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Southern House Democrats in targeted seats vote to turn up pressure on Trump

House Judiciary Committee can now sue to force compliance with requests for documents, testimony

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — In the first major test of how Southern Democrats in vulnerable seats will navigate through ongoing House investigations of President Donald Trump, all of them stuck to the party line in supporting new powers that could escalate those inquiries.

By a vote of 229-191 on June 11, the House authorized the Judiciary Committee to go into federal court and demand that the Justice Department comply with requests for documents and witness testimony.

From top left clockwise: Cunningham, McBath, Allred, Weston

All 10 Southern House Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 and are at the top of the GOP hit list in 2020 agreed to give the committee the power to sue to force compliance, although none of them yet support moving toward impeaching the president.

That list includes Reps. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina; Lucy McBath of Georgia; Kendra Horn of Oklahoma; Elaine Luria, Jennifer Wexton and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia; Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher of Texas; and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Donna Shalala of Florida.

Not a single Southern Republican supported the resolution, including 11 GOP members who are on the Democrats’ target list for 2020.

The resolution is aimed squarely at Attorney General William Barr, who has refused to comply with some document requests, and former White House counsel Don McGahn, who has refused to testify at a committee hearing under instructions fro the White House.

The resolution ratchets up the pressure on the Trump administration, as an increasing number of House Democrats are calling for an impeachment inquiry.

While none of the Southern Democrats in competitive seats have so far come out in favor of an impeachment inquiry, 14 members in safe seats have done so.

That list includes Steve Cohen of Tennessee; Val Demings of Florida; Veronica Escobar, Sheila Jackson Lee, Joaquin Castro, Lloyd Doggett, Al Green, and Filemon Vela of Texas; Cedric Richmond of Louisiana; Alma Adams and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina; Don Beyer of Virginia; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi; and John Yarmuth of Kentucky.

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4 Southern GOP senators defy Trump on border emergency; North Carolina’s Thom Tillis makes about face to support president

Rubio, Paul, Wicker and Alexander break with Trump in voting to overturn emergency declaration

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — With the support of four Southern Republicans and all four Southern Democrats, the U.S. Senate has voted to overturn President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency in order to find money for a barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

U.S. Senator Thom Tillis

But one GOP senator who had come out publicly in favor of overturning the declaration — Thom Tillis of North Carolina — reversed course and voted no, after intense lobbying from the White House and an avalanche of criticism from Trump partisans back home.

Trump has vowed to veto the resolution overturning the declaration, which passed by a 59-41 margin in the Republican-controlled Senate on March 14. The House passed it in late February by a vote of 254-182.

However, opponents of the declaration do not have enough support in either House to override Trump’s veto, which will be the first of his presidency.

The four Southern Republicans who broke the with president were Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

All four Southern Democrats in the Senate also voted yes — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Doug Jones of Alabama.

Frustrated by the unwillingness of the Democrat-controlled House to vote money for the border wall, Trump declared a national emergency on February 15, which will allow him to shift $8 billion from other federal programs and use it for wall construction. Most of the money will come from appropriations for military construction and drug interdiction.

Alexander

In a floor speech before the vote, Alexander said he objected to Trump’s use of an emergency declaration to provide border wall funding after Congress failed to appropriate the money.

“The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation’s founders gave to Congress the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a crucial source of our freedom,” Alexander said.

Rubio

Rubio said he agreed with Trump that an emergency exists at the border but said he objected to shifting money out of the military construction budget to finance the border barrier.

“This would create a precedent a future president may abuse to jumpstart programs like the Green New Deal, especially given the embrace of socialism we are seeing on the political left,” he said in a statement on Twitter.

Paul and Wicker also cited constitutional considerations as the reason for their vote to overturn the declaration.

Wicker

Paul

“I stand with President Trump on the need for a border wall and stronger border security, but the Constitution clearly states that money cannot be spent unless Congress has passed a law to do so,” Paul said in a statement.

Wicker said he regretted “that we were not able to find a solution that would have averted a challenge to the balance of power as defined by the Constitution.”

“The system of checks and balances established by the Founders has preserved our democracy. It is essential that we protect this balance even when it is frustrating or inconvenient,” he said in a statement.

