The signing of an infrastructure package worth more than $1 trillion attracted several Florida Democrats to the White House for a special ceremony. After months of tension, moderates and progressives joined one another to celebrate a top agenda item of President Joe Biden at last signed into law.
What does it mean for Florida? That could take months to sort out. But Hollywood Democrat Frederica Wilson, who worked intensively on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, said at least $20 billion in direct funding would land in Florida.
“As a senior member of [the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure] and one of only five co-sponsors of this bill, I am proud to have helped secure billions for Florida and strengthened provisions on equity and inclusion,” she wrote on social media.
Signed, sealed, and delivered. Image via AP.
That includes $13 billion for highway improvements, $2.6 billion in public transportation funding, $1.6 billion for clean drinking water in Florida communities, $1.2 billion to improve airports, $245 million in bridge repairs and replacement, and $100 million to expand broadband internet coverage.
Wilson wasn’t the only Florida invitee to the ceremony, of course. Rep. Lois Frankel, a West Palm Beach Democrat, shared pictures of herself bundling up in the autumn outdoor event. “I was honored to be in attendance as President Joe Biden signed this legislation into law to create millions of good-paying jobs, modernize our bridges, roads, and public transportation systems, and make historic investments in broadband, electric vehicles, green infrastructure, and clean drinking water,” she said. “I look forward to working to pass the rest of the Biden Administration’s Build Back Better Agenda soon.”
Frankel and Wilson both hold membership in the House Progressive Caucus but were not among those members who voted against the infrastructure bill in protest of its passing before the Build Back Better social services bill. Rather, they were happy to hail the legislative success, as was Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat and co-leader of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition. She for weeks became the face of centrists in the House, demanding a vote on infrastructure sooner than later.
“I’ve been fighting for this historic bipartisan infrastructure bill since it passed the Senate in August and I am delighted to be at the White House today as it finally gets signed into law,” she tweeted, posting selfies of herself with colleagues like Frankel and Rep. Darren Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat. “It’s a great day for Florida and our nation.”
Rep. Kathy Castor turned her invite to the Washington event into the banner on her own Twitter page and counted the bill signing as a win for Tampa Bay. “Huge win for the Sun with [Sunshine] State win in bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act!” she tweeted. Rep. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat, attended and offered a tour to visiting state Sen. Shevrin Jones. Former state Sen. Jose Javier Rodrigues also made it to the event, where he hobnobbed with Florida’s most powerful Democrats in the federal government.
Republicans in the delegation didn’t find a reason to make the trip to the event, and a few lobbed criticisms at the high-cost legislation and the potential impact of rapid government spending on the economy. Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, labeled the bill the “inFAKEstructure bill” in his own tweets. In his podcast, Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican, called any GOP members who voted for the bill “disgraceful.”
Sen. Rick Scott, head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, continued to slam “Bidenflation” resulting from the government printing money to pay for the ambition legislation. “Every month of Biden’s presidency, inflation has raged higher, and prices have increased for hardworking families,” Scott said. “His answer? More reckless spending.”
But Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat running for Senate, seemed excited by the change to run in an environment with cranes in the air backed by the federal spending package. “The bipartisan infrastructure bill signed today will invest in Florida ports, increasing supply and lowering prices for everyone,” she posted. “But [Sen.] Marco Rubio voted no. He voted against economic investment and relief. Florida needs an advocate who can work to improve our state’s infrastructure. And unlike Marco Rubio, I’ll show up and get the job done for Florida families.”
Into the stratosphere
Rubio spent Monday focused on a more international matter with a direct impact on the state of Florida. With protests scheduled in the streets of Havana, Rubio voiced support for similar demonstrations in Miami and abroad.
“Despite knowing the regime will respond with violence and repression, brave people inside Cuba will march today demanding liberty,” he tweeted in English and Spanish.
His voice was one of many in Florida empathizing with dissidents of the communist nation 90 miles off South Florida’s shores. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Hialeah Republican, posted multiple photos across several social media platforms holding his fingers in the shape of an “L” for Libertad or a “C” for Cuba in various photographs broadcast around the globe. That came days after he sent a message to Biden calling on more material support to protesters on the island. Joining his letter were Reps. Donalds, Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar.
