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October 23, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott seeks environmentally-friendly budget for 2018

Gov. Rick Scott’s spending priorities for 2018 continue to take shape as he enters his final year in office with a major statewide election on the horizon.

The Republican governor wants the Legislature to increase spending on environmental programs by more than $220 million next year. Scott planned a visit to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples for the announcement.

Scott wants to spend $50 million on Florida Forever, a popular land preservation program that conservationists have said has received too little money in recent years. He wants nearly $40 million more for state parks, a $36 million uptick in beach restoration programs to $100 million, and $55 million for springs restoration.

Scott’s record on the environment has been controversial on issues ranging from climate change to offshore oil drilling. Early in his tenure, he called for major budget cuts to the state’s five regional water management districts, and in non-election years he called for budget reductions in the Department of Environmental Protection.

However, Scott’s appointment in May of Noah Valenstein as DEP secretary won praise from environmentalists, including Audubon’s Eric Draper, who was with Scott for Monday’s announcement in Naples.

“I do think this is the year for environmental spending,” said Draper, who has walked the halls of Florida‘s Capitol for decades. “It’s a great budget for the Everglades. He (Scott) is following through on his commitment to springs and he’s stepping up for land conservation and for parks.”

Draper added: “My job as an advocate is to take advantage of these election-year moments and to try to get everything we can.”

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has filed a bill for the 2018 session to increase Florida Forever spending by $100 million.

The Legislature zeroed out new money for the program in last spring’s regular session.

Nearly two months ago, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, renewed his call for $50 million more for beaches. Latvala, a candidate for governor, proposed a similar program in the 2017 session, but it faltered in the House.

Scott will leave office in January 2019. He’s widely expected to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

The governor’s call for more environmental money is his fifth spending initiative in recent weeks.

He has also called for pay raises for juvenile detention and juvenile probation officers; a separate $4,000 starting pay raise for state troopers at the Florida Highway Patrol, an agency long hampered by rampant turnover due to low salaries; $50 million more, shared between the state and the federal government, to battle the opioid epidemic, and $1 million for enhanced security at Jewish day schools in Florida.

Report: Miami and Pinellas lead state in diverting youth offenders; rest of the state fails

Juvenile crime cjusteThe number of youth arrested for low-level crimes like shoplifting, vandalism or possessing marijuana dropped significantly in the last year as counties across the state turned to diversion programs to keep first-time offenders from cycling back into trouble.

But the innovative use of so-called “civil citations,” which replace jail time with programs often involving community service and counseling, is so uneven in Florida that a new report released Monday by the nonpartisan “Stepping Up 2017” gives most of the state an “F” grade.

“The data shows the state is moving in the right direction, but at a slow pace,” said Dewey Caruthers, president of The Caruthers Institute, a St. Petersburg-based think tank that conducts the annual study. “Many counties also are moving in the right direction, albeit sluggishly.”

To see interactive map and download report, click here.

For the second year in a row, Miami-Dade and Pinellas counties outperformed the rest of the state by issuing civil citations to 94 percent of all kids caught in low-level crimes, including underage drinking, disorderly conduct, vandalism, loitering, school fights and possession of alcohol or marijuana.

And, for the second year in a row, the counties with the worst record were Duval, Hillsborough and Orange, as they together compromised 24 percent of the more than 8,700 youth arrests in 2016.

The report — the third annual study of its kind by a broad ideological coalition that includes the Southern Poverty Law Center, the James Madison Insitute, the ACLU and several other state and national advocacy groups — builds upon research that shows that when first-time offenders are given alternatives to arrest, they can avoid a criminal record that diminishes their opportunities in school, jobs, housing and when obtaining loans and credit. More of the story here. 

October 20, 2017

State Department identifies two more victims of mysterious sonic attacks in Havana

US NEWS USCUBA-DIPLOMATS-COLDWAR ABA
@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres

The U.S. State Department added two more victims to the list of diplomats who have suffered mysterious attacks in Havana.

The number of Americans affected is now 24.