Tillis made a splash when he published an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on February 25 saying he would vote to overturn the emergency declaration because it would set a precedent that “future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”

Tillis faced an avalanche of criticism from the president’s supporters in the Tar Heel State and was facing the likelihood of a primary challenge in his 2020 re-election race.

“A lot has changed over the last three weeks — a discussion with the vice president, a number of senior administration officials … a serious discussion about changing the National Emergencies Act in a way that will have Congress speak on emergency actions in the future,” Tillis said.

Republican senators had considered changing the National Emergencies Act to make it more difficult to declare emergencies in the future, but the plan faltered when House Democrats came out against it.

Tillis said he concluded that the crisis at the border was sufficiently serious to warrant the emergency declaration.

“We have narcotics flooding our country, poisoning our children and adults of all ages, and a lot of it has to do with the porous border and the seemingly out of control crossings,” Tillis said.

But Democrats back home pounced on Tillis for his change of heart.

“Tillis again reminded the entire state who he is — a spineless politician who won’t keep his promises and looks out for himself instead of North Carolina,” said Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard in a statement.

Rubio and Paul do not face re-election until 2022; Wicker’s current term lasts through 2024.

Among the Democrats who voted against Trump, Jones is the only one who is running for re-election in 2020. Warner isn’t up for re-election until 2022, and Manchin and Kaine’s current terms last through 2024.

Jones is considered among the most vulnerable Democrats up for election in 2020, in a state where Trump remains popular.

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New Florida secretary of state resigns after Halloween blackface photos published

Mike Ertel departs over pictures showing him impersonating black, female Hurricane Katrina victim in 2005

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — After less than three weeks on the job, Florida Secretary of State Mike Ertel has resigned after a Tallahassee newspaper published photos of him in drag and wearing blackface while posing as a Hurricane Katrina victim at a Halloween Party in 2005.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who appointed Ertel as secretary of state in December, accepted his resignation January 24, just hours after the Tallahassee Democrat showed the photos to the governor’s office as it was preparing to print the story.

Photos of Mke Ertel at 2005 Halloween party (From Tallahassee Democrat)

“I think he’s done a lot of good work, but at the same time, I’ve got to have an administration that’s going to be focused on what matters to Floridians,” DeSantis told reporters at a news conference in Marianna, which had been called to talk about hurricane recovery. “I don’t want to get mired in side controversies.”

The Democrat reported that Ertel confirmed he was the man in the photos but declined further comment.

The photos were taken just two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. At the time, Ertel was the supervisor of elections in Seminole County, which includes the suburbs of Orlando.

The photos show Ertel in blackface, wearing earrings, false breasts and a purple T-shirt on which the words “Katrina Victim” had been written.

The newspaper did not say how it obtained the photos.

Ertel, 49, a Republican, was appointed as elections supervisor in Seminole in February 2005 and re-elected four times, most recently in 2016.

After a series of hurricanes hit Florida in 2004, Ertel worked on media relations for an organization that promoted Florida tourism in the wake of the storms.

Florida is one of nine states in which the secretary of state is appointed by the governor rather than elected, with confirmation by the State Senate. County elections supervisors are elected.

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Video: New Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sets out agenda in inaugural address

Republican DeSantis sworn in as Sunshine State’s 46th governor


Video From WJXT-TV Jacksonville via YouTube

7 new Southern U.S House Democrats who ousted Republicans support Nancy Pelosi for speaker

Cunningham of South Carolina and Spanberger of Virginia keep vow to oppose Pelosi; North Carolina’s 9th District remains vacant

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Seven Southern Democratic U.S. House freshmen who ousted GOP incumbents in November supported Nancy Pelosi’s bid to reclaim the gavel as speaker of the U.S. House — handing Republicans an issue to use against them in 2020.

Incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi accepts gavel from GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (From Twitter)

Colin Allred and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Texas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton of Virginia, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida all supported Pelosi in the January 3 vote.

Two other freshmen Democrats who had vowed during their campaign that they would not support Pelosi — Joe Cunningham of South Carolina and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia — kept that promise, voting instead for Cheri Bustos of Illinois.