Hoy y todos los días apoyamos al valiente pueblo cubano que exige libertad tras más de seis décadas de sufrir una brutal tiranía. La libertad de #Cuba se aproxima por la valentía del pueblo cubano. #SOSCuba #15NCuba #PatriaYVida pic.twitter.com/CM15y10d2J
— Mario Diaz-Balart (@MarioDB) November 15, 2021
“With the Cuban regime’s increasing repression and the planned Nov. 15 protests, I sent a letter to President Biden urging that he take decisive and expeditious action, including through democracy programming, broadcasting, global diplomacy, internet access and sanctions, to support the long-suffering Cuban people in their pleas for freedom,” Diaz-Balart said.
Salazar also reached out to the White House, warning the Cuban government likely would respond to dissent with violence. “I have met with a broad range of private stakeholders about providing internet to the Cuban people, and have begged the State Department and your Administration for months to do their due diligence as well,” she wrote in a letter to the President. “It is essential for you to meet with all the relevant private stakeholders and government officials to stand up reliable internet connectivity for the island of Cuba. Failure to do so is a failure to stand with the Cuban people.”
Indeed, images throughout the day came from the island showing demonstrators dressed in white accosted, searched and placed into custody by the Cuban government.
Salazar continued to advocate for Operation Starfall, a program she has proposed since protests broke out on the island this summer in which the U.S. deploys stratospheric balloons, aerostats, and satellite technology that can deliver wireless internet from the stratosphere above Cuba.
On the issue of Cuba, the Florida delegation showed greater unity. Demings tweeted in support of Cuban dissidents. “We stand with you,” she posted. Castor issued a statement in support of the Cuban people’s fundamental rights to protest the government.
“Autocratic Cuba has failed its people,” she said. “It is time for the Cuban people to be able to freely choose their leadership and their future, and for a peaceful transfer of power. Cuban citizens must be allowed to demonstrate peacefully for fundamental freedoms. I condemn the Cuban regime’s acts of repression and call for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained Cuban citizens.
Take that MateBook off your Christmas list. Biden just signed a new law championed in the Senate by Rubio that means products created by Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE won’t be considered for new equipment licenses in the U.S.
In October, the Senate unanimously passed Rubio’s Secure Equipment Act of 2021 (S 1790), co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, based on the concern that any equipment created by the Chinese government-backed companies poses a national security risk.
“The Chinese Communist Party will stop at nothing to exploit our laws and undermine our national security,” Rubio said. “This legislation fixes a dangerous loophole in our law, curtailing their efforts to worm their way into our telecommunications networks. I am grateful that President Biden signed this bill into law so that critical American infrastructure is protected.”
Take that MateBook off your wish list.
Addressing those concerns transcends partisan differences, Markey said. “With President Biden’s signature, we are taking strong action to protect our nation from global technological threats that can undermine our future prosperity,” he said. “I look forward to now working with the President and every member of the FCC to implement this critical measure.”
House Republican Whip Steve Scalise ran the bill through the Democrat-controlled House. “Yesterday’s bill signing proves that Congress can still work together across the aisle to enact vital legislation to protect the privacy and security of American citizens,” Scalise said.
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said the legislation was an important step in stopping equipment from landing in the U.S. that could be used for spying on America. “This gear poses an unacceptable risk to our national security,” Carr said. “I am pleased with the overwhelming support their legislation has received in Congress to close the Huawei Loophole, and for President Biden’s signature enacting this important reform.”
While Scott didn’t precisely recite a William Tecumseh Sherman statement, he seemed to close down speculation Friday about a 2024 presidential bid. “I have no plans to run in ’24,” Scott told Fort Myers-based NBC-2. “I plan on running for the Senate in ’24.”
That’s somewhat of a surprise. Many saw the freshman Senator’s eagerness to chair the National Republican Senatorial Committee (jokingly called the National Rick Scott Committee by some) as a platform to build national name ID and a donor network to match.
