GOP freshmen reps offer cooperation to Biden but Donalds missing from letter
Jan. 21, 2021 by David Silverberg
After only 18 days in Congress, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) already has a challenger when he next faces election in 2022—Democrat Cindy Banyai, who opposed him last year.
Banyai announced her candidacy late on Tuesday evening, the night before President Joe Biden was inaugurated.
“It would be my great honor to serve the people of Southwest Florida in Congress,” Banyai stated in her announcement. “We need someone who will work for our community, not participate in political charades that destabilize our country. If we want unity and a government that works, we need someone who will put the people first. I am proud to announce I am running for US House of Representatives Florida 19 again in 2022. It’s time to make Trump’s crony, Byron Donalds, a one-term Congressman.”
Banyai, who holds a doctorate from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan, runs her own consultancy based in Fort Myers, Banyai Evaluation & Consulting, LLC, specializing in assisting non-profit organizations. She is also an adjunct professor in political science at Florida Gulf Coast University.
The Donalds record so far
Donalds’ most important policy vote to date was to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Banyai noted that Donalds’ vote “placed him in what some are calling the ‘Sedition Caucus’ for participating in Trump’s political theater that in part inspired the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6,” she stated. “Donalds ran on unwavering support for Trump and has demonstrated that is his priority in his early days in office, despite Trump’s incitement of the attack on the US Capitol. We need true servant leaders, not sycophants, and I am ready to serve.”
Donalds attended the inauguration of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris yesterday. However, he did not sign a letter from 17 Republican freshman representatives to Biden stating that “we are hopeful that – despite our ideological differences – we may work together on behalf of the American people we are each so fortunate to serve.”
Three members of the seven-member Republican “Freedom Force,” signed the letter. The “Freedom Force” is a Republican imitation of the Democratic “Squad” of four progressive representatives. The three signers were Reps. Stephanie Bice (R-5-Okla.), Carlos Gimenez (R-26-Fla.) and Nicole Malliotakis (R-11-NY).
“Of course Byron Donalds is not a signatory,” tweeted Banyai. “He went to the inauguration today, but it wasn’t because he is ready to put partisan politics aside and work for the people.”
As of this writing, Donalds had not made a statement on his decision not to sign the letter.
According to local media reports, Republicans in the heavily conservative district have been leaving the Party since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, which could be a factor in the election.
Further, while the candidates will be running in what is now the 19th Congressional District, which covers the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, by the time of the election the district’s boundaries may change as well as its number due to redistricting following the 2020 Census. The 2022 election could feature a significantly different population and area.
The letter from the Republican freshmen to President Joe Biden:
While the US House of Representatives voted today to impeach President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol and the legislative branch of government, Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives voted against impeachment to keep him in office.
Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) all voted against impeaching the president and also against having Vice President Mike Pence invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.
As of this writing, none had issued statements explaining their votes. None made statements on the House floor. None addressed Trump’s responsibility for the insurrection.
Today the House passed one article of impeachment in House Resolution (HR) 24, approving it at 4:33 pm by a vote of 232 to 197. Ten Republicans voted to impeach the president, none from Florida. Four Republicans and one Democrat did not vote.
“President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government. He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States,” stated the text of HR 24, after recounting Trump’s attempts to overthrow the results of the 2020 election and his incitement of the mob.
“Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security, democracy, and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. Donald John Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”
The article will now be sent to the Senate where, if voted upon, a two-thirds majority can remove the president from office. As of this writing, such a vote seemed doubtful for a variety of procedural and political reasons.
The first measure up for a vote, HR 21, urging Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, came at 11:24 pm last night and passed by a largely party-line vote of 223 to 205. Only one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-16-Ill.) voted for it. Well before the vote Pence indicated that he would not invoke the amendment.
While Trump is the first president to be formally impeached twice on two separate occasions and in two different bills, it took three tries for Congress to impeach President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Johnson was ultimately acquitted by a single Senate vote.
Although the Southwest Florida congressional delegation did not address their impeachment votes, Steube did spend time commenting on other matters. He took time today to attack Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-15-Calif.), one of the House impeachment mangers, for comparing Trump to deceased terrorist Osama Bin Laden.
