Delegation for 9.23.22: Lake O — bad debt — solid blue — stormy — going digital

Lake O laments

The Army Corps of Engineers says there will be further delays in the Lake Okeechobee Watershed Restoration Project (LOWRP), a critical piece of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

It’s prompting a rare bipartisan rebuke from most members of Florida’s congressional delegation.

Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott signed a letter to Army Corps leaders calling for construction to be facilitated and asking for a report on progress to be sped up. That would make sure the project makes it into this year’s Water Resources Development Act, lawmakers wrote.

“LOWRP is a critically important Everglades restoration project that is intended to improve the quantity, quality, and timing of water flows into Lake Okeechobee from its watershed,” the letter reads.

Federal Lake O restoration is on the back burner — for now.

It continues: “In addition to restoring important ecosystem functions in the Okeechobee watershed, the project will allow water managers to optimize management flexibility in order to improve the ecology of the lake, reduce harmful discharges to the Northern Estuaries, provide a more reliable source of water for municipal and agricultural use, and generally facilitate the allocation of volumes of water when and where it is needed most. Additionally, the State of Florida has committed to fully funding the implementation of LOWRP in order to fulfill CERP cost-share requirements, preserving the integrity of the CERP program and facilitating the expeditious completion of other incredibly important restoration projects such as the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir.”

The fact the EAA didn’t get funded this year surprised many earlier this year and prompted a news conference where several Republican members of the delegation joined Gov. Ron DeSantis at Lake Okeechobee and condemned the failure to advance the project by President Joe Biden.

But one notable fact about the newest letter is that it bears signatures from members of both political parties. House Democrats Ted Deutch, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson joined with House Republicans Mario Díaz-Balart, Scott Franklin, John Rutherford, María Elvira Salazar, Greg Steube and Michael Waltz in demanding a change in plans from the Army Corps.

The delay comes following an announcement earlier this month that the Army Corps would change target flows of discharges into the Caloosahatchee River to zero based on receding lake levels during the wet season this year.

“As we received recommendations during the spring recession, we concurred with the South Florida Water Management District’s recommendations and were able to keep Lake Okeechobee within the ecological envelope, which was good for the ecology of both Lake Okeechobee and the estuary,” said Col. James Booth, Jacksonville District Commander. “We stand behind the release decisions made this year, based on the strategy we devised for the lake at the start of the rainy season.”

Severed debts

Congress passed a bipartisan student loan bill co-introduced by Rubio that will help couples who consolidate their student debt but later divorce.

Rubio introduced the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act (S 1098) last year with Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and the Senate passed the legislation in June. The House approved it this week, and now it heads to President Biden’s desk. If signed, the bill will set up a process for once-consolidated loans to be severed.

Marco Rubio says student debt shouldn’t be complicated by divorce.

The federal government hasn’t allowed consolidation of couples’ loans since 2006, but many loans predating the change in law remain in federal ledgers. Rubio said joint student debt has been especially difficult for those whose relationships end in hostility but then individuals must continue supporting one another financially.

“Survivors of domestic violence should never have to pay the debts of their abuser. This bill will provide financial independence to survivors that desperately need it,” he said. “I urge President Biden to quickly sign this bill into law so we can deliver relief to these individuals.”

Besides violent splits, consolidated loans have likewise been a problem for couples who part after economic abuse or when a partner suddenly goes unresponsive despite attempts to contact them about their share of debt. This can leave the responsible partner saddled with the full cost.

All blue

Rep. Val Demings presided over the House the day the chamber passed her VICTIM Act (HR 5768). The legislation, which is likely to become law, will fund local police departments to hire victim support personnel.

“This bill would help police departments hire and train detectives and victim support specialists to investigate unsolved crimes, help survivors and keep our communities safe,” Demings tweeted.

She introduced the legislation last October, and as a former Orlando Police Chief, it has been a priority for her to pass.

Of course, the rare opportunity to gavel in the House as her bill came up for a vote took place as Demings is running for Senate against Rubio. She accentuated her police background over the course of the campaign, and identifies more often by the title “Chief” than “Representative.”

The House passed the bill on a 250-178 vote. While 30 Republicans ultimately supported the bill, none of them were from Florida’s delegation.

Before the White House signs off, the bill must still pass the Senate.

