When Sen. Marco Rubio boarded a plane to Iowa Monday, it seemed a larger game had begun.
After all, no politician with even a modicum of national notoriety — much less the third-place finisher in the 2016 Republican nomination — shows up in the Hawkeye State to headline a Story County Republican Party breakfast.
And it’s not for the free meal.
Indeed, the local press can take a cue when a Senator (not representing Iowa) stops by for a panel discussion about the first delegate-awarding state.
“Rubio, who has not ruled out a 2024 presidential run, is attending a series of events in Iowa this week,” tweeted Brianne Pfannenstiel, chief politics reporter for the Des Moines Register, as Florida’s senior Senator sat down with Sen. Joni Ernst (who actually does represent Iowa) and Jeff Kaufmann, chair of the Iowa GOP.
Notably, Rubio threw some high-profile barbs at President Joe Biden, the Democrat any Republican presidential hopeful in 2024 would presumably need to depose. He knocked Biden on social media, and press hits over the so-called “Taliban kill list” following reports the administration shared names of Americans and Afghan allies still in the chaos-strewn country.
But this year, Rubio isn’t the only Florida pol fueling early 2024 speculation.
Sen. Rick Scott, Florida’s junior Senator, targeted Biden in five news releases in five days. Those included doubling down on his call for the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove the President from office, demanding a Congressional investigation of the Afghanistan withdrawal, and slapping the White House on inflation, a frequent subject of criticism from Scott.
Of course, the Naples Republican also made a trip to Iowa earlier this year, purportedly in his role as Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee chair on a mission to help Ernst win reelection next year. Still, the trip prompted speculation about his plans in three years.
Even Rep. Matt Gaetz, who has managed to keep a presence on cable and fiery support from the base amid a federal investigation and sex scandal, found his way to Des Moines this week. He and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene brought their “America First” tour to Iowa in a genuine attempt to keep a movement started by former President Donald Trump going. Gaetz has said he will run for President in 2024 if Trump sits the race out.
But then Trump has signaled he likely won’t. Indeed, the Mar-a-Lago power player told the Todd Starnes show on Monday he intends to hold a rally in Iowa soon.
Then there’s another former delegation member with a prominent Florida post, Gov. Ron DeSantis. The former Congressman took a trip to meet with high-powered donors in New Jersey this weekend. While that’s not a fertile state for delegates, it’s a journey sure to connect the Governor with Super PAC donors, even though he’s doing just fine raising money for his coming gubernatorial campaign.
There’s an obvious barrier between these politicians and the White House: 2022. Outside of Trump, all these men could yet face a political reckoning next fall. Rubio and DeSantis face tough reelection bids.
For months, there have been grumblings about a primary challenge to Gaetz if the feds don’t come for him first. And Scott’s national profile and reputation with donors could hinge on whether the RSCC successfully helps Republicans take back a Senate majority next year.
Of course, at this stage, every second a candidate spends politicking outside the Sunshine State brings a round of criticism.
DeSantis dodged questions Monday about his trip to Jersey. Rep. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat running for Governor, took a social media swing: “Retweet if you think it’s despicable for Ron DeSantis to abandon a Florida-in-crisis to go to a fundraiser in New Jersey,” he tweeted.
Liberal groups on Monday passed along travel wishes for Rubio via a round of digital ads dragging the Senator for fleeing Florida during a COVID-19 surge. Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat challenging Rubio next year, retweeted one of those published by the Florida Democratic Party with the simple message: “Florida deserves better.”
To watch the ad, click on the image below:
Count combating climate change as a cause Florida delegation members can get behind regardless of party. That was clear earlier this year when Rubio, Florida’s senior Senator and a national Republican figure, served as an introducing sponsor for the Growing Climate Solutions Act as a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus. Or when Rep. John Rutherford, a Jacksonville Republican, signed on to the House version the same day.
“This common-sense proposal will assist agriculture stakeholders in identifying alternative sources of income, while at the same time empowering them to pursue efforts to restore ecosystems including wetlands and forests, mitigate environmental impacts, and improve water quality, Rubio said then.
Certainly, water issues long served as a unifying issue in Florida, with delegation members reliably opposing offshore oil drilling and other matters of critical importance to a coastal state more dependent on tourism than the energy sector. But it wasn’t that long ago when Sen. Rick Scott as Governor reportedly discouraged the term “climate change” in official state reports on the environment. Yet during an interview with National Public Radio this month, he employed the phrase freely.
