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4 Southern U.S. House members break party ranks on bill to remove marijuana penalties

3 Southern Republicans vote in favor, 1 Democrat against removing marijuana from list of controlled substances

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — On a nearly party-line vote, the U.S. House approved landmark legislation Friday to remove federal criminal penalties for marijuana and erase past convictions for cannabus-related offenses.

Three Southern Republicans broke ranks with most of their party to support the measure — U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast of Florida and Denver Riggleman of Virginia. One Southern Democrat, U.S. Rep. Henry Cueller of Texas, was among just six Democrats who voted against the bill.

Gaetz speaks in favor of bill on House floor (From C-Span via Twitter)

While the bill is not expected to advance in the Senate, Friday’s 222-to-164 vote in represents a sea change in political attitudes toward marijuana, which will soon be legal for medical use in 36 states and for adult recreational use in 15.

Gaetz, the only Republican co-sponsor of the measure, gave a full-throated oration in favor of the bill on the House floor.

“The federal government has lied to the people of this country about marijuana for a generation,” Gaetz said. “We have seen a generation, particularly of black and brown youth, locked up for offenses that should not have resulted in any incarceration whatsoever.”

Noting that marijuana liberalization passed in every state where it was on the ballot in November, Gaetz said “the only thing that I know of that’s more popular than getting out of the war on drugs is getting out of the war in Afghanistan.”

In November, Mississippi voters approved a medical marijuana initiative, the last Southern state to approve medical cannabus use. However, no Southern state yet allows adult recreational use of marijuana.

Since 1970, marijuana has been categorized as a schedule one drug, in the same category as cocaine and heroin, which precludes medical use. The federal prohibition has created significant problems for people growing and selling marijuana in states where sale is authorized, including preventing them from using banks.

The new law would deschedule the drug, provide a process for people convicted of marijuana offenses to expunge their records, and impose a tax on marijuana sales. States would still be allowed to impose their own regulations.

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Florida Primary: U.S. Rep. Ross Spano ousted, as far-right candidate wins GOP nod in Palm Beach

In Pinellas County, conservative TV personality Anna Paulina Luna easily defeats establishment pick in GOP U.S. House primary

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Ross Spano has lost his bid for re-election amid a criminal investigation into his 2018 campaign, while Republicans in Palm Beach County have picked far-right provocateur Laura Loomer — banned from social media for her strident anti-Muslim comments — as their U.S. House nominee, drawing praise from President Donald Trump.

Also in Tuesday’s primary, Kat Cammack won the GOP nomination for the seat being given up by her former boss, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, in North-Central Florida, while State Rep. Byron Donalds of Naples appears to have taken a step toward adding a rare African American face to House Republican ranks.

Meanwhile, in Pinellas County, conservative TV personality Anna Paulina Luna defeated the pick of the Republican establishment, Amanda Makki, for the right to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in what may be the GOP’s best chance to flip a Florida seat in 2020.

U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Florida

In the 15th District (I-4 Corridor between Tampa and Orlando), with all of the precincts reporting, Spano trailed Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin by less than 1,600 votes.

During the campaign, Franklin hammered Spano over an ongoing federal criminal investigation into illegal loans made to his 2018 campaign. The congressman has admitted his campaign violated campaign finance laws but denies any criminal wrongdoing.

Franklin will now face the Democratic primary winner, Alan Cohn, a former investigative journalist, although Democrats’ hopes of flipping the Republican-learning seat probably dimmed with Spano’s demise.

In the 3rd District (Gainesville and North-Central Florida), where Yoho is retiring, 10 Republicans were competing to fill his seat.

Cammack, former Yoho aide from Gainesville, took 25% to edge out Judson Sapp, a businessman from Green Cove Springs, at 20%.

Because Florida does not have primary runoffs, the first-place finisher in Tuesday’s crowded primary won the nomination with a plurality and will be favored in November in the Republican-leaning district, which is mostly rural but includes the University of Florida.

In the Democratic primary, Adam Christensen, a Gainesville businessman, held a lead of less than 700 votes over Tom Wells, a physicist who has been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and groups affiliated with Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders

Another Republican free-for-all took place in the 19th District (Fort Myers, Naples and Southwest Florida), where U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney is retiring and nine Republicans were running.

Donalds took 23%, less than 800 votes ahead of the second-place finisher, State House Majority Leader Dane Eagle from Cape Coral. Casey Askar, a Iraqi immigrant businessman from Naples who put $3 million of his own money into the campaign, finished a close third.