After Fiona

Puerto Rico is reeling after Hurricane Fiona hit the island — almost five years to the date after Hurricane Maria.

Scott, Rubio and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón signed on a letter calling on Federal Emergency Management Agency to make Puerto Rico recovery a priority.

“At a time when Puerto Rico is still recovering from the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Maria, which completely devastated the island just five years ago, Hurricane Fiona’s heavy rains produced catastrophic flooding, widespread power outages and other life-threatening impacts to the island’s critical infrastructure,” the letter says.

Puerto Rico was still recovering from Maria when Hurricane Fiona came calling.

“With the President’s approval of the Emergency Disaster Declaration, and expected Major Disaster Declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now authorized to provide federal resources to support and coordinate the island’s response. With many of the severe consequences of this storm still unfolding, we write in support of an immediate assessment of the situation and deployment of FEMA resources, personnel, and supplies. This will alleviate unnecessary delays in facilitating the recovery efforts as access to critical resources begin to dwindle.”

As of Wednesday, more than a million people on the island had no power and 450,000 had no water.

Florida, the closest state to the U.S. territory, has long had closely aligned interests with the island, and its delegation cried for help on Puerto Rico’s behalf.

“Time is of the essence, and we ask for your full attention to prioritizing the recovery of Puerto Rico, and its millions of residents, in the aftermath of this storm,” the letter reads. “We remain committed to working with you on these matters and offering our assistance in supporting a speedy recovery to our fellow citizens on the island.”

Punishing Iran

Waltz is warning that the U.S. should not lift sanctions on Iran until the regime stops trying to murder Americans.

The St. Augustine Beach Republican introduced legislation, the Preventing Underhanded and Nefarious Iranian Supported Homicides (PUNISH) Act along with Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.

The Act would require the administration to enforce sanctions imposed by former President Donald Trump until the Secretary of State can certify to Congress that Iran isn’t supporting any attempt to kill any U.S. citizens, current and former U.S. officials or Iranian nationals living in the United States.

Mike Waltz wants Iran to clean up its act before talks with the U.S. can resume.

“The Iran Regime is actively using its proxies to carry out attacks and threaten U.S. officials despite the Biden Administration’s ongoing efforts to negotiate a nuclear deal that will further enrich the world largest state sponsor of terrorism,” Waltz said. “The Biden Administration has a duty to protect its citizens from the Iran Regime’s proxies who have already carried out an attack on Salman Rushdie, plotted an assassination against former National Security Adviser John Bolton. Maximum pressure sanctions must be retained against the Iranian Regime.”

The Biden administration continues to engage Iran in talks for a nuclear treaty.

The move by Waltz notably comes more than a month after an attacker left author Rushdie in critical condition after attacking him on a New York stage; the Iranian government said Rushdie brought it on himself.

In 1999, the late Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa for Rushdie’s death.

Digital Darren

A global alliance for advancing innovation and inclusion of cryptocurrency is recognizing Soto as one of 29 members of Congress working to lead America into a “vibrant digital future.”

The Crypto Council for Innovation, which launched in April 2021 to advocate for crypto-inclusive policies across the globe, held its inaugural Digital Future Award event in Washington. Senators and representatives from both sides of the political aisle received awards.

Is Darren Soto Florida’s crypto king?

The Orlando Democrat was the lone member from Florida to be recognized.

“The Crypto Council is recognizing members of Congress who are first movers, leading the way on a complex and nuanced set of issues,” Crypto Council CEO Sheila Warren said in a statement.

“It’s going to take a broad effort to build and secure the foundation for our digital future. A growth-oriented approach to regulation and public policy will help us realize the promise of digital assets for all, and we commend these leaders for their support and engagement.”

Estuary enthusiasm

Congress recognized Sept. 17-24 as National Estuaries Week, a result of a bipartisan resolution introduced by Rockledge Republican Bill Posey and Stuart Republican Brian Mast, along with Pacific Northwest Democrats Suzanne Bonamici and Rick Larsen.

The Florida lawmakers said the significance of local bodies drove them to support this year’s resolution, the latest in a series passed since 1988.

For Brian Mast, estuaries are an important part of Florida’s ecosystem.