“Based on continued assessments of U.S. government personnel, we can confirm 24 persons have experienced health effects from the attacks,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “As we have said previously, an investigation into the attacks in Cuba is ongoing, and we revise our assessments as we receive new information.”

According to Nauert, the assessments are based on medical evaluations of personnel who were affected by incidents earlier this year, not by new attacks.

The most recent medically confirmed attack occurred in late August, she said. The spokeswoman said the government cannot rule out that new cases may emerge “as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community.” 

The State Department has warned Americans not to travel to Cuba because of the alleged attacks on its personnel in Havana. The victims have reported a variety of symptoms ranging from hearing loss and headaches to brain damage. In particular, the agency warned Americans of staying away from Hotel Capri and Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana, where some of the attacks took place.

More here.

Photo credit: Olivier Douliery, TNS File

C'est magnifique: Miami Beach mayor to be awarded French Legion of Honor

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@PatriciaMazzei

President Emmanuel Macron has bestowed France's highest civilian honor to an unlikely subject: Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Pourquoi, one might ask?

Because of Levine's "outstanding contribution to our French-American friendship and commitment to raise awareness about climate change," said Clément Leclerc, consul general of France in Miami, according to a statement from Levine announcing the occasion.

Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the U.S., will present Levine with the Légion d'Honneur insignia Tuesday in Washington.

As a legion officer, Levine will join the ranks of about 10,000 Americans who have been lauded by France, including some très important company: Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Dwight Eisenhower and Colin Powell.

Levine, a likely 2018 Democratic candidate for Florida governor, has been an outspoken advocate for fighting climate change, investing millions of city dollars into projects to deal with the damaging consequences of rising seas.

Video of Frederica Wilson’s 2015 speech shows John Kelly was wrong

Frederica Wilson 2

@alextdaugherty @anitakumar01 @doug_hanks

Rep. Frederica Wilson never said she secured $20 million from President Barack Obama to build an FBI building in Miramar in 2015 although Trump administration Chief of Staff John Kelly accused her of doing so from the White House podium on Thursday, according to a video of the actual event.

During a video of the nine minute speech posted Friday by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Wilson took credit for passing legislation to get the building named after slain FBI agents Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, killed during a 1986 shootout with bank robbers south of Miami. Multiple members of Congress and then-FBI Director James Comey praised Wilson’s effort in getting the building named for them in 2015.

But Wilson never took credit for securing federal funding during her speech, showing that Kelly’s attack on her was false. Documents suggest that the money for the project was allocated by Congress before Wilson arrived in Congress in 2011.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In her remarks, Wilson did call passing her bill so quickly “a miracle, to say the least,” thanks to her and colleagues being in “attack mode.” But she also spent significant time praising the agents who Kelly said on Thursday had deserved the attention that day.

“Today it is is our patriotic duty to lift up Special Agent Benjamin Grogan and Special Agent Jerry Dove from the streets of South Florida and place their names and pictures high where the world will know that we are proud of their sacrifice, sacrifice for our nation,” she said according to the video.

“It is only fitting that their names should be placed on the same mantle with the letters FBI. Because Special Agent Grogan and Dove embody the sacred motto of which the agency has become known. Please repeat it after me: Fidelity. Bravery. And integrity.

“God bless you,” she said at the close, drawing a standing ovation. “God bless the FBI. And God bless America.”

Kelly launched a highly specific attack on Wilson without mentioning her by name during a 20 minute speech at the White House on Thursday, accusing the Miami Gardens Democrat of politicizing the death of a soldier and taking undue credit for the FBI building during a solemn ceremony.

Read more here.

Rubio to Trump: Have U.S. vote 'no' on UN Cuba embargo resolution

Trump Cuba (1)
@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio wants the Trump administration to once again oppose the annual symbolic vote at the United Nations to condemn the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

The UN will probably hold the vote next month, the Florida Republican wrote in a letter Thursday to President Donald Trump, and the U.S. should say "No." Taking any other posture, Rubio argued, "would send the wrong message to human rights defenders and pro-democracy dissidents in Cuba."

