Florida’s congressional delegation saw a host of fresh faces join it in 2017 adding some new elements to how the Sunshine State is represented on Capitol Hill while veteran congressional representatives continued their efforts on a range of issues.
In the 2016 elections, Florida sent Republicans Matt Gaetz, Neal Dunn, John Rutherford, Brian Mast and Francis Rooney and Democrats Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Val Demings and Charlie Crist to Congress for the first time.
After one year in, the freshmen are making their influence felt on Capitol Hill. On the Republican side, Gaetz has been a high profile critic of investigations examining the Trump administration and has called for more scrutiny of Hillary Clinton. Dunn and Rutherford have made the most of their seats on the House Veterans Committee, pushing proposals to reform the VA and its services. Mast has taken on issues ranging from the Everglades to helping Israel while Rooney has focused on international issues. That’s helped Rooney move up to serve as vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, an impressive assignment for a congressman who has not even finished his first year on Capitol Hill.
Even though they are in the minority, some of the new Democrats in the Florida delegation also left their mark. Lawson has focused on food issues, including expanding SNAP benefits as part of his “Let's Feed America” efforts. Murphy has turned her attention to helping Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria as well as boosting national security. Despite being a top target for Republicans in 2018, Murphy has done well in reaching across the aisle, teaming up with several GOP congressmen to get bills passed through the House. Soto has also turned his attention to helping Puerto Rico but he’s also gone to bat on other issues, including helping Gaetz on a bill reforming how the federal government classifies marijuana. Demings has been a favorite of national Democrats, being named to their “Congressional Task Force on Election Security" and ending the year by being appointed to the House Judiciary Committee. Crist has pushed civility in politics, even helping launch the Honor and Civility Caucus at the end of the year.
In the meantime, the longer tenured members of the delegation also made their mark. Ileana Ros- Lehtinen continued her focus on foreign policy, leading the House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee even as she announced that she will not run again in 2018. Ros-Lehtinen has been aided greatly on her subcommittee by Ted Deutch, the ranking Democrat on it. Deutch is growing more prominent for House Democrats, leading them on the House Ethics Committee and co-chairing the Climate Solutions Caucus. Republican Carlos Curbelo is also growing more prominent. Besides leading the Climate Solutions Caucus with Deutch, Curbelo was named to the powerful Ways and Means Committee this year and continues to move up the GOP ladder, even as he breaks with the Trump administration on immigration.
South Florida Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations, helped direct relief money to the Sunshine State after Hurricane Irma. Diaz-Balart wasn’t the only member of the Florida delegation pushing for relief efforts after the hurricane. The entire delegation, led by Tom Rooney who sits on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, urged the federal government for more help for Florida agriculture, especially citrus, which was devastated by Irma. They finally achieved success in December as House Republicans agreed to include more money for Florida agriculture in the final spending bill.
While he stepped aside as vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ted Yoho remained prominent on international issues. Yoho leads the House Asia and Pacific Subcommittee where he has proven to be a key supporter for the Trump administration, especially on North Korea. Ron DeSantis has also backed the White House on issues ranging from questioning the Mueller investigations to his successful efforts to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In return, the president has been kind to DeSantis, even promoting him for governor at the end of the year. On the other side of the aisle, Frederica Wilson took aim at Trump’s response to the death of La David Johnson, a soldier killed in Niger, while she continued leading the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign showcasing Boko Haram’s crimes.
Other members of the Florida delegation focused on a range of issues, including Gus Bilirakis who continued as vice chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and continued his efforts to reform the VA. Vern Buchanan had a busy year as his Veterans ID Card proposal finally became a reality. Besides being named to lead the House Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee, Buchanan also remained prominent on animal rights issues, continuing to oppose horse slaughtering and rare animal trophies. Bill Posey often focused on financial issues, including looking to stop overregulation of credit unions and reforming the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Kathy Castor moved up the Democratic ranks on the Budget Committee even as she continued her efforts for caregivers and to build ties with Cuba. Republican Dan Webster called for less regulations on farmers and ranchers while urging cybersecurity guidelines for small businesses.
Dennis Ross continued to be part of the GOP leadership in the House as senior deputy majority whip. While Paul Ryan is insisting he is not leaving Congress, if he does, Ross could make a play to move up the leadership ladder. On the other side of the aisle, Lois Frankel also holds leadership posts with the Democratic Women’s Working Group (DWWG) and the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues.
Two Florida Democrats found themselves fending off ethics accusations in 2017. Debbie Wasserman Schultz drew fire for employing IT staffer Imran Awan even when he was facing criminal charges for bank fraud. News broke that the Treasury Department paid out $220,000 to settle sexual harassment charges leveled against Alcee Hastings.
With 2018 looming, most of the representatives will turn their attention to November.