Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson Keeps Siding With the Republicans on Awful Stuff

The Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald's reporting team in Tallahassee is known for fantastic journalistic scoops but not so much for making moral judgments about certain candidates. As truly, utterly, and monstrously terrible as Gov. Rick Scott is, you'll never see the Times or Herald refer to him as a canvas sack full of sea lampreys with a Navy hat glued on top, as accurate as that description might be.

So if those same reporters are writing that, despite your 30-plus-year career in politics, "nothing particularly major stands out despite the long tenure," you probably have a big problem on your hands.

That's exactly the case for the bowl of lukewarm cornmeal that is Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who has somehow become the state's top-ranking Democrat despite being an utterly boring pile of nothing the entire time. Nelson is facing his toughest reelection fight yet against Scott, and in an apparent bid to distinguish himself, Nelson has made the baffling choice to vote against his own party and alongside Republicans on a number of key votes this year.

Nelson has repeatedly pissed off his Democratic base in the middle of what many people expect to be a Democratic wave election spurred by anti-Trump sentiment. In 2018 alone, Nelson has voted to deregulate big banks and confirm Gina Haspel, the new CIA director who previously tortured people.

Here's a rundown of his most baffling decisions lately:

1. Voting to confirm Haspel last week.

Gina Haspel oversaw torture when she worked at the CIA. According to the Intercept, a former Navy Reserve doctor described one Haspel victim as "one of the most severely traumatized individuals I have ever seen.” The Senate still confirmed Haspel's nomination for CIA director last week — thanks to six Democrats who voted against their own party and with the Republicans instead. Nelson was one of them!

2. Voting to deregulate many large banks.

The U.S. Senate seems close to rolling back many of the banking protections adopted after the 2008 financial crisis. A bill derisively nicknamed the "Bank Lobbyist Act" would roll back consumer-protection and monitoring rules for some of the biggest banks in America and even make it easier for banks to hide racist mortgage-lending discrimination. The Congressional Budget Office ominously warned this week the measure could increase the risk of another financial crisis.

Yet a group of 16 Democrats this week still voted to advance the legislation, including Florida's Sen. Bill Nelson. Why on Earth would he support a sweeping rollback of laws designed to protect millions of his constituents from living through another crash?

Well, there's one Florida firm that the so-called Bank Lobbyist Act would help immensely, and that firm also happens to have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Nelson's campaigns over the years. SunTrust Bank, an Atlanta-based chain with a heavy presence in Florida, has donated $32,850 to his three Senate campaigns since 2000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. OpenSecrets also notes Nelson has two 30-year mortgages with SunTrust, with a combined value between $750,000 and $1.5 million as of 2015.

3. Tweeting his support for the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem — hours after the Israeli government killed 60 Palestinian protesters and wounded thousands more.

No matter how you feel about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, maybe don't tweet this while dead bodies are still lying on the ground due to protests from this exact decision:

4. Voting to extend America's support for the Saudi-led genocide in Yemen.

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has bombed the entire nation to pieces, starved its citizens via a blockade, caused a deadly cholera outbreak, and allegedly attacked innocent people by using illegal chemical weapons such as white phosphorus. The United Nations has repeatedly said the attacks amount to crimes against humanity.

The United States is actively aiding the Saudis in the assault. America has given the kingdom more than $1 billion in weapons, helped the Saudis gather military intelligence, refueled Saudi bomber planes, allegedly supplied the Saudis with illegal chemical weapons, and on at least one occasion fired missiles from a warship directly at the impoverished nation.

Yet despite those well-documented facts, Florida's senior U.S. senator, Bill Nelson, voted yesterday to table a resolution that would have pulled America's support for the Saudi-led humanitarian catastrophe. The measure failed 55-44 thanks to Nelson and nine other Democrats who are apparently fine with giving the United Nations, independent human rights groups, and dying Yemeni children the finger.

5. Voting to extend Donald Trump's NSA spying powers.

Bill Nelson has been representing Florida in Washington, D.C., since 1978. He was promoted from U.S. representative to senator in 2001. But he might lose a reelection bid this year to Florida's governor and ageless Lich King, Rick Scott, unless the 75-year-old can make Florida voters feel some enthusiasm for the scarecrow-made-from-used-mulch that is Bill Nelson.

Voting to reauthorize the federal government's massive, unconstitutional power to let the National Security Agency spy on Americans without a warrant won't create that enthusiasm.

Much like Broward and Miami-Dade Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz did last week, Nelson — Florida's most powerful Democrat — voted to extend Section 702 of the federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for six years. As New Times noted last week, that means Donald Trump and the pool of starved piranhas that work in his cabinet will continue to have access to the most powerful government spying apparatus in human history. The bill passed 65-34, with 21 Democrats voting yes. The law now awaits Trump's signature.

6. "Selling out" immigrant-rights activists.

Floridians still don't have an answer to what might be the most pressing statewide political question of 2018: What does Bill Nelson stand for?

After Nelson voted yesterday to end the brief government shutdown without forcing Republicans to agree to protect undocumented immigrants, Floridians still don't know the answer to that question — and immigrant-rights activists, the sort of people who can bring Democrats and independents out to vote, are now pretty pissed at him.

The longtime U.S. senator from Florida is running for reelection in 2018 and [now faces] the strongest opponent of his career in Rick Scott, Florida's governor and part-time Japanese Shinigami death spirit. Recent polling shows most Floridians don't know who Nelson is despite his having served in D.C. since 1978. So far, he has spent this election cycle doing zero to make statewide Democrats and independents excited to vote for him, and yesterday didn't do anything to change anyone's mind.

In fact, local immigrant activists say they're furious with his vote to end the shutdown without concrete action to protect Dreamers, the millions of Americans brought to the States without papers as children.

"There is no way to spin this — immigrant youth will suffer in detention camps and be deported because Senator Nelson delayed a breakthrough on the Dream Act today," Cristina Jimenez, executive director of the immigrant-rights group United We Dream, announced last evening in a news release. "United We Dream and our members are outraged because our members, including my brother Jonathan, are in greater danger today because of the cowardice of US Senators."

So here's what some local progressive activists are now saying about Nelson:

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