In an interview yesterday with the PBS News Hour, Swalwell stated that Trump himself must be held accountable for the attack, pointing out that while Bin Laden was not in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, “it was widely acknowledged that he was responsible for inspiring the attack on our country and the president, with his words, using the word ‘fight’ and with the speakers he assembled that day who called for ‘trial by combat’ and said ‘we have to take names and kick ass’ that is hate speech that inspired and radicalized people to storm the Capitol,” he said. “And when you read the indictments from the US attorney’s office, they cite that they were called there by the president. They were in the Capitol because the president told them to do so. So we must hold this president accountable. I’m comparing the words of an individual who would incite and radicalize somebody as Osama Bin Laden did to what President Trump did. You don’t actually have to commit the violence yourself but if you call others to violence that itself is a crime.”
Steube stated in a tweet: “Comparing Trump to Bin Laden is an insult to every American we lost on 9/11, their families, and all of our service members who put their lives on the line to protect us from terrorists. Swalwell is the one threatening our national security. Resign.”
Steube has not to date criticized or condemned Trump for his words at the rally preceding the attack on the Capitol.
President Donald Trump must be removed from office immediately.
He is a danger to the United States, he is completely unfit for office and he appears to have lost the capacity for rational thought. He publicly engaged in sedition, incited a riot and arguably committed treason by trying to overthrow the rightful government of the United States. He cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of the country and he cannot be allowed to have any further authority over the vast, destructive powers of the United States military. He is actually a clear and present danger to all life on this planet.
It now appears that the Vice President and Cabinet will not remove him under Amendment 25 of the US Constitution. There is momentum in Congress to impeach him a second time and this time it could succeed in removing him. This might not seem necessary with only 12 days to go (as of this writing) but the threat is so great and his crimes so obvious that the effort should be made.
If he had any shred of decency, dignity or care for the country he would resign—but that is not likely from this sick and twisted man.
Southwest Florida’s role
The representatives and citizens of Southwest Florida did not cover themselves in glory during the current crisis.
Its congressional delegation—Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) all voted to overturn the election of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris and negate the votes of 80 million Americans. Notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary, they attempted on a legal and procedural basis to accomplish what the rioters tried on a violent and physical basis: to stop the proper functioning of government, cancel the results of a legal election, overturn democracy and install autocratic rule at the behest of a would-be dictator.
Trump’s more extreme supporters from Southwest Florida traveled to Washington, DC to register their protest—and some illegally entered the Capitol and participated in the riot and rampage that occurred there.
Now, in the bizarre and delusional mythmaking that characterizes Trumpism, they are asserting that the rioters who invaded the Capitol and battled police were somehow not Trumpers, were disguised anarchists, were a small minority, were agents provocateurs.
This is straight out of the George Orwell book. In fact, to quote his novel, 1984: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” Or, as Donald Trump himself said in 2018: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,”
Anyone who watched the horrendous invasion of the Capitol simply knows that this wasn’t true. This was a mass riot by tens of thousands of people attacking the legislative branch of the United States government in its own home at the incitement of a delusional president who had been defeated in an election.
No amount of mythmaking and self-delusion will change that fact, whether the mythmakers are in Southwest Florida or anywhere else.
It’s worth noting that there is also a Southwest Florida connection to the physical building: it is the Capitol Visitors Center, the secure underground entrance to the Capitol Building where visitors are normally screened and which includes an extensive museum, offices and educational facilities. As the acting Architect of the Capitol put when it opened on Dec. 2, 2008, it is “a respectful and dignified way to enter the people’s house.” It was built by Manhattan Construction Co., owned by retired congressman and Naples resident Francis Rooney. Being underground, the Visitors Center did not appear to be a target of the rioters and there are no reports at this time of damage to it.
On a personal note: For many years, this author covered Congress and spent a great deal of time in the Capitol Building. In fact it was love and respect for the institution, particularly the House of Representatives, that inspired him to write a comprehensive citizens’ guide to Congress.
