March 18, 2016

South Florida Republicans break with GOP in deportation vote

@jamesmartinrose

Only five Republican lawmakers stood up to their party leader in voting against allowing House Speaker Paul Ryan to file an amicus brief opposing President Barack Obama's decision to withhold deportation for more than 5 million undocumented immigrants.

All three Cuban-American representatives from South Florida -- Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo -- were among the five Republicans who voted against a resolution that the House passed Thursday almost entirely along party lines.

The Supreme Court next month will hear a case brought by Texas, joined by Florida and 24 other states, arguing that Obama's bid to shield about 5.2 million illegal aliens from deportation imposes unaffordable health-care, education, law-enforcement and other costs on them.

Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who replaced Ohioan John Boehner as speaker in October, acknowledged that House intervention in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court was unprecedented, but he insisted it was necessary to prevent executive overreach by Obama.

With no Democrats voting for the bill, Ryan and other Republicans said Obama's executive orders dating to 2012 amount to the president legislating immigration reform without going through Congress.

"I recognize that this is a very extraordinary step," Ryan said on the House floor. "I feel it is very necessary, though. In fact, I believe this is vital."

In a joint statement Friday, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart said that although individual members of Congress have the right to file briefs supporting court cases, the House as a whole should not do so.

"All amicus briefs should carry the same weight, and beginning this pattern may signal to the Supreme Court that Congress is prioritizing certain cases over others," the two Miami Republicans said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a first-term Republican from Kendall, went further. He accused Republicans of playing politics with the important issue of immigration.

"For two long, both parties have preferred to score petty political points using the immigration issue rather than passing meaningful reform to secure the border, reform our visa system and find a fair solution for the undocumented," Curbelo said.

"The surest and most constitutionally solvent way to end the president's executive overreach is to pass meaningful immigration reform, not by employing empty tactics that ignore the root cause of the problem," he said.

The two other Republicans who voted against the House resolution were Reps. Richard Hanna of New York and Robert Dold of Illinois. Rep. Alex Mooney, a West Virginia Republican and one of five other Cuban-Americans in Congress, voted for the measure, which passed by a 234-186 margin.

Among Florida's 24 other U.S. House members, 22 voted along party lines, with Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel and Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan failing to vote.

Nine other Florida Democrats voted against the measure, among them Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the states, most recently the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.

With only eight justices on the Supreme Court since Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month, a 4-4 decision after the scheduled April 18 arguments would uphold the lower courts' rulings and overturn Obama's executive orders protecting millions of undocumented parents and their children from deportation.

Obama on Wednesday chose Merrick Garland, a former federal prosecutor and current judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to replace Scalia on the high court, but Senate Republican leaders are refusing to take a vote or even hold hearings on the nomination, saying Obama has only 10 months left in office.

Immigration has become perhaps the most divisive issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, ridiculed Republican lawmakers, many of whom he said have disingenuously tried to distance themselves from Trump's hardline stance on immigration.

"They keep saying, 'Well, Trump doesn't represent us, he doesn't (represent) our views, he doesn't represent our values,' and now they want to know where Trump gets all of his anti-immigrant, xenophobic views from," Gutierrez told reporters. "Try the House of Republicans."

In a speech Friday on the House floor, Gutierrez accused his Republican colleagues of "stoking anti-immigrant fears and mass-deportation fantasies."

"The vote is a political stunt disguised as a legal brief because the Republican majority sees a crass political opportunity to stand with the anti-immigration wing of their party," he said.  

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and 60 individual business leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, filed an amicus brief supporting Obama last week.

Before the vote Thursday, Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said "the Latino community is being used for political purposes."

Sanchez added: "We are being demonized, we are being marginalized, and we see a frightening level of hateful rhetoric and vile hate speech aimed at our community, and nobody is standing up within the Republican Party to say that this is unacceptable."

America's Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group, said the vote Thursday was the eighth "anti-immigration" vote taken by Republicans in the current session of Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 223 other Democrats filed an amicus brief backing Obama earlier this month, but there was no vote on the brief and it represents them as individuals.

In still another amicus brief, almost 120 cities and counties across the United States on March 8 expressed support for Obama, among them Pembroke Pines, Tampa and Sunrise.