“Our Indian River Lagoon is important to our quality of life, our local economies and tourism, and it provides a critical habitat to many indigenous species of wildlife and plant life,” Posey said. “National Estuaries Week encourages concerned citizens to become more involved in efforts to care for and manage the health of these critical ecosystems.”

Mast concurred.

“National Estuaries Week reminds us just how important waterways in regions across the country are to our economy, public health, and the environment,” he said. “We will keep up the fight to protect and restore these critical habitats so that future generations can inherit this incredibly diverse ecosystem.”

Little river pass

The House passed legislation to recognize a Manatee County water body as one of the nation’s wild and scenic rivers. The Little Manatee River stretches 51 miles, beginning in south Hillsborough County and flowing into Manatee County before entering Tampa Bay.

Vern Buchanan, who sponsored legislation to recognize rivers in the district, cheered the safe passage.

Vern Buchanan seeks protection for the Little Manatee River.

“Protecting Florida’s beautiful lands and pristine waterways is one of my top priorities,” the Longboat Key Republican said. “Designating the Little Manatee River as ‘scenic’ will make sure that it is kept in its current, pristine condition for future generations to enjoy. I’m hopeful the U.S. Senate will approve this bill promptly and send this important legislation to the president’s desk for signature.”

Rep. Soto co-introduced the bill with Buchanan. The House Natural Resources Committee amended the bill in January to authorize a National Park Service study before any designation becomes official.

“Manatee County is home to some of the most beautiful waterways in the state of Florida,” said Manatee County Commission Chair Kevin Van Ostenbridge. “I commend Congressman Buchanan for fighting to protect the Little Manatee River so that everyone can enjoy its wildlife, recreation and beautiful scenery for years to come.”

Policing texts

Mast wants to make sure U.S. taxpayer dollars are not funding antisemitic education anywhere around the globe, including the Middle East. He filed The Peace and Tolerance in Palestinian Education Act (HR 2374) with California Democrat Brad Sherman last year; the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved the legislation this week.

“There’s no world in which the U.S. should be funding education that teaches another generation of Palestinians to hate their neighbors and our allies, the Israelis,” Mast said. “Since its creation, Israel has had to live with a constant threat of violence from its neighbors, and this bill is a small step we can take today toward a peaceful and secure Israel tomorrow.”

Brian Mast wants to stamp out antisemitism.

If it becomes law, the measure will require the State Department to conduct an assessment of educational materials used in schools in Gaza and Palestinian Authority-controlled areas and determine if the materials encourage violence toward other groups, including Israelis. The agency could not allow any foreign aid to go to the creation of such curricula.

Deutch out

For his last address before his congressional retirement, Deutch shared the wisdom he received from the late Rep. John Dingell, Jr. when the Boca Raton Democrat first arrived at those hallowed halls.

All that pomp — and a spiffy new congressional pin — might have gone to his head, if not for an encounter with the dean of the House, who served 60 years there, Deutch said.

Ted Deutch says farewell to Congress. Image via Getty.

“John Dingell looked me square in the eye and gave me a piece of advice that I would never forget. He said, ‘You’re not that important. It’s what you can do for the people who sent you here — that’s what’s important.”

And so Deutch, who has been representing South Florida in Congress for the past 12 and a half years, recounted some of those important people.

There was Mitch Lippman, who brought Deutch the story of Leonard Kravitz, whose sacrificial death in Korea saved his fellow soldiers, and led to the discovery that prejudice had kept the Medal of Honor from being awarded to 24 soldiers of Jewish and Hispanic origin.

A champion for women’s reproductive rights inspired Deutch to become Chair of the task force that pushed for codifying Roe v. Wade in federal legislation (now awaiting Senate action).

His voice seemed to fail him for a moment as he recounted those he met after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, including the names of the 17 who died.

“Because of them, a universal background checks bill and an assault weapons ban has been passed in the House,” Deutch said. “Because of them, the first major gun safety law in 30 years is now law.”

Jan. 6 got a mention. So did the increasing acrimony in the House.

“Over seven years and nearly four Congresses have passed since John Dignell last stood on this floor and I wonder if he’d be surprised by the bitter divides that have expanded exponentially since that time,” Deutch said. “But even now his words are worth repeating. They are as true now as they were then and will continue to be for every member who comes after me. ‘You are not important. It’s what you do for the people who sent you here — that’s important.’”

