Biden’s DOJ weighs in on Florida voting law

Hello and welcome to Friday.

Here come the feds The Biden administration has entered the legal battle over Florida’s contentious voting law. But maybe with a lighter touch than anticipated, given the long-running feud between Washington and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Dear judge The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division this week filed a “statement of interest” in one of the four federal lawsuits challenging a law the Republican-led Legislature passed at the urging of DeSantis earlier this year. That law placed restrictions on drop boxes and the collection of mail-in ballots and is being challenged by groups who contend it illegally targets elderly, disabled and minority voters.

A different P.O.V. In its court filing, attorneys for DOJ take aim at an effort by Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee to convince U.S. District Judge Mark Walker to throw out the lawsuit ahead of a planned trial in late January. The lengthy filing doesn’t exactly side with those suing — but it says attorneys for the DeSantis administration misstate court precedents and whether federal law can pre-empt Florida law. The filing maintains these claims “involve fact-sensitive inquiries” that are “generally ill-suited for resolution before trial.”

There’s more Another portion of the court filing says it should be left to the judge to decide at a trial whether provisions in the contentious voting law impose an illegal burden on minority voters. And further down they contend that Florida is wrong on what’s needed to show whether a voting law is discriminatory: “Under their reading, even egregious cases of intentional discrimination would be upheld if a legislature were to include neutral or beneficial provisions within bills otherwise plagued with discriminatory intent.”

What does it mean The court filing demonstrates that the Biden administration is paying attention to the litigation over Florida’s law that will unfold while the Legislature is poised to pass another elections-related bill at the urging of the governor. It’s a much less confrontational stance than in Texas, where the Department of Justice sued the state over its voting law. But it shows that they are watching.

— WHERE’S RON? — Gov. DeSantis is holding a roundtable in Tampa with first lady Casey DeSantis and Shevaun Harris, secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

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LAST-MINUTE SWERVE — “Congress thwarts shutdown after vaccine mandate clash,” by POLITICO’s Caitlin Emma, Jennifer Scholtes and Sarah Ferris: Congress averted a government shutdown Thursday night after Senate leaders mollified a group of Republicans who demanded a vote targeting President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate. The Senate passed an 11-week stopgap spending bill in a 69-28 vote, sending the measure on for Biden’s signature. The legislation, known as a continuing resolution, will keep government funding at levels set almost a year ago, when Donald Trump was president.

Florida split Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott split their votes on the funding bill with Rubio voting in favor, while Scott voted no. “Tonight’s vote was another example of total Washington dysfunction. Congress needs to pass a budget that stops the reckless spending,” Scott wrote on Twitter. “It’s time to get back to basics & start living within our means. Passing a budget is our most basic duty & continued failure is unacceptable.”

Mandate vote The two Florida senators, however, did vote in favor of the amendment that would have prohibited the use of federal funds to implement or enforce any Covid-19 vaccine mandates. The amendment failed on a 48-50 vote.

RUBIO’S FLOOR FIGHT — “The Senate remains deadlocked on the annual defense policy bill with no resolution in sight,” by POLITICO’s Andrew Desiderio and Heather Caygle: The latest impasse on the long-stalled National Defense Authorization Act revolves around Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is demanding that the Senate vote on his amendment on Uyghur forced labor in China. Democrats contend that including the amendment in the NDAA would doom the entire bill. …On the Senate floor this morning, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the House Ways and Means Committee has made clear that Rubio’s amendment would raise what’s called a “blue-slip” issue in the lower chamber because it raises revenue. That means that, according to the Constitution, it must originate in the House. “This isn’t a matter of opinion,” Schumer said Thursday, adding that Rubio’s measure would “kill the entire NDAA.”

Not backing down Schumer had gone even further the night before and called Rubio’s tactic to block the defense spending bill as “sad, tragic and almost absurd.” Rubio, however, has blasted back and said the problem with his legislation, which previously cleared the Senate, is being opposed by the White House and big business. His campaign, meanwhile, has put out statements lashing his likely 2022 opponent — Rep. Val Demings — over the issue as well. But the question is whether Republicans in the end want to tank the annual defense bill over the issue.