To go to work in or around the US Capitol Building and its complex each day is to be awestruck anew by its dignity and majesty. Every corridor and room has its hallowed past and reminders of the people who served this republic with distinction. The whole building is a physical expression of the greatest democratic experiment in history and inspires respect and reverence.
There is no single word to express this author’s feelings as he watched insane, raging rioters rampage down hallways he intimately knew, defile the floors of the House and Senate, saw police overwhelmed in the Capitol Crypt or watched a pitched battle in the magnificent Rotunda, the sacred space between the House and Senate. Like their ignorant leader these people had no reverence, no piety and no patriotism for what that building represents.
Now one knows how it must have felt when the barbarians overwhelmed the defenses of Rome and went on a rampage through its precincts in the year 410. And in the Jewish tradition, one suddenly gets the sense of the impact of the defilement of the sacred Temple in Jerusalem by pagan invaders.
In the case of the Jewish Temple, in the year 164 before the Common Era, Greek invaders were expelled and the Temple reconsecrated. It was this reconsecration that is commemorated by Hanukah (which means “dedication” in Hebrew), the Jewish festival of lights. The story is that a small supply of the Temple’s hallowed oil miraculously burned for eight days.
Perhaps in our current context it is also an important reminder for everyone that reconsecration can occur and that wounds can heal and vandalism be repaired—with dedication.
The next stage of the American political drama will be played out in Washington among a handful of people with the institutional responsibilities for the functioning of government: the President, the Speaker of the House, the Senate majority and minority leaders and the bodies of the US House of Representatives and the Senate.
Citizens of the United States and Southwest Florida can make their lawful voices heard. They’ve already made their preferences known through their votes in the presidential election; it was this preference that Donald Trump attempted to steal.
Donald Trump has demonstrated that democracy and the machinery to implement it cannot be taken for granted; it has to be defended. Supporters of America’s democracy have acted and continue to act in a lawful and orderly fashion, in contrast to Trump and his followers, who have shown themselves riotous, seditious and disorderly.
Lawlessness and anarchy have to be suppressed and punished through legal, lawful means. The representatives of Southwest Florida have stated with their votes, actions and failure to criticize or condemn Donald Trump, which side they are on.
If America’s electoral machinery continues to function as intended, the next legal chance for citizens to make a difference will occur in two years when there is another election. In Florida, that election will include the office of governor, a senator and all representatives.
If America is to continue as a democracy, over the next two years lovers of democracy will have to mobilize, stay alert, be vigilant and active. The last election is over but the struggle continues. And as events at the Capitol demonstrated, everything—absolutely everything—remains at stake.
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.”
Despite release of a phone call in which President Donald Trump blatantly attempted to overturn the legitimate outcome of the 2020 presidential election, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has reaffirmed that he will vote to decertify those results when Congress votes on the results on Wednesday, Jan. 6.
“Every Floridian & American deserves to believe that our elections result from a transparent & lawful democratic process,” Donalds announced in a 10:53 am tweet this morning. “I’m proud to stand with @Kat_Cammack [Rep. Kat Cammack (R-3-Fla.)] & @BrianMastFL [Rep. Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.)] to object to the certification process on January 6th & restore faith in our election system.”
Donalds was sworn into office yesterday, Jan. 3, with the rest of the 117th Congress.
After taking the oath of office, Donalds voted with 208 other Republicans for Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) for Speaker of the House. He was defeated by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), who won with 216 votes.
Both of Southwest Florida’s other representatives, Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), also voted for McCarthy.
Donalds’ affirmation of his challenge to the 2020 presidential election results follows release yesterday of an hour-long phone call between Trump and his lawyers and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and lawyer Ryan Germany. In the call Trump tried to bully, cajole and plead that Raffensperger illegally alter the certified, audited and recounted results of the Georgia election to make him the winner.
In a major blow to President Donald Trump, the United States Senate voted this afternoon to override his veto of the Department of Defense appropriations bill by a vote of 81 to 13.
Both of Florida’s Republican senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, voted with the majority to override. As of this writing, neither had issued a statement explaining his vote.
Their votes were remarkable given both senators’ past vocal support for the President.
