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Feud between Biden and Sen. Rick Scott gets personal

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The first time Senator Rick Scott tried to contact Joe Biden after he became president, the White House hung up on him.

Or so goes Scott’s account of the episode in December, when he tweeted angrily on the president’s request for assistance on the fate of a well-known opposition leader in Cuba who was suspected of being in government custody.

Months later, Scott calls Biden ‘incoherent’ and ‘incapable’ and demands his resignation while the president – after giving a lengthy speech this week with multiple criticisms of the Florida Republican’s policy ideas — responded to Scott’s insults by saying, “I think the man has a problem.

This is the story of a political battle that has become personal. Over the past few weeks, Biden and an array of White House officials have consistently elevated the Florida senator for the first term as the GOP’s central boogeyman, seizing on his 11-point conservative policy platform as the leading Republican in the Senate Mitch McConnell of Kentucky explicitly rejected — in part because he feared Democrats were targeting him exactly as they do.

But for now, each side sees political advantage in pursuing the other, and because Scott is widely believed to have presidential ambitions, their back and forth could provide some insight into the rhetoric of the 2024 campaign.

White House officials — eyeing the language of Scott’s plan which they say could mean tax hikes for millions of Americans — are eager to create a contrast with Republicans in a mid-year -mandate that would otherwise be a referendum on the president’s performance. While other Republicans avoided offering a specific platform, Scott, who leads the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, said voters deserved to know what the GOP would do if it took office.

As Biden’s polls remain weak, he’s increasingly targeting Republicans — and Scott has given him an attractive target.

“Senator Rick Scott of Wisconsin, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, has laid it all out in a plan. It’s the ultra-MAGA agenda,” Biden said in a speech Tuesday, misidentifying Scott’s home state. “Their plan is to raise taxes on 75 million American families, more than 95% of whom earn less than $100,000 a year in total income. The average tax increase would be about $1,500 per family.

Biden added, “They’ve got it upside down, in my opinion.”

The president was referring to an element of Scott’s plan that says, “All Americans would have to pay income tax to have their skin in the game, even if it’s a small amount. Currently, more than half of Americans pay no income tax.

Scott and his entourage are also profiting from the standoff that puts him directly at odds with the Democratic president, especially as Biden remains wildly unpopular in Scott’s home state of Florida.

When asked why he thought the White House singled him out, Scott replied in an interview, “Because I have a plan. It’s very simple. I laid out my ideas of how we should save this country. He has no plan.

This week, Scott challenged Biden to a Florida debate on inflation and released a television ad of his personal political operation that gloated: “One thing’s for sure – Rick Scott’s Rescue America plan got under Joe’s skin. Biden.”

But Scott went further than many elected Republicans, accusing Biden of incompetence in a personally insulting and unsubstantiated way, even if it might resonate with fierce Republican supporters. “Joe Biden is sick. He is unfit for duty. He is inconsistent, incapacitated and confused,” Scott said in a press release Tuesday. “He doesn’t know where he is half the time.”

In the interview, Scott added, “He’s confused. He does not understand; he just wants to blame everyone. Here’s a guy we all know can’t do that. It can do nothing against inflation. You know, he should do what a businessman does: quit.

Scott insisted his dogged focus on Biden had nothing to do with his own ambitions in the White House: “I don’t intend, you know, to go ahead, to run for the presidency. I always said it.

Biden was a longtime senator and still adheres to senatorial courtesy. But he found it easier to use Scott as a foil because the two men don’t have many connections and had little direct interaction during their public tenure, aides say.

Scott attended an event with Biden in South Florida last July, when they and other officials met with first responders and family members of condo building collapse victims. in Surfside, Florida. The two men also had minimal but amiable discussions during the National Governors Association. White House dinners during the Obama administration, when Scott was governor of Florida and Biden was vice president, according to an aide to Scott.

Then there were the unreturned calls — at least at first — in December about Cuban activist José Daniel Ferrer, whose Biden plight Scott sought to highlight as he called the White House switchboard. , then again the next day, when Scott insists that the White House be suspended. on him. A White House official said of the incident that “we don’t know what he’s talking about”, and later that day Scott contacted a National Security Council official.

Since Biden took office, Scott has needled him like a persistent gadfly, issuing weekly reports on “Biden’s inflation crisis” and warning since February 2021 that Biden’s ambitious coronavirus spending plan administration could trigger a price hike.

But it wasn’t until the release of Scott’s “11-point plan to save America” ​​in late February that the White House began to engage seriously with Scott, who as chairman of the National Senate Committee Republican, is tasked with regaining a majority in the Senate for the GOP. The “skin in the game” element on taxes has been a favorite Biden target.

Scott became GOP election general – then went to war

About 50% of Americans in the bottom half of the income distribution do not pay federal income tax because they do not earn enough to have liabilities or because they receive tax credits. Scott and his aides have since attempted to clarify his intent — that his proposal would not affect retirees or assets — and have privately admitted that the plan’s language could have been clearer.

Scott’s plan also calls for the sunsetting of all federal laws every five years, which Democrats say means popular programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would be regularly threatened with non-renewal. “Now, if I hadn’t seen it in writing, I would think someone is making it up,” Biden said Tuesday.

Some Republicans say privately they worry Scott has unnecessarily given Biden and the Democrats an edge. McConnell publicly distanced himself from Scott’s agenda, although some rank-and-file Republicans favored it, and Scott was strongly criticized by others in McConnell’s leadership circle for what they saw as an injury. self-inflicted policy.

Publicly, GOP officials and activists say no one can take seriously the idea that Democrats are the party that will keep taxes low. Still, “Rick Scott should withdraw his tax plank,” said John Kartch, spokesperson for anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform. “No one is supporting him, but no Republican should waste even five seconds pushing back against Biden’s assertion.”

The White House has been on the attack on Scott’s proposal for weeks, but Biden’s speech Tuesday on inflation and “ultra-MAGA” Republicans marked his sharpest comments yet. A White House official said Biden would continue to hammer home political distinctions between the two parties as the midterm elections approach.

It’s a contrast the administration hopes is powerful, especially when the message is sandwiched between a series of measures Biden has taken to combat rising prices, such as the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a said another White House official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to candidly describe the internal administration’s strategy.

The top White House official said the administration was not carrying out an ad hominem attack on Scott, but that it was fair to criticize specific policy proposals from a GOP leader in the Senate, particularly because of other top Republicans avoided saying what they would do if they regain power.

“There’s no alternative plan they’ve come up with, so it’s either that, crafted by whoever’s leading the effort to win back the Senate, or nothing,” the press secretary said this week. of the White House, Jen Psaki. “If they have an alternative plan, we would be happy if they came up with it.”

White House officials also say privately that Medicare is a sensitive issue for Scott because years ago a for-profit hospital company he once ran had to pay $1.7 billion in federal fines in due to Medicare fraud and related wrongdoing.

Top Senate Republicans publicly say that Biden’s election year rhetoric will be politically ineffective. Scott’s aide said a fight against taxes and inflation would be “just good for every Republican.”

“I know they’re going to try to connect the dots on this,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (RS.D.) said of the White House message on Scott’s plan. “It’s in their interest to do that because they need a problem to go on the offensive and they don’t have one right now. They just take a lot of hits.

But the defense of other Senate Republicans goes no further. Asked if he approved of Scott’s plan, Thune, the No. 2 GOP leader, replied, “I would have a different campaign message in my campaign.”


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