Last year, under the Obama administration, the U.S. abstained from the vote for the first time, a historic shift underscoring the former president's diplomatic rapprochement with Raúl Castro's communist regime. It was the 25th time the UN formally rebuked the embargo -- the "blockade," Cuba calls it -- with a 191-2 vote. The U.S. and Israel abstained.

In June, Trump tightened U.S.-Cuba policy, in large part because Rubio -- Trump's go-to man on Latin America -- and Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart pressed the White House. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is a like-minded Rubio friend.

"It is my hope that America's new policy toward Cuba will help to bring closer the day when the Cuban people have the opportunity to elect their own leaders and live under a government that truly represents them and respects their God-given, inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Rubio wrote.

Download Rubio letter

Photo credit: Lynne Sladky, Associated Press

Four Keys officials fined total of $20,000 for ethics violations

A local political battle in the Florida Keys is proving very costly for four Monroe County commissioners.

The four agreed Friday to pay a total of $20,000 in fines for filing inaccurate financial disclosure forms with the state for four years in violation of state law and the Florida Constitution.

Meeting in Tallahassee, the Commission on Ethics unanimously approved the fines against commissioners Heather Carruthers, Danny Kolhage, Sylvia Jean Murphy and David Payne Rice.

All four elected officials acknowledged errors of omission involving investments, income or both on annual Form 6 disclosure statements for the years 2012 through 2015. All four have submitted amended statements for all four years.

Rice’s fine was $6,000, Murphy’s fine was $4,000 and the other two fines were $5,000 each.

Attorney Mark Herron, appearing on the commissioners’ behalf, urged the ethics commission to approve four agreements known as joint stipulations.

All four complaints were filed by Richard Boettger of Key West, a tax preparer who cited in his complaints that the commissioners ordered an audit of a non-profit animal shelter in Marathon that ended the shelter’s animal control contract in the Middle Keys.

Boettger is a friend of the shelter’s former director, Linda Gottwald, according to a report in the Florida Keys Keynoter and Reporter newspaper.

In an earlier ethics case, the paper reported, the commission’s fifth member, Monroe County Mayor George Neugent, agreed to a $500 fine for not disclosing an honorary golf course membership.

“He (Boettger) is mad at George for Linda Gottwald’s downfall and he’s blaming us for making him mayor,” Commissioner Murphy told the newspaper.

In Carruthers’ case, an analysis by the ethics commission staff noted that she listed the cash value of a brokerage account, “but failed to properly identify the specific assets contained in the account.” The law requires disclosure of each source of income greater than $1,000.

The ethics panel approved stipulations in all four cases, which brought them all to an end without the need for extensive public hearings.

The maximum fine that the Commission on Ethics can impose in a case is $10,000.

In attack on Frederica Wilson over Trump’s call to widow, John Kelly gets facts wrong

Frederica Wilson 2

@alextdaugherty @anitakumar01 @doug_hanks

When White House Chief of Staff John Kelly condemned a Miami congresswoman on Thursday for sneering at President Donald Trump’s condolence call to a soldier’s widow, the retired general recalled when the two attended a somber ceremony in Miramar to dedicate a new FBI building named after two slain FBI agents.

Kelly criticized Democratic U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson for claiming “she got the money” for the new building during the 2015 ceremony while he and others in the audience were focused on the heroism of agents Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, killed during a 1986 shootout with bank robbers south of Miami.

Thursday night, Wilson said Kelly got the story flat-out wrong. In fact, she said Washington approved the money before she was even in Congress. The legislation she sponsored named the building after Grogan and Dove, a law enacted just days before the ceremony.

“He shouldn't be able to just say that, that is terrible,” Wilson said of Kelly’s remarks in the White House briefing room, the latest volley in the controversy over Trump’s condolence call to a military widow from Miami Gardens, an area Wilson represents. “This has become totally personal.”

In 2015, Wilson won praise from Miami Republicans for sponsoring the bill to name the long anticipated federal building after two agents who became legends in local law enforcement.

At the dedication ceremony, James Comey, then director of the FBI, lauded Wilson’s legislation, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama three days before the April 2015 ceremony.

“Rep. Wilson truly did the impossible, and we are eternally grateful,” Comey said in his remarks.

