From White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest's briefing with reporters Friday:
From White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest's briefing with reporters Friday:
President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated U.S. magistrate judges in Jacksonville and Ocala and a prominent Tampa lawyer for federal district court seats, adding their names to a backlog of dozens of judicial picks the Republican-controlled Senate has failed to confirm.
Obama named Magistrate Judge Patricia D. Barksdale of Jacksonville and Tampa white-collar defense attorney William F. Jung to the Middle District of Florida, and he chose Magistrate Judge Philip R. Lammens for the Northern District of Florida.
"There is a judicial emergency in the Middle District of Florida right now," Sen. Bill Nelson said. "Sen. Rubio and I have conferred on these three nominees, and even in this highly partisan environment, I'm hopeful that we can get them approved quickly."
Aides to Rubio confirmed that the two senators had worked together in recommending the Florida nominees to Obama.
Rubio, however, declined to say whether he would push for his Senate Republican colleagues to confirm them. Republicans are refusing to hold hearings or to vote on Obama's nomination last month of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.
With 85 federal district seats unfilled nationwide, Florida has three of 28 vacancies deemed "emergency" by the U.S. Judicial Conference, the policy-making body for federal courts overseen by the Supreme Court.
The emergency designation is based on a combination of the length of vacancy and how many cases are pending before a court.
Both seats that Obama moved to fill Thursday for the Middle District of Florida are among the 28 emergency vacancies, with one seat empty since June 30, 2015, and the second seat unfilled since August 1 of last year.
The Middle District of Florida had 9,401 cases in 2015, which is considered a heavy load. It stretches from south of Naples on the Gulf Coast to the Georgia border and includes Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando.
Obama also nominated five other district judges to seats in Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.
"Throughout their careers, these nominees have displayed unwavering commitment to justice and integrity," Obama said of his eight choices for judicial promotion. "Their records are distinguished and impressive, and I am confident that they will serve the American people well from the United States District Court bench."
The Senate on April 11 unanimously confirmed Waverly Crenshaw Jr., an African-American lawyer from Nashville, Tenn., to a federal district judgeship.
The Senate confirmed just 17 of Obama's judicial nominees last year, the fewest since 1960.
Before becoming a U.S. magistrate judge in 2012, Lammens was a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville, the city's No. 2 attorney and a civil trial lawyer in the torts division of the U.S. Justice Department. He earned his law and undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida.
A U.S. magistrate judge since 2013, Barksdale also previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville. She, too, has undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.
Jung is a founding partner of the Jung & Sisco law firm in Ocala, specializing in white-collar criminal defense. He was a federal prosecutor in Miami in the late 1980s and clerked before that for then-Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. Jung received his law degree from the University of Illinois and his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University
President Barack Obama’s historic trip to Cuba last month marked the culmination of a foreign policy he laid out eight years as ago as a candidate, when he broke with his predecessors and pledged to sit down with unfriendly dictators, because punishing them with silence seemed “ridiculous.”
He did more than just meet with Raúl Castro. Obama, flexing his office’s extensive executive power over international affairs, dismantled almost every piece of the U.S.’s Cold War-era approach to Cuba.
Left out of the conversation: anyone who disagreed, including the eight Cuban Americans — Republican and Democrat — in Congress 57 years after the Cuban revolution. Half of them — one senator and three representatives — hail from Miami, the new city exiles made in Havana’s old image.
For eight years, they’ve had zero input on the issue on which some of them built their political careers. And now they face the prospect of four or eight more years of the same, with a new White House tenant come January. Castro has promised to retire in 2018.
Miami’s Cuban-American political guard risks losing any influence it has left at a time when Cuba could undergo its most sweeping changes.
“There’s no doubt about it,” said Pepe Hernández, president of the Cuban American National Foundation, which supports the Cuba policy Obama unveiled 15 months ago. “Like they say in dominó, they have been shuffled off the table, quite substantially, in the past few years — but especially since Dec. 17, 2014.
“But I don’t think, honestly, they care much.”
“I’m not hurt at all — it frees up my day,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said of not talking to Obama. “He’s of no consequence to us.”
But what about the next president?
Photo credit: Astrid Riecken, MCT
With most political enthusiasts' attention riveted on the divisive GOP presidential race, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is urging the Democratic White House hopefuls to tone down their rhetoric.