 

March 16, 2016

Florida politicians comment on Obama's SCOTUS nominee

@PatriciaMazzei

President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Republicans said even before there was a nominee that they wouldn't hold any hearings.

Here's what Florida politicians had to say about Garland's nomination:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat:

The Senate has a constitutional responsibility to fill vacancies on the Supreme Court and I take that responsibility very seriously. Today, the president nominated Judge Merrick Garland to serve on our nation’s highest court and I hope that the Senate is given a chance to fully consider this nominee.

Continue reading "Florida politicians comment on Obama's SCOTUS nominee" »

March 04, 2016

Ahead of Cuba trip, White House sends Obama adviser to meet with Cuban Americans in Miami

@PatriciaMazzei

Ahead of President Barack Obama's trip to Cuba, a top White House lieutenant will travel to Miami to meet with leaders of the Cuban-American community, the Miami Herald has learned.

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes will meet with human rights and civil society advocates, faith leaders and business people on March 11. Rhodes helped broker the deal that normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Cuban exiles were left out of the White House's talks, and were shocked to learn the news in December 2014. That has left a lot of hurt feelings from hardliners and longtime Cuban democracy advocates. Rhodes' visit may be the first chance to start addressing those concerns before the president's historic trip March 21.

Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Cuba was canceled Thursday after the U.S. and Cuba disagreed over aspects of Kerry's itinerary, including his ability to meet with dissidents. Kerry will travel with Obama, and the White House said Friday the president will choose whom he wants to meet on the island.

March 03, 2016

Obama-Biden endorsement in U.S. Senate race fractures Florida Democrats

@ByKristenMClark

A division of the Florida Democratic Party is upset that President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have chimed in on the contentious party primary in the state's U.S. Senate race.

Obama and Biden on Wednesday endorsed U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, over fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, further fortifying Murphy's status as the establishment pick.

But progressive Democrats have passionately backed Grayson and the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida -- an official subsection of the state party -- doesn't think it's appropriate for the national party's figureheads to take sides.

"As someone who worked hard to help President Obama win Florida in 2008 and 2012, I am profoundly saddened and disappointed by his apparent lack of trust in Florida Democrats to choose our own U.S. Senate nominee," caucus president Susan Smith said in a statement this morning.

Smith pointed to Grayson's favorable polling. She also criticized Murphy's congressional record and the fact that he was previously a Republican before running for office.

"As much as it breaks my heart to see President Obama attempt to put his thumb on the scale for Patrick Murphy, it's even more worrisome that the president seems to have done so with bad information," Smith said. "I hope the President will read up on Murphy's real record and reconsider his decision to throw the weight of the White House behind someone who will do Wall Street's bidding."

The Florida Democratic Party doesn't endorse in primaries before the qualifying deadline and has no plans to endorse a candidate. 

Executive director Scott Arceneaux told the Herald/Times that the state party is "deeply disappointed in the Progressive Caucus’ statement."

"To use this statement to imply the President and Vice President of the United States are misinformed or unable to thoughtfully arrive at conclusions that differ from the Progressive Caucus’ view is as disturbing as their decision to attack a Democratic member of Florida’s congressional delegation," Arceneaux said in a statement.

He added, “We are a big tent party with diverse views and should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. The Florida Democratic Party welcomes the input of President Obama and Vice President Biden in our races.”

Also Wednesday, Obama and Biden endorsed former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in that state's party primary for the U.S. Senate. Murphy and Strickland were the first Senate candidates Obama and Biden have endorsed this cycle.

March 02, 2016

Obama says none of the GOP presidential candidates have climate change plan

Miami beach flood

Foreign leaders are "troubled" by some of the rhetoric coming out of the Republican presidential primary, and it’s not just what they’re hearing from Donald Trump, says President Barack Obama.

"But this is not just Mr. Trump. Look at the statements that are being made by the other candidates," Obama said at a Feb. 16 news conference. "There is not a single candidate in the Republican primary that thinks we should do anything about climate change, that thinks it’s serious. Well, that's a problem. The rest of the world looks at that and says, how can that be?"