Keep pushing to bridge the divides and keep pushing to do important work, he said.

“And for the last time, I yield back,” he said, with a hitch in his voice.

Deutch will be the CEO of the American Jewish Committee.

Tackling Tlaib

Controversial comments about Israel have Democratic members of the delegation turning on Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib. The Palestinian American sparked outrage when remarks in an Americans for Justice in Palestine Action were reported by The Jerusalem Post.

“I want you all to know that among progressives, it has become clear that you cannot claim to hold progressive values, yet back Israel’s apartheid government,” she said. “We will continue to push back and not accept this idea that you are progressive, except for ‘Philistine,’ any longer.”

But that drew immediate pushback from Florida Democrats, starting with Wasserman Schultz, Democratic Co-Chair of Florida’s congressional delegation.

Ilhan Rashida Tlaib courts controversy — again.

“The outrageous progressive litmus test on Israel by Rashida Tlaib is nothing short of antisemitic,” the Weston Democrat tweeted. “Proud progressives do support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. Suggesting otherwise is shameful and dangerous. Divisive rhetoric does not lead to peace.”

Other Democrats in the state joined into criticisms as well. That included recent delegation member Charlie Crist, currently a candidate for Governor, who slammed the remarks.

And Jared Moskowitz, a favorite to succeed Deutch in the House, likewise laid into Tlaib.

“Using your words: I want you all to know that among #progressives, it becomes clear that you cannot claim to hold progressive values if you are an antisemite. Separating people by their race, religion, creed, how progressive,” he tweeted.

Havana bound

The U.S. Embassy in Havana has started fully processing visa services for Cubans to legally visit America. It’s the first time since the Trump administration ended the practice in 2017.

“Consistent with our commitments under the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection to facilitate safe, orderly, humane, and regular migration, the United States is today announcing an expansion of regular pathways available to Cubans wishing to come to the United States and an increase in personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana,” reads a statement from the embassy.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz hopes to open new paths for Cubans arriving in the U.S.

Wasserman Schultz heralded the move and said it should provide Cubans seeking a way to leave the island an avenue.

“This is a critical step to help alleviate the unacceptable backlog of Cubans seeking freedom from Cuba’s tyrannical dictatorship,” Wasserman Schultz said. “For far too long, the Cuban people have lived under a brutal authoritarian regime, with little agency over their future. Ending visa processing at the Guyana Embassy in Georgetown allows far easier access to humanitarian relief through enrollment in the Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) Program. I applaud the efforts of the Biden Administration to move these services back to Havana.”

Rubio, a Cuban American, for his part said he doesn’t oppose the change in policy but does want precautions in place to protect State Department employees. The practice of issuing visas in Havana stopped because of reported illnesses resulting from sonic blasts, an ailment dubbed Havana Syndrome, and U.S. officials long suspected the Cuban government of playing a role.

“I’m not opposed to the resumption. I just want to know how they’re going to keep our personnel there safe from another attack,” he told Congressional Quarterly.

On this day

Sept. 23, 1949 — “Harry Truman announces Soviets exploded nuclear device” via History.com — In a surprisingly low-key and carefully worded statement, President Truman informed the American people the Soviets had exploded a nuclear bomb. The Soviet accomplishment, years ahead of what was thought possible by most U.S. officials, caused panic in the American government. The United States developed the atomic bomb during the latter stages of World War II and dropped two bombs on Japan in August 1945. By the time of the bombings in Japan, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were already crumbling. Many U.S. officials, including Truman, came to see America’s atomic monopoly as a valuable asset in the developing Cold War with Russia.

Sept. 23, 1957 — “Little Rock school desegregated” via The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute — Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to prevent Black students from entering. A team of NAACP lawyers, including Thurgood Marshall, won a U.S. District Court injunction to prevent the Governor from blocking the students’ entry. With the help of police escorts, students successfully entered the school through a side entrance. Martin Luther King, Jr. sent a telegram to President Dwight Eisenhower saying if the federal government did not take a stand against the injustice, it would “set the process of integration back 50 years.”

Happy birthday

Best wishes to Rep. Marío Diaz-Balart, who turns 61 on Sunday, Sept. 25.

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Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol, with contributions by Anne Geggis and Jesse Scheckner.


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