And despite signing a letter in November calling for new leadership in the House, Filemon Vela of Texas switched course to vote for Pelosi.

Meanwhile, as the new Congress convened in Washington with 29 new Southern  members, one seat sat empty — the representative from North Carolina’s 9th District, where state elections officials have refused to certify Republican Mark Harris’s narrow win over Democrat Dan McCready amid allegations of absentee ballot fraud.

In the vote for speaker, just three Southern Democratic members did not support Pelosi — Cunningham and Spanberger, who voted for Bustos, and Jim Cooper of Tennessee, who voted present.

Cooper, who has been in Congress since 1983, had been a long-time opponent of Pelosi’s speakership, having voted against her five times previously.

After the November election, a group of 16 Democratic members, including Cooper, Cunningham and Vela, signed a letter calling for “new leadership” in the Democratic caucus.

Vela changed course after Pelosi agreed to support term limits for the House Democratic leadership, which will limit her speakership to no more than four years.

Pelosi needed a majority of the 430 votes cast for speaker. In the end, she got 220 votes, four more than necessary.

Of the seven Southern Democrats who ousted Republicans and voted for Pelosi, McBath, Horn and Luria represent districts carried by President Donald Trump in 2016, while Allred and Fletcher represent districts he lost by less than 2 points.

Hillary Clinton carried Murcasel-Powell’s district in South Florida by 16 points and Wexton’s district in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. by 10 points.

Three other Southern Democratic newcomers who won open seats in November also supported Pelosi — Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia of Texas, and Donna Shalala of Florida. All three represent districts Clinton carried handily.

Among Southern Republicans, only three did not support their candidate for speaker, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Jody Hice of Georgia supported Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the founders of the House Freedom Caucus, a grouping of the most conservative Republican members.

Walter Jones of North Carolina did not vote. He has been absent from Congress since September because of an undisclosed illness.

Of the 29 new Southern members of the House, 17 are Republicans and 12 are Democrats. Republicans hold 101 Southern seats, compared to 50 for Democrats, with North Carolina’s 9th District vacant.

The 9th District seat is likely to remain vacant until after the state elections board completes its investigation into the allegations of absentee ballot irregularities, which has been delayed until February because of a new law revamping the board.

Harris has filed a lawsuit seeking for force certification of the election.

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Change in party control of U.S. House diminishes Southern clout

Just five House committees in new Congress will have Southerners at the helm

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

WASHINGTON (CFP) — When it comes to Southern clout in the U.S. House, what a difference an election makes.

In the recently departed Congress, with Republicans in control, 13 of the 22 committee chairs hailed from the 14 Southern states; in the newly installed Congress, with Democrats in charge, that number will fall to just five.

Five Southern Republican chairs retired, and one, Pete Sessions of Texas, went down to defeat in November. Those who stayed find themselves in the minority for the first time in eight years.

The switch in control has shifted power from the GOP, in which Southerners made up nearly half of the caucus, to the Democrats, where Southerners only make up a fifth. And that has led to reduced numbers of Southerners among committee chairs.

All five of the committees that will be chaired by Southern Democrats in the new Congress were chaired by Southern Republicans in the last Congress, so there will be no loss of influence on those panels.

Also, the outgoing majority whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, will be replaced by the incoming majority whip, Democrat Jim Clyburn of South Carolina. Both men remain the only Southern members in their party’s top leadership.

But eight other committees that had GOP chairmen will now be headed by lawmakers from outside the region. And that list contains a number of the most powerful and high-profile chairmanships in Washington, including Judiciary, Rules, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Reform.

The five Southern Democratic committee chairmen are John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Budget; Ted Deutch of Florida, Ethics; Bobby Scott of Virginia, Education and Labor; Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Homeland Security; and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, Science, Space and Technology.

Unlike Republicans, who select committee chairs by voting within the caucus, Democrats use seniority. All five of the Southern Democrats ascending to chairmanships had been the ranking Democratic member when Democrats were in the minority.

Scott, Thompson and Johnson, all members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are among eight new chairs who are African American or Latino. In the departing Republican Congress, all of the chairs were white, and 20 were men.