Wasserman Schultz, who lives in Weston when she isn't in Washington or traveling the country as head of the Democratic National Committee, was asked about the increasingly sharp attacks against each other in recent days by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
"I think both campaigns really need to be careful about making sure that we don't do lasting damage," Wasserman Schultz told Fox News' "America's Newsroom" program Friday morning. "I don't think we're at that point, but I think it is important to be careful that at the end of the primary process, when we have a presumptive nominee, that we're able to easily reunify."
In advance of the April 19 primary in New York, which Clinton represented for six years as a U.S. senator before heading the State Department, Clinton has challenged Sanders' allegiance to the Democratic Party and questioned his preparedness to be president.
On Wednesday, Clinton told MSNBC that Sanders "himself doesn't consider himself to be a Democrat." Sanders, who lists his party for Senate votes as Independent but caucuses with Democrats, has at various times in his career described himself as a Socialist or a Democratic Socialist.
Clinton also criticized Sanders' repeated presidential campaign calls to break up big banks, again comparing her record as a pragmatist who gets things done.
"You can't really help people if you don't know how to do what you are campaigning on saying you want to do," Clinton said.
Sanders responded that night at a rally in Philadelphia.
"She has been saying lately that she thinks I am quote-unquote 'not qualified to be president,'" Sanders declared. "Let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton, I don't believe that she is qualified if she is, though her super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special-interest funds. I don't think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don't think you are qualified if you support the Panama free trade agreement."
Clinton didn't actually say the phrase Sanders attributed to her about his lack of qualifications, but that phrase or similar ones ran in headlines in some news accounts of her comments.
Despite the sharp exchanges, Wasserman Schultz said it doesn't compare to "the food fight and the civil war that continues to rage on the Republican side."
Wasserman Schultz, who some Sanders supporters have accused of favoring Clinton in the Democratic race, also said that Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama had a more hard-hitting contest in their presidential primary campaign in 2008.
"Right now I would characterize the tenor and tone of this party to be nothing like the intensity of where we (Democrats) were eight years ago in 2008 between then-Sens. Clinton and Obama," she said.
After Obama gained the Democratic nomination in that primary race and then defeated Sen. John McCain to gain the White House, he chose Clinton as secretary of state. The two established a close relationship, and she has been trumpeting his achievements during her current run.
On the Republican side, billionaire businessman Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz have been engaged in a nasty war of words for weeks, with the fight intensifying two weeks ago when the Republican front-runner tweeted an unflattering photograph of Cruz's wife Heidi Cruz.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe sees Cuba as a land of opportunity.
Amid President Barack Obama’s historic trip to Cuba this past week, McAuliffe said in an interview that Virginia already has made impressive headway in tapping the island nation’s export market.
"Virginia now is the number one exporter of ag (agricultural) products to Cuba," McAuliffe said during a March 21 MSNBC interview. "We have now jumped to number one."
In January, the governor returned from a trip to Cuba aimed at bolstering the commonwealth’s commercial ties with the nation. The U.S. still has a decades-long embargo on most trade with Cuba. But a 2000 law allows limited exports of agricultural products and medical equipment. In 2014, Obama re-established formal diplomatic relations with Cuba.
McAuliffe supports ending the trade embargo.
Brian Coy, the governor’s spokesman, pointed us to a Feb. 12 news release where McAuliffe announced that last year Virginia exported $41.6 million in agricultural goods to Cuba, all of it soybeans and soybean meal. In past years, Virginia also has shipped apples, poultry and beef. McAuliffe said the 2015 export tally was the most that any state had sent to Cuba that year.
We tracked down the same trade figures through an online database provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It shows that in 2015, Virginia’s $41.6 million indeed was the most of any state, followed by Georgia, which had $30.9 million in agricultural exports to Cuba; and Florida, which had $29.9 million in exports.
HAVANA -- President Barack Obama’s decision to restore ties with Cuba may have given him a revered spot in the heart of many Cubans.
Crowds lined the roads here to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade: en route to a baseball game between U.S. and Cuban teams, thousands spilled into the streets and crowded onto balconies.
