Despite a mob attack on the United States Capitol yesterday, Jan. 6, incited by President Donald Trump, when the roll was called all of Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives voted to aid and abet the president’s effort to overturn the 2020 election.
The roll call vote by the House of Representatives occurred at 3:00 am this morning. The motion was on objections raised to certifying the Electoral College results from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Had the objection been sustained the Electoral College vote would have been rejected and the election overturned.
While Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted to sustain the objection, it was defeated by a vote of 282 to 138.
At 3:26 am this morning, Vice President Mike Pence certified that Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the 2020 presidential election by an Electoral College vote of 306 to 232.
Evolution of the day
Yesterday morning saw SWFL’s representatives confidently preparing to overturn the election through legal, procedural means.
“I’m walking into the Capitol to sign the objection to the Electoral College certification. It’s important we always uphold our laws and our Constitution, no matter what,” tweeted Donalds at 11:17 am.
“I’m objecting to the electoral votes of GA, PA, WI and MI,” tweeted Steube at 11:23 am. “If we fail to challenge the blatant improprieties that have marred the 2020 election, we let honest votes go uncounted. Anything less would fail our country now and into the future.”
The representatives were entering the Capitol at the same time a pro-Trump rally was taking place at the Ellipse in front of the White House. Trump addressed the rally and told rally-goers “we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you,” and “you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated. I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” (Trump did not march to the Capitol.)
The Trumpers then marched from the area of the White House to the Capitol, which they attacked throughout the afternoon, breaching the perimeter and vandalizing the interior of the building before being evicted in the evening.
“On my fourth day as a United States Congressman, I followed Capitol staff into a safe room with a gas mask in hand rather than representing my constituents,” recounted Donalds in a statement on the events.
“I witnessed our law enforcement officers being injured, gassed from their own tear gas and afraid for their lives as they attempted to hold the line,” recalled Steube in his own statement. “I and three other Members were barricaded in a room surrounded by demonstrators until the hallway was clear for us to get out.” Steube expressed thanks to Kim Campbell with the House Sergeant at Arms office, Officer Reginald Cleveland of the Capitol Police and two other officers barricaded in the room.
During the worst moments of the protest Donalds condemned the violence: “Americans have the right to peacefully protest & demand their government works for them—that doesn’t mean we resort to violence. Rule of law must stand during our nation’s brightest & darkest hours & that includes right now. We are better than this. There is no place for anarchy,” he tweeted at 2:49 pm.
Once the violence was over, the rioters were ejected and the Capitol secured in the evening all three representatives condemned the violence.
Diaz-Balart issued a statement in both English and Spanish at 5:23 pm saying that the violence undermined the nation’s values and principles and lawbreakers should face the full consequences of their actions. At 5:39 pm Steube condemned the actions and called them “completely unacceptable.”
At 10:09 pm in a lengthy statement, Donalds called the rioters “lawless vigilantes” and condemned their actions as “thuggery.” Nonetheless, he tweeted, “they will not alter my decision to object to the Electoral College certification.”
None of the members criticized or condemned Trump for his role in inciting the assault.
In contrast, retired congressman Francis Rooney issued his own statement on Facebook as the violence peaked at 3:49 pm: “All of America should be saddened and sickened by today’s events at the US Capitol,” he wrote. “President Trump is complicit in inciting violence to contest an election that is over and adjudicated. This must stop now.”
President Donald Trump’s sudden attack on the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill passed by the House and Senate on Monday, Dec. 21, deals severe blows to Southwest Florida and to the provisions that benefit the region.
Yesterday, Dec. 22, Trump, without warning congressional Republicans, issued a 9-minute, 53-second video on Twitter. In it he explained his reasons for trying to overturn the results of the presidential election and then denounced the laboriously negotiated and passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The bill funds the US government through the next fiscal year but most importantly to most Americans suffering from the pandemic, it provides $600 in payments to those who have lost their jobs.
Equally important, it provided funding for COVID vaccine acquisition and distribution.
In his video, Trump called the bill “a disgrace,” attacked it for funding foreign aid and a variety of domestic purposes and demanded that it provide $2,000 for each American.
House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) immediately agreed to try to provide the $2,000, this after weeks of negotiations during which they struggled to get Republican negotiators to raise the relief amount from an original offer of $300 to $600.
“Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks,” tweeted Pelosi. “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000—Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!”