Obama’s statement sounded similar to a take from Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, who recently said, "Not one Republican has the guts to recognize that climate change is real." We rated that claim False because a couple GOP presidential candidates (including some who are no longer in the running) have acknowledged its existence.

Obama’s claim is different: He said none of the Republicans thinks the country should do anything about climate change.

To different degrees, the remaining candidates don’t believe man-made climate change is happening, or at least not to the extent that Obama and a vast majority of climate scientists believe it’s happening.

See what Lauren Carroll of PolitiFact found about what Marco Rubio and his GOP rivals have said about climate change plans. More here.

Barack Obama, Joe Biden endorse Patrick Murphy in Florida's U.S. Senate race; Republicans go on the attack

Patrickmurphy03wmm

@ByKristenMClark

Adding to his lengthy -- and growing -- list of establishment endorsements, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy just landed the two biggest names possible for a Democrat: Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

The president and vice president of the United States are backing Murphy in his bid for Marco Rubio's U.S. Senate seat, Murphy's campaign announced this morning.

And Biden will campaign with Murphy on March 28, the campaign said. Specific details haven't been released yet.

In statements provided by the campaign, both Obama and Biden heaped praise on Murphy, a congressman from Jupiter, for his work supporting the middle-class and a host of other issues.

"Patrick has been a tireless champion for middle-class families and a defender of the economic progress that American workers and businesses have made," Obama said in the statement. "In Congress, he's fought to strengthen Medicare and Social Security, reform our criminal justice system, and protect a woman's right to choose. Floridians can count on Patrick Murphy to stand up for them every day as their next Senator."

Biden added, "Patrick Murphy has the progressive values, the work ethic and the youthful energy the U.S. Senate needs. He'll work tirelessly to bring people together to make a difference for Florida's middle class."

The endorsements -- including that compliment -- weren't well-received by Murphy's primary opponent, fellow U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson. The Orlando congressman is a proud and passionate progressive, who's banking on progressives' support to beat Murphy in Florida's Democratic primary in August.

Grayson's campaign said in a statement that Obama's and Biden's endorsements smack of "a last-ditch effort by the D.C. Establishment to try to blunt our large and growing command of the race."

Continue reading "Barack Obama, Joe Biden endorse Patrick Murphy in Florida's U.S. Senate race; Republicans go on the attack" »

February 27, 2016

Remembering the last time a U.S. president visited Cuba

Coolidge and Machado in Cuba

via @glenngarvin

No matter what Barack Obama does in Havana next month, his visit just isn’t going to measure up to the one Calvin Coolidge made in 1928. Yeah, that Coolidge, the guy remembered as Silent Cal when he’s remembered at all, the one a reporter once wrote had the perpetual expression of “one who had been weaned on a pickle.”

His visit to Cuba — the last one by an American president — was nonetheless a festival of drunken debauchery, inebriated idiocy, salacious smuggling and even unnatural acts with Key lime pies. The full story didn’t emerge for 30 years, when a reporter finally spilled the beans on a tale with “elements of pageantry, drama, comedy and farce; of ponderous dignity and unseemly revelry; of silk-hatted diplomacy with a dash of dipsomania.”

Lest President Obama get the wrong idea of what’s expected of U.S. leaders when visiting Cuba, we should probably note at this point that President Coolidge himself did not partake (well, there was an incident with hookers that we’ll get back to, but mostly) of the depravity.

Though some Cubans thought they saw the president himself slinking through Havana’s back-alley dives, incongruously wearing a top hat, they were mistaken, victims of a practical-joke impression of Coolidge by an American reporter who resembled the president. And you thought the mainstream media was rough on presidents these days.

But we’re getting ahead of the story. Until Obama announced a couple of weeks ago that he was going to Cuba, practically nobody remembered Coolidge’s 1928 trip. Yet at the time, it was a big, big deal, and even had parallels to today. Coolidge, too, was a lame-duck president looking to cap his stay in the White House with a signature foreign-policy achievement.

More here.

February 24, 2016

PolitiFact: Obama's promise to close Guantanamo Bay remains stalled

With less than a year to go on his presidency, President Barack Obama released a last-ditch plan to close the the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, a proposal that would include moving some detainees to prison facilities within the United States.