The 19th District is heavily Republican, which will make Donalds, who is African American, the prohibitive favorite in November. Currently, there is only one black Republican in the House, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, who is not seeking re-election.

In the 13th District (Pinellas County), Luna took 36% to 29% for Makki, a well-connected former congressional aide and Washington lobbyist who had the backing of House Republican leaders and raised $1.2 million for the race.

But Luna, a staunch defender of Trump on TV, excited the Republican grassroots to raise nearly $1 million and surge from behind, with an endorsement from firebrand Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Crist is one of only two Florida Democrats whose seat is expected to be possibly competitive in 2020, although he won re-election by 15 points in 2018.

The other GOP target is U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District (Orlando and its northern suburbs), where Leo Valentin, an Orlando radiologist, held a 700-vote lead over Richard Goble, a mortgage broker from Lake Mary, with all precincts reporting.

In the 21st District (Palm Beach County), Loomer took 42% to beat five other Republicans for the nomination to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel in November after raising more than $1 million, outpacing even the incumbent.

While Loomer appears to have little chance against Frankel in the heavily Democratic district,, she will be yet another fringe nominee for Republican leaders to defend, after victories by adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory in Georgia and Colorado.

Loomer, who describes herself as a “nationalist” but eschews the “alt-right” label, has been banned from a variety of social media sites — and even Uber and PayPal — for anti-Muslim rhetoric, describing herself on Twitter as a #ProudIslamophobe and calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country.

Among her particular targets are the only two Muslim women in Congress, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Loomer has also drawn attention to herself for outlandish publicity stunts, including heckling reporters at the Conservative Political Action conference (which got her banned from the event); asking Chelsea Clinton at a book signing to autograph a book for a woman who alleges that the Clinton’s father, the former president, raped her; and interrupting the assassination scene in a performance of Shakespeare’s “Julius Ceasar” in Central Park, shouting “this is violence against Donald Trump.”

She has also spread conspiracy theories, including that Omar had married her brother and that some school shootings were staged and survivors coached to talk to the media.

Despite that questionable pedigree, Loomer’s campaign has drawn support from Gaetz, Trump confidante Roger Stone, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, and Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro.

Trump, who had retweeted a fundraising solicitation sent on Loomer’s behalf, praised her win: “Great going Laura. You have a great chance against a Pelosi puppet!”

The president’s Mar-a-Lago estate, which is now his permanent residence, is in the 21st District.

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Florida Primary: GOP U.S. Rep. Ross Spano fights for seat, as bevy of Republicans scramble in open districts

Far-right provocateur Laura Loomer may create another headache for GOP leaders with win in Palm Beach County U.S. House district

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — Voters across the Sunshine State head to the polls Tuesday for in-person voting in a primary that features a number of competitive races for U.S. House party nominations and an effort by far-right provocateur Laura Loomer to capture a GOP U.S. House nomination in Palm Beach County.

Tuesday’s primary includes races for U.S. House, state legislature and local offices; no U.S. Senate seats or statewide offices are up in this cycle. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time.

The only incumbent in significant danger Tuesday is Republican U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, who is being challenged for his party’s nomination in the 15th District (I-4 Corridor between Tampa and Orlando) by Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin amid a federal criminal investigation into illegal loans made to his 2018 campaign. Spano has admitted his campaign violated campaign finance laws but denies any criminal wrongdoing.

In the 3rd District (Gainesville and North-Central Florida), where U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho is retiring, 10 Republicans and three Democrats are scrambling for their party’s nominations.

The Republican field includes Kat Cammack, a former Yoho aide from Gainesville; former Gainesville City Commissioner Todd Chase; Clay County Commissioner Gavin Rollins; and two personally wealthy candidates who have largely self-financed their campaigns, James St. George, a physician from Fleming Island, and Judson Sapp, a businessman from Green Cove Springs.

Because Florida does not have primary runoffs, the first-place finisher in Tuesday’s crowded primary will win the nomination with a plurality and will be favored in November in the Republican-leaning district, which is mostly rural but includes the University of Florida.

The Democratic race in the 3rd District is between Adam Christensen, a Gainesville businessman; Phil Dodds, a software designer from Alachua who ran for the seat in 2012; and Tom Wells, a physicist who has been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and groups affiliated with Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.

Another Republican free-for-all is taking place in the 19th District (Fort Myers, Naples and Southwest Florida), where U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney is retiring and nine Republicans are running.