The bill includes provisions directly affecting Southwest Florida that were inserted by Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.).
According to Diaz-Balart, the bill funds local infrastructure, school safety, Everglades restoration, agricultural support and housing programs for low-income families and the homeless. Patients are protected from surprise billing and, in a move of particularly local interest, the Moore Haven Lock and Dam on Lake Okeechobee is re-named in honor of Julian Keen, Jr., a Florida Wildlife Conservation officer who was killed in LaBelle in June while trying to stop a hit-and-run suspect. (The full text of Diaz-Balart’s statement is below.)
Of critical importance to Southwest Florida is the inclusion of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in the bill. WRDA provides authorization for every water-related infrastructure project in the country and has been a particular focus of Rooney’s efforts.
When WRDA was finalized earlier in the month he stated: “Passage of WRDA is an important step in finally advancing the 68 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects that have been previously approved. These projects will significantly reduce discharges to the Caloosahatchee, reduce the toxic algal blooms that have plagued us in previous years, and improve overall water quality in SWFL.”
As Rooney points out, the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee Watershed include 16 counties and 164 cities. They have a $2 trillion economic impact on the state and support $1.3 trillion, or 55 percent of the real estate value in Florida. Four dollars in economic benefits are produced for every dollar invested in the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee Watershed.
The bill that Congress passed includes $250 million for Everglades restoration for fiscal 2021.
Analysis: Coming up next
While Trump has not formally vetoed the appropriations bill, it is unclear what the next courses of action will be, since it cannot be finalized without his signature. As Pelosi noted, she may try to get a new version of the bill passed through “unanimous consent” in which all the members of the House agree to simply pass it without objection—dubious in this Congress.
Otherwise, the entire 5,593-page bill will have to be renegotiated and passed by both House and Senate before Dec. 29 when funding for the government runs out. If Congress cannot do that, the government will shut down and the results will be truly and fully catastrophic: vaccines will not be purchased or distributed, Americans will not get any financial pandemic relief and the economy is likely to crash. All this will come when coronavirus cases are peaking, Russia is hacking the US government without any resistance or defense at the highest level and Trump is continuing to resist and deny the outcome of the presidential election.
If Trump had objections to the bill while it was being negotiated he should have expressed them and his concerns would have been incorporated at an earlier stage. But that kind of involvement in governing and attention to detail is not his style and all reports are that he simply ignored it.
Southwest Floridians should make no mistake about this: they are directly affected by Trump’s incompetence, grandstanding and mismanagement. People who don’t get coronavirus care or the vaccine will die—likely in large numbers. But perhaps the chaos and distress he is causing is exactly what he intended.
Full statement on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart following its passage:
“The FY2021 funding bill includes big wins for our nation and for Florida. This bill prioritizes funding to enhance our infrastructure, support our military and law enforcement, and strengthen our national security. In addition, school safety remains a top priority, Everglades Restoration receives a significant influx of funding, and programs that our farmers and growers rely on will continue. It also supports critical housing programs such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Homeless Assistance Grants.
“Attached to this bill are several legislative priorities, including an end to surprise billing—patients will now know the real cost of a scheduled procedure before it takes place. Additionally, this bill includes the final version of WRDA 2020, thereby ensuring the Moore Haven Lock and Dam is renamed in honor of fallen FWC Officer Julian Keen, Jr.
“We have already seen Florida capitalize on the programs these bills fund, and with its passage today, our state will continue to benefit from them moving forward.”
Rep.-Elect Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has joined a Republican effort to imitate and counter the four progressive Democratic members of Congress informally known as “The Squad.”
Seven newly-elected Republican House members are calling themselves “The Freedom Force.” According to Donalds, they reject the kind of progressive programs and policies advocated by The Squad.
Americans, Donalds stated in an interview on Fox News, “just want to have opportunities to succeed. They don’t want people in Washington telling them how they’re going to go about doing that. They want the freedom to choose for themselves and I’m here to fight for that and that’s what the Freedom Force is here to do.” He said the group was necessary because “the Left has people out there every single day pushing this narrative that America is some worse off country, that we need a heavy hand from government, that you have to have this ultra-progressive left-wing policies.”