Rick Scott is running in 2024, just not for President. Image via Facebook.
But there’s also been a burdensome feeling in Florida political circles that three Florida candidates can’t run for President without hurting everyone’s chances. Gov. Ron DeSantis has made beefs with President Biden a near–daily feature of news conferences and media appearances. And Rubio, who ran for President in 2016, wouldn’t rule out a run during a trip to Iowa or in interviews.
Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson said the pandemic exposed the fact a digital divide still exists in America. Now he wants more support for rural broadband to bring high-speed internet access to low-density areas, like much of Florida’s 5th Congressional District.
“Walking to the school bus in rural Florida was different during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students didn’t actually get on the bus — they got online,” Lawson noted in an op-ed published this week by the Tallahassee Democrat. “In rural Citrus County, which is south of my congressional district, Superintendent Sam Himmel had to improvise when COVID made remote learning necessary. She placed hot spots on buses and drove them out into remote areas so that students could come upload their lessons, then return the next day to download.”
Al Lawson is working to close the rural broadband gap. Image via Facebook.
He noted that while many consider online access universal, some 2 million Floridians do not have it. He said the private sector is playing its role in expanding to new territories with service, but there’s a need for the government to help.
“At the federal level, I strongly supported the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program, which will provide struggling families a $50 discount off the cost of home internet access,” he wrote.
“Look, I fight hard for rural areas while serving eight counties in north Florida. I know how difficult it is to get the attention of folks who live in larger cities when we are talking about relatively small numbers of people. And my district is both rural and minority-majority. But state and federal lawmakers must make rural broadband a priority with both public and private sector solutions.”
Longboat Key Republican Vern Buchanan announced his annual list of winners of the 16th Congressional District Fire and Rescue and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Awards. He has honored the first responders each year since 2010.
A ‘fitting tribute’ to first responders in Vern Buchanan’s district. Image via Vern Buchanan’s Office.
Dedication and Professionalism Awards went to Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue Lt. Kimberlee Rogers and Deputy Chief Jason Dougherty, Manatee Search’s Nicholas Reis and Manatee County EMS social worker Sonia Shuhart. A Career Service Award was given to Parrish Fire District Division Chief Michael Williamson. Preservation of Life Awards were announced for Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue Capt. John Shirah and driver Engineer Peter Dziubinski and for Sarasota County Fire Department Lt. Randy Allen and Fire Medics Miriam Troyer, Andrew Moler and Michael Alberti. Associate Service Awards came through for Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Terri Adams, Corporals William Barnes and Carlos Brito; Deputies Keaton Bruce and Andrew Fleming; and civilians Trexley and Bradley Cleophat.
“As first responders, fire departments and emergency medical service teams are summoned on short notice to serve their communities,” Buchanan said. “Oftentimes, they arrive at scenes of great adversity and trauma, to which they reliably bring strength and composure. These brave men and women spend hundreds of hours in training so that they are prepared when they get `the call.’ I believe these awards are a fitting tribute to our first responders and a reminder of the important role they play in our communities.”
Vaccine mandates have generated controversy across the country. Stuart Republican Brian Mast said it’s particularly alarming to see directives issued for all military members. He filed the Medical Freedom in the Military Act to stop any requirement on active service members to get the jab. He introduced the bill with New Jersey Republican Jeff Van Drew.
“Vaccination status should never be a condition of employment or a condition of service,” the Congressman said. “This mandate is going to have real implications for our military’s readiness. Instead of trying to force our troops to take the government medicine, the Biden administration should be focused on countering the real threats posed by China and Russia.”
COVID-19 vaccination status should not be a condition of service, says Brian Mast. Image via Brian Mast’s Office.
That Biden has resisted offering honorable discharge status to those who effuse a shot makes the mandate more an infringement, Mast said. Biden has pulled back from the initial direction to fire those who do not comply immediately for the record.
Mast, who has been vaccinated himself, noted most service members — about 92% — have already voluntarily been vaccinated for COVID-19. But as a generally physically fit group of Americans, Mast said the mortality rate of military infected with COVID-19 is just 0.02%.