On Thursday evening, an administration spokesman issued a statement that said: “The White House stands by Gen. Kelly’s account of the event.”

The controversy was still raging at the White House late Thursday night. Shortly before 11 p.m., Trump tweeted: “The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!”

The exchange began during a rare appearance in the White House briefing room by Kelly to address the firestorm over Wilson sharing her first-hand account of Trump’s call Tuesday to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed during an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger in West Africa. Wilson said Trump was disrespectful to his widow, Myeshia, by saying her husband had known what he was getting into by joining the Army, and by calling him “your guy” instead of using his name.

Kelly tapped into his personal experience as the former head of the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Doral, a position that often had him representing the Defense Department in local events. That included the dedication of the FBI regional building in Miramar, when he said Wilson’s remarks were jarring and self-serving.

“A congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down,” Kelly told reporters.

The Miami Herald could not obtain video of the April 10, 2015, event, or a transcript of the remarks. Wilson denied saying what Kelly described, and said the timing made no sense.

The General Services Administration had already bid out a $144 million construction contract for the project in September 2010, just a few months before Wilson won her congressional seat. The bidding for federal projects takes place after Congress has secured the funding.

“That is crazy that I got [the money] and Mr. Obama just gave it to me,” Wilson said. “That building was funded long before I got to Congress. I didn’t say that. I have staff, people who write the speeches. You can’t say that.”

Read more here.

October 19, 2017

Puerto Rico's lost days after Hurricane Maria

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@PatriciaMazzei @omayasosa

MAUNABO, Puerto Rico -- Before Hurricane Maria tore through the rest of this island, it came to Mayor Jorge Márquez’s home.

The storm ripped through improvised plastic shutters, shook the windows and sent his panicked family, including his grandchildren, scurrying to a bathroom to hide. For four hours, as the fiercest of Maria’s winds roared through his mountain town in southeast Puerto Rico, Márquez kept the wind from forcing itself in by pushing a dining table hard against the front door.

At the end, when the winds finally died down, he stepped outside to glimpse at the damage to the town he’s run for nearly two decades. Tattered roofs littered the ground. Snapped trees mangled power lines. The local hospital was lost. The town’s funeral home was gone.

Márquez wept.

The easy part of the storm was over. The real agony had yet to begin.

“Everything we’ve built over 16 years, destroyed in a single day,” he said Tuesday, pausing to fight back fresh tears.

A month has passed since Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, and the island continues to operate in emergency mode, struggling to do even the basics: save lives, protect property, provide drinking water, turn on the lights. Time ticks away in a hazy state of permanent disaster, a catastrophe born from the worst storm to cross Puerto Rico in 85 years — and of a slow recovery by the federal, state and local governments.

The blame for the unsatisfactory response, the Miami Herald and Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism found, lies with bureaucracies that were unprepared for a collapsed communications system and overwhelmed by the logistical challenges of aiding an island left with no corner unharmed. Even the White House appeared indifferent to the needs of 3.4 million American citizens 1,000 miles from its shores.

Above all, strapped finances that plunged the island into an economic tailspin long before any winds arrived left the state government so thinly stretched it could not maintain its power grid or afford extensive preparations for a monster storm –– much less pay for the sort of recovery that would be demanded in the mainland U.S.

Forty-eight people died, though that’s likely a significant undercount.

Much remains to be learned about the recovery flaws Maria exposed. But disaster managers already know the historic storm -- which has required more FEMA food and water distribution than any other disaster -- will force them to rethink how they approach a worst-case scenario that ordinary plans were ill-equipped to deal with in the systemic breakdown that followed landfall.

“If this response had been perfect, you still would have very significant suffering and destruction, no matter what, because of the storm,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who pushed early on for more military involvement. “But I do think some days were lost.”

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

As white nationalists converge, lawmakers propose removing confederate monuments and holidays

Gainesville SpencerAs police and protesters prepare today in Gainesville for white nationalist Richard Spencer to speak at the University of Florida, two state legislators, both Democrats, filed bills to remove the vestiges of the confederacy from Florida's statutes and public spaces.  

Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, filed HB 235 Thursday to remove from public property all monuments erected to memorialize members of the Confederate military or any other organization that espouses white supremacist or white separatist ideology.

“Who we once were cannot, and should not, continue to define who we are today as a state,” Jones said in a statement. “It is time that we assess this period in our history with the context it deserves and with the clear-eyed understanding that our ghosts are just that: spirits whose presence cannot continue to haunt us.”

Under his bill, the Department of Management Services would remove and relocate all monuments on public land to the Museum of Florida History by 2020.

Also on Thursday, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, filed HB 277 to remove the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis and Confederate Memorial Day from the list of legal holidays in Florida. 

“When I think of who should be honored with legal holidays, the types of people who come to mind are not those that cost millions of lives in the defense of slavery,” Moskowitz said in a statement. “I’m positive that celebrating racism shouldn’t be on the calendar each year.  It’s not erasing history to put it where it belongs; in a history book or a museum hall.”

Sen. Lauren Book is sponsoring the companion bill, SB 224, in the Senate.

For more information on Gainesville's reaction to Spencer's arrival, follow the Miami Herald's live feed here.  

Photo via Alex Harris, Miami Herald @harrisalexc

Rubio says Congress isn’t doing enough to help Puerto Rico

Marco Rubio 3

@alextdaugherty 

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without power and running water, and Marco Rubio says Congress needs to do more.

The U.S. Senate is expected to formulate its own disaster relief bill on Thursday or Friday after the House passed a $36.5 billion proposal last week.

But Rubio said simply passing the House proposal doesn’t do enough for Florida, Texas and especially Puerto Rico in their time of need. The House proposal gives large sums of money to federal agencies for hurricane relief but does not include specific provisions that immediately fund rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico.

“It’s not so much the dollar amount, it’s really how those funds would be accessed,” Rubio said. “For example, it requires...a damage assessment, they’re not going to be able to do this in a timely fashion while they’re trying to restore power and get water and food to people. They [Puerto Rico] are today, four weeks after the storm, where Florida was 48 hours after the storm. They’re still dealing with the acute, immediate challenges.”

Rubio said he’s been working with Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, who have both criticized the pending disaster aid package because it lacks specific provisions, along with Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York, to make changes to the relief bill before the Senate votes on it.

“It’s easy to get impressed by some of the dollar figures that are in there which is substantial,” Rubio said. “The problem for Puerto Rico and Florida and Texas is the package is not structured in a way that actually helps us entirely. In the case of Florida it leaves out key industries that need to be addressed. In the case of Puerto Rico it fails to adequately address the liquidity issue, and that is the ability to access the funds quickly to continue basic governmental operations.”

Rubio warned that the Puerto Rican government could shut down in the next 30 to 45 days if Congress doesn’t allocate funds specifically to the U.S. territory. A shutdown would be “incredibly cataclysmic” to Puerto Rico’s relief effort, Rubio said.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló met with Rubio on Thursday morning to update the senator on relief efforts before a meeting with President Donald Trump later in the day. Rosselló, who has been quick to publicly praise the federal government’s response in the weeks after Hurricane Maria, did not criticize Congress or the federal government’s response during remarks on Capitol Hill.

Read more here.

Court gives boost to legal fight against new state rule that would allow more toxins in water

Florida water@MaryEllenKlas

After a year of legal hurdles, the city of Miami and Seminole Tribe of Florida can now move forward with a lawsuit challenging a state rule that would allow higher concentrations of toxic chemicals, including carcinogens, to be discharged into Florida’s rivers and streams.

The Third District Court of Appeals on Wednesday reversed a lower court ruling and Miami said Thursday it will now continue to pursue its lawsuit against the Department of Environmental Protection's Human Health Toxics Criteria Rule.

The rule increases the acceptable levels of more than two dozen known carcinogens and decreases levels for 13 currently regulated chemicals. It was approved on a 3-2 vote by the Environmental Regulation Commission in July 2016, when the commission had only five of its seven members. Story here. 