“The Freedom Force is nothing more than a media opportunity for a bunch of freshman representatives who will otherwise not have the ability to do anything in Congress as part of the minority party,” Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate for Congress in the recent election, pointed out in an e-mail to The Paradise Progressive. “The squad was branded as such because of their massive popularity and ability to make change. They didn’t name themselves that to seem important, like this group. These pathetic copycats can’t even come up with their own concept to counter this powerful group of effective women that they maligned to get elected.”
In alphabetical order, the members of The Squad are: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) (D-14-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-5-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-7-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.).
The members of The Freedom Force are: Reps.-Elect Stephanie Bice (R-5-Okla.); Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.); Carlos Giménez (R-26-Fla.); Nicole Malliotakis (R-11-NY); Maria Elvira Salazar (R-27-Fla.); Victoria Spartz (R-20-Ind.); and Michelle Steel (R-48-Calif.).
Asked about The Freedom Force by NBC News, Omar said: “I mean it sounds ridiculous to me. I think they think they’re in high school. We’re in Congress.”
Donalds attacked AOC in mailers and campaign literature during his run for Congress, said Banyai. He likened Banyai to AOC and tried to “scare his donors and fan the flames of fear of socialism.”
The Squad was informally named in 2018 after the four members were elected to the House of Representatives and had their picture taken while attending a progressive orientation session. AOC titled it “Squad” and shared it on Instagram and created the hashtag #Squadgoals. It then became the focus of media attention because all the members had broken barriers and represented new faces of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
In an interview on CBS This Morning on July 17, 2018 Pressley explained the genesis of The Squad. Their intention was “not just about dismantling, but what we’re intentional about is building and fostering,” she said. “Anyone who is committed to the work of building a more equitable and just world is a part of the squad.”
Did Francis Rooney, representative of the 19th Congressional District and Southwest Florida in the United States Congress, make a difference during his four years in elected office?
Based on Rooney’s own evaluation, he did what he set out to do: increase funding for Everglades restoration and promote the purity of the region’s waters.
But when he ran in 2016 he hardly campaigned on such a narrow platform. He proclaimed that he was battling socialism and promoting conservative values. He characterized Donald Trump as possibly the nation’s savior and advanced Trump’s electoral victory.
So Rooney’s tenure should be evaluated on a broader spectrum than his own criteria.
What changes that Rooney made or promoted are most likely to live on after him? Will these be beneficial to Southwest Florida and the nation? Did he do any damage and can it be repaired? And lastly: what needs to be done in the future to build on what he did?
Acknowledging the obvious
In the future, if the planet doesn’t burn to a cinder, if objective history is still written, and if historians bother to look at Southwest Florida, they will be amazed that as late as 2019 denial of climate change was still firmly entrenched in many Southwest Floridians’ heads. It will seem as though a primitive tribe living in the region was cut off from civilization and still believed the earth was flat.
Francis Rooney acknowledged climate change as a fact and broke the Republican, conservative taboo against admitting its reality—and by admitting that reality made realistic measures to cope with it possible.
For a region where human habitation and what is known as the “built environment” is a thin and fragile layer imposed on a primeval wilderness, climate change is a huge threat. This flat, coastal area is extremely vulnerable to hurricanes, erosion and sea-level rise. The fresh water that makes human life possible in this erstwhile swamp, while abundant during its wet season, is constantly threatened by pollution, algal toxicity and salt water intrusion. The habitability of this tropical environment and the health of its plants, animals and people is completely dependent on the wet and dry seasons coming predictably in their turns, at their expected times and with anticipated intensity.
As scientists detailed the data and warned of the dangers of unpredictable climatic changes driven by human activity, the response in Florida, and especially Southwest Florida, was simply denial. Before 2019 climate change was never mentioned in local media. As the local television meteorologists reported ever higher temperatures and worsening storms they never discussed climate change as a possible cause. To this day they still steer clear of it no matter how dramatic and compelling the weather they’re reporting.
Politically, discussing climate change was taboo because of the fear that conservative Republican voters would potentially react to the subject with vehement denials and retaliate at the polls. The most extreme manifestation of this came under Republican Gov. Rick Scott (2011 to 2019), who avoided meeting with scientists to hear about the data for as long as he could and informally banned state employees from using the words “climate change.” (To see a telling illustration of this, take note of the 2015 video of Brian Koon, Florida’s emergency management director, trying not to use the phrase during questioning by state senators.)
Then, on top of local resistance, in 2016 President Donald Trump was elected to office after calling climate change “a Chinese hoax” and withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Internationally, it made the United States a global pariah as the rest of the world’s countries tried to deal with the crisis. Domestically, it enshrined climate change denial as a pillar of the Trumpist credo.
Rooney’s evolution was reflective of these currents. In his first term he denied and evaded acknowledging climate change. Then, in his second term, as a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, he followed a common Republican tactic of admitting deleterious climatic impacts like sea-level rise while avoiding naming their prime cause.
In this Rooney and local Republicans were actually lagging behind the thinking of the local public, which began to change after Hurricane Irma in 2017. This change in attitude was extensively documented in February 2019 by a carefully conducted survey commissioned by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida (“The Southwest Florida Climate Metrics Survey”), which found that 75 percent of local respondents believed that climate change was real and 76 percent believed they had observed it themselves.
Rooney’s Sept. 11, 2019 Politico article had multifaceted significance: It declared that climate change was real and called on Republicans to acknowledge it, face it and deal with it. Politically, it blessed realistic assessments of environmental changes and dangers, which in turn made possible real planning and countermeasures.
While die-hard deniers and ever-Trumpers will reject the notion of climate change until their bitter ends, they are now outside the mainstream dialogue on regional environmental matters. Rooney’s manifesto gave Southwest Florida a real chance. If his call is heeded by sensible Republicans nationally, it will advance the conservationist tradition of the Party.
Essentially, in his own District, Rooney was able to act as Galileo to Southwest Florida Republicans’ Inquisition, although without suffering house arrest. On this matter, with his help, science was able to succeed.
Following the Big Bloom of 2018 Rooney pulled together the disparate threads of response to harmful algal blooms (HABs) and established the momentum for local jurisdictions and federal agencies to work together to monitor, alert and respond.
This was no small achievement. Prior to the Big Bloom, HABs were not recognized as disasters and response was fragmented and uncoordinated. As the Big Bloom showed, HABs could seriously adversely affect the livability and economy of Southwest Florida.
The momentum of this effort should be continued and nurtured; there’s too much at stake not to pursue it.
A key element that Rooney began and needs to be continued was called the Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act (House Resolution (HR) 414), which consisted of a three-word amendment to the Stafford Act.
The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act provides the legal framework for disaster response. The change would add “or algal blooms” as major disasters subject to federal action. If the change was made and a bloom occurred again in Southwest Florida, the region would be eligible for a disaster declaration and various forms of support and assistance from the federal government.
Rooney introduced the bill on Jan. 10, 2019 and it never made it out of committee. It’s a small, unglamorous, easily overlooked piece of legislation that was unremarked and unrewarded in the District but it could be of major importance in the event of another HAB. It needs to be reintroduced in the 117th Congress and brought to enactment. It will have a much better chance of approval under President Joe Biden.
The shore and the Everglades
None of the legislation that Rooney introduced in Congress over his four year tenure made it into law. Actually, this is not that unusual. There are members of Congress who go through entire, lengthy careers without passing a piece of legislation. Rooney had only two terms.
The bill that got furthest was the Florida Coastal Protection Act, HR 205, which made an oil drilling moratorium in the eastern Gulf permanent. This bill made it all the way through the House—no small achievement. Of course, it never came up in the Senate and never arrived on Trump’s desk. Florida’s two senators never promoted it, other than in its initial introduction in that body, and it was opposed by the oil industry.
On September 8, 2020 Trump told a rally in Jupiter, Fla., that he would be issuing an executive order extending the offshore drilling moratorium for 10 years to 2032. The announcement was clearly intended to help Trump win the state of Florida. Had he been re-elected there is no telling whether the order would have stayed in force. (The Arctic was not so lucky; there, Trump rushed through an auction of leases on federal lands to facilitate drilling.)
Southwest Florida received a double benefit because during the campaign, Biden pledged not to allow new offshore oil drilling. Between the Biden pledge and the Trump executive order, Florida’s shores would seem to be safe.
Regardless of these statements, if the Florida Coastal Protection Act passed in the new Congress it would be enshrined in law and Southwest Florida would be that much safer from the possibility of offshore oil exploitation.
In addition to all these bills and measures, Rooney did help maintain the funding for Everglades restoration and provided momentum to get the many stalled projects of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan moving. He worked hard to persuade his fellow members of Congress and the administration to advance the region’s interests.
Presuming that these projects and this plan will help the natural environment of Southwest Florida to recover and thrive (and it’s worth remembering that past human interventions were all intended as improvements as well), Rooney made a significant contribution to both human habitability and the balance of nature by advancing them. It is to be remembered, however, that he was part of a large effort that took many individuals and lawmakers of all political persuasions to succeed.
Nonetheless, both his efforts and the bipartisanship of his second term deserve recognition and emulation in the future. It’s a worthwhile legacy.
The Trump shadow
Rooney’s time in Congress coincided with Donald Trump’s time in the presidency and Trump loomed over all that Rooney said and did.
Historians will likely look back at the Trump years as a sad, sick and savage interlude, a time that, far from making America great again, began what is likely to be a long decline. Rather than American exceptionalism, Trump put America on track to follow all the great empires of history toward diminution and decrepitude. Like a toddler with a new toy, he broke America.
Francis Rooney was one of the many millions of Americans who were willingly deceived by Trump. Especially egregious was his 2016 hailing of Trump as a “savior”—with that word’s full gravity and implications. From the day in 2015 that Trump descended the escalator in his building and delivered his first speech he made no secret of what he was: a bigot, a racist, an ignoramus, an autocrat and a pathologically narcissistic and selfish egomaniac. Those who supported him knew what they were getting.
Once in Congress, as a member of the governing class Rooney encouraged, enabled and emboldened Trump’s worst behavior. And Rooney bears special responsibility as Trump’s very visible, vocal and “brutal” defender during some of Trump’s worst excesses.
As such, Rooney will forever bear his share of the responsibility for the damage Trump did to America and the world, damage that seems likely to continue after he’s left the White House.
It also bears mentioning that Rooney’s conservatism was of the harshest and most unsympathetic kind when it came to healthcare, education, labor, women’s choices, disaster relief and most of all, the pandemic.
That said, Rooney ultimately summoned the courage to fully break with Trump, to assert his own thinking and perceptions and to make his views public. He opened his mind to the evidence of Trump’s impeachable crimes. He finally recognized Trump’s delusions as delusions and refused to parrot or obey them—and these delusions have killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and seem set to kill hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, more. And when Trump lost the election, Rooney was the first Southwest Florida Republican to acknowledge it, congratulate Biden and call for a smooth and cooperative transition for the sake of the country.
It was a late awakening but it was an awakening nonetheless. Regrettably, Rooney did not take the logical steps that his awareness should have led him to take: vote to impeach Trump and formally endorse Biden.
However, he did make his conclusions public and he paid the price in ostracism and condemnation from his Party and constituents. More importantly, though, he ultimately remained true to his oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That was much more than many of his colleagues did.
This year marks the beginning of the post-Census redistricting process. The Republican legislature will carve up the state’s congressional districts. Whether the 19th will remain the 19th and what its boundaries will be remains to be seen. But it is a fair bet that it will be gerrymandered to favor Republican dominance into the indefinite future.
No matter what shape their boundaries take, the people of the Southwest Florida coast will need to be represented in the Congress of the United States and their vital interests advanced.
What will future representatives bring with them from Francis Rooney? To distil the best of what he leaves to its simplest, most basic essence, three things stand out:
Environmentalism: To protect, advance and conserve the natural environment that makes human habitation in the region possible and do it in a way that maintains a balance between human needs and natural processes.
Bipartisanship: To work with others of different ideas and persuasions to meet common needs, be open to their cares and concerns and cooperate to promote the general welfare.
And there’s the hope for Conscience: To fulfill the oath of office and serve the nation, the region and the common good despite party dictates or ideology or popular delusion, according to America’s best values and principles.
If these are the things that future officials take away from the service of Francis Rooney, who today marks the 67th anniversary of his arrival on earth, Southwest Florida and America will be well served.
It’s the least that we the people should expect from those whom we entrust with public office.
Rep. Francis Rooney at May 31, 2017 town hall meeting in Bonita Springs. (Photo: Author)
June 7, 2020 by David Silverberg
Conservative Republican Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), representing Southwest Florida, is considering supporting Democrat Joe Biden for president because Trump is “driving us all crazy” and Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic led to a death toll that “didn’t have to happen.”
Rooney said of Biden, according to the article, “What he’s always been is not scary. A lot of people that voted for President Trump did so because they did not like Hillary Clinton. I don’t see that happening with Joe Biden — how can you not like Joe Biden?”
Rooney was withholding a full endorsement, he said, because he was uncertain whether Biden would remain in the political mainstream.
According to the article, Rooney has been lobbied by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a Biden ally.
Rooney announced his retirement from Congress in October 2019, in large part because of the backlash that occurred when he said he was open to hearing the evidence of wrongdoing during the president’s impeachment trial. Since that announcement he has evidenced increasing disillusionment with Trump and the Republican Party.
Rooney’s change of heart is especially stunning because he ran in 2016 on a staunchly conservative platform and campaigned with Trump. In his first term he voted 97 percent of the time with Trump. Prior to his election he was a generous donor to the Republican Party and conservative causes.
Rooney’s statements came on the same day that former Secretary of State Colin Powell announced his endorsement of Joe Biden. The New York Times article detailed the disillusionment of former President George W. Bush, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and military leaders with Trump.
Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) has signed a letter to President Donald Trump that calls for making US funding of the World Health Organization (WHO) contingent on the resignation of the organization’s director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The letter was sent yesterday by 17 of 21 Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), of which Rooney is a member.
On April 14, Trump announced that the United States would be withholding funds from WHO, in the midst of the global Coronavirus pandemic.
“We are writing to express our support for your April 14th announcement of an administration review and hold on U.S. voluntary contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO) due to their mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic response,” stated the letter (reproduced in full below).
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-10-Texas), ranking member of the HFAC, was the lead signatory.
Trump alleged that WHO failed to alert the United States to the dangers of the Coronavirus, an allegation that is widely disputed.
“I am instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the Coronavirus,” Trump said on April 14. “Everybody knows what’s going on here.”
“The President’s halting of funding to the WHO as it leads the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic is senseless,” stated House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a statement following Trump’s announcement.
“We can only be successful in defeating this global pandemic through a coordinated international response with respect for science and data,” she continued. “But sadly, as he has since Day One, the President is ignoring global health experts, disregarding science and undermining the heroes fighting on the frontline, at great risk to the lives and livelihoods of Americans and people around the world. This is another case, as I have said, of the President’s ineffective response, that ‘a weak person, a poor leader, takes no responsibility. A weak person blames others.’
“This decision is dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged.”
The full text of the HFAC Republican letter is below:
President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Trump:
We are writing to express our support for your April 14th announcement of an administration review and hold on U.S. voluntary contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO) due to their mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic response. Below please find additional information to help inform your due diligence related to this valuable institution.
First, we are deeply concerned with the WHO’s and Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) handling of the early stages of COVID-19. The CCP’s lies and WHO’s poor handling of this crisis enabled a regional epidemic to become a pandemic. This resulted in countries around the world, including ours, fighting the virus with incomplete information and valuable time wasted. Sadly, as a result, we will have to count the lives lost in China and around the world for far too long. This malfeasance is another example of the CCPs treatment of their own people and reminds us this is the same regime who puts millions of their own citizens in “concentration camps” and uses them for forced labor.
As you know, the United States is the largest funder of the WHO, contributing more than $893 million during their current two-year budget cycle. While the United States was assessed dues by the WHO totaling $118 million for the current cycle, Congress has provided an additional $657 million in voluntary funding. In comparison, during the same budget cycle, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) contributed approximately $86 million in both assessed dues and voluntary contributions.
Signs of the outbreak of a new, deadly virus in Wuhan were visible in early December 2019, when Zhang Jixian, a doctor at the Hubei Provincial Hospital, warned PRC health authorities that a novel coronavirus was affecting some 180 patients. Several other doctors publicly discussed the outbreak in an attempt to sound the alarm but were subsequently arrested by PRC authorities or disciplined by their supervisors. A senior doctor at the Wuhan Central Hospital, Ai Fen, instructed her staff to wear protective clothing and masks despite PRC official instructions to the contrary. In a later interview, she said “I knew there must be human-to-human transmission.” Despite this, China did not send any information on COVID-19 whatsoever to the WHO until December 31st. That same day, Taiwan warned the WHO that medical staff in China were becoming ill via human-to-human transmission.
