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Defiant DeSantis blasts Biden administration amid report of travel limits

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Defiant DeSantis blasts Biden administration amid report of travel limits

Any types of travel restrictions could derail Florida’s economy, which relies heavily on tourists. The initial wave of lockdowns last spring sent the state’s tax collections into a spiral. Florida would have been hit with a severe budget deficit if not for the nearly $5 billion in coronavirus relief it received from Congress.

DeSantis’ comments mark an escalation in the tensions between the Biden administration and Florida. DeSantis was a top ally of former President Donald Trump, who now lives in Florida, and used that relationship to bring federal aid and to gain support for some of the governor’s key initiatives during his first two years in office.

Last month, DeSantis took swipes at some of the initial vaccine distribution plans discussed by the White House and pushed for more doses — which resulted in White House press secretary Jen Psaki faulting Florida for not using its full allotment of vaccines. DeSantis responded by pointing out that some of the doses were being saved to ensure there was enough to provide a second shot.

But DeSantis issuing a defiant response to the idea is a turnabout from last year when he enacted restrictions on visitors coming to Florida from other states such as New York, New Jersey and Louisiana. At the start of the pandemic, the governor required that anyone coming to Florida from several coronavirus hot spots to self-quarantine for 14 days. At one point, DeSantis even had the Florida Highway Patrol set up checkpoints on Interstate 10, the main highway connecting Florida to Louisiana.

DeSantis, who is already raising money for his 2022 reelection campaign, is viewed as a potential 2024 candidate for president, especially if Trump forgoes another run. DeSantis has earned praise from conservative media outlets and other Republicans for his refusal to enact strict lockdowns and his constant sparring with the media.

Tyler Pager contributed to this report.

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Rick Scott gets no love from the MAGA-verse

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Rick Scott gets no love from the MAGA-verse

Though Scott has been unbeatable since first running for statewide office in 2010, the tone and direction of the GOP under Trump has shifted to a place outside of his comfort zone. Trump’s GOP is largely foreign to Scott, a former health care executive who embraces focus groups and adheres to the talking points of the day, not the off-the-cuff brashness Trump embraces. That, along with his well-known lack of charisma, could spell early trouble for Scott’s White House ambitions.

Scott, a former two-term Florida governor and now the state’s junior senator, was one of the first establishment-type politicians to back Trump’s bid for president. A tea party darling, Scott chaired a pro-Trump super PAC in 2016 that raised $20 million and, more recently, bashed Trump’s second impeachment trial, and challenged the certification of the 2020 election.

But in recent public remarks, Scott has created distance between himself and Trump. He claimed the Republican civil war is “cancelled” even as Trump openly plots revenge and potential primary challenges against GOP critics. As the new head of the GOP Senate’s campaign arm, he said he would favor incumbents over challengers, which largely closes the door on the organization supporting Trump-backed insurgents.

“In the eyes of Trump voters, Scott plays it too safe,” said state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, an Orlando-area Republican who sponsored a bill that would rename a stretch of Florida highway after Trump. “Sure he stands with Trump on a lot of votes and issues, but he’s not charging the hill on anything or pushing the conversation like others are.”

A pair of recent polls also shows Scott is having difficulty breaking through. Last weekend’s Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll had Scott at less than half a percent while Ron DeSantis, a longtime Scott rival, got 43 percent if the former president doesn’t run in 2024. In another poll taken last month by Florida Republican pollster Ryan Tyson, 69 percent of Republicans viewed Scott’s performance as strongly or somewhat favorable, compared to 84 percent for DeSantis, and 83 percent for Trump.

Scott was not even included in the poll looking at a potential 2024 field that does not include Trump done last month by GOP pollster Patrick Ruffini.

Some veterans of Florida politics, however, warn against paying too much attention to early 2024 numbers. Scott has been a giant over the past decade in Florida politics, and they have watched him use his vast wealth to knock off favored rivals in the past, and rack up an impressive 3-0 record in statewide political races, a number that jumps to 4-0 if you count Scott knocking off Republican establishment-favored Attorney General Bill McCollum in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary.

