The ‘unicorn’: Jared Moskowitz touts bipartisan success despite GOP, Congress dysfunction

By Antonio Fins | The Palm Beach Post

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CORAL SPRINGS — On a conference room table, Jared Moskowitz neatly places five pages that sum up the first year of the 118th Congress.

“I have a lot of experience with disasters,” says the freshman South Florida congressman who led Florida’s emergency management agency during the 2019 and 2020 hurricane seasons and the once-in-a-century pandemic. “Sometimes, I think to myself, maybe I don’t find the disasters. Maybe they follow me.”

Elected in November 2022 to District 23, which stretches from Fort Lauderdale to Boca Raton, Moskowitz watched the GOP-led U.S. House’s internecine drama last year from a front-row seat.

The saga began with a historic 15 rounds of balloting to elect a House speaker and was followed by a near-miss on defaulting on the nation’s $34 trillion debt, a mano-a-mano among Republicans on shutting down the government, an internal party rebellion that ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy after just nine months and the expulsion of scandal-ridden U.S. Rep. George Santos, R-New York.

For many who served on Capitol Hill, that would amount to a career’s worth in Washington. For Moskowitz, it was just one year, his first year.

“The 118th is a historic Congress,” Moskowitz says. “It will be remembered only for removing a speaker and expelling a member. That’s it.”

Moskowitz notes the razor-thin GOP House majority that promised to prioritize reducing inflation, strengthening national defense, defending personal liberties, and the like managed to pass just a couple dozen pieces of legislation, far short of the average 300 bills that recent Congresses mustered. And at year-end, it had left two pivotal allies, Ukraine and Israel, in a lurch.

“This Congress is so dysfunctional that we can’t help our allies, Israel and Ukraine, without making it political,” Moskowitz says. “This Congress is sending such a horrible message to our allies around the world that you can’t count on America at this moment in time, with this Congress. And our enemies love it.”

Partisan rancor and intransigence aside, Moskowitz said he found common ground on Capitol Hill

Glancing at the notes on pages before him, Moskowitz rattles off what he said were wins during his first year, many that he shepherded to success by working with Republicans in Congress.

In November, legislation to prevent Iranian oil from entering the global markets, known as the SHIP Act, cleared the U.S. House by an overwhelming 342 to 69 vote. The bill, which awaits action in the U.S. Senate, was introduced in May by Moskowitz and U.S. Rep. Mike Lawler, a New York Republican.

Moskowitz and Lawler also pushed through a resolution on Israel’s right to exist. The South Florida Democrat joined another New York Republican, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, who occupies the third-most important leadership post in the GOP caucus, on a resolution promoting Holocaust education. And he aligned with South Carolina Republicans Joe Wilson and Nancy Mace on other matters.

Moskowitz also helped spearhead the pressure campaign prodding the resignations of the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT after their disastrous congressional testimony on campus antisemitism. Harvard’s president, Claudine Gay, announced her resignation on Tuesday, Jan. 2, following Penn’s Liz Magill, who stepped down last month.

Moskowitz rattled off a list of other resolutions and letters he co-sponsored or wrote with Republicans in Florida’s delegation, including U.S. Reps. Brian Mast of Stuart, Anna Paulina Luna of St. Petersburg, Cory Mills of Sanford and Michael Waltz of Palm Coast.

He also touted the assistance to constituents offered by his staff in District 23’s South Florida offices, including 2,000 cases settled involving a wide range of needs from straightening out more than $1.1 million in Social Security and veterans benefits to delivering passports and rescuing people stranded in other countries. In December, he was able to tell three area high school students he had sponsored that they had been accepted to U.S. military academies.

“That’s all done at the local office, and you don’t hear about that stuff because it’s not a D.C. thing,” he says. “That’s where as an individual congressman I can still have a great impact.”

Can bipartisanship be found for FEMA and foreign allies Israel and Ukraine?

Moskowitz says his bipartisanship work was consistent with what he’s done in public life.