His bill would prohibit the Department of Defense from enacting a vaccine mandate and provide for medical privacy for service members individually.
COVID-19 may have brought heightened awareness to public health, but many routine personal treatments and tests declined. Weston Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz now wants the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to focus on the decline in cancer screenings.
She and Oklahoma Republican Stephanie Bice led a group of more than 40 House members calling for the agency to research and help find a solution to a drop-off in routine breast exams. Such screenings nationwide dropped 80% at the start of the pandemic.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz is addressing a disturbing decline in breast cancer screenings due to COVID-19. Image via USA Today.
“Early detection, more than anything, saves lives,” said Wasserman Schultz, herself a breast cancer survivor. “Any decline in breast cancer screenings means more suffering and heartache for the women and families who battle this deadly disease, and tragically dwindling mammography rates means more of them will die. That is why I am calling on the CDC to proactively take action to reverse this drop-off and lessen the emotional, health, and financial toll it will take on millions of women.”
Her office noted that when caught earlier, breast cancer can have a high survival rate of 95%. But when caught late, that rate drops to 66%.
Other delegation members calling for proactive efforts to increase screenings include Lawson, Buchanan, Frankel and Salazar.
Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budgeted $21.4 million this fiscal year for coral reef restoration, with $8.5 million set aside for Florida. Much of that comes in matching grants to programs managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, state universities, and partnerships with private groups working in the state and the Caribbean region.
Florida coral reefs score a big win. Image via The Nature Conservancy South Florida.
Members of the delegation celebrated the win for state waters. “Protecting Florida’s coral reefs is common sense,” Rubio said. “Not only do the reefs help protect our vulnerable coastlines from storm surges, but they are home to an incredibly diverse marine ecosystem. The State of Florida, in partnership with universities and other local nongovernmental organizations, is leading the way on reef restoration, and federal funding is a key source of support.”
Meanwhile, Rubio has filed the Restoring Resilient Reefs Act to add five years to the program. Soto is championing that bipartisan effort in the House, with Mast signed on as a co-sponsor.
“Our Florida coral reefs are a national treasure that contain part of the most diverse ecosystems on earth,” Soto said when he refiled the bill in January.
Deerfield Beach-based AshBritt landed $1.75 billion in debris removal contracts from the Department of Defense, the most ever awarded to a single contractor in a year. The funding came through four contracts, each covering five years of work that will span 25 states.
“AshBritt is proud and honored that the Department of Defense entrusts us to help them assist communities after a disaster,” said CEO Brittany Perkins Castillo. “Because of our roots as a local small business, we prioritize partnerships with local, small and minority-owned businesses, so those professionals have a hand in rebuilding their own communities.”
The company was founded 30 years ago, initially working with the Army Corps of Engineers on cleanup following Hurricane Andrew. Now the largest company operating in its space in the U.S., the firm has staffed field hospitals, infusion treatment centers, community vaccination sites and mobile vaccination units across the country.
On this day
Nov. 16, 1973 — “Richard Nixon signs measure to allow Alaskan pipeline” via The New York Times — President Nixon signed the Alaska pipeline bill and hailed it as a first step toward making the United States wholly self‐sufficient for its energy supplies by 1980. An official of the Department of the Interior expressed confidence the law authorizing the 789‐mile pipeline from Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope to the warm water port of Valdez would survive any challenge in court. Two environmental organizations that had earlier blocked the pipeline through the courts issued a strongly disapproving statement, but they stopped short of saying they would continue their legal fight.
Nov. 16, 2000 — “Bill Clinton makes historic visit to Vietnam” via ABC News — The American President who opposed the war in Vietnam and avoided military service three decades prior, arrived in Hanoi on a mission to redefine U.S. relations. Ahead of his arrival, Clinton said he hoped his presence “opens a new page in our relations … hopefully one that will put an end to the divisions.” But the Clinton schedule in Vietnam includes very little time with its communist leadership. No other U.S. leader has ever officially visited Hanoi and he is the first to visit Vietnam since U.S. troops withdrew from the country in 1975.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles.