« February 2018 | Main

57 posts from March 2018

March 15, 2018

Court action takes pressure off Democrats to deal with GOP on immigration

Immigration Congress


Democrats no longer have an incentive to give Republicans concessions in the ongoing immigration debate on Capitol Hill.

Money for Donald Trump’s border wall in exchange for a DACA solution? No chance.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients have been spared from deportation — for now — by a federal court order, giving Democrats the space to attack Republican-controlled Washington for failing to broker a DACA solution without getting blamed for inaction if deportations were to begin.

“Should we give a border wall for nothing? No, I don’t think so,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. “There’s not a whole lot of reasons to negotiate, to do anything that is not already covered by the court decision.”

Pelosi’s comments on Thursday were in stark contrast to the way Democrats talked about DACA a few months ago, when Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., said “I'll go down there with bricks and mortar and begin the wall” if it led to a solution for DACA recipients. Just six weeks ago Pelosi gave the longest speech in the history of the House of Representatives, urging Democrats to reject a spending bill because it didn’t contain a permanent solution for DACA recipients.

But that was before a March 5 DACA deadline was rendered largely meaningless by the courts.

“While I’m happy that the DACA folks have a little bit of breathing space... the flipside of that is people have less incentive to risk it to do real negotiations,” said Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who has been talking to Democrats, House Leadership and President Donald Trump in recent months to find a DACA solution. “I think this process works on pressure and deadlines and so that hasn’t been helpful in that sense. Again, I’m relieved for the folks, but we need to find a long-term solution and right now I will tell you that momentum is kind of gone, but it’s going to come.”

DACA, created by President Barack Obama, allows certain young immigrants to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation. Trump announced last year that he would not renew the program, but the Supreme Court declined to hear a fast-tracked appeal by the Justice Department that could have ended the program last month, putting its status in limbo.

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has said several times in recent weeks that Congress works best under pressure, and the momentum to strike a deal is lost without a deadline that leads to negative consequences like deporting immigrants or a government shutdown.

Read more here.

‘Beyond tragic’: Miami congressmen shaken by FIU bridge collapse

BridgeCollapse four mhd dav


Miami Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo were visibly shaken as they talked about the bridge collapse in Miami across from the main Florida International University campus.

The pedestrian bridge across Southwest Eighth Street sits on the border of Diaz-Balart’s and Curbelo’s congressional districts.

“There’s a very sad irony here. This project was built to keep students safe and pedestrians safe and it has ended up being the cause of death of drivers underneath,” Curbelo said.

Curbelo and Diaz-Balart both spoke with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Thursday afternoon. They said they’re unsure if the federal government has jurisdiction over the bridge, though it used federal funds. Both members of Congress said they would support any federal investigation or congressional hearings to figure out what happened, even if the federal government doesn’t have jurisdiction over the bridge.

“There’s going to be a lot of questions that are going to have to be answered,” Diaz-Balart said.

Diaz-Balart was present for a dedication ceremony for the bridge last weekend.

The uncompleted pedestrian bridge received federal funds through a Tiger Grant, which was part of the massive federal stimulus package passed by former President Barack Obama, Curbelo and Diaz-Balart said.

“We’re going to find out what the heck happened here. his is beyond tragic,” Diaz-Balart said.

Curbelo said the bridge’s accelerated construction method, where it the span was elevated over Southwest Eighth Street in a matter of hours last week, has been used in other projects in Miami-Dade County.

Read more here.

A much bigger payday awaits Florida Supreme Court justices

After years of talks with the Legislature about how to make their salaries more competitive, justices of the Florida Supreme Court finally prevailed.

In the $88.7 billion budget that hit Gov. Rick Scott's desk Wednesday, justices salaries are being raised an eye-catching $42,000 a year, to $220,600 a year.

That's nearly twice the salary of the three elected Cabinet members, who are paid $128,972 a year. The governor's salary is $130,273 (Scott has not accepted a salary as governor). Circuit judges' salaries are $160,688 each year.

Last year's Legislature set the justices' pay at $162,220, but it was increased to $178,420 in a court-related conforming bill that took effect last Oct. 1.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, has long advocated raising the pay of justices. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, developed a rapport this session on a range of court-related issues with Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.

The central argument for paying justices a lot more is to develop a broader pool of applicants for appointments. Three of the seven justices — Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — are nearing retirement age and must leave the court next January.

A legal dispute has arisen over whether the termed-out Scott or his successor has the power to replace the three jurists.

The court itself may yet resolve that question.

Talented young lawyers can usually make much more money in private practice than what the state has been paying justices of the state's highest court.

The salary issue has been around for more than a decade, since Ken Bell and Raoul Cantero served on the court. Both men left the bench early in part because of the salary and their inability to live in the places they both considered home — Pensacola and Miami, respectively.

Separate language in the budget implementing bill (HB 5003) allows any of the justices who permanently lives outside of Tallahassee to  maintain an official headquarters in a hometown courthouse or "other appropriate facility."

The bill also allows justices to be reimbursed for travel expenses under certain conditions.

All of the salary adjustments take effect July 1. The budget did not include any across-the-board pay raises for rank-and-file state employees.

A Democratic wave may be coming in November. Miami Democrats may not be ready.

Mario Diaz-Balart


Are Miami Democrats snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

It’s been nearly 17 months after the 2016 election and a day after Republicans appear to have lost a Pennsylvania U.S. House seat in a district Donald Trump won by 20 percentage points — and Democrats have yet to put up a serious challenger for a Miami-area seat Trump won by less than two percentage points.

Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s only Democratic opponent doesn’t have enough money on hand to host one catered fundraising dinner. And yet, a few miles away, seven Democratic candidates are raising serious cash in an effort to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Diaz-Balart’s Hialeah-based seat was, and still is, the most Republican-leaning congressional seat in Miami-Dade County. But a Democratic wave in 2018 could put Diaz-Balart’s seat in play if the party can find a credible candidate, making it possible for Democrats to win all three Republican-held seats in South Florida.

“It is more challenging because we haven’t had a strong challenger since 2007,” said Miami-Dade Democratic Party chairman Juan Cuba. “If any community leaders are thinking about running... this is going to be the year to do it.”

There are 10 other Republican-held districts around the country Republican-leaning as Diaz-Balart’s district. Nine of those 10 districts have at least one — and in one case as many as seven — Democrats running who have raised at least $100,000 so far.

Members of Congress don’t have to live in their district, which means anyone who lives in Florida can challenge Diaz-Balart. Cuba said one reason why so many Democrats are staying to run in Ros-Lehtinen’s district is because they live there, making it harder to mount a credible candidacy in places like Hialeah and Doral within Diaz-Balart’s district.

Ian Russell, who served as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s political director during the 2016 cycle, said the lack of a credible candidate to challenge Diaz-Balart at this point in the election cycle is a hole in the national map, though there is still time to mount a credible challenge thanks to Florida’s late filing deadlines and primary elections. He noted that current Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Orlando, announced her bid against former Republican Rep. John Mica at the last second in 2016, and ultimately won the race.

“At the DCCC we got Stephanie Murphy to file on the day of the filing deadline,” Russell said. “I’m sure the DCCC and Democratic groups are recruiting somebody strong [in Diaz-Balart’s district] if not it’s a massive missed opportunity.”

Read more here.

March 13, 2018

A conservative Parkland student helps set the agenda in Washington



Kyle Kashuv was in a bind.

The 16-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, who opposes gun control, had just finished a press conference with Sen. Marco Rubio and the family of a Parkland shooting victim on Capitol Hill, and his next engagement was coming up.

One problem: He needed someone to adjust his tie, which was left in a knot so he could slip the loop around his head.

“Can you help me with this?” Kashuv asked a reporter and a Senate aide as he fiddled with his phone. “We’ve got to call an Uber to the White House.”

Kashuv, the high school junior who vaulted to national prominence as a conservative counterweight to the vocal Parkland students who favor tighter gun-control legislation, is back in Washington for second week of high-profile meetings, and he’s setting the agenda in the nation’s capital.

Senators from both parties are rearranging their schedules to speak with him, television channels are clamoring to get him on air and he even brokered a Skype conversationbetween Rubio and YouTube video blogger Jake Paul. He has already met with President Donald Trump once, and plans to be at the White House before and during the March for Our Lives on March 24th.

“In the media [Trump] is portrayed as ignorant and unknowing and cold, but in real life he’s very smart and very quick and he’s very caring,” Kashuv said. “When I met with the president, first it shocked me that I met with the president but... he was just so nice. I think it’s amazing that in the busiest day of his entire administration with the steel tariffs and North Korea, he found the time, took everyone out of his office, and we sat there and talked for a while and that’s something that very rarely occurs.”