Photo: Pembroke Pines was a semifinalist in a national tap water competition in 2011. Here at the Pembroke Pines water treatment facility Michael Ponce drinks some of the prized water on June 15, 2011 at one of the water treatment units. A new state rule would allow more toxins in water sources. JOE RIMKUS JR. Miami Herald File

Rubio meets with Puerto Rico Gov. Rosselló

Marco Rubio 3

@alextdaugherty 

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is in Washington on Thursday as the Senate mulls another hurricane relief package after the House passed a $36.5 billion measure last week. 

Rosselló will meet President Donald Trump at the White House later this morning but his first stop of the day was with Sen. Marco Rubio. Rosselló also met with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Thursday morning. 

"Our call is for Congress to take strong action so that we can have the resources appropriate to work with the U.S. citizens in Texas, U.S. citizens in Florida, U.S. citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico," Rosselló said. "In these emergencies things might have the appearance that they are stabilizing at one point but you always have future problems that can arise like public health emergencies. We need equal treatment." 

Lies, Chavista ties and red light cameras: A Miami election so ugly the parents jumped in

Combo2

@NewsbySmiley

An uneasy detente between political dynasties fighting for the same city of Miami commission seat has finally given way ahead of election day, spilling decades of bad blood into voters’ mailboxes and onto their television screens.

Former Mayor Joe Carollo and Tomás N. “Tommy” Regalado, the son and namesake of Miami’s current mayor, are letting loose on each other just as absentee ballots begin to drop in Little Havana and West Brickell, where voters are choosing from seven candidates to replace outgoing Commissioner Frank Carollo — Joe’s brother.

Zoraida Barreiro, Alex Dominguez, Alfonso “Alfie” Leon, Miguel Soliman and José Suárez are also running in the race. But Carollo and Regalado seem to have eyes only for each other. Through their campaigns, they have lobbed accusations of lies, Chavista ties, defamation and political intimidation.

Things have gotten so ugly that the candidates’ parents have gotten involved.

To read the rest, click here.

October 18, 2017

Frederica Wilson spent years consoling constituents before Trump challenged her

Frederica Wilson 2

@alextdaugherty

It wasn’t a coincidence that Frederica Wilson was in the car with the family of Sgt. La David T. Johnson when Donald Trump called.

Wilson, a 74-year-old fourth-term congresswoman from Miami Gardens, has spent years consoling and advocating for victims of gun violence in her overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning district in north Miami-Dade and southern Broward counties.

While Johnson’s death during an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger was different from the dozens of young people who have died from gunfire in Wilson’s district, her hands-on approach toward constituents who are dealing with heartache has been a priority for the former elementary school principal for years.

“When residents of her district are killed she is there to help the family... she is there to help the community cope,” said state Sen. Oscar Braynon, whose Miami Gardens-based district overlaps with much of Wilson’s. “She does what many people ask Donald Trump to do, which is to be a consoler -in-chief.”

Wilson has come out firing after Trump accused her of misrepresenting his words to Johnson’s family during a phone call minutes before Johnson’s body arrived at Miami International Airport on Tuesday.

The congresswoman said she overheard when Trump told Johnson’s family the solder “knew what he signed up for... but when it happens it hurts anyway.”

Trump tweeted in response: “Democrat Congresswoman totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action (and I have proof). Sad!” The president called Johnson’s family nearly two weeks after the fatal ambush in Niger. 

“I still stand by my account of the call b/t Donald Trump and Myeshia Johnson,” Wilson tweeted on Wednesday. “That is her name, Mr. Trump. Not ‘the woman’ or ‘the wife.’”

This isn’t the first time Wilson has waded into a national story on behalf of her majority-black district.

In 2012, 17-year-old Travyon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman while visiting relatives in Central Florida. Martin grew up and attended high school in Wilson’s district, and the congresswoman made a point to insert herself as a voice against Florida’s stand-your-ground law that initially kept Zimmerman from facing charge

“I’m going to say it like I see it. Travyon was hunted down like a rabid dog,” Wilson said in 2012. “He was shot in the street. He was racially profiled.”

Read more here.

