March 22, 2021 by David Silverberg
Updated March 24 with new Stafford Act link
Last week Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) took a break from his verbal attacks on President Joe Biden, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Democrats to actually pay attention to his district.
The attention came in the form of his first legislative proposal, a re-tread of a bill introduced in the previous Congress by his predecessor Francis Rooney, to ensure that the government keeps monitoring harmful algal blooms (HABs) even in the event of a government shutdown.
Donalds’ Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1954) would, according to its official language, “amend the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 to clarify that during a lapse in appropriations certain services relating to the Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecasting System are excepted services under the Anti-Deficiency Act.”
The need for the legislation became apparent during former President Donald Trump’s 35-day shutdown of the government from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019 in a battle with Congress over funding his border wall. Following 2018’s severe red tide off the Florida Gulf coast, Rooney tried to build a coordinated response to future HABs.
In June 2019 he introduced the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act (HR 3297) so that monitoring of HABs would not be interrupted. That bill gained 16 cosponsors, 12 Democrats and four Republicans. However, it never made it out of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
Donalds’ bill was introduced with six cosponsors. Four are Republicans: Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.), Bill Posey (R-8-Fla.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-16-Ohio), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.); and two Democrats: Reps. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.). Tlaib, a member of the liberal Democratic “squad,” also cosponsored Rooney’s bill.
Like its predecessor, Donalds’ bill has been referred to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology as well as the Committee on Natural Resources.
Analysis: What to watch
Voters should watch to see if Donalds can move this bill out of its committees and onto the floor during the current session. While Rooney sat on the Science Committee, Donalds is not on either of the committees of jurisdiction, so his climb is steeper.
This will be especially interesting to see given his attacks on Pelosi. In the previous Congress, Pelosi advanced Rooney’s legislation on offshore oil drilling to full House consideration. She might not be equally inclined to move this legislation this time.
The need for this legislation is less urgent than it was under President Donald Trump, who thought little of shutting down the government as a negotiating tactic (or in a temper tantrum). With Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress and a sane president in the White House, the probability of a government shutdown, at least over the next four years, is far lower than in the past.
From a substantive standpoint, of far greater importance to Southwest Florida is another measure introduced by Rooney: amending the Stafford Act to include HABs.
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act defines which natural disasters are subject to federal emergency treatment. Algal blooms are not included. If Southwest Florida suffers another Big Bloom summer like 2018’s, the area’s governments, merchants and residents would be eligible for federal emergency funds and support if the Stafford Act is amended. Rooney tried to make this change with his Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act but it remained undone during his tenure. For Donalds, however, this kind of legislation might clash with his small-government, you’re-on-your-own ideology.
From a political standpoint, Donalds’ new HAB legislation may help close a gap that was threatening to widen into a vulnerability: his almost complete disinterest in the district and its needs. He received some minor, uncritical coverage of his bill in the local media, which was no doubt helpful to him in changing this perception.
On the record
Since our last Donalds Dossier, in major legislation Donalds toed the Republican Party line. He has:
- Voted against the American Rescue Plan, after denouncing it on the floor and fighting it in committee. It passed 220 to 211 and has been signed into law.
- Voted against the Bipartisan Background Checks Act to ensure background checks for firearms transfers between individuals. It passed by a vote of 227 to 203. (Donalds was fully endorsed by the National Rifle Association during his primary campaign.)
- Voted against removing the deadline for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. It passed by a vote of 222 to 204
- Voted against the Stronger Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. It passed by a vote of 345 to 73.
- Voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. It passed by a vote of 244 to 172.
- Voted against the For the People Act aimed at ensuring full voting participation and reform of campaign financing. It passed 220 to 212.
- Voted against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, making police reforms. It passed 220 to 212.
Steube: No gold for the blue
In other action by a Southwest Florida representative, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a vehement ever-Trumper and extreme conservative who represents the area from Punta Gorda to Venice and east to Okeechobee, chose to oppose honoring those who protected him during the Jan. 6 insurrection and attack on the Capitol building.
Steube’s action came after Pelosi proposed awarding three Congressional Gold Medals, Congress’ highest civilian honor, to the Capitol Police and the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police. The third medal, along with a plaque listing all the agencies that protected the Capitol that day, will be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution.
Pelosi’s sponsorship of the legislation was a rare move in the chamber, signifying its solemnity.
“January 6th was one of the darkest and deadliest days in American history,” Pelosi said in a speech on the floor. “The waging of a violent insurrection against the United States Capitol and against our very democracy on that day was a profound horror that nearly defies comprehension. That day, the country witnessed the gleeful desecration of our Temple of Democracy.”
While Jan. 6 was a day of “horror and heartbreak,” she said, “because of these courageous men and women, it was also a moment of extraordinary heroism. That day the United States Capitol Police force put themselves between us and the violence. They risked their safety and their lives for others with the utmost selflessness, and they did so because they were patriots – the type of Americans who heard the call to serve and answered it – putting country above self.”
When the time came for a vote last Wednesday, March 17, Steube and 11 of his Republican colleagues didn’t agree. Instead, Steube blamed Pelosi for the insurrection and attack, saying in a statement:
“The unprecedented leadership failures of Speaker Pelosi, the U.S. Capitol Police Chief and the Sergeant at Arms put their officers, Members of Congress and the public at risk on January 6. They had the opportunity to call in the National Guard days before and refused to do so for ‘optics.’ There is no reason that Congress should now award the highest civilian medal to leaders who failed in protecting the Capitol, which led to their resignation and the shooting of an unarmed woman, just so Speaker Pelosi can check the box and say she supports law enforcement a week after Pelosi-led Democrats attacked the police by ending their qualified immunity and taking away their protective equipment.”Rep. Greg Steube
Despite voting against the gold medals Steube maintained that he’s a “staunch defender” of law enforcement and opposed any movements to defund the police.
In addition to Steube, the other nay votes were: Reps. Andy Biggs (R-5-Ariz.), Michael Cloud (R-27-Texas), Andrew Clyde (R-9-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fa.), Louis Gohmert (R-1-Texas), Bob Good (R-5-Va.), Lance Gooden (R-5-Texas), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.), Andy Harris (R-1-Md.), Thomas Massie (R-4-Ky.), John Rose (R-6-Tenn.).
Steube’s vote in this matter is outrageous, disgusting and shameful. His rationale is absurd. His indifference to the deaths of the officer who lost his life, Brian Sicknick, and those who took their own lives subsequently is despicable. He has forfeited any legitimate claim—or future claim—to be a defender of law enforcement. He and his colleagues deserve to be called “the dirty dozen” for rejecting this recognition for the police officers who stood their ground against the most repulsive attack on the American government in history.
Liberty lives in light
© 2021 by David Silverberg