The U.S. Congress is back in session with the Western death toll to international terrorism climbing. Last Friday night’s attacks in Paris were the deadliest in France since World War II and the second deadliest in modern Europe after the 2004 train bombing in Madrid.
Representatives have returned to Capitol Hill after a week working in their districts hearing about local issues. They return with a new focus on national security and a new speaker of the House. Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan was sworn in as the new speaker less than three weeks ago. He was elected by his fellow Republicans after years of tension between moderate and more conservative members of the party.
At his swearing in ceremony, he acknowledged the gridlock and partisanship that's been playing out in the House.
WLRN spoke with three members of the South Florida delegation about the working environment on Capitol Hill and the federal government's role in addressing the regional threat of rising sea levels:
On working with new U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz - (D): I don't think you can measure the last two weeks to use as a barometer for things to come. I certainly have respect for Paul Ryan and for Paul Ryan's intellect. He's a very smart guy. But, Paul Ryan has some pretty disturbing views. It's part of the reason he's not vice president of the United States today. I'm going to be hopeful that he's going to have an inclusive process that will allow us to try to get some things done. But right before we left for the recess, he doubled down and said that he was going to continue what's known as the Hastert Rule where they're going to bring legislation to the floor only when it has a majority of the majority, which has meant that they're only going to try to pass things with Republican votes. And Democrats don't matter.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart - (R): I think there are very few people that are right or are more knowledgeable, that are more in tune to what is going on in the country than Speaker Paul Ryan. He’s an individual who has the pulse of the country and also knows how to get things done and knows how to move legislation forward and is probably the No. 1 expert. Whether it’s on trade issues or on issues of taxation, he's probably the No. 1 expert in the entire country.
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel - (D): We all like to be optimistic. I know the speaker is very enthusiastic, but in my opinion he brings a narrow point of view.
On working with other South Florida congressional members
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel - (D): I would not put our Republican members from our delegation into the extreme right wing category at all. They've been very easy to work with. We do have some strong differences on certain issues, but I would put them much more in the reasonable category. I think they would say that our South Florida delegation gets along very well. We do try to find common ground on issues that are important to our communities and we try to work together.
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart - (R): It's unusual in Congress. The South Florida delegation actually works very closely together and works very well together. We have our partisan differences and we have our battles. But particularly when it's issues that relate to Florida, Southern Florida or Florida in any way, we usually find a way to get together to put our differences aside and to find common ground. I think sometimes [it] has allowed us to succeed when other delegations have not.
On Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin's proposal to create a federal resiliency superfund to help communities adapt to higher seas
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schlutz - (D): I'm not sure. It's an idea that's in its infancy and it's certainly intriguing, something that I’m certainly willing to explore. We do need local, state and federal solutions to this. This is not a small problem.
U.S. Rep Mario Diaz-Balart - (R): I think what Mr. Ruvin is looking at is a lot more meritorious. We obviously have to look at the price tag of where the money's going to come from. Obviously, I'm not a scientist. But there seems to be a relatively consistent opinion that sea level rise a is a potential problem. You have to balance that out with all of the other fiscal necessities that we have. I have been against a lot of the other proposals out there in the past because they didn't even address the issue at all. This, at least, is something that I think is different. It's potentially innovative. There seems to be a pretty strong opinion that sea level rise is potentially going to be an issue. And I don't think it makes any sense to disregard what could be potential problems in the future. Again, we do have to compete with all the other issues we have in South Florida. We have serious challenges with infrastructure, with transportation, with transit, with roads etcetera. So all of this is competing for the same dollars. But I think it's a conversation and it needs to take place. As far as taxpayer money, I would tell you that that is not in my top 10 issues. But I don't think that we should disregard anything that potentially could be a problem in the future.
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel - (D): Sometimes it's hard to get [people] to pay attention. When people are out of work or they are not working, not making enough money or [their] Medicare premiums go up or you see ISIS cutting people's heads off, these are all here-and-now problems. With the combination of more than half of the United States Congress, and I guarantee the Florida state legislature [with] people who are denying this is even happening, it may require some hard decisions of local governments.