October 31, 2016

Obama, Woods golf outing cost taxpayers a pretty penny

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On a windy winter day in 2013 at one of Florida's top courses, Barack Obama and Tiger Woods played a friendly round of golf together together for the first time.

Some 44 months later, the government tallied the price tag of the president's outing with the sports superstar at the Floridian in Port St. Lucie: $3.6 million.

That's how much the General Accountability Office, Congress's bipartisan watchdog agency, figured it cost for Air Force One to ferry Obama to Florida along with supporting aircraft and U.S. Coast Guard boats, plus lodging, meals, commercial airfare and rental cars for Pentagon and Homeland Security Department personnel who accompanied him.

"The military aides, White House staffers and Secret Service agents who traveled with him are a reminder that he's never far from the responsibilities of the job," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the New York Times then.

The GAO report was requested by Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican.

Obama flew to Florida from his hometown of Chicago, where he'd delivered a speech on the economy.

Obama's game with Woods was part of a President's Day weekend he spent on Florida's Treasure Coast. He stayed at the exclusive yacht and golf club purchased in 2010 and then renovated by Houston businessman Jim Crane, who also owns the Houston Astros.

As First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters skied in Colorado, Crane joined Obama for the golf weekend, along with several major Texas donors to the president's campaigns: former U.S. Trade Representative and Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk; Tony Chase, former deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and Milton Carroll, chairman of CenterPoint Energy.

Woods' former coach, Butch Harmon, golfed with the group on Saturday, and Obama joined Woods for a round on Sunday.

"Just to see the interaction between the two on the range was pretty neat," Harmon told Golf Digest. "The president said to Tiger, 'The last tournament you played was fun to watch. It's good to see you play well again.' You could tell he meant it. It wasn't just a throw-it-out compliment."

Their game was off-limits to White House reporters traveling with the president, but long-time golf journalist Tim Rosaforte tweeted: "Historic day of golf. Their first round."

Woods had attended Obama's first inauguration in January 2009 and visited the White House three months later.

The White House Press Association protested that its members were shut out from covering the historic outing while a golf reporter was included.

Obama's predecessors, from Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, often allowed brief media coverage at the start or end of their golf games, but the current president prefers privacy when he hits the links.

A notable exception occurred in 2011 when Obama had a highly publicized game with then-House Speaker John Boehner, joined by Clinton.

Image credit: Golf Digest


October 28, 2016

Obama plans another Miami trip for Clinton

120bObama21 NEW PPP

Miami is proving to be popular for President Barack Obama in the last few weeks of the national campaign.

The president plans to return next week to campaign once again for Hillary Clinton, according to the White House. He was just in town last week, giving a speech on the Affordable Care Act and rallying for Clinton in Miami Gardens.

He’s in Orlando on Friday, underscoring Florida’s importance for Clinton. She could foreclose Donald Trump’s path to the White House with a Sunshine State win.

October 27, 2016

Top Guantanamo reporter sues Defense Department over staffing data

One of the country’s leading reporters on the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is suing the Pentagon over its delay in providing figures for staffing levels at the controversial facility.

Carol Rosenberg, a Miami Herald journalist who’s reported on the Guantánamo prison since 2002, filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking expedited release of the data.

“I’ve been trying to examine staffing levels for years,” Rosenberg said. “The detention center used to give us precise numbers on a given day, then the Southern Command stopped them.”

For more read here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article110639477.html#storylink=cpy

October 26, 2016

White House: Obama 'committed to strongly supporting' Patrick Murphy



White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a press briefing Wednesday that President Barack Obama is "committed to strongly supporting" Patrick Murphy's U.S. Senate campaign in Florida -- but the White House won't weigh in on how national Democratic groups should spend their money helping Murphy versus other U.S. Senate candidates.

Between early September and mid-October, the Senate Majority super PAC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pulled $16 million in planned TV ad spending the groups had reserved to fortify Murphy's campaign this fall against Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The decisions came as Murphy gained little, if any, ground on Rubio in September, causing the Democrats to re-direct their resources to other competitive -- and potentially more winnable -- Senate contests elsewhere.

But in the past two weeks, Murphy's campaign picked up steam again.

Recent polls show the race very close. And Murphy has gotten vocal praise from both Obama and Hillary Clinton during their recent visits to Florida, which has helped Murphy's name ID and his support among the Democratic base.

But the Democrats' money hasn't returned -- and if it did, the ad time would be vastly more expensive than before.

Some Democratic leaders are questioning the DSCC's earlier decision to withdraw from Florida and not more aggressively help Murphy unseat Rubio, according to a story by Politico on Tuesday.

When Earnest was asked Wednesday whether Obama had an opinion on if Democrats should do as much as they can to take out Rubio (and consequently help Murphy), Earnest said: "I can tell you that President Obama is traveling down to Florida because he believes that Congressman Murphy is the right person to represent the state of Florida in the United States Senate. And he will reiterate that case once again on Friday in Orlando."

"The president feels strongly about the race," Earnest added. "When it comes to the strategy that's implemented by the DSCC, those are decisions for them to make. But the president is -- is certainly committed to strongly supporting Congressman Murphy's campaign and is optimistic about his prospects."

McClatchy D.C. reporter Lesley Clark contributed to this report.

Photo credit: Miami Herald

October 24, 2016

South Florida a focus of Obama human-trafficking initiative



Secretary of State John Kerry hosted a White House meeting Monday of a high-level task force set up by President Barack Obama in 2012 to combat forced labor and prostitution.

Federal law enforcement agencies have initiated more than 6,000 human-trafficking cases and secured at least 4,000 convictions since Obama took office in January 2009.

"While more work is required to tackle the root causes and consequences of human trafficking, the United States continues to be a leader in the global movement to end modern slavery," the White House said in a statement.

Part of the Obama initiative is focused on Miami and New York, two national trafficking hubs.

The U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Justice are collaborating to provide job and training services in those cities for victims of human trafficking.

More than 1,200 instances of human trafficking were reported in the Sunshine State through the Florida Abuse Line in fiscal year 2014-15.

South Florida is the third-most-active region for sex trafficking in the country, with minors often the victims, according to the Justice Department.

Before it was cancelled because of Hurricane Matthew, Attorney General Pam Bondi had scheduled the Florida Human Trafficking Summit for Oct. 10 in Orlando. Five-hundred law-enforcement officers, service providers, healthcare professionals, educators, legislators and community leaders had signed up to attend, along with trafficking victims.

Obama's task force gave a presidential anti-trafficking award to Students Opposing Slavery, a network of high school and college students who raise awareness about trafficking among youth. The University of Central Florida in Orlando has one of the most active chapters of the group.

"Leaders in our state are committed to making Florida a zero-tolerance state for human-trafficking," Bondi said.

In a recent case, the drug-overdose death of a 14-year-old girl in Orlando led police to break open a human-trafficking ring based there.

Jose Ignacio Santiago-Sotomayor, 22, and Avorice Jeno Holman, 19, were arrested and charged with first-degree murder, human trafficking of a child and procuring a minor for prostitution. Police said they and other members of the ring drugged girls in order to have sex with them.

Earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott declared January the Human Trafficking Awareness Month and signed four bills into law that stiffened penalties for human traffickers, established protections for past victims, and promoted efforts to help people recognize warning signs.

"It is unfathomable that this evil occurs in our state, but by expanding services and passing important legislation this year, we are helping to save and heal the lives of our state's most vulnerable," Scott said.

In July, police busted a human-trafficking ring in Seminole County with more than 20 victims, arresting Christian Pena Fernandez and Rachel Gonzalez.

Detectives said that Pena Fernandez ran a sophisticated organization in which he recruited and harbored women to provide sex. He ran ads seeking women on backpage.com, they said.

The couple used motels and hotels across Central Florida in their operation, detectives said.

Photo credit: Getty Images


Obama endorses Joe Garcia for Congress


President Barack Obama endorsed Democrat Joe Garcia for Congress in Florida's competitive 26th district, Garcia's campaign announced in a statement Monday.

"Over the last eight years, we've made tremendous strides towards making our nation safer, stronger, and fairer, but it's clear that to continue this progress, we need to send more commonsense leaders like Joe back to Congress to get things done for the middle class," Obama said.

"Joe is a champion for South Florida families and isn't afraid to take on the tough fights, like defending a woman's right to make her own healthcare decisions, protecting Social Security and Medicare, making sure we keep our sacred promises to our nation's veterans and their families, and addressing the crushing burden of student loan debt felt by so many Florida students and families."

Over the last few days, the president has waded into down-ballot Democratic races, in a coordinated effort with Hillary Clinton's campaign to win more seats in Congress and state legislatures. Obama tore into U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio at a Clinton rally in Miami Gardens last week, urging voters to choose Democrat Patrick Murphy instead. But the president didn't mention Garcia, who was at the rally. Garcia didn't have a speaking role, either, but his campaign says he will get to say something Monday ahead of a Tim Kaine rally at Florida International University. Garcia is trying to unseat freshman Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

"Barack Obama has spent the past eight years doing the right thing," Garcia said in a statement about the president's endorsement. "In Washington I'll work to expand on Obama's vision for our country so that every South Floridian can get ahead and stay ahead."

October 21, 2016

Obama endorses 13 Florida legislative candidates, including several in Miami-Dade races


President Barack Obama is supporting 13 Florida Democrats running for the state Legislature, the Florida Democratic Party announced this morning.

The list includes several high-profile candidates in highly competitive races -- many in Miami-Dade county.

Those include District 37 Senate candidate and current Miami state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez and District 39 candidate and political newcomer Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, of Pinecrest.

Both Rodriguez and Mucarsel-Powell are trying to unseat powerful Miami Republicans -- Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Anitere Flores, respectively -- and help Democrats narrow the Republicans' hold on the chamber majority.

On the House side, Obama also backed Miami-Dade legislative contenders Ivette Gonzalez Petkovich (challenging Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz Jr. in District 103); Nick Duran (running for Rodriguez's open seat in District 112 against Rosa Maria Palomino); Daisy Baez (running for the open District 114 seat against John Couriel); and Robert Asencio (who's in a bitter battle against former state Rep. David Rivera in District 118).

Many other Democrats also running against Republicans in Florida legislative districts weren't included in Obama's endorsement list, which is solely non-incumbents.

But noticeably absent from the list were state Sen. Dwight Bullard (who's running for re-election in District 40 in a heated race against state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami) and District 38 Senate candidate and current state Rep. Daphne Campbell (who's running against former state Rep. Phillip Brutus).

Here is the full list of Florida legislative candidates Obama endorsed:


Continue reading "Obama endorses 13 Florida legislative candidates, including several in Miami-Dade races" »

October 20, 2016

Murphy's political cavalry arrives, in the form of President Obama


@PatriciaMazzei @AmySherman1

The political cavalry arrived Thursday for Patrick Murphy. His name was Barack Obama.

Obama swaggered into Miami Gardens purportedly for Hillary Clinton, the potential sentinel of his White House legacy. He’s in an unusual position for a sitting president: He’s more popular than his selected successor, who’s more than eager for him to act as her most prominent stand-in, especially to African Americans.

But polls show Clinton leading Donald Trump in Florida, which some political prognosticators have placed in the light blue “lean Democratic” column, no longer a toss-up.

So Obama did what he had to do. He ripped Trump for refusing to say during Wednesday night’s debate if he’ll accept the Nov. 8 election results — and for quipping Thursday in Ohio that he’ll accept the results “if I win.”

“That is not a joking matter,” Obama told the capacity crowd of 2,800 at Florida Memorial University’s athletic arena. “I want everybody to pay attention here — that is dangerous. Because when you try to sow seeds of doubt in people’s minds about the legitimacy of our elections, that undermines our democracy. Then, you are doing the work of our adversaries for them.”

The president also passionately defended Clinton, calling her ready and capable to handle the Oval Office.

“Even in the middle of a crisis, she is calm and cool and collected,” Obama said. “And here is the thing about Hillary: No matter how tough the odds, no matter how much people try to knock her down, no matter how mean folks can be, she doesn’t point fingers. She doesn’t complain. She doesn’t whine. She just works harder. And she gets the job done, and she never, ever, ever quits.”

But then, the president focused on the guy who needs his help most: Murphy, the U.S. Senate candidate who national Democrats have all but abandoned.

More here.

This story has been updated.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, Miami Herald staff

Murphy emphasizes working families in speech at Miami Gardens rally

@ByKristenMClark & @AmySherman1

Vowing to carry on the legacy President Barack Obama will leave behind, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy told a crowd of Hillary Clinton supporters in Miami-Dade County this afternoon that he and the Democratic presidential nominee would support working families and create an economy "that works for everybody."

"With the future of our economy and our country on the line, who are Republicans trying to elect this November? Marco Rubio and Donald Trump -- seriously?" Murphy said to a chorus of agreeing boos from the crowd waiting to hear Obama campaign for Clinton in Miami Gardens, a predominantly back community.

Murphy was one of several speakers -- and the only one who was white -- who took the stage before Obama arrived at Florida Memorial University this afternoon. Murphy got some cheers from the crowd but didn't seem to fire them up like rest of speakers

Continue reading "Murphy emphasizes working families in speech at Miami Gardens rally" »

Obama in Miami: Soon I can come back for fun


President Barack Obama took the stage at Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus on Thursday afternoon to talk about the Affordable Care Act.

"Hello, Miami!" he said. "It's good to be back at Miami Dade, one of my favorite institutions."

The president called his trip "one of my last visits here as president." The friendly crowd booed, but Obama stopped them:

"The good news is, once I'm no longer president, I can come more often!" he said. "When I'm out of office, I can come here for fun."

Obama gave shout-outs to MDC President Eduardo Padrón and U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, all of whom were in the audience. Wasserman Schultz traveled from Washington with Air Force One.

Some 650 people gathered for Obama's speech, including 550 MDC Honors College students, according to the university.