Southerners will make up a slight majority within the Republican caucus in the new Congress, which is reflected in the GOP’s new committee leadership. On 14 of the 22 House committees, the ranking Republican in the new Congress will be from the South.

Among the notable newcomers to that group are Kay Granger of Texas, who will be ranking member on Appropriations, and Doug Collins of Georgia, on Judiciary–the committee that would handle any impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Michael McCaul of Texas, who had been chairman of Homeland Security, has shifted to become the new ranking member of Foreign Affairs.

Six Southern Republicans who had been chairs of their committees will continue as ranking members in the new Congress–Mike Conaway of Texas, Agriculture; Mac Thornberry of Texas, Armed Services; Steve Womack of Arkansas, Budget; Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, Education and Labor; Phil Roe of Tennessee, Veterans’ Affairs; and Kevin Brady of Texas, Ways and Means.

In addition to Granger and Collins, five other Southern Republicans were also newly named as ranking members–Patrick McHenry of North Carolina, Financial Services; Kenny Marchant of Texas, Ethics; Mike Rogers of Alabama, Homeland Security; Tom Cole of Oklahoma, Rules; and Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Science, Space and Technology.

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Decision ’18: Democrat Bill Nelson concedes defeat in Florida U.S. Senate race

Republican Governor Rick Scott will move from Tallahassee to Washington after winning recount

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — After protests, a flurry of lawsuits and two recounts, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has conceded defeat to Republican Governor Rick Scott, possibly bringing the curtain down on a political career that spanned more than four decades and included a trip into space.

Scott’s victory means there will be just four Democrats among the 28 senators representing Southern states, down one from the last Congress. And Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time since Reconstruction in 1875.

In a video released by his campaign, Nelson said that while he lost the Senate race, “I by no means feel defeated, and that’s because I’ve had the great privilege of serving the people of Florida and our country for most of my life.”

“It’s been a rewarding journey as well as a very humbling experience,” he said.

He also made a plea for more civility to combat “a gathering darkness” in American political life.

“We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy, where truth is treated as disposable,” he said.

Scott, who has now won three consecutive statewide elections by thin margins, issued a statement thanking Nelson “for his years of public service.”

Nelson’s concession came after a machine recount of ballots in all 67 counties and a hand recount of ballots with under-votes or over-votes in the Senate race did not overturn Scott’s margin of victory.

Scott defeated Nelson by just 10,033 votes, out of nearly 8.2 million cast.

Scott had led on election night, but late reports of ballots from Democratic-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties began narrowing the lead. Both Scott and President Donald Trump suggested that fraud was occurring in both counties, although evidence seemed to point to mismanagement rather than deliberate malfeasance.

In the following days, both campaigns went to court, and protests erupted outside elections offices in Broward — scenes reminiscent of the recount battle that erupted in the Sunshine State after the 2000 presidential election.

Nelson’s last hope was turning up uncounted ballots in Broward, where 25,000 fewer people voted in the Senate election than in the race for governor. But the hand recount confirmed that those ballots were indeed under-votes, which could have been caused by a flawed ballot design.

In Broward, the Senate race was listed at the bottom of a column underneath voting instructions, which could have resulted in some voters not seeing it.

Florida Governor Rick Scott

Scott, 65, went into politics after building a fortune in the health care industry. Financial disclosure reports put his net worth at around $250 million.

He won the governorship in 2010 with a margin of just 1.2 percent and won re-election in 2014 in an even closer race, 1 percent. His margin over Nelson in the Senate race was narrower still, 0.12 percent.

Scott’s win means Republicans will have at least 52 seats in the next Senate to 47 for Democrats, a net pickup of two seats. One seat remains to be decided in Mississippi, where Republicans are favored.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida

Nelson, 76, won his first election, to the Florida House, in 1972. He served 12 years in the U.S. House and six years as Florida’s insurance commissioner before winning election to the Senate in 2000.

In 1986, while a sitting member of the House, Nelson went into space as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Columbia. His district included the Kennedy Space Center.

Just 10 days after his return, a different space shuttle, Challenger, exploded during launch, which ended NASA’s program of sending civilians into space.

With Nelson’s defeat, the only Democrats representing Southern states will be Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in Virginia, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Doug Jones in Alabama.

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