March 04, 2016

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


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


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



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


"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.

February 18, 2016

Poll of Miami congressional district shows narrow support for President Obama's Cuba policy


In December, on the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's diplomatic opening toward Cuba, a Miami Democratic consultant commissioned a local poll to, among other things, gauge the policy's popularity.

The survey, of a newly redrawn Miami congressional district represented by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, showed narrow support -- 47-43 percent -- for a hypothetical congressional candidate who favored normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations and lifting the trade embargo, according to results shared with the Miami Herald by consultant Christian Ulvert.

Democrats were far more likely to back the policy change (68 percent) than Republicans (30 percent) and voters without party affiliation (44 percent). That nearly a third of Republicans would be OK with ending the embargo is particularly noteworthy in South Florida, the heart of the hard-line Cuban exile community, where reactions were divided Thursday to the White House's announcement that Obama plans to travel to the island next month.

The poll was conducted by SEA Polling & Strategic Design between Dec.17-21. It surveyed 400 likely voters, with a slightly Republican-leaning sample, and has an error margin of 4.9 percent.

"The poll I commissioned in late December shows how voters in CD-27 continue to embrace the leadership President Obama has shown to bring meaningful and democratic change to the Cuban people through normalizing relations with the island," Ulvert said in a statement. "CD-27 voters appreciate that the failed policies over the last 50 years have not resulted in a free and democratic Cuba, so voters see great opportunity in President Obama being a voice for a new democracy in Cuba and through deep coordination with Cuban-American civic and elected leaders in South Florida, we can achieve that dream for Cuba."

The same poll showed that Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American who stridently opposes any rapprochement with the Castro regime, remains highly popular in her district, even now that it's filled with more Democrats. Her favorability rating was 61-27 percent, with 6 percent of respondents holding a mixed view of the congresswoman and 6 percent saying they didn't know. So even if a majority of voters disagree with her on Cuba, it appears very unlikely that the longtime incumbent would draw any serious opposition.


Marco Rubio wants President Obama to 'reconsider' Cuba trip


Marco Rubio's Senate office sent President Barack Obama a letter Thursday urging him to "reconsider" his trip to Cuba next month.

The Florida Republican argued Obama's visit "will send the message to the oppressed Cuban people that you stand with their oppressors."

Here's the text of Rubio's letter:

Continue reading "Marco Rubio wants President Obama to 'reconsider' Cuba trip" »