in Ocala, ensuring everyone makes it to their destination and back home safely. I look forward to seeing the city’s thoughtful planning in action.”

Kat Cammack touts new money for Ocala roads.

The funding will help fund a Local Road Safety Plan and a Speed Management Plan targeting safer speeds in residential areas and around schools. The money invested through the SS4A program is for reducing roadway deaths and injuries.

Unusual whale

A new report by Unusual Whales tracking stock trading activity among Congress found lawmakers’ portfolios outperformed the market as a whole.

Democratic members this year did better than Republicans, though the only Florida lawmaker in the top 10 for outstanding stock returns (by percentage) was Rep. John Rutherford, a Jacksonville Republican. The value of his stocks leapt by more than 69% in 2023, the seventh-greatest rate of growth in Congress.

John Rutherford makes a killing in the stock market.

But the report noted many members abruptly ceased trading after high showings last year. It said Rep. Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, fell into that category.

“In 2023, we saw the number of trades down, the number of members disclosing trades down, but the value of transactions was comparable to years past,” the report found.

As far as notable trades, the report notes Scott sold $7 million in technology stocks, including all of the Naples Republican’s shares in Wireless Telecom Group when Maury Microwave acquired it.

Cleaner shipping

The road to fewer carbon emissions could mean a switch to alternative fuel sources. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican, filed bipartisan legislation in December to promote more large vehicles running on hydrogen fuel.

He reintroduced the Hydrogen for Trucks Act and Hydrogen for Ports Act with Rep. Katie Porter, a California Democrat. The bills would respectively incentivize the use of vehicle owner-operated large trucks and equipment for ports and shipping locales that rely on hydrogen cells.

Gus Bilirakis is promoting alternative fuels to cut emissions. Image via Instagram.

“As we grapple with energy affordability and our responsibilities to the future, we need to encourage energy innovation and pursue an ‘all-of-the-above’ approach,” Bilirakis said. “Hydrogen fuel cell technology is a promising solution, and our bipartisan bill will better enable Americans and small businesses to harness the full potential of this reliable resource.”

That’s also a cleaner fuel source that emits no greenhouse gases during use. According to Bilirakis’ office, heavy-duty vehicles produce about a quarter of those gasses in the country. Porter said the environmental bonuses and economic benefits should earn broad support in Congress.

“Hydrogen is a promising, clean fuel source for industries that struggle to find reliable clean-energy alternatives, like trucking and maritime shipping,” she said. “Our bipartisan bills would advance innovation in hydrogen technologies, making our economy more resilient and globally competitive.”

Over 30

Rep. Buchanan celebrated his 31st and 32nd legislative initiatives to become law since his election to Congress. Biden signed the measures in December as part of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. Both were inspired by tragic circumstances suffered by Buchanan’s constituents.

In June, the Longboat Key Republican introduced the Data Recorders Installed in Vehicles Equipped So Armed Forces Endure (DRIVE SAFE) Act, which ultimately became part of the NDAA. The legislation prompts an evaluation of the use of black boxes in military tactical vehicles.

After the death of Nicholas Panipinto, Vern Buchanan pushed for better training on military transportation equipment. Image via Buchanan’s office.

It’s something Buchanan has looked at since the death of Bradenton man Nicolas Panipinto, an Army specialist killed in a training accident while driving an M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle in South Korea in 2019.

Buchanan this year also introduced the Rachael Booth Act, a Lithia woman denied financial assistance from the military connected to her husband, who was convicted of domestically abusing her and later discharged from the military for other reasons.

Rubio championed Booth’s cause in the Senate, while Buchanan handled the benefits reform in the House. The law closes a gap and ensures support continues for military spouses after suffering such abuse.

“I am extremely pleased to close out 2023 with two of my bills being signed into law, which marks 32 of my legislative initiatives becoming law since first coming to Congress,” Buchanan said.