The American flag, once a sign of hostility, did fly beside the Cuban colors from the antennas of the vintage American automobiles that ferried visitors around the city. And an entrepreneur pitched a refrigerator magnet with Obama holding a cigar under his nose.
But they were still outnumbered by trinkets with images of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. And in a country accustomed to disappointment and ruled by the same family since 1959, there were few overt displays of support for the American president, even as he spent the better part of three days touring Havana’s sights, eating its food and urging its people to embrace democracy.
Cubans cheered his speech in the privacy of their homes - the government did not erect large screen monitors in public as with other events. “Who would have thought we’d see this,” said Jesus Magán as he watched at home. ““I mean, we were trained to fight against the Americans!”
Photo credit: @PatriciaMazzei in Havana
via @patriciamazzei and @ngameztorres
HAVANA -- President Barack Obama granted outspoken political dissidents of the Cuban government the highest level of recognition they’ve ever received in their own country, meeting privately with them Tuesday against the wishes of the Castro regime.
Obama sat down with 13 dissidents and political activists behind closed doors at the U.S. embassy for more than an hour and a half, several of the attendees said, even though the gathering had been scheduled to last only a half-hour. The president greeted each person around the conference table by name, taking notes as they aired grievances about Raúl Castro’s rule — and, in some cases, about Obama’s U.S.-Cuba policy.
The White House insisted the meeting with the dissidents was never in question. But when Secretary of State John Kerry failed to travel to Cuba a couple of weeks ahead of the president, as had been expected, Castro opponents feared an attempt was under way by the Cuban government to dictate who could meet Obama.
After the regime detained more than 50 activists Sunday — including two invited to Obama’s meeting — dissidents also worried government authorities might keep them from showing up Tuesday.
President Barack Obama capped an historic visit to Cuba on Tuesday by indulging in sports diplomacy —catching a few innings of a baseball game in a raucous stadium, Cuba’s president at his side.
Perched behind home plate, the American president who has sought to open Cuba to the United States, chatted with Raul Castro as they cheered several innings of the first exhibition game between a U.S. and a Cuban team since 1999.
“We share a national pastime — la pelota,” Obama said hours earlier in a speech to Cuban people and broadcast across the island. He called the sport one of many “common passions” that Americans and Cubans shared, even as their governments became adversaries.
And he noted that U.S. and Cuban players would later compete on the same Havana baseball field where baseball legend Jackie Robinson — who broke baseball’s racial barrier — played before he made his Major League debut.
Read more from Lesley Clark here.
Cuba President Raúl Castro criticized the United States’ human rights record — and defended his own — in a joint press conference with President Barack Obama in Havana.
At the first official meeting between leaders of the two countries in 50 years, Castro dinged the United States on the lack of universal access to health care, free education and equal pay before he fended off a CNN reporter’s question about political prisoners on the island.
"President Castro, my father is Cuban. He left for the United States when he was young. Do you see a new and democratic direction for your country? And why (do) you have Cuban political prisoners? And why don’t you release them?" asked CNN’s Jim Acosta. (He then asked if Castro prefers Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.)
"Give me a list of the political prisoners and I will release them immediately," Castrosaid, according to the White House translation of his remarks. "Just mention a list. What political prisoners? Give me a name or names. After this meeting is over, you can give me a list of political prisoners. And if we have those political prisoners, they will be released before tonight ends."
A Miami Herald translation put his response in slightly different words, though Castro’s message is not in dispute: "Give me the list now of political prisoners to release. If there are political prisoners, they’ll be free before nightfall."
Marco Rubio offers an extended criticism of President Obama's trip to Cuba, which begins Sunday.
“On Sunday, President Obama will touch down in Cuba for what promises to be one of the most disgraceful trips ever taken by a U.S. president anywhere in the world. This is an Obama presidential trip whose ultimate results will be giving away legitimacy and money to an anti-American regime that actively undermines our national security interests and acts against our values every single day. President Obama’s entourage will sleep in hotels controlled by the Cuban military that were confiscated by the regime and are among the $7 billion in unpaid legal claims owed to American property owners. When President Obama arrives in Havana on Sunday, he will visit Catholic Church sights and church officials, yet he’s inexplicably expected to skip St. Rita Church, where the Ladies In White have shed much blood and received routine beatings at the hands of the Castro regime for simply demanding their loved ones’ freedom.