But in an election year, it appears highly unlikely that a Republican-led Congress will do anything to help bring Obama's 2008 campaign promise to to fruition. Several Republicans immediately vowed to block the plan, including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. One Republican senator, Pat Roberts of Kansas, tweeted a video of himself crumpling up the proposal and tossing it in a trash can.

The plan, released Feb. 23, 2016, explains how to proceed with the remaining 91 detainees, a number that includes 35 who are eligible for transfer and 10 in some phase of the military commission process. Since the creation of the detainee facility, nearly 800 detainees have been held at Guantanamo.

In addition to continuing the transfers, the plan includes accelerating the review of certain detainees who have not been charged or convicted.

Keep reading from PolitiFact's Obameter.

February 23, 2016

Florida GOP candidates for U.S. Senate deride Obama plan to close Gitmo

via @learyreports

Republican U.S. Senate candidates rushed to condemn President Obama's moves on Guantanamo Bay while Democrat Patrick Murphy said he supports the closure, illustrating the partisan divide on an issue is likely to surface in the general election.

"For far too long the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has been a stain on our American values that undermines our security around the world," Murphy said. "As a Member of the House Intelligence Committee, I will continue to support closing Guantanamo in a responsible way that protects the safety and security of the American people."

Republicans were uniformly opposed.

Continue reading "Florida GOP candidates for U.S. Senate deride Obama plan to close Gitmo" »

February 20, 2016

President Obama devotes weekly address to Cuba visit

@PatriciaMazzei

"Nos vemos en La Habana," President Barack Obama said Saturday in his weekly address, which he devoted to his upcoming visit to Cuba. See you in Havana.

Read his remarks in full:

Hi, everybody.  This week, we made it official—I’m going to Cuba.

When Michelle and I go to Havana next month, it will be the first visit of a U.S. president to Cuba in nearly 90 years.  And it builds on the decision I made more than a year ago to begin a new chapter in our relationship with the people of Cuba.

You see, I believe that the best way to advance American interests and values, and the best way to help the Cuban people improve their lives, is through engagement—by normalizing relations between our governments and increasing the contacts between our peoples.  I’ve always said that change won’t come to Cuba overnight.  But as Cuba opens up, it will mean more opportunity and resources for ordinary Cubans.  And we’re starting to see some progress.

Today, the American flag flies over our embassy in Havana, and our diplomats are interacting more broadly with the Cuban people.  More Americans are visiting Cuba than at any time in the last 50 years—Cuban-American families; American students, teachers, humanitarian volunteers, faith communities—all forging new ties and friendships that are bringing our countries closer.  And when direct flights and ferries resume, even more of our citizens will have the chance to travel and work together and know each other.

American companies are starting to do business in Cuba, helping to nurture private enterprise and giving Cuban entrepreneurs new opportunities.  With new Wi-Fi hotspots, more Cubans are starting to go online and get information from the outside world.  In both our countries, there’s overwhelming support for this new relationship.  And in Cuba today, for the first time in a half century, there is hope for a different future, especially among Cuba’s young people who have such extraordinary talent and potential just waiting to be unleashed.

My visit will be an opportunity to keep moving forward.  I’ll meet with President Castro to discuss how we can continue normalizing relations, including making it easier to trade and easier for Cubans to access the Internet and start their own businesses.  As I did when I met President Castro last year, I’ll speak candidly about our serious differences with the Cuban government, including on democracy and human rights.  I’ll reaffirm that the United States will continue to stand up for universal values like freedom of speech and assembly and religion.

I’ll meet with members of Cuba’s civil society—courageous men and women who give voice to the aspirations of the Cuban people.  I’ll meet with Cuban entrepreneurs to learn how we can help them start new ventures.  And I’ll speak directly to the Cuban people about the values we share and how I believe we can be partners as they work for the future they want.

We’re still in the early days of our new relationship with the Cuban people.  This transformation will take time.  But I’m focused on the future, and I’m confident that my visit will advance the goals that guide us—promoting American interests and values and a better future for the Cuban people, a future of more freedom and more opportunity.

Thanks everybody.  And to the people of Cuba—nos vemos en La Habana.