“Many of these wins have originated from ideas directly from my constituents, including the DRIVE SAFE Act and the Rachael Booth Act. I’m committed to breaking through the gridlock in Washington and delivering more results for our area and families across Southwest Florida.”

Veterans history

Another Southwest Florida resident will be featured in the Veterans History Project Series. An interview with Stephen Valdes, an Army, Navy and Air Force veteran in Punta Gorda, can now be considered part of the project.

He’s the latest constituent of Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, to be included in the series, an initiative launched in 2000 by the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center. The goal is to collect oral histories from military members about their time in the service.

A Punta Gorda veteran is now a part of history.

“Mr. Valdes’ military career is the definition of service. He has the utmost respect for our country, and everyone can learn something about service by listening to his testimony,” Steube said.

Over more than an hour, Steube discussed what attracted him to enlist during the Vietnam War and the lessons he learned.

“The people that you went through basic training with. You never forgot them,” Valdes said to the camera. “I don’t like people saying, ‘Thank you for your service.’ It wasn’t service. It’s an obligation to my country.”

He also discussed the different mentality about serving in Vietnam, an economic and political war, in comparison to his father’s generation who fought in World War II.

“My generation was the last generation that grew up with the great concept of the patriotic war and with love of country,” he said. “It doesn’t come with fighting for resources; it doesn’t come with fighting for political ideals. It came from serving your country.”

Abortion school taunts

A proposed restriction on medical training for abortion procedures has Reps. Castor and Lois Frankel furious. The Tampa and West Palm Beach Democrats, with Rep. Kathy Manning of North Carolina, led 50 House Democrats in urging appropriators to reject a rider proposed for the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies budget.

The rider would threaten federal funding for any postgraduate medical training instructing how to care for abortion patients.

In a letter to House and Senate conference negotiators, the Democrats suggested Congress, in the post-Roe v. Wade world, must guard against proposals with far-reaching consequences.

New abortion restrictions have Lois Frankel and Kathy Castor hopping mad.

“Notably, this attack is happening at the very same time that training for abortion care has become significantly more difficult to access in response to states banning and restricting abortion,” the letter reads.

“This dangerous rider would further widen the gap in needed training for this essential health care. We strongly oppose Section 541 and believe it would exacerbate physician shortages, worsen maternal health outcomes, cost lives in our communities and disrupt well-established medical education and training requirements.”

They referenced the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health ruling in 2022 that ended decades of abortion protections.

“The Dobbs decision and subsequent abortion bans and restrictions are already harming graduate medical education and impacting the care that physicians can provide,” the letter continues. “If Congress pursues an appropriations bill that further restricts medical training, going against the evidence-based standard of care, we will see even fewer residents who are trained to handle the full range of reproductive health care.”

Reps. Cherfilus-McCormick, Wasserman Shultz and Wilson all co-signed the letter.

On this day

Jan. 5, 1972 — “Richard Nixon directs NASA to build the space shuttle” via NASA — President Nixon directed NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher to develop the Space Transportation System, the formal name for the space shuttle — the only element of a Space Task Group’s recommendations to survive budgetary challenges. “The decision by the President is a historic step in the nation’s space program,” Fletcher said. NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida was tasked with developing launch and recovery facilities. Before the formal announcement of the program, NASA studied various feasibility concepts for the space shuttle, using piloted flyback reusable boosters.

Jan. 5, 2020 — “Iran will no longer abide by 2015 nuclear deal” via CNBC — Less than a week after Iran’s top military commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, was killed by a U.S. drone strike, the regime said it would further scale back compliance with an international nuclear pact. Iran will not respect any limits established in the 2015 nuclear deal on the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges, according to a state-run television broadcast. Therefore, Iran would have no limit on its enrichment capacity, the level to which uranium could be enriched, or Iran’s nuclear research and development. The state broadcast said Tehran’s steps could be reversed if Washington lifted its sanctions.


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

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