GAMES PEOPLE PLAY — “Las Vegas Sands sues Seminoles-linked groups over major gambling expansion in Florida,” by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: Private investigators. Political sabotage. Payouts from convicted voter fraudsters. It’s all part of an only-in-Florida political battle between gaming giants Las Vegas Sands and the Seminole Tribe of Florida over the state’s multibillion-dollar gaming industry, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday night in Leon County state circuit court.

‘Tortious interference’ — The lawsuit, filed by Las Vegas Sands-aligned groups, accuses the Tribe of “tortious interference with business relationships” because the Seminoles are trying to block Las Vegas Sands from gathering nearly 900,000 signatures needed to get a gaming expansion measure on the 2022 ballot. The casino giant, founded by the late gaming mogul Sheldon Adelson, alleges that the Tribe is paying off petition gatherers to break previous agreements to collect signatures on behalf of the Las Vegas Sands-backed ballot measure.

FRIED V. DESANTIS — POLITICO’s Bruce Ritchie reports that Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday after the governor canceled another Cabinet meeting, this one scheduled for Dec. 14, following her calls for a vote on his appointment of a Department of Environmental Protection secretary. “Unfortunately, the business of his own state is once again falling to the wayside as he remains focused on promoting his political agenda nationally,” Fried said in a statement provided to POLITICO. There was no response from the governor’s office to a request for comment and reason for the cancellation.

CHARGED — “Plantation man arrested on charges of extorting, harassing state Sen. Lauren Book,” by Miami Herald’s Mary Ellen Klas: “Florida police have arrested 19-year-old Jeremy Kamperveen of Plantation on cyber stalking and extortion charges after he allegedly faked sexually explicit photos of state Sen. Lauren Book and threatened to distribute them to news media outlets. Book, a Plantation Democrat who chairs the Senate Democratic Caucus, is a widely known advocate for victims of child abuse and sexual abuse. According to the arrest report filed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Book — whose name is redacted — complained to FDLE that she had received multiple text messages from an unknown number that included two photographs of the senator “with exposed breasts” and also threatened to “leak the photos to Fox and her career would be over.”

SOLAR FLARES — “Florida lawmakers prepare for upcoming fight over rooftop solar,” by POLITICO’s Bruce Ritchie: The Sunshine State is getting ready for a fight over energy from the sun. Florida Legislators are tasked this upcoming session with deciding whether to back utility claims that customers soon will be paying more than $100 million a year to offset the energy savings of solar customers. It’s a claim that environmentalists call “laughable” and say the utility’s numbers are “wildly” inflated. But now, they must persuade state lawmakers that those numbers deserve further study rather than action.

— “DeSantis visits Pensacola to announce $100 million budget proposal for Florida National Guard,” by Pensacola News Journal’s Colin Warren-Hicks

WE’LL TELL YOU LATER — “McConnell: No legislative agenda for 2022 midterms,” by Axios’ Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene: “On the night of Nov. 16, McConnell met with donors, lobbyists and a group of Republican senators in a private function room upstairs at the Capitol Hill Club. The 2022 agenda was on the menu. In attendance was Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which convened the dinner….Asked about this dinner and the intra-party conversation, Scott, the NRSC chair, told Axios: ‘There’s some conversation that people would like to have some agreement that everybody runs on something. That sounds good, but it’s hard to do.’”

TURN ON THE LIGHTS Florida Power & Light execs worked closely with consultants behind ‘ghost’ candidate scheme, records reveal,” by Orlando Sentinel’s Jason Garcia and Annie Martin: “Top executives at utility giant Florida Power & Light worked closely with the political consultants who orchestrated a scheme to promote spoiler candidates in three key state Senate elections last year, according to documents obtained by the Orlando Sentinel. The records show that the consultants who controlled Grow United Inc., the dark-money nonprofit at the center of the “ghost” candidate scandal, billed FPL for more than $3 million days before they began moving money through the entity.”

Response — “In a statement, FPL spokesperson David P. Reuter denied the company had any role in the ghost candidate scheme. ‘Neither FPL nor our employees provided funding, or asked any third party to provide funding on its behalf, to Grow United in support of Florida state-level political campaigns during the 2020 election cycle,’ he said.”