Six days after Taiwan warned the WHO about human-to-human transmission, on January 5th, the WHO released a statement claiming that “based on the preliminary information from the Chinese investigative team, no evidence of significant human-to-human transmission and no health care worker infections have been reported.” This is despite Taiwan’s clear warning and reports from Chinese doctors that human-to-human transmission was occurring. On January 23rd, as Wuhan was being locked down, the WHO Emergency Committee was split on declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). As Director-General, Tedros had the deciding vote – he opted not to declare a public health emergency. Days later, he praised China’s response to COVID-19, calling the response and PRC’s transparency “very impressive, and beyond words.” He went on to say that the PRC was “actually setting a new standard for outbreak response.” This was despite widespread reporting that the PRC had obfuscated information and delayed its initial response. According to a professor of global health law at Georgetown University, the WHO’s public statements misled public health experts, “giving a false sense of assurance” that contributed to the spread of the disease. The WHO did not announce a PHEIC until January 30th. It is likely that this delay contributed to a regional epidemic becoming a global pandemic.
On January 6th, the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC) offered to send a team of experts to China to assist the PRC’s response. Their offer was turned down. It was not until February 16th, 41 days later, that a joint WHO-PRC mission traveled to China to examine the outbreak and origin of COVID-19. Many members of that team, including at least one American, were not allowed to visit Wuhan. It was not until February 28th that their report was allowed to be published. This delay was a result of the PRC’s refusal to allow the use of certain language, such as describing the virus as “dangerous.” The same day, the first COVID-19 death occurred on U.S. soil. It would take another twelve days for the WHO to declare a pandemic, after 114 countries reported 118,000 cases; more than 4,600 people had already died.
Director-General Tedros has failed in his mandate to objectively respond to the largest global health crisis since the HIV/AIDS pandemic reached its peak in the mid-2000s. Similar criticism was brought to bear on his leadership during the WHO’s response to the recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to the New York Times, Director-General Tedros reportedly covered up three cholera epidemics in Ethiopia during his time as Minister of Health. In addition to a troubled record of response to health emergencies, Director-General Tedros has a record of embracing PRC propaganda and policies. After serving as Minister of Health, Director-General Tedros served as Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister from 2012-2016. During his tenure, China invested $13.6 billion in his home country, leading many to refer to Addis Ababa as “the city China built.” The next year, during his candidacy for his current office, he was supported by the Chinese. In the days leading up to the election, he gave a public speech at a Chinese university in Beijing where he praised the PRC for its global health and disease control work. The day after his election as Director-General, he announced that the WHO would follow the PRC’s “One China” policy which resulted in Taiwan being banned from participating any longer in WHO forums. As a result, despite Taiwan warning the WHO on December 31st that human-to-human transmission was occurring, that information was not published on the WHO’s platform for data exchange amongst its member countries.
In sum, there are several concerning facts that have been established:
WHO knew that COVID-19 was spreading through human-to-human interaction at least three weeks before it informed the rest of the world.
Director-General Tedros’ policies prevented the WHO from heeding Taiwan’s warning and undermined the credibility of the information Taiwan provided to other countries.
Director-General Tedros cast the tie breaking vote that delayed the declaration of a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, despite clear evidence of the rapid spread and human-to-human transmission of COVID-19.
Director-General Tedros heaped praised on the PRC despite clear evidence that the Chinese government COVID-19 cover up delayed the proper response to the initial outbreak.
Director-General Tedros’ long-standing relationship with PRC authorities and embrace of CCP propaganda and polices undermines his ability to serve impartially as Director-General.
As such, we have lost faith in Director-General Tedros’ ability to lead the World Health Organization. We understand, and value, the vital role that the WHO plays around the world, especially in acute humanitarian settings. At times, the WHO is the only organization working on the ground in the worst places in the world, and the U.S. should continue to support this important work. However, it is imperative that we act swiftly to ensure the impartiality, transparency, and legitimacy of this valuable institution. In light of the information presented in this letter, we recommend that you condition any future Fiscal Year 2020 voluntary contributions to the WHO on the resignation of Director-General Tedros. Sadly, we know COVID-19 is not the last pandemic the world will have to face.
The peak day is projected to be May 3—33 days from now.
By August, the Institute projects that Florida will have suffered 6,766 deaths, reaching a rate of 174 deaths per day at its peak. Deaths should cease by the end of June.
The projections do not break down by county, so a separate projection for Southwest Florida is unavailable.