The fundraising race in the primary has been led by two wealthy candidates who have dipped into their own funds for their campaigns: Casey Askar, a Iraqi immigrant businessman and former Marine from Naples who has loaned his campaign $3 million, and Wiliiam Figlesthaler, a urologist from Naples who has loaned his campaign nearly $2 million.

But State Rep. Byron Donalds of Naples has raised more then $1 million from donors and snagged endorsements from the National Rifle Association, the conservative Club for Growth, and the campaign arm of the House Freedom Caucus. Two other elected officials are also in the race: State House Majority Leader Dane Eagle from Cape Coral and Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson.

The 19th District is heavily Republican, which will make the primary winner the prohibitive favorite in November. However, Democrat David Holden, a Naples financial adviser who was the party’s nominee for the seat in 2018, has raised $230,000 for the race and looks poised to get a chance at a rematch. He lost to Rooney by 25 points in 2018.

In the 13th District (Pinellas County), five Republicans are competing for the right to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist in what may be the GOP’s best chance to flip a Florida seat in 2020.

The race has become a contest between House Republicans leaders, who are backing Amanda Makki, a well-connected former congressional aide and Washington lobbyist, and Anna Paulina Luna, a conservative television personality and staunch defender of President Donald Trump who has the backing of Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and has tapped the conservative grassroots to raise almost $1 million for the race.

Complicating their path is George Buck, a former college professor and emergency response consultant who was the party’s nominee for the seat in 2018, losing to Crist by 15 points. He has raised more than $1 million.

Buck made headlines during the campaign when he said he would push for a constitutional amendment that would prevent foreign-born U.S. citizens from serving in Congress — a restriction that would directly affect Makki, who was born in Iran.

Makki has also come under fire for her work as a policy analyst for Alaska U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who has been one of the few Republican senators to distance herself from Trump. Trump’s son, Donald Jr., also publicly criticized Makki for using a photograph of the two of them together in her promotional materials, even though he has not endorsed her.

Crist is one of only two Florida Democrats whose seat is expected to be possibly competitive in 2020. The other is U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy in the 7th District (Orlando and its northern suburbs), where the Republican race is between Richard Goble, a mortgage broker from Lake Mary; Leo Valentin, an Orlando radiologist; and Yukong Zhao, a Chinese immigrant and energy executive from Orlando. Murphy won by 15 points in 2018

In the 21st District (Palm Beach County), Loomer is facing five other Republicans for the nomination to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel in November and has raised more than $1 million, outpacing even Frankel.

While the GOP winner will have little chance against Frankel in the heavily Democratic district, where no Republican even bothered to oppose her in 2018, Loomer would be yet another fringe nominee for Republican leaders to defend, after victories by adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory in Georgia and Colorado.

Loomer, who describes herself as a “nationalist” but eschews the “alt-right” label, has been banned from a variety of social media sites — and even Uber and PayPal — for anti-Muslim rhetoric, describing herself on Twitter as a #ProudIslamophobe and calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country. Among her particular targets are the only two Muslim women in Congress, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Loomer has also drawn attention to herself for outlandish publicity stunts, including heckling reporters at the Conservative Political Action conference (which got her banned from the event); asking Chelsea Clinton at a book signing to autograph a book for a woman who alleges that the Clinton’s father, the former president, raped her; and interrupting the assassination scene in  performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Cesear in Central Park, shouting “this is violence against Donald Trump.”

She has also spread conspiracy theories, including that Omar had married her brother and that some school shootings were staged and survivors coached to talk to the media.

Despite that questionable pedigree, Loomer’s campaign has drawn support from Gaetz, Trump confidante Roger Stone, U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona, and Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro. Trump retweeted a fundraising solicitation sent on Loomer’s behalf, although he has not endorsed her.

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2 Southern U.S. House Democrats in GOP-targeted seats support impeachment in Judiciary Committee

U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath of Georgia and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell vote to remove President Trump

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Two Southern freshman U.S. House Democrats who are on the Republicans’ 2020 target list — Lucy McBath of Georgia and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida — voted with their party Thursday in favor of articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump that were approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

The committee vote on articles of impeachment, after a contentious debate that stretched across three days, was the first formal legislative step in the process of trying to remove Trump from office. The full House is expected to vote next week on the articles, which accuse Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Lucy McBath (left) and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

McBath represents the 6th District in the northwestern Atlanta suburbs that Trump narrowly carried in 2016. The president lost Mucarsel-Powell’s 26th District, which includes the southern part of metro Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys, by 16 points.