STILL PRESSING Florida’s two Republican senators continue to slam the Biden administration for its decision to revoke the terrorist designation of a former guerrilla army in Colombia. The administration earlier this week removed the designation for FARC but imposed it on offshoots of the group. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott sent a letter to President Joe Biden that said the action is a “step backwards for the stability and security of Colombia and will only provide these terrorists and their political sympathizers with enhanced capability, financial resources, and perceived international legitimacy to destabilize our closest ally in the region.”

Bringing it to Florida And Republicans plan to continue to pound this message in South Florida, where it will resonate in an area with Latin American exiles who fled leftist violence or dictatorships. The Republican National Committee is holding a press conference in Doral on Friday with Colombian, Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan Americans to criticize the decision on FARC.

Florida Dems vs. Biden The attention places Florida Democrats, including Rep. Val Demings, in an awkward spot because they have also criticized the Biden administration actions. Demings, who is challenging Rubio, put out a statement earlier this week that “it is a mistake to move forward with delisting FARC without the consult and support of Colombian-Americans in Florida and across the country.” “We should not tolerate or participate in legitimizing this violent and extreme communist organization,” she added.

WAS IT SOMETHING THAT GOT SAID? — “‘Partisan narrative’: Tempers flare as Florida House considers new congressional maps,” by POLITICO’s Matt Dixon: Florida’s redistricting process is starting to get a bit testy. Rep. Tyler Sirois, a Merritt Island Republican who chairs the House’s congressional redistricting committee, opened a Thursday meeting blasting the “political rhetoric” surrounding his chamber’s release of new draft redistricting maps earlier this week. “The partisan narrative and rhetoric will not have a place in this committee process,” he said. “As legislators and constitutional officers, we are held to a high standard, and I don’t intend on letting us waiver from that high bar.”

The daily rundown — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 2,266 Covid-19 infections on Tuesday. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 1,319 hospital beds were being used in the state for Covid-19 patients.

THE TOLL — “COVID-19 kills South Florida cops eight times more often than gunfire the past two years,” by Miami Herald’s Charles Rabin: “Of the 33 law enforcement officers in South Florida who lost their lives in the line of duty over the past two years, three were killed by gunfire, one died in a car crash and another lost his life to a work-related injury. The other 28 were felled by COVID-19. The deadly virus didn’t discriminate. It attacked law enforcement agencies from Miami to West Palm Beach. It killed corrections officers and federal Customs and Border Patrol agents. It took the life of a U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officer in West Palm Beach.”

‘WE HAVE TO REMAIN CAREFUL’— “Duval County suffered nation’s eighth-highest of COVID-19 deaths during summer surge,” by Florida Times-Union’s David Bauerlein: “In the rise and fall of COVID-19 cases, Duval County had the eighth-highest number of virus-related deaths in the nation during the summer surge that darkened what had been a brightening picture for the pandemic, according to a Florida Times-Union analysis of federal data. The cases that drove the death toll have fallen sharply since then, creating a situation similar to the lull that preceded the summer spike.”

OVERNIGHT SENSATION — “A misleading COVID-19 map from the CDC left out data for Florida. Just like that, it changed overnight,” by Sun Sentinel’s Cindy Krischer Goodman and David Schutz: “A widely shared but misleading federal map that drew national attention for painting a sunny picture of COVID-19 in Florida was finally updated — demonstrating how incomplete the data behind the map has been for days. The map, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had presented Florida as the only state in the U.S. with low transmission levels. People shared the map in dozens of posts on social media — presenting it as proof of how safe Florida is compared to the rest of the nation.”

— “Miami schools superintendent to be knighted by Spain,” by The Associated Press: “The superintendent for Miami-Dade County schools is being knighted by Spain for his work in expanding Spanish-language programs. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho will be admitted into the Order of Isabella the Catholic, an honor given to people whose work contributes to Spain and its culture. The knighthood will be awarded on behalf of King Felipe VI of Spain by Miami’s Spanish Consul General Jaime Lacadena on Dec. 13 at his home.”

BIRTHDAYS: State Sen. Keith Perry … lobbyist Ron BookCarrie O’Rourke … POLITICO’s Bruce RitchieKrys Fluker, opinion editor The Orlando Sentinel

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