“We clearly want to and need to, address the impacts of climate change, and we’ve got to protect our environment, but we’ve got to do it in a fiscally responsible manner,” Scott told host Ari Shapiro. “ … We can focus on the impacts of climate change and not put our jobs at risk and kill our economy.”
Portions of the bipartisan climate legislation moved through Congress this month with support from both parties, a feat noted by The New York Times. While both Florida senators ultimately voted against an infrastructure package that included climate and resiliency spending, each enthusiastically voiced support for those elements and will presumably follow through with seeking spending on such projects; federal funding ultimately flows toward the states.
Of note, Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature has also invested heavily in water quality and sustainability efforts, mimicking how at least in Florida, a green record aligns with political will across the board in the nation’s most famous purple state.
It’s been about 11 weeks since Nicaragua President Daniel Ortega began arresting the candidates running against him. Now there’s less time — under 10 weeks — until Ortega appears on the ballot against several critics in his government’s custody. The abuse of power rankles Scott.
“To this day, all Nicaraguan presidential candidates and opposition leaders are still being detained by the illegitimate Ortega regime,” the Naples Republican tweeted. “Such a low, grotesque tactic from a scared Ortega, who knows he wouldn’t win in a free and fair election. Nicaraguans deserve freedom!”
Since arriving in Washington, Scott focused on anti-democratic tactics in other nations, including China, Cuba, and Venezuela. Critics note he also voted against certifying Pennsylvania’s electoral votes when Joe Biden won the presidential election, but he’s also said Biden won the U.S. election fair and square.
He certainly isn’t alone in criticizing Ortega. There were bipartisan cries throughout the delegation and beyond after arrests of ultimately seven presidential candidates began in June. And earlier this month, after Ortega’s regime disqualified his main opposition party from running candidates, Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the autocratic move.
“The United States views the regime’s latest undemocratic, authoritarian actions — driven by Ortega’s fear of an electoral loss — as the final blow against Nicaragua’s prospects for a free and fair election later this year,” Blinken said. “That electoral process, including its eventual results, has lost all credibility.”
Gaetz on line 1
A federal investigation just turned its sights on Panhandle Republican Matt Gaetz.
No, not that one.
The House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack asked telecommunications companies to preserve the records of several members of Congress who attended a “Stop the Steal” rally. That event notoriously preceded rioters storming the U.S. Capitol attempting to stop Biden’s presidential victory certification.
While the names have not been released publicly, CNN reports Gaetz is among the 11 House members on the list. Also listed are Republicans Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Louie Gohmert of Texas.
The news comes after Jordan, a close ally of Gaetz, told POLITICO he spoke with Trump multiple times the day of the riots, including at one point with Gaetz on the line. At the same time, both were in a “safe room” in the Capitol as Trump supporters stormed the building.
Gaetz told that news outlet, “Congressman Gaetz speaks with President Trump regularly and doesn’t disclose the substance of those discussions with the media.”
But what he tells the House select committee remains to be seen.
Weekend at Bernie’s
The list of Republicans in the delegation calling for President Biden’s resignation continues to grow. Kat Cammack has now joined Sarasota Republican Greg Steube and Naples Republican Byron Donalds in demanding the commander in chief’s tenure end early. She took to Fox & Friends to explain her reasoning in cinematic terms.
“Trust me, I absolutely would take Weekend at Bernie’s any day over a potential President [Kamala] Harris,” Cammack said. “But this is where we are at.”
She referenced a 1989 comedy about two men who visit their mob-connected boss’ vacation home and find him dead but prop up his corpse to convince people he is still alive while they enjoy the run of his house.
But she said the events in Afghanistan were dead serious, and in her opinion, should prompt Biden’s ouster, even if it means installing a more liberal President. The administration has faced withering criticism since the Taliban took over the country 19 years after the U.S. invaded and deposed the Islamist state. Last week, after 13 U.S. service members died in suicide bombings outside a Kabul airport, Cammack issued a statement saying Biden should leave office.
The last U.S. service member left today.
“Simply put, saying ‘the buck stops with me’ isn’t enough,” Cammack said. “If President Biden really believes what he says, he’ll resign immediately. Anything less is unacceptable.”
She expounded on that during her interview with Fox News. While hosts noted Harris is next in line for the presidency, with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi behind her, Cammack said this isn’t about selecting her top choice for President but about accountability.