Florida has the resources to cope with the pandemic, according to the Institute. On May 3, when demand will be highest, it will have 20,184 hospital beds to handle demand for 16,861 beds. However, it will require 2,538 intensive care unit (ICU) beds and be short 843. It currently has only 1,695 ICU beds. The state will also need 2,029 ventilators.
The IMHE model was cited by Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus taskforce, in an interview with journalist Chuck Todd yesterday, March 29, on “Meet the Press“.
“No state, no metro area will be spared,” warned Birx. “And the sooner we react and the sooner the states and the metro areas react and ensure that they’ve put in full mitigation, at the same time understanding exactly what their hospitals need, then we’ll be able to move forward together and protect the most Americans.”
To date Florida has not implemented a stay-at-home order, closed non-essential services or severely limited travel within the state. It is testing incoming travelers at its northern and western borders.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is coming under increasing pressure to implement strong measures like New York’s but has so far resisted. The Lee and Collier County councils have similarly resisted strong measures, fearing their impact on the state and local economy.
The IMHE model does not project the Florida infection and death rate if such measures are taken.
Nationally, IMHE projects peak resource use on April 15, when American hospitals will need 224,321 hospital beds and be short 61,509. The US will also be short 15,103 ICU beds and need 33,440 and will require 16,753 ventilators. Ultimately, it projects 82,141 American deaths from COVID-19.
This is lower than the number cited by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Yesterday he told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union,” “I mean, looking at what we’re seeing now, you know, I would say between 100 and 200,000 (deaths). But I don’t want to be held to that.” Fauci added that there could be “millions of cases” of Coronavirus infection.
Yesterday President Donald Trump dropped the idea of opening the nation for business on Easter and allowed social distancing standards to remain in force until April 30.
In the same press conference Trump said that when it came to vital supplies, “Florida has been taken care of.” In response to a follow-up question he added “Florida I looked, they’re very aggressive in trying to get things and they’re doing a very good job.” He went on to say that all governors are committed to responding to the pandemic and that most states were “very happy” with the federal response.
“Florida has been an exception in its dealings with the stockpile,” states the article. “The state submitted a request on March 11 for 430,000 surgical masks, 180,000 N95 respirators, 82,000 face shields and 238,000 gloves, among other supplies — and received a shipment with everything three days later, according to figures from the state’s Division of Emergency Management. It received an identical shipment on March 23, according to the division, and is awaiting a third.”
“‘The governor has spoken to the president daily, and the entire congressional delegation has been working as one for the betterment of the state of Florida,’” said Jared Moskowitz, the emergency management division’s director. “‘We are leaving no stone unturned.’”
Florida’s treatment is in contrast to states like Michigan and New York, whom the president has criticized as being disrespectful to him and where officials are complaining about being shortchanged by the federal government.
Updated April 13, with correction and additional policy position.
Another Republican candidate has filed for Congress in the 19th Congressional District of Florida, bringing the total number of candidates to an even dozen.
Christina “Christy” McLaughlin filed her candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on Monday, March 9. This brings the number of Republicans running for the seat being vacated by Rep. Francis Rooney to nine. Also running are two Democrats and an Independent.
According to her campaign website, ChristyforCongress.com, McLaughlin is a Naples, Fla., native, and a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University and Ave Maria School of Law. She states that she sat for the Florida Bar but does not state if she passed the examination. She interned at the Florida state attorney’s office in the 20th District for two summers and for a judge of the 20th Circuit Court. In the summer of 2019 she interned in the office of Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.).
On her website McLaughlin declares that she “supports all of President Trump’s agenda. I have supported President Trump since he descended the escalator” and calls him “the greatest president ever.”
She is anti-abortion, pro-border wall, opposes birthright citizenship, opposes gun regulation, denounces socialism, applauds the Space Force and supports Israel’s right to exist.
There is no initial mention on her website of any local or environmental issues. She subsequently stated that “In Congress, I will fight to receive the necessary funding we need for the restoration and proactive measures we must take to keep our waters clean.”
McLaughlin states that she is the daughter of Cuban immigrants who came to the United States in 1961.
In addition to her professional activities she states that she established the Republican National Lawyer’s Association Chapter at Ave Maria School of Law and served as its president in 2018 and 2019. She also expanded the Young Republicans Party of Florida into Collier County and serves as the Collier County Chair. In 2014 she was crowned Miss Naples and Miss South Florida Latina.
Her father, Hugh McLaughlin, a software consultant, serves as treasurer of her campaign committee.