For them the message is clear: doubt Rick Scott at your own peril.

“I don’t know if CPAC is the most telling audience in the world for who is going to be the next nominee, or whatever,” said Brian Ballard, a Florida-based lobbyist who was close with Scott when he was governor and is a well-known Trump influencer. “Rick Scott has a political graveyard littered with opponents who did not take him seriously.”

“I think he will be able to resonate with Trump voters when the time comes,” Ballard added. “Just like Marco Rubio will. Just like Ted Cruz will. Everyone has their place.”

Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee who previously worked for Scott in his U.S. Senate office, said in a text message: “Rick Scott is focused on one thing — saving the country from socialism by winning back the U.S. Senate. Any suggestion or story beyond that is dumb.”

Susie Wiles, who has run both of Trump’s Florida campaigns and advised Scott in his past races, says that Scott will be able to break through with the Trump base when he focuses on his own politics again.

“Rick Scott is focused on being a senator right now, and outside of winning races for other Republican senators,” she said. “When he decides to focus on something else, he will be successful. He always has been.”

Brian Burgess, Scott’s communications director after he first became governor in 2010, said his old boss never relied on “lofty” political rhetoric to energize supporters.

“His strength is in methodical execution of a strategic plan, and then living or dying by the results,” Burgess said. “That’s who he is, and if he decides to run for president in a few years, it will be because there are large numbers of Americans are hungry for that kind of leadership, not because he can ‘out-Trump’ other potential candidates.”

While Scott has struggled to gain traction among Trump’s most loyal voters as compared to other rising Republican stars, he has also shaken up establishment corners of the party. When taking over as head of NRSC, he fired a handful of top staffers and replaced them with his own longtime aides, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Scott replaced the staff without informing Senate leadership during the heated Georgia runoffs that saw Democrats pick up two Senate seats and flip control of the chamber.

“He is trying to please two masters,” Fabrizio said. “In this day and age, I just don’t know how you do that.”

A Florida GOP consultant said that Scott’s failure to get traction with Trump voters and scuffles with the GOP’s more establishment could leave him somewhat politically rudderless headed into a 2022 election cycle where he will be charged with helming Republican Senate campaigns.

“The problem is he has no lane anymore. Trying to be a Trump person is not working,” the person added. “Trying to be a Senate leadership person is not working. So, what does he do? Think he just tries to win races, which is one thing he has done well.”

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Former Trump appointees say they’re still waiting on their vacation payouts

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Former Trump appointees say they’re still waiting on their vacation payouts

Political appointees who stay to the very end of an administration often face a gap between Jan. 20 and when they land their next job, given the time it takes to network, get job interviews and then get a formal offer. Trump appointees face the added problem of job hunting in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot, which made some companies reluctant to hire former Trump appointees, in part because of fear of a backlash.

“I’m sitting here going, how do I pay my rent? How do I pay my cellphone bill?” one former Commerce appointee said in an interview.

Another former Trump Commerce official said: “I have enough money to make it a month, but when rent’s due next month, what happens then? Rent in D.C. isn’t cheap.”

Besides the vacation payouts, at least three former Commerce appointees haven’t gotten their separation packets that contain a document called the SF-50, which allows them to apply for unemployment benefits, according to another former Commerce appointee, who only just received his packet.

A Commerce Department spokesperson said in a statement: “Commerce’s HR Department is available to past appointees and more than happy to help them finish any outstanding paperwork.”

The spokesperson added that Commerce had completed separation procedures for appointees who have completed the necessary paperwork and that it was ready to assist appointees who have outstanding questions or haven’t completed all of the steps for off-boarding out of the department, which is necessary for payouts to be issued.