He points out he worked with Republican Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-majority Florida Legislature as a Democratic state lawmaker to enact the gun safety measures after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. And he later served as FEMA director under Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“I was never concerned about crossing the aisle if I thought it would benefit my community and constituents,” he says, adding: “There’s a little bit of that in D.C.”

The secret to finding common ground, he says, is to seek out GOP colleagues in swing districts.

“If you’re in a plus-30 Republican or Democratic district, you do not put your name on bipartisan legislation,” he says of those occupying deep red and blue seats. “If you’re from a more moderate district, then yes.”

Moskowitz won the District 23 with a margin of just under 5 percentage points — comfortable but far from a blue tsunami.

One big item on his to-do list in 2024 is procuring the needed votes for his bill to make the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) a Cabinet post. Right now, it’s nestled in the Department of Homeland Security.

Moskowitz insists Homeland Security is too big a bureaucracy, and too embroiled in heated politics over immigration and other issues. As weather-triggered crises get more ominous, from hurricanes to river flooding to wildfires, having the FEMA director report straight to the president will usher more efficient and faster emergency responses, he says.

“Government has become more partisan, and I want to remove FEMA out of that to kind of keep emergency management bipartisan,” he says. “That’s extremely important. FEMA is going to be busier over the next several decades. … I just think FEMA needs to be its own agency.”

As for military aid to embattled Israel and Ukraine, Moskowitz remains hopeful.

He cautions patience as, he says, Americans express holdover fatigue from the 20-year conflict in Afghanistan. He said he also respects that many others are concerned the United States government has spent far too much in prior foreign entanglements.

“America is that beacon. We are the umpire of the world,” he says, adding that if the United States retreats, China will fill the void to everyone’s detriment. “But Americans are also worried about investment in other places and they want to see us take care of our own at home.”

The isolationist opposition to the expenditures within GOP circles on Capitol Hill, Moskowitz says, is driven by domestic politics and can be overcome.

“They are just espousing what Donald Trump is saying and where they think the Republican primary voter is based on Donald Trump,” he says. “But Donald Trump is not the messiah. He is incorrect plenty of times, and he is incorrect on this.”

Moskowitz says he believes supplemental assistance to Tel Aviv appears a more doable task simply because the sums of dollars involved are smaller. Again reviewing his notes, he totals up the contrast: $14 billion for Israel versus $50 billion-plus for Ukraine.

One area Moskowitz cares a lot about will elude his bipartisan prowess — guns

Despite touting his prowess for consensus-building, Moskowitz says he is braced for disappointment this year on an issue dear to him — gun violence.

Parkland and Stoneman Douglas are in Moskowitz’s district. The personal connection runs deep, as Moskowitz graduated from the high school that was the scene of the horrific massacre almost six years ago.

During his congressional campaign in 2022, Moskowitz championed gun safety measures as had his predecessor, retired Congressman Ted Deutch. Early last year, he was named vice chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in the U.S. House.

Today, however, he has all but abandoned hope of getting legislation done this year. For starters, 2024 is an election year and, beyond that, the current Congress, he says, “is stuck” and only focused on small measures.

“This Congress, and where we are right now at this juncture, we’re not capable of big things — on all issues,” he says. “We’re only capable of incrementalism.”

That being said, Moskowitz said “dramatic” improvements could be achieved on gun violence with incremental, mitigating steps on mental health, school resource officers and funding for bullet-proof film for windows.

“Shouldn’t we try to do some of these things? Even if it’s just one of them by itself, rather than trying to get some massive, big bill,” he says. “Each one of these policies is more mitigation and more mitigation means more lives saved.”

The holdup, he says, is election-year paralysis and the focus of the GOP majority on stiff-arming threats to their seats from GOP primary challenges.

“Right now in politics, we play to the camera, to the social media audience. We play to the most fervent voter,” he says.

Sharp exchanges with Marjorie Taylor Greene and the head of the House Biden probe

While decrying those who “play to the camera,” Moskowitz drew his share of air time on broadcast networks and viral soundbites on social media last year.

