The US House of Representatives voted today, by 229 to 202, to hold Stephen Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to obey a congressional subpoena requiring him to testify about his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and attack on the US Capitol.
All of Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives—Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.)—voted against the resolution, thereby allowing Bannon to flout the law.
Bannon was former President Donald Trump’s chief strategist and senior advisor for 210 days from January 20 to August 18, 2017. Prior to and on Jan. 6, 2021 he is believed to have played a key role in orchestrating the riot, insurrection and attempted coup. He was subpoenaed to testify by the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol but refused to obey the subpoena. Now that he has been found in contempt he may be prosecuted by attorneys from the Department of Justice.
“While [former White House Chief of Staff Mark] Meadows and [former chief of staff to the then-acting Secretary of Defense Kash] Patel are, so far, engaging with the Select Committee, Mr. Bannon has indicated that he will try to hide behind vague references to privileges of the former President. The Select Committee fully expects all of these witnesses to comply with our demands for both documents and deposition testimony,” stated the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-2-Miss.), and vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-at large-Wy.), on Oct. 8.
“Though the Select Committee welcomes good-faith engagement with witnesses seeking to cooperate with our investigation, we will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral,” they stated.
As of this writing none of Southwest Florida’s congressmen had issued statements or explanations for their votes, although they actively tweeted on unrelated matters. They joined 199 of their Republican colleagues in voting against House Resolution 730. Nine Republicans voted for the resolution including Cheney. The House Republican leadership urged all Republican members to oppose the resolution.
The charges against Bannon were contained in House Report 117-152 from the Select Committee, which stated in its operative paragraphs:
Resolved, That Stephen K. Bannon shall be found to be in
contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a congressional
Resolved, That pursuant to 2 U.S.C. Sec. Sec. 192 and 194,
the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall certify the
report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th
Attack on the United States Capitol, detailing the refusal of
Stephen K. Bannon to produce documents or appear for a
deposition before the Select Committee to Investigate the
January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol as directed by
subpoena, to the United States Attorney for the District of
Columbia, to the end that Mr. Bannon be proceeded against in
the manner and form provided by law.
Resolved, That the Speaker of the House shall otherwise
take all appropriate action to enforce the subpoena.
SWFL congressmen on insurrection day
At the time of the insurrection all of Southwest Florida’s congressmen were shaken and appalled by the violence and threats to themselves and the institution.
“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 issued at 10:09 pm the night of the insurrection, after the rioters had been evicted from the building. He called the rioters “lawless vigilantes” and denounced their actions as “thuggery.”
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 in the midst of the attack.
“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.” At 5:39 pm he decried the actions and called them “completely unacceptable.”
On Jan. 6 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.
The House report and resolution now goes to the Department of Justice for prosecution.
Highlights and impressions of the debate over a ‘Bill of Rights sanctuary’ ordinance
July 16, 2021 by David Silverberg
On Tuesday, July 13, Collier County, Florida, chose to remain part of the United States, by a single vote.
But as significantly, the County Commission also chose to unanimously reaffirm the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by passing a positive resolution that stated: “The county commission of Collier County, Florida, reaffirms its loyalty, its patriotism and its allegiance to the United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, its amendments and the duly constituted laws.”
All this would seem to be self-evident—but in Collier County, as in many other places around the nation, what was once self-evident is no longer.
By a vote of 3 to 2, the Commission rejected a “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance that sought to nullify federal authority in the county.
Commission chair Penny Taylor (District 4) and commissioners Andy Solis (District 2) and Burt Saunders (District 3) voted against the ordinance. Commissioners Rick LoCastro (District 1) and William McDaniel Jr. (District 5), who introduced it, voted for it.
After dispatching the ordinance, the commissioners approved the resolution reaffirming allegiance to the Constitution.
The votes came after a marathon hearing session that started about 1 pm in the afternoon and stretched until 8:45 pm. At least 122 people requested speaking slots, providing input both in person and remotely.
Both those for and against the ordinance understood and appreciated its greater significance. It would have been the first such ordinance in Florida and proponents stated overtly that if it passed they were going to take it to Florida’s 66 other counties. From there it could have spread throughout the country. Opponents knew it had to be stopped. This wasn’t just about Collier County; it was about the future of the nation.
For the first time ever, a decision made in a Collier County Commission chamber could have changed the nation’s nature—and everyone knew it.
What follows are impressions from the session and the vote.
(Full disclosure:This author was one of the speakers opposing the ordinance and the drafter of the resolution reaffirming loyalty to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.)
Anyone who came to the meeting should have been prepared for all kinds of fireworks. As a sign of the drama to come, proponents, many wearing flag-related clothing and paraphernalia, were outside the Commission building bright and early before the session began with signs advocating a “yes” vote.
They had reason to be confident. A June 22 meeting when the Commission voted to consider the ordinance had gone their way. At that meeting the ordinance received the endorsement of the district’s congressman, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), and the county’s top law enforcement officer, Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. It was also endorsed by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) who sent a surrogate to express his support. At that meeting all the public speakers were in favor of the ordinance and not a single member of the public opposed it.
At the June meeting Commissioner McDaniel fulsomely introduced the ordinance and LoCastro made favorable remarks. Although Saunders said he wasn’t committed to the ordinance, he voted for its consideration and it seemed as though he could be swayed—or pressured—to vote in favor.
Other than the opponents who showed up this time, there was no reason to expect that the ordinance might not sail through on a similar 3 to 2 vote again. All the big guns lined up in their favor.
Nor did they just rely on their numbers or enthusiasm to get their way. Prior to this hearing they gathered in the hallway outside the Commission chamber to hold a prayer meeting and invoke Jesus’ assistance in swaying the commissioners.
But if there was any single bombshell dropped during the July 13 hearing, it came when County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow rose to provide his analysis of the legal and fiscal impacts of the ordinance.
Scholarly, legalistic and calm, Klatzkow delivered the news that the ordinance would strip institutional immunity from the county’s five commissioners, five constitutional officers and five school board members, as well as staff.
In other words, under the ordinance, if they carried out actions that aided the federal government in what was considered a violation of the Bill of Rights by an aggrieved party they could be personally sued. The plaintiff might not win in court but the defendants would have to pay court costs out of their own pockets.
“The big issue here is not going to be damages,” Klatzkow said. “It’s going to be attorney’s fees. There is an incentive for attorneys to bring actions under this because every hour they put in is an hour they can bill.”
It didn’t take much imagination to see where that could lead: commissioners and county officials could be sued into bankruptcy simply for making the county function through otherwise legal official actions.
Although Klatzkow didn’t say it, it was clear that the ordinance could bring the whole county to a halt and destroy the county government itself. In response to a question from Solis, Klatzkow mentioned that the Supervisor of Elections would be liable as a constitutional officer—and any observer could foresee lawsuits like this making elections impossible.
An observer could also see the impact of Klatzkow’s analysis sink in on the faces of the commissioners—but he wasn’t done yet.
Collier County, like virtually every jurisdiction in the country, relies on federal financial grants to pay for a wide variety of functions. But federal grants don’t come without strings; in this case with numerous rules and regulations governing oversight, receipt, performance and a wide variety of other requirements and conditions.
Klatzkow dramatically demonstrated just how many strings were attached by displaying five, single-spaced pages of rules and regulations that he projected to the chamber, one after the other.
If Collier County removed itself from federal jurisdiction it would lose all those grants, all that money, Klatzkow warned.
He didn’t say it aloud, but it was clear that passing the ordinance would beggar an otherwise affluent and prosperous county.
If Klatzkow wanted to make an impression, he certainly did.
Klatzkow’s presentation put the ordinance’s proponents on the defensive. It was clear from the presentations of the key advocates who followed Klatzkow that they had to move the commissioners away from contemplating the potentially devastating fiscal impact of passing the ordinance.
The first public speaker to try to do this was James Rosenberger, a tall, stooped county resident who launched the petition for the ordinance and gained 5,000 signatures. His tactic was to compare the ease and safety of the current commissioners with the revolutionaries who put their lives on the line to rebel against the British in 1776. They should do the same now, he argued, and ignore the possible unintended consequences of passing the ordinance.
“You can lead, follow or get out of the way,” he said, drawing on what he said was a firefighting mantra in his experience. “If you’re incapable of leading today maybe this job isn’t for you and I suggest along with ‘we the people’ that you get out of the way, step down and make room for someone who will lead us like our forefathers did almost 250 years ago.”
Having now threatened and insulted the people he was trying to convince, Rosenberger made way for his wife, Carol DiPaolo, who traced the origins of the nullification ordinance movement to a meeting of seven concerned friends from a variety of backgrounds. They had gathered to share their “concern, anxiety, fear and anger”—over measures like mask mandates, gun restrictions, and “President Biden and his pen.”
In the Spring, the group collected signatures to create a 2nd Amendment sanctuary in Collier County but were rebuffed by the county Commission. However they were contacted by Keith Flaugh of the conservative Florida Citizens Alliance and people from The Alamo gun range and store in Naples, whom they hadn’t previously known. With the aid of “prominent” Collier County supporters the nullification ordinance was drawn up and presented at the June 22 meeting. DiPaolo urged the commissioners to pass it now.
From DiPaolo onward, the proponents held the floor, with one exception: Undersheriff Col. Jim Bloom of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, who was standing in for Rambosk.
Bloom testified that the ordinance was enforceable like any other law in the county but when asked by Solis what procedure the office would follow to enforce it, he said the office would contact the state’s attorney to prosecute violations.
Bloom and Rambosk may not have intended it but that procedure set up an effective Catch-22, wherein they were seeking a higher authority to enforce and prosecute an essentially unconstitutional ordinance that didn’t recognize higher authority.
What was more, Solis said he had called the state’s attorney, who said his office had not been consulted about the ordinance.
But while Bloom’s answer introduced what was essentially an insurmountable “logic loop,” that did not deter Kristina Heuser, the lawyer who drew up the ordinance. She defended its legality.
She was followed by Flaugh, who drew a stark choice for the commissioners: “There seem to be the two factions,” he said. “Those who support the individual rights that you have sworn to protect and those who support an unfettered federal government in control of our everyday lives.”
He also gave commissioners a stark choice. “For anyone of you who decide to vote ‘no’ on this I urge you and suggest you have only one honorable course of action: to resign before you disgrace yourself any further.”
Subsequent proponents spoke on similar themes. State Rep. Rommel made an appearance to support the ordinance, saying he wanted his local sheriff in charge and alleging that the US Capitol Police were opening an office in Tampa to pursue people in Southwest Florida. He warned that the federal government was eroding God-given rights. “Anything less than unanimous agreement will be extremely disappointing,” he said to the Commission.
As the hours wore on the arguments grew louder and while not disorderly became less disciplined and more wide-ranging.
Proponent Beth Sherman used her time at the speaker’s lectern to launch a full-scale attack on vaccinations, anti-COVID measures and the local health system.
“We are living in a time of deceit and tyranny,” she said. “NCH [Naples Community Hospital] should not be allowed to provide medical data or advice to this community. They have been suppressing life-saving COVID treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.” She accused Solis of supporting mandatory vaccinations, which he vehemently denied.
“There are people in this room being called insurrectionists,” she said. “Let me tell you that there is plenty of evidence that the FBI planned that as a false flag and it will come out because the truth always comes out.”
Lastly she warned the commissioners: “If you vote ‘no’ today, we the people kindly ask that you resign so that a true leader can fill your seat.”
Unlike the June 22 meeting when no opponents appeared, this time there was strong turnout by people opposed to the ordinance and opponents may have constituted a majority of the speakers.
Janet Hoffman, head of the Collier County League of Women Voters, spoke for the non-partisan organization when she announced that “We don’t support this ordinance. It suggests that Collier County officials pick and choose the laws they want to follow.”
While many residents spoke out against the ordinance, those who spoke most knowledgably were retired lawyers, some with experience in local affairs.
George Dondanville, an attorney with considerable government experience said, “I’ve never heard of anything like this ordinance. How am I going to do what I’m supposed to do under this ordinance?”
While proponents viewed objections as mere stumbling blocks to passage of the ordinance, Dondanville pointed out that “our stumbling block is our form of government. Our courts make those decisions. Your own attorney sitting over there says that this thing flies in the face of the Constitution. You can pass it if you want but you’re going to get into serious financial problems. Those aren’t scare tactics at all. Please don’t pass this.”
Retired attorney Robert Leher said: “The definition of an unlawful act in this ordinance has no ascertainable standard for what is unlawful” and he had “never seen a statute that was more poorly drafted.” He also warned that passing the ordinance would result in a drop in tourism and visitation because “people don’t want to come to a battlezone.”
“This is wrong in so many ways,” he concluded.
David Goldstein, a retired attorney who served the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Collier County, warned that “nothing empowers a county with the power to supersede federal law.”
David Millstein, a retired civil rights attorney who also taught civil rights law and served as former head of the Collier County ACLU, said he tried to put himself in the shoes of the county attorney trying to defend and implement it.
“This is an ordinance proposed by someone who doesn’t know constitutional law,” he said. “You can’t make an ordinance saying you’re not going to follow federal law. Why not make this an income tax sanctuary ordinance? It is so unconstitutional in so many ways I would say, ‘Let’s go out and have a beer and forget about this.’”
Speech before the Commission as delivered by the author:
“I am here today to urge you to reject this absurd, unconstitutional and completely unnecessary ordinance. This is frankly ridiculous on its face. There is simply no need for a separate Collier County sanctuary for the Bill of Rights because the United States of America is a sanctuary for the Bill of Rights. Our law is uniform, it is superseding and it is upheld.
This ordinance, this proposed ordinance, has so many problems between the principle and the practical that it is as full of holes as a piece of Swiss cheese. I mean, there are logic loops, you’re going to challenge federal law in what court after you’ve denied federal jurisdiction? There are so many things that simply don’t make sense.
In addition, talking very pragmatically, your lawyer has talked about the fact that this would open you all up to liability. I believe it opens up our sheriff and sheriff’s deputies also to liability. If they try to assert federal law they are liable to be sued.
There are all sorts of questions about federal investigations that might be going on in this county that might be disrupted or hindered.
There is also, you know, when have an Irma, or an Elsa or a Wilma hurricane, if we remove ourselves from federal law we’re not going to get the assistance and the support and the help that we need from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and this can run into many millions of dollars, as you all well know.
You cannot take yourself out of the jurisdiction of federal law.
Now, I like everyone else, am very concerned about the Constitution and upholding the Bill of Rights. I mean, we’ve had an insurrection.
(Laughter and catcalls from proponents, gaveled into order by Commissioner Taylor.)
There is a need to support the Constitution. This is easily done in this county.
Now, on all your desks you have a draft text of a resolution that reaffirms Collier County’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I urge you to pass that resolution. It is something you can do, it is something in your jurisdiction and it is something that I think every resident of Collier County can support.
This, I think, will address everybody’s problems and concerns with possible violations of the Bill of Rights. We can do that here.
The United States of America has faced rebellion, nullification, secession, sedition and insurrection and it has defeated them all.
Collier County does not need to join this sad parade of bad ideas, failed notions and absurd plots and make itself not only a laughingstock of the country but to take itself out of the rule of law, which is what this ordinance is proposing to do.
So in summation: defeat this ordinance—this should be rejected and I will hope that it will be rejected unanimously—and I urge you to pass a resolution reaffirming our allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
In the end, the Commission voted down the ordinance.
Solis said he was concerned about the role of the state’s attorney in making constitutional decisions when enforcing the ordinance. Taylor criticized the ordinance’s penalties, its unnecessariness, and the conflict it set up between supporting the ordinance or supporting the Constitution: “It’s almost like a trap,” she said. Saunders said that the solution to the concerns expressed by proponents was at the ballot box.
Both LoCastro and McDaniels argued that principle should prevail over any possible unintended consequences.
After the ordinance was defeated Taylor introduced the resolution reaffirming the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and it passed unanimously.
To the ballot box
As Winston Churchill said after the Al Alamein victory in World War II: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
So it was with this ordinance, which was like a spasm of Trumpism in its death throes.
It was clear from the proponents’ remarks that among them there is real “concern, anxiety, fear and anger,” as DiPaolo put it. Persistent fears mentioned by proponents were the possibility of mandatory vaccinations and that the Capitol Police were coming to Florida to hunt down people who had participated in what many regarded as a non-existent insurrection.
So much of their concern, anxiety, fear and anger was generated by an exaggerated hatred and suspicion of the US federal government fed by extremist media. Instead of seeing anti-COVID measures as common-sense, science-driven anti-disease precautions taken for the community’s good, the proponents viewed them as deliberately oppressive infringements on their personal lives and liberty. They clearly feel genuinely threatened by unfamiliar restrictions. What is more, several proponents characterized even the Commission’s authority to pass legislation as “tyrannical.”
But many of the proponents displayed a tyrannical streak of their own, threatening and bullying commissioners and insisting that a failure to vote their way result in resignation or disgrace.
The ordinance was an outgrowth of these concerns, anxieties, fears and anger as well as an insistent demand for obedience to the proponents’ will, all of it rendered into legalese. It was never viable as a law and would have been defeated in court after enormous delay, disruption and expense. It had the potential to seriously damage Collier County government and the county itself. And it could have harmed all of Florida and the nation had it spread.
The proponents are no doubt licking their wounds but the passion and paranoia that drove the ordinance remain, sustained by demagoguery and disinformation. Although one hopes that feelings will die down with time and the easing of the pandemic, the core activists will no doubt seek new outlets.
If the proponents stay within the law the next battle will be at the ballot box in 2022. The votes of the commissioners will no doubt be an issue in their election campaigns. The next election will see whether thoughtful people are in the majority in evaluating their records and accomplishments.
A major disappointment in all of this was the position of Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. A highly effective law enforcement leader, a respected professional and cutting edge technologist with experience as a city manager, his endorsement of an extreme ordinance of dubious enforceability calls his judgment into question. It also calls into question the ability of his office and officers to enforce the law impartially and apolitically. It creates a sad kernel of doubt about an otherwise unblemished and polished force. Like the ordinance itself, this was entirely unnecessary.
Although the struggle over rights and allegiances is not over, one can only hope that it plays itself out within the confines of the law and the institutions established by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to constructively channel such disagreements. As the nation goes on, so will the debate.
In 1787, after the Constitutional Convention completed its work, Benjamin Franklin told Americans that they had “a republic, if you can keep it.”
On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Collier County chose to keep it.
Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) were two of only 62 members of the US House of Representatives to oppose passage of a bill today calling for aggressive investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, especially those against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted in favor of the bill.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act (Senate 937), passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 364 to 62. Support for the bill was heavily bipartisan, with all Democrats and 147 Republicans voting for it. The 62 opponents were all Republicans.
It passed the Senate on April 22 by a vote of 94 to 1, with only Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) opposing it. Both of Florida’s Republican senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, voted for it.
The bill now goes to President Joe Biden for signature.
The bill was prompted by a spate of blatant, unprovoked violent hate crimes against Asian Americans fueled in large part by President Donald Trump’s vitriol against China and Chinese during the worst months of the pandemic.
It calls for the Department of Justice (DoJ) to prioritize and expedite investigations of anti-AAPI hate crimes and to issue guidance to local and state law enforcement agencies to do the same. It provides for better data collection on hate crimes, improves education related to them and creates financial grants to raise awareness, prevent and respond to them.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was introduced on March 23 by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “Today, Congress sends a powerful, united message that we stand in solidarity with the AAPI community as we confront an epidemic of racism and intolerance,” she stated following the House passage.
Neither Donalds, Steube nor Diaz-Balart issued statements explaining their votes in the immediate wake of the the bill’s passage.
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.