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.

March 09, 2018

Nelson takes Twitter to task, says hoax ‘scares me to death’


via @