The override was also an indication of Trump’s rapidly eroding clout. He had called for an end to Section 230, a non-defense provision protecting Internet companies from liability for postings on their sites and objected to changing the names of military bases from those honoring Confederate generals. When the bill did not include those measures he vetoed it.
The National Defense Authorization Act (House Resolution 6395) provides $750 billion for US military operations and national defense including a pay raise for servicemembers. It will now go into effect.
The 13 members opposing the override included Democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who had insisted that there not be a vote on the defense bill unless there was also one on providing Americans financially hurt by the pandemic with $2,000. House Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, opposed submitting that to a vote and finally proceeded with the override vote separately.
This was the first override of a Trump veto in his presidency.
Rep.-Elect Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has announced that once sworn in as congressman, he will vote to decertify the results of the 2020 election.
Donalds made the announcement in a tweet at 12:42 pm today.
“Every Floridian and American deserves to believe that our elections result from a transparent and lawful democratic process,” he stated. “I will object to the certification process on January 6th and will ask legitimate questions to restore faith in our election system.” (Full statement below.)
Donalds and the rest of the 117th Congress are due to be sworn in next Wednesday, the same day the House of Representatives and the Senate are scheduled to certify the votes of the Electoral College in all the states, which established that President-Elect Joe Biden (D) had won the election. All legal challenges to the election results have been quashed in the courts.
To the best of this author’s ability to determine, Donalds is the first prospective House member to publicly state this position. In the Senate, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has stated he will challenge the election, opening the prospect of a debate and contested vote despite Republican leadership reluctance to spark the fight.
Democrat Cindy Banyai, who ran against Donalds in the 2020 congressional election, was critical of his position.
“It’s so unfortunate that Southwest Florida will soon have a congressional representative who values our democratic processes so little that he’s willing to participate in this theater of the absurd,” she stated in a message to The Paradise Progressive. “It’s particularly hypocritical of Donalds to vote to decertify an election where he won office, especially with an outstanding FBI investigation into election interference because of the primary day texts and an active [Federal Elections Commission] complaint with evidence that he violated the straw donor ban to the tune of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. I wish he was more concerned with serving the people of our district than his political master.”
“On behalf of the people of Florida’s 19th Congressional District who elected me to serve them in Congress, I will object to the certification process on January 6th and will ask legitimate questions to restore faith in our election system. Unlike my Democratic colleagues, I refuse to turn a blind eye to the fact that several states, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, neglected the oath of their constitution and the United States Constitution by their failure to follow their election laws.
“Democrats in Congress seem to have lost their devotion to election integrity and security, but make no mistake, I will not waiver. A free and fair election is key to protecting our Constitutional Republic. Every Floridian and American deserves to believe that our elections result from a transparent and lawful democratic process. For this reason, I cannot in good faith vote to support the certification of the Electoral College results on January 6th.”
Rooney votes for veto override and praises Pelosi, Steube votes against help for the unemployed
Dec. 29, 2020 by David Silverberg
Dec. 29, 9:00 am updated with Rooney statement, Steube statement, Senate developments
In a momentous night of legislating, the US House of Representatives last night voted to provide Americans who have lost jobs due to the pandemic with $2,000 in stimulus funds. It also overrode President Donald Trump’s veto of the US Defense appropriations bill.
Votes by members of the Southwest Florida delegation were mixed.
The additional relief funds were provided in the Caring for Americans with Supplemental Health (CASH) Act, House Resolution (HR) 9051. It passed by a vote of 275 to 134.
On this vote, Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted in favor of the resolution.
“Last night I supported an additional stimulus payment of $2,000 for the hard working Americans suffering financially from the deadly Covid virus,” tweeted Rooney this morning. “Thank you [House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.)] for swiftly bringing this to the House floor. It is my hope that [Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)] will do the same in the Senate.”
Rooney’s praise for Pelosi was remarkable, coming from a conservative Republican.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against the bill, denouncing it in a tweet, stating: “Americans don’t need inadequate stimulus checks and forced government dependency to get them back on their feet—we need efforts to safely reopen and return back to normal.”