Kashuv and his 19-year-old right-hand man, Michael Gruen, who coordinated Kashuv’s meetings on Capitol Hill and the White House with help from former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, aren’t in Washington solely for the photo-ops. They want Rubio and others in Congress to pass a bill that provides funds for school safety and coordination between school districts and law enforcement.

Read more here.

Miami Democrats get personal in crowded Congressional primary


Two Democrats running in a crowded primary race to replace Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are laying out details of their personal lives in hopes of resonating with voters.

State Rep. David Richardson on Tuesday released a campaign commercial that touches on his status as Florida's first ever openly gay legislator, his upbringing and his mother's abortion as a teenager. The digital ad, backed by a purchase of more than $10,000, seeks to introduce the self-described progressive Democrat to voters and promote his fight to crack down on abuses by private prison operators.

"I remember stories from my mother, about how she chose to get an abortion when she was a teenager," Richardson says in the video. "And she had to go to a dark scary place to have that done. I never want a woman to have to go through that again. I will never stop fighting for a woman's right to make her own decisions."

Richardson, who is an independently wealthy forensic accountant, also talks about growing up in a family "living paycheck to paycheck," and about being elected Florida's first openly gay state lawmaker in 2012. Richardson explains that his experiences have shaped his life and his politics:

"I'm not afraid to talk about this stuff out loud, and I'm not going to be afraid to talk about it when I get to Washington D.C."

Also Tuesday, former judge Mary Barzee Flores released her own digital ad, which a campaign spokesman said was part of a "modest placement." The ad explains how Barzee Flores' position on healthcare is influenced by her own family history, and why she believes that "healthcare should not be a privelege for the rich."

"My parents came to Miami looking for a better life. My dad was a Navy veteran who managed a fish and tackle shop. But when he got sick he lost his job, and when he lost his job he lost his healthcare. And my family went from solidly middle class to poor almost overnight," she says, explaining that she had to wash dishes at night at a Pizza Hut to help pay the bills.

"That's why we need to stop the Republicans' attack on healthcare and on women's health, and start working toward healthcare that is truly universal."



Would Carlos Curbelo want Donald Trump to campaign with him?



It's not surprising that Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has tried to distance himself from President Donald Trump as he runs for reelection. 

After all, Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 16.3 percentage points in Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West district.  

But Curbelo's campaign said they would be open to Trump campaigning in the district when asked by Axios on Tuesday. 

"While Carlos has never invited public figures to campaign with him, he has welcomed those who have offered," Curbelo spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said to Axios. "He has also joined Presidents Obama and Trump in South Florida to stand with them on issues in which ‎he agrees with them ... Anyone who wants to support Carlos' efforts and endorse his bipartisan approach to public service is welcome to do so." 

Trump jumped on the campaign trail this past weekend in Southwestern Pennsylvania to stump for a Republican running in a special congressional election. In a speech that lasted over an hour, Trump insulted the intelligence of Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters, along referring to Meet the Press host and South Florida native Chuck Todd as a "sleeping son of a bitch." 

Curbelo faces a likely challenge from Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in November. 

Update: Curbelo's campaign sent an additional statement after the Miami Herald asked about whether or not he would campaign with Trump. 

"Supporters buy into Carlos and his bipartisan, civil approach to public service, not the other way around," Rodriguez said in an email. "Anyone who wants to support Carlos is welcome to do so. While Carlos and the President have major differences in both style and substance, if the President is willing to get behind Carlos' style of leadership and the policies he supports, that would be a positive development for our country's toxic politics. However, as stated previously, Carlos is not seeking the support or endorsement of any other politicians. He is exclusively focused on earning the support and respect of the people of South Florida." 

This post removed a paragraph after Axios amended their story.

Lawyers in the Florida Legislature try again to get rid of ethics rule

Florida Budget
Spectators line the balcony as Senate President Joe Negron speaks at the end of the legislative session at the Capitol in Tallahassee on Sunday, March 11, 2018. Mark Wallheiser AP

On Friday afternoon, in the frantic final hours of the legislative session, Florida's Ethics Commission issued an extraordinary press release expressing "deep concern" and warning senators not to pass a bill that would have gutted part of the state’s ethics rules.

The bill didn't pass, but commissioners are worried after lawmakers have tried three times in the last two years to get rid of an obscure ethics rule dealing with lawyers serving on city and county commissions.

Currently, ethics rules say a lawyer with the Gunster law firm representing a trash company, for example, can't go before a local board in which another Gunster lawyer is a member.