Republicans are targeting both seats in 2020.

During the debate on the impeachment articles, McBath said she was supporting them with “a heavy heart and a grieving soul.”

“I am greatly saddened by what we have learned, and I am forced to face a solemn conclusion — I believe the president abused the power of his office, putting his own interests above the needs of our nation, above the needs of the people that I love and serve,” she said.

“This is not why I came to Washington. I came to Washington because I love my country. I came to Washington full of hope, empowered by my community to serve them in Congress,” she said.

McBath also invoked the memory of her son, Jordan, whose murder in a racially charged shooting in 2012 started her down a road of activism that led her to Congress.

“I made a promise to my community that I would act. I promised that I would take that sense of protection, that love a mother has for her son, and I would use it for my community, for the American people,” she said.

McBath’s chief 2020 Republican opponent Karen Handel — whom McBath defeated in 2018 — said Americans remain “unmoved” by the “impeachment scam” and accused McBath of being “more interested in finding ways to take down President Trump than she is in finding the facts.”

“Lucy — it’s time to get back to work for GA6 and end these games,” Handel said in a Facebook post.

In her debate remarks, Mucarsel-Powell said she “did not come [to Congress] to impeach the president, but this president has violated the rule of law.”

“It is undeniable that this president has violated his oath of office, abused his power and obstructed Congress,” she said. “This is a clear and present danger to the future of our democracy.”

Mucarsel-Powell also said the issue of impeachment is “bigger than party, and the Constitution has no partisan allegiance.”

“We all agree that we cannot allow this president, or any future president, to abuse the power of the office,” she said. “We cannot accept a president who says, ‘America First,’ but really puts his own interest before the country.”

Mucarsel-Powell’s Republican opponent, Irina Vilariño, said “it saddens me that during this Christmas season, we are watching one party driven by politics and a personal agenda attempt to derail the American Presidency.”

“Unlike my opponent, I’m not interested in being a part of a political clique or spending all of my time trying to drag someone else down,” she said in a Facebook post. “I am interested in delivering common sense, practical leadership for our constituents and for our district.”

Eight other Southern Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who represent safe seats also voted for the articles of impeachment, including Steve Cohen of Tennessee; Hank Johnson of Georgia; Cedric Richmond of Louisiana; Ted Deutch and Val Demings of Florida; and Shelia Jackson Lee, Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar of Texas.

All eight Republicans on the committee voted against the impeachment articles, including Doug Collins of Georgia; Martha Roby of Alabama; Matt Gaetz and Greg Steube of Florida; Ben Cline of Virginia; Mike Johnson of Louisiana; and Louie Gohmert and John Ratcliffe of Texas.

Watch McBath’s full statement in the Judiciary Committee

Watch Mucarel-Powell’s full statement in the Judiciary Committee

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Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz faces investigation over Michael Cohen tweet

House Ethics Committee will look at whether Gaetz’s February tweet about Cohen’s “girlfriends” was a threat

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The House Ethics Committee will investigate whether U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida violated ethics rules when he posted a tweet directed toward President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, on the eve of his testimony to Congress.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida

In the February 26 tweet, Gaetz asked, “Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot…”

An ethics subcommittee will investigate whether Gaetz “sought to threaten, intimidate, harass, or otherwise improperly influence” Cohen, according to a committee statement announcing the investigation.

The committee decided to proceed with an investigation after Gaetz, one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress, refused a request from the committee to sit for an interview, according to the statement.

After a controversy arose over the tweet, Gaetz deleted it, apologized and denied that his intent was to threaten Cohen, who the next day regaled the House Oversight Committee with details of his years working at the president’s side.

Cohen is currently service a three-year federal prison sentence for tax and bank fraud and campaign finance violations.

Gaetz’s office did not immediately respond to the committee’s statement. But Politico quoted a text message from Gaetz: “If members of Congress want to spend their time psychoanalyzing my tweets, it’s certainly their prerogative. I won’t be joining them in the endeavor. Too busy.“

Gaetz has represented Florida’s 1st District, which covers the state’s western panhandle, since 2017.

The House members on the subcommittee that will handle the complaint against Gaetz includes Democrats Anthony Brown of Maryland and Raja Krishnamoorthi and Republicans Michael Guest of Mississippi and John Rose of Tennessee.

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