In addition, he issued a longer statement explaining his vote, in which he called the bill an “unnecessary redistribution of wealth.” His position put him at odds with President Donald Trump of whom he has been a vocal defender. Trump called the previous $600 stimulus payment “measly” and demanded the $2,000, which Republicans had been blocking.
The vote to override the president’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), HR 6395, was much more lopsided in the House, 322 to 87, demonstrating overwhelming bipartisan support for US military forces.
In that vote Rooney voted for the override, while Diaz-Balart and Steube opposed it, siding with the president.
As of this writing, none had issued statements explaining their positions on this bill.
Trump vetoed the defense bill because it did not strip protections from social media companies like Twitter, which have increasingly flagged his baseless and inaccurate charges of voter fraud and because he opposed changing the names of military bases from those of Confederate generals.
“With this overwhelmingly bipartisan vote, the House has upheld our sacred constitutional responsibility to keep our country and our people safe,” stated House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.). “The National Defense Authorization Act has been passed on a bipartisan and bicameral manner for 60 years, and it will become law, despite the President’s dangerous sabotage efforts.”
She concluded: “The President must end his eleventh-hour campaign of chaos, and stop using his final moments in office to obstruct bipartisan and bicameral action to protect our military and defend our security.”
After long negotiations on pandemic relief and overall government appropriations, Trump suddenly denounced the bill that both houses of Congress passed and demanded that it provide more than the $600 originally allotted for out of work Americans. Although Pelosi tried to get the increased amount passed immediately by unanimous consent, it was blocked by Republican members, necessitating a new bill and a new vote.
Both bills now go to the Senate. The NDAA previously passed in the Senate by a vote of 84 to 13, enough to override a veto. The Senate override vote may be taken today, Dec. 29.
On the CASH Act, it was not clear whether Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would allow it to come to a vote. As of this writing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is threatening to filibuster the Defense bill unless McConnell agrees to submit the CASH Act to a Senate vote.
Under immense pressure from both congressional Democrats and Republicans, as well 14 to 20 million desperate Americans whose unemployment benefits ran out last night, President Donald Trump relented tonight and signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which had been passed by Congress last week.
As of this writing, a formal statement from Trump, who spent the Christmas holiday playing golf at his resort in West Palm Beach, Florida, had not been issued.
The 5,593-page bill appropriates money for nearly all the government’s operations next year as well as providing Americans laid off by the pandemic with $600 in benefits. It also pays for purchasing and distributing the COVID vaccine.
After months of negotiations and passage by both houses of Congress, Trump suddenly chose to denounce the bill on Tuesday, Dec. 22, throwing the government into chaos and threatening much-needed relief for Americans unemployed by the pandemic. People who needed unemployment benefits were denied them for a week, since the president missed the deadline for aiding them. His action could have also shut down the government at a critical time.
House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) issued a statement immediately following the signing: “The signing of the bipartisan, bicameral coronavirus relief legislation is welcome news for the 14 million Americans who just lost the lifeline of unemployment benefits on Christmas Weekend, and for the millions more struggling to stay afloat during this historic pandemic and economic crisis.”
She continued: “Now, the President must immediately call on congressional Republicans to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our stand-alone legislation to increase direct payment checks to $2,000, which will be brought to the Floor tomorrow. Every Republican vote against this bill is a vote to deny the financial hardship that families face and to deny the American people the relief they need.”
Comments from Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), who both introduced provisions to the bill, were not immediately available after the news broke.
However, yesterday, Dec. 26, Rep.-elect Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) went on Fox News to blame the holdup on Pelosi.
“It is clear that Nancy Pelosi was playing politics with this bill,” said Donalds. “This is her fault. This is at her feet.” He called the bill “Pelosi’s wish list” and “a disaster” and said “It was awful, unconscionable, it was asinine and it has put everybody in the lurch.”
After Trump suddenly demanded that the $600 payment to individuals be increased to $2,000, Pelosi tried to increase the amount but was blocked by Republicans. A stand-alone bill increasing the amount is expected to be introduced in Congress tomorrow.
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.”