“If we continue to allow bad decisions to go unchecked, then we are perpetuating a cycle where really they can get away with murder, as we have seen the bodied of our Marines coming off of planes at Dover Air Base,” she said. “That right there is a sign of just how deadly these decisions are this administration is making.”
Before his election to the House, St. Augustine Beach Republican Michael Waltz served as a counterterrorism adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney, so Afghanistan to him isn’t just an issue of the day. As a result, he has been a constant presence on cable criticizing the Biden administration, but he’s also offered some strategic advice on what to do in the region.
Along with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Congressman issued a statement calling on the administration to recognize opposition forces to the Taliban as the official government in the Central Asian nation.
“After speaking with Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh and representatives of Ahmad Massoud, we are calling on the Biden Administration to recognize these leaders as the legitimate government representatives of Afghanistan. We ask the Biden administration to recognize that the Afghan Constitution is still intact, and the Afghan Taliban takeover is illegal,” the joint statement reads.
“These leaders chose to stay and fight for the freedoms of the Afghan people and oppose extremism. They have established a safe haven in the Panjshir Valley for Americans left behind, our allies, and those seeking freedom from Afghan Taliban rule. They will also be on the front lines in the fight against global Islamic Extremism, which will continue to plot attacks against the West in the wake of our withdrawal from the region.”
Of course, while those leaders stayed, others fled. Ashraf Ghani, the U.S.-supported President before the Taliban retook control this month, fled the country as the Taliban rolled into Kabul.
Still, Waltz and Graham argue that’s no reason to leave control of Afghanistan to the forces the U.S. drove out 19 years ago.
“We call on President Biden to designate the Afghan Taliban as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and we urge him to publicly support Congressional efforts to stand with our friends in the Panjshir Valley who will serve as a bulwark against regional terror,” the joint statement reads.
Orlando Democrat Stephanie Murphy tonight will host a virtual panel today with Black entrepreneurs and business owners. Panelists expected include Guilford Cantave, president and CEO of FermiTron; Pauline Davis, assistant director of the Small Business Development Center at the University of Central Florida; Ronald Nesbitt, chair-elect of the African American Chamber of Commerce Central Florida; and Sherene Cantave, vice president and CFO of FermiTron.
The goal, she said, is to connect industry leaders to those in the community who need help getting started and learn what resources are available.
“As our community continues to feel the impact of this pandemic in different ways, our small businesses and especially Black-owned businesses have been some of the hardest hit,” Murphy said. “I’m hosting this panel as a way to connect local experts with aspiring and new entrepreneurs in the hope that we can work together to overcome these challenges and build back better than before.”
The Congresswoman encouraged constituents in Florida’s 7th Congressional District to submit questions in advance and watch the forum live on her official Facebook page. The event kicks off around 7 p.m.
Every month, Steube honors a constituent as MVP for Florida’s 17th Congressional District, and this month he celebrated another elected official. The Congressman gave a shoutout to longtime Okeechobee Mayor Dowling Watford. It wasn’t just for his jump shot.
Steube noted Watford’s focus on Lake Okeechobee — at a moment when the management of that water resource remains the most pressing issue in the Heartland. But he also emphasized charity work and pandemic response. Watford has served as Mayor of Okeechobee since 1987, developing a decadeslong reputation as a supporter of small businesses in rural Florida.
“Mayor Watford has taken his personal level of service well above and beyond the expectations of his public office both during the pandemic and beyond,” Steube said. “His willingness to step up for our seniors, families, farmers, and small businesses has made him invaluable to our community and exemplifies the true essence of public service. We are grateful for his commitment.”
Last week, Naples Republican Donalds, in contrast, held an in-person town hall at the Estero Park and Recreation Center. The event occasional turned contention as he answered questions on mask mandates (“I’m not an anti-vaxxer, I’m not an anti-masker, I’m an ‘anti-mandater’”), election reform (“we should not be touching election law at the federal level”) and even the California recall (“I hope they get rid of their idiot Governor”).
He also defended his vote against certifying Biden’s electoral win, saying there were counties in some Biden states where election laws were violated by government officials, like in Wayne County, Michigan, which he said violated its absentee election law. Of note, the election results were certified and stood up in court despite challenges by the Trump campaign.
Still, Donalds said he attended the inauguration and recognized Biden as President.
“Unfortunately, it is legal; he is the commander in chief,” Donalds said.
The Congressman promised to hold more similar town halls in the district during the recess. And he’s not the only one reaching out to constituents, though the format differs between districts.