The lack of timely vacation payouts is not affecting just former Commerce appointees. A former Homeland Security official said she hadn’t received payout of her annual leave, which is more than 200 hours and equivalent to three months of pay. Another former senior DHS official said he also hadn’t gotten his one month of vacation payout, which comes out to about $15,000 minus taxes.

“For all pay and benefits inquiries, former DHS employees are encouraged to reach out to their servicing Human Resources office,” a DHS spokesperson said in a statement.

It’s not known how widespread the payment delays are or the exact cause, but there have been other personnel hiccups during the transition, which was especially rocky because of former President Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge President Joe Biden’s win. POLITICO previously reported that a number of Trump appointees unexpectedly lost their parental leave benefits when Biden was sworn into office.

While some Trump appointees have been able to land jobs on Capitol Hill or in the private sector, many of them are still looking, and one called the job market for Trump appointees “a little slow” and said that she’d received no offers yet.

Two former Commerce political appointees who served at the end of the Obama administration said that their vacation payouts weren’t delayed as long, and that there weren’t major delays in getting appointees their separation packets.

“I don’t remember it being a problem,” said one of the former Obama Commerce officials. “I don’t remember us having any issues.” Another former official got his vacation payout in the middle of February of 2017.

Some of the former Trump appointees say they are getting increasingly frustrated with the prolonged delays in the payouts, although others have started to get them recently.

“I don’t understand how it’s taking so long to figure out how much comp time you have and how much you’re owed and why that isn’t falling directly into my account,” one former Trump appointee said. “Jan. 20 was never a moving target.” While he has only 72 hours of unused comp time because he was new at the department, he said some people have hundreds of hours.

“A lot of the politicals are not getting jobs, so a lot of them were relying on the lump-sum payments to get them through the next few months,” a third former Trump appointee said.

A separate issue some former Trump appointees are facing is temporarily extending their federal government health insurance through COBRA, although such insurance would be paid by the appointees themselves.

While there’s a 31-day grace period in which appointees still get health insurance, several told POLITICO that the government hadn’t given them the proper forms to apply for COBRA, and one said that when he went to a doctor recently, the office couldn’t find evidence of his insurance.

One said the delay was “leaving a lot of people asking: Am I going to lose health care for the time that the processing center would take to get our information into the system?”

“A lot of people are freaking out,” another said.

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New Virginia PAC forms to diversify state’s political landscape

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New Virginia PAC forms to diversify state's political landscape

As Rathod sees it, these are “the candidates most receptive to diversity in their staffing, not only within the campaign, but if they become governor, how are they going to staff — especially at cabinet and senior level positions — [with aides] that are more reflective of the diversity of the commonwealth,” he said.

Lack of diversity within campaigns has been a longstanding issue in both Democratic and Republican politics. While the 2020 cycle saw a historically diverse number of women and racial minorities pursue public office, those managing their races did not reflect the sea change. People of color represent less than 1 percent of all political consultants. There are also a number of structural barriers to entry — long hours, low pay an exclusive networks — that make it more difficult for potential staffers of color to join campaigns.

It’s part of the reason why both Rathod and Kasey formed the PAC, which also includes a fellowship program they hope will create a corps of young political operatives of color who can quickly join a campaign or governors’ office in a top position.

“Most of the time, on campaigns and in politics in general, these positions go to people who already know people in their organizations, and so it leaves a lot of people out,” Kasey said. “We want to create networks of support.”

The group is launching in the heat of Virginia’s crowded and diverse gubernatorial primary. Three Black Democrats, Jennifer McClellan, Jennifer Carroll Foy and Justin Fairfax all announced plans to run, as has former governor Terry McAuliffe, who is the highest-fundraising candidate in the race thus far.

Their ultimate goal, Kasey said, is for the state’s political landscape to become so diverse that groups like theirs are obsolete.

“There’s sort of two Virginias that are fighting each other right now,” Rathod said, referencing the state’s history of electing the first Black governor in the country juxtaposed against the events of Charlottesville in 2017. “And a lot of the old Virginia still kind of permit permeates the politics in the commonwealth.”

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