One of those episodes was an exchange with Georgia Republican flamethrower Marjorie Taylor Greene last March over guns and school book bans.

“You guys are worried about banning books,” Moskowitz sniped. “Dead kids can’t read.”

In November, Moskowitz and the chair of the House Oversight Committee, U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, got into a cutting exchange over the investigation of President Joe Biden and his family’s finances.

“You look like a Smurf, here, just going around and all this stuff,” Comer retorted at Moskowitz.

“Gargamel was very angry today,” Moskowitz later quipped, referencing the main villain in the Smurfs, in a social media post.

The dispute with Comer was particularly biting because of the Biden impeachment probe, which Moskowitz and other Democrats have pointedly criticized as lacking meaningful or determinative evidence.

In late summer, for example, the Comer committee was fixated on a whistleblower document said to be smoking-gun evidence against the president. But when the members of the House Oversight Committee, including Moskowitz, saw the secret document, it proved far less conclusive than billed.

Besides being heavily redacted, Moskowitz described it as a seven-year-old, three-page paper translated from Russian that was “double hearsay” — a report based on an account from a person who heard the information from another person who purportedly heard it from the source.

“There was no bombshell at all in that document. None. Zero. Zilch. It was nothing,” Moskowitz says. “You know how I can prove it? Did they impeach the president? Did they impeach him when that document came out? Did they even call for an impeachment based on that document? No.”

The Biden impeachment probe, Moskowitz says, remains a fact-less, proof-less “total failure theater” intended to damage Biden politically. He derides the endeavor, saying the only thing the Comer committee has proven is that “Joe Biden is the father of Hunter Biden.”

“This is all about Donald Trump, who has 50% of the nation’s impeachments in American history and 100% of the indictments in American history for a president. And Joe Biden has none of those,” Moskowitz adds. “That’s what this is all about. They want to muddy up Joe Biden a little bit because they can’t save Donald Trump.”

In their last act of 2023, however, House Republicans voted to begin an impeachment inquiry.

“Joe Biden must be impeached because he is such a threat to democracy, so let’s do the vote and then let’s run away, literally run away, for three weeks,” Moskowitz says of the Dec. 13 vote before the House adjourned for the holiday break.

Is Moskowitz a Capitol Hill ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’? He wants to be both.

His seeming ability to alternate between partisan warrior and bipartisan doer is not a contradiction, Moskowitz says.

In Capitol Hill parlance, he says, the roles are referred to as “insiders” and “outsiders.” An insider, Moskowitz says, is a congressional representative that quietly legislates bills through the contentious House, while an outsider focuses on mass communications, usually by tossing hand grenades on TV talk shows.

Moskowitz insists picking one role or the other is a false choice.

“It’s not a matter of one or the other,” he says of crossing swords and consensus-building. “You can do both.”

But to accomplish each, he cautions, it’s critical not to take the banter so personally that you refuse to work with members of the other party, or “subscribe to team-sport concept” that puts partisan loyalty before the country’s interests.

“If that Freedom Caucus member wanted to impeach the president in the morning and work with me on cancer in the afternoon, I would hammer them on impeachment in the morning and work with them in the afternoon on cancer,” he says of his view on the conservative GOP House group.

“That’s what’s not happening in Congress. People can’t get past the disagreements. The early morning disagreement affects the afternoon potential compromise.”

He speculates that two events that happened before he arrived in Congress may have deepened partisan resentment: the coronavirus pandemic and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Moskowitz says there also is an incentive to fling vitriol because “the money is in getting people foaming at the mouth at the other party in anger” during each day’s news cycle.

“I don’t take politics personally,” he insists. “I don’t look at it like that. That’s for me why I’m doing both.”

He then adds: “I know I’m a weird unicorn up there. But I’ve been a unicorn.”

Antonio Fins is a politics and business editor at The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at afins@pbpost.com.

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