Puerto Rican Gov. Rosselló to visit White House, Capitol Hill on Thursday

Editorialpic

@alextdaugherty 

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló will visit the White House and Capitol Hill on Thursday as the U.S. territory pushes Washington for billions in aid after Hurricane Maria caused widespread damage nearly a month ago. 

"Looking ahead to tomorrow, we will be welcoming Governor Rosselló of Puerto Rico to the White House to talk about the ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. "We will continue working hand-in-hand with local leaders in all areas of our country that have been impacted by several natural disasters in recent months. As President Trump has repeated sand -- said, we stand with our fellow citizens. We're here to help and get them back on their feet." 

Rosselló is seeking $4.9 billion in federal disaster loans, and $1.2 billion for nutrition assistance, along with money for short and long-term storm relief. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a hurricane aid package later this week after the House approved a $36.5 aid package for hurricane and wildfire relief last week. 

President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, among others, have visited Puerto Rico as it struggles to rebuild after Hurricane Maria knocked out power and running water to most of the island. Rosselló has been largely supportive of Trump's handling of the relief effort, while other Puerto Rican politicians like San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz have sharply criticized the federal disaster response. 

 

 

 

Senate committee to investigate Florida nursing home deaths

NELSON_PUERTO RICO0138 JAI

via @learyreports

The Senate Finance Committee will investigate the hurricane-related deaths of 14 people at a South Florida nursing home.

The top members of the committee, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today questioned the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about its new nursing home emergency preparedness requirements and have requested responses from state agencies in Florida and Texas regarding their preparations and responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“We are writing to request information from Florida about its preparations for and responses to Hurricane Irma as it relates to nursing homes and other similar facilities,” the senators wrote in a letter to Florida’s Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, Justin Senior.

“The Senate Committee on Finance has jurisdiction over both the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs. As part of our oversight responsibilities, we want to ensure the safety of residents and patients in nursing homes and other similar facilities during natural and manmade disasters.”

The action follows a call for investigation from Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the committee, and that was echoed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Nelson has questioned Gov. Rick Scott, a potential 2018 election rival, after the governor personally received calls for assistance from the nursing home. Scott has insisted the calls were properly routed and that the nursing home had an obligation to call 911 after losing power.

Confusion over constitution review panel's open meetings rule causes another rift

CRC in Miami@MaryEllenKlas

Can members of the powerful panel that has the authority to put constitutional amendments directly on the November 2018 ballot discuss votes in secret and lobby each other?

That is the question Indian River County Commissioner Bob Solari has been trying to get answered for six months. Now, his failure to get an answer, he said, could spell trouble for the commission.

As a member of the Constitution Revision Commission, Solari left the June 6 meeting of the commission baffled and confused.

The meeting was bitter and contentious as CRC chair Carlos Beruff created an inconsistent set of rules in an attempt to get the panel to approve rules Beruff wanted. Hours after the meeting, Solari sent a letter to CRC staff director Jeff Woodburn seeking clarification.

Does the open meeting rule adopted by the commission prohibit meetings between two or more CRC commissioners, preventing members from lobbying one another, he asked. Or does it use the looser standard, allowing up to two commissioners to meet in secret but require meetings of more than two of them to be open? Read more here. 

Crist's visit to a Florida eye doctor comes up in Menendez's corruption trial

Crist

@alextdaugherty

The federal corruption trial into New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen added a new character on Tuesday: current Florida congressman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg.

Crist's unannounced 2010 visit to Melgen's home is being used by Menendez's defense team to show that the New Jersey senator was engaged in a political, not personal, relationship when the eye doctor paid for Menendez's flight from New Jersey to Florida. 

Crist, a former Republican who was running as an independent for U.S. Senate in 2010, visited Melgen's home in Palm Beach County on the weekend of Oct. 9, 2010, the same weekend that federal prosecutors allege that Melgen bribed Menendez by paying for his flight on a private jet. 

Melgen's wife, Flor Melgen, testified in federal court on Tuesday that Crist showed up to their home, but Salomon wasn't there. 

“He was looking for my husband. He knew that my husband was Bob’s friend, and he was wondering if he might be with him,” Flor Melgen testified. “I didn’t know he was going to spend the night at my home and I wasn’t prepared.”