Clearwater Republican Gus Bilirakis tonight will host a tele-town hall. Constituents in Florida’s 12th Congressional District are encouraged to call 1-833-946-1563 at 6 p.m. “With all that is happening in the world right now, I believe it is more important than ever to hear directly from you about your priorities and the steps you feel Congress should be taking,” he said.
To watch a previous Donalds town hall, click on the image below:
Any support for President Biden’s policy in Afghanistan appears to be a new vehicle for Republicans raising doubts about a Democrat’s mental fitness for office.
Taking a page out of Scott’s playbook, Republican House candidate Carla Spalding called for Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to undergo a psychological and cognitive examination due to her support for the same policy that has Scott calling for invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Biden from office.
Spalding is in a bid to replace Florida’s longest-tenured congresswoman in the 23rd Congressional District. Spalding takes issue, specifically, with Wasserman Schultz’s Sunday Local 10 News appearance on Aug. 22, during which Wasserman Schultz said the terrorist threat from Afghanistan had been neutered.
On Aug. 21, she had already called for Wasserman Schultz’s cognitive test. Later in the week, she reiterated the call, adding a psychological test to Wasserman Schultz’s prescription after bombs shook the airport in Kabul, killing 13 U.S. service members.
“Anyone who believes that the Biden foreign policy of ‘cut and run’ and that Islamic terrorism is not a threat to Americans needs to undergo a psychological and cognitive examination,” Spalding wrote in a Facebook post.
On the news program that got Spalding thinking like Sen. Scott, Wasserman Schultz called the images from Afghanistan “heartbreaking and heart-wrenching.” She also offered her assessment of realities on the ground, which supporters could view as some of the most plain-spoken words out of a politician’s mouth.
“Continuing to prop up a country that won’t even defend itself or preserve its freedom is not in the United States’ interest,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Miami Republican Carlos Giménez led a group of 11 House Republicans in demanding acting Pentagon Inspector General Sean O’Donnell investigateBiden’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
Giménez, a former mayor of Miami-Dade County, introduced a resolution asking O’Donnell’s agency to examine three areas of the withdrawal mission: how and why U.S. Humvees, helicopters, artillery, and drones ended up in the hands of the Taliban; the extent to which Afghan forces entered Iran with U.S. equipment; and the effectiveness of evacuation of the U.S. and allied personnel from Afghanistan.
If the resolution is approved, a report that includes recommendations for legislative action would be due back to Congress within 90 days.
Biden made several “categorically false statements to the American people” about the withdrawal mission, Giménez said in a statement announcing the resolution, “including lies that the American embassy in Kabul was secured and prepared for the withdrawal, that there are no al-Qaida militants in Afghanistan, that America’s allies are not questioning the President’s judgments, and even changed readouts with our most important allies.”
Giménez said Biden’s motive was “deliberately deceptive to the American people,” noting “both the mainstream press and the President’s own senior national security officials” have contradicted those claims.
“If the President of the United States is not going to be straight with the American people, all while American lives are being left in Afghanistan at the mercy of the Taliban, then Congress has both the moral and constitutional obligation to demand accountability of any and all Biden administration officials who deliberately put American lives at risk,” Giménez said. “I urge my colleagues to support this investigation.”
On this day
Aug. 31, 1901 — “Teddy Roosevelt gives ‘new nationalism’ speech” via The White House — In the speech, the President called for the end of special protections for government businesses. He declared that anyone who worked hard should provide for themselves and their family and that no one person was more entitled to special privileges than another. “I stand for the square deal,” he said. “But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.”
Aug. 31, 2019 — “U.S. missile strike on Al-Qaeda leaders in Idlib” via BBC — The U.S. says it has attacked leaders of a group it calls al-Qaida in Syria, in the country’s rebel-held Idlib province. Central Command said the operation had targeted those “responsible for attacks threatening U.S. citizens, our partners, and innocent civilians.” No details were given, but other reports say some 40 people died in a missile strike on a jihadist training camp. It was hit just after Syrian government forces began a truce in Idlib. Initial reports indicated that calm had settled on the front lines after the Russian-backed unilateral cease-fire.
Best wishes to Rep. John Rutherford, who turns 69 on Thursday, Sept 2.
Editor’s note: Delegation will be off on Sept. 3 and will return on Sept. 7.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, with contributions by Anne Geggis and Jesse Scheckner.
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