The reasons are obvious and irreconcilable, ethicists say. Even if the board member discloses the conflict of interests, the board member could still easily influence the outcome of a bid in other ways, by giving his law partner advice on how to influence the board, or by influencing county staff about the bid. Even the board member's presence could influence his or her fellow board members.

"No matter which way you turn it, it’s just an inherent conflict," Ethics Commission Executive Director Virlindia Doss said Monday.

Nevertheless, lawyers in the Legislature are making a bipartisan effort to do away with the rule.

The example that prompted the ethics commission's warning came from Rep. Daniel Perez, a Republican lawyer from Miami who successfully amended a bill in the last week of session. His amendment allowed lawyers to present clients before boards in which their law partners sit, as long as the board member disclosed the conflict and didn't vote on it.

But Perez wasn't the only one. An hour before the ethics commission sent its press release, Sen. Perry Thurston, a lawyer and Democrat from Lauderhill, attached a word-for-word copy to another bill. He didn't respond to requests for comment.

Neither made it into law. Perez on Friday appeared confused as to why the ethics commission would be opposed to his amendment.

"I respect them, and I understand that they’re doing what they believe is in their best interests," he said. "I’m not sure that they understand the amendment."

But they did understand the amendment, because they'd seen it before. In 2015, then-Sen. Don Gaetz tried to do it. And in the waning days of the 2017 session, Sen. Rob Bradley, a lawyer and Republican from Fleming Island, tried to slip a similar amendment into another bill.

His amendment prompted the Ethics Commission to warn lawmakers in August, in advance of the 2018 session, against changing the rule.

"The Commission is wrong on this issue," Bradley said in a text message on Monday. "Hopefully, the Legislature addresses this matter next session."

Stripping away the rule wouldn't just benefit local officials. More than one in five lawmakers is a lawyer, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who works for Broad & Cassell, and Senate President Joe Negron, who resigned from the Gunster law firm last year. Any or all could run for local office when they're term-limited out of the Legislature.

In its press release, ethics commissioners said they were adamantly against any changes to the rule.

"The Commission feels so strongly about the importance of this public protection that in its 2018 legislative recommendations it specifically requested that this precedent not be relaxed in any way," the press release states.

Doss, the Ethics Commission executive director, said she could not remember commissioners ever issuing a press release advocating lawmakers vote one way or another on a bill.

"I think it really concerned them that in the last two years, this has come up as a floor amendment on the last few days of session," she said. "It does keep coming up again and again."

March 12, 2018

DSCC attacks Rick Scott ahead of possible run at Bill Nelson



Florida Governor Rick Scott said Sunday as the 2018 legislative session wound down that he's going to "think about my future" over the next couple of weeks -- a comment widely viewed as an allusion to a potential challenge of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in November.

Democrats aren't waiting to hear what the Republican governor decides.

On Monday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released two digital ads attacking Scott over his personal finances and corporate and public records.

One ad, called "Truth," rehashes old (failed) attacks based on Scott's stint in the 90s as the CEO of Columbia/HCA, a chain that was slapped with a massive $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud. The ad also says Scott "hid" voice messages left on his cell phone by representatives of a nursing home where 14 patients died after the power went out during Hurricane Irma, although Scott's office says the audio was deleted as allowed by state law only after the pertinent information was sent to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Health.

In the second ad, "Blind," Scott is attacked over the management of his blind trust.

On Monday, Clearview Research released a poll showing Scott, whose final term as governor ends in November, slightly ahead of Nelson should he challenge the incumbent. Polls released over the last several months have largely shown the two men neck-and-neck.



Trump proposes package of policies, including arming school staff following mass shooting in Parkland

Parkland vigil AP


The White House said Sunday the federal government will help provide “rigorous firearms training” for qualified volunteer school personnel as part of a package of policy changes he will proposal in the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

President Donald Trump will call on states to pass measures allowing police to remove weapons or prevent gun sales for those who pose a threat. And Trump will ask Congress to pass the bills to increase the amount of records sent to the flawed National Instant Criminal Background Check System and to provide money to improve school security.

“There is no time to waste,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told reporters Sunday night. “No student. No family. No teacher and no school should have to live the horror of Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine again.” Story here. 

Photo: Attendees raise their candles at a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. An orphaned 19-year-old with a troubled past and his own AR-15 rifle was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning after being questioned for hours by state and federal authorities following the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. in five years. Wilfredo Lee AP