Crist dined with Flor and her family before meeting Salomon later in the evening. 

“I had to order food because there was no food prepared at my house,” Flor Melgen said.

Crist was in the midst of a U.S. Senate campaign against Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Kendrick Meek at the time, a race eventually won by Rubio. Crist's spokesperson said in an email to the Miami Herald that his visit to Melgen's house was political in nature. 

"The Congressman was a candidate for the U.S. Senate at the time, meeting with a potential donor," said Crist spokesperson Erin Moffet

Federal prosecutors allege that Salomon Melgen supplied Menendez with private flights, hotel stays, vacations and thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for official favors. Menendez is a Cuban-American New Jersey Democrat who frequently sides with Miami Republicans that favor a hard line against Cuba. 

Defense attorneys argued that Menendez's Oct. 2010 trip to Florida was political in nature and used Crist's visit to back up their theory. If the trip was political, defense attorneys argue that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee should have reimbursed Melgen instead of Menendez paying for the trip himself.

After Crist spent the night at Melgen's house, he wrote a $100 check to cover his visit, according to Flor Melgen. 

"I was very surprised when he gave me the check," Melgen said. "I asked him why, and he told me it was because of the dinner and because he spent the night at my house."

Prosecutor Monique Abrishami used Crist's check as a way to further bash Menendez during cross-examination. 

“This is a check from Charlie Crist to your husband?” Abrishami said.

“Yes,” Flor Melgen said.

“So at least this politician knows how to pay you back for things?” Abrishami said.

Federal judge William Walls then instructed the jury to ignore Abrishami's remark. 

"What lawyers [do] from time to time...is engage in the practice of a ‘throwaway question," Walls said. "A throwaway question is one that the questioner knows obviously is objectionable and he or she wants to make a point." 

Earlier this week, Walls allowed the trial to proceed on all charges after Menendez's defense team attempted to have the most serious charges thrown out. 

Trump: Frederica Wilson ‘totally fabricated’ my response to Miami Gardens soldier’s widow

SGT Johnson  La David

via @elizabethkoh @howardcohen

President Donald Trump accused a Miami-Dade Democratic congresswoman Wednesday morning of lying about his response to a fallen soldier’s widow — that “he knew what he signed up for” — and said he had proof of the conversation.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents Miami Gardens, “totally fabricated what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action,” he wrote. “Sad!”

 

After Trump’s tweet Wednesday morning, the congresswoman told CNN that other people in the car, including the driver, her press person, the master sergeant and the widow’s aunt and uncle had also heard the conversation.

Trump should be acting presidential “instead of calling me a liar and calling everyone else in the car a liar,” she said. “He doesn’t even know how to sympathize with people.” 

Wilson told the Herald on Tuesday that she heard a call on speakerphone from Trump to the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, the soldier and father who was killed in Niger whose body was returned home that afternoon.

Myeshia Johnson, who is pregnant and mother to Johnson’s two children, took Trump’s call at 4:45 p.m., just before Johnson’s body arrived at Miami International Airport.

As she was in a car heading to the airport with her family with Wilson, Trump told Johnson’s widow that “he knew what he signed up for … but when it happens it hurts anyway,” Wilson said.

“I think it’s so insensitive. It’s crazy. Why do you need to say that?’’ Wilson asked. “You don’t say that to someone who lost family, the father, the breadwinner. You can say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss. He’s a hero.’

“I’m livid. He can’t even have an open-coffin funeral because his body is so messed up,’’ Wilson said.

Johnson, who had Myeshia’s name tattooed across his chest under his U.S. Army uniform, was saluted with a ceremonial homecoming at Miami International Airport. His family, dignitaries and law enforcement officers all saluted Johnson as his casket, draped in the American flag, wheeled out of a Delta Airlines plane en route to Fred Hunter’s Funeral Home in Hollywood.

President Donald Trump earlier unleashed controversy this week when he said that his predecessors, including President Barack Obama, did not personally call families of fallen soldiers, a statement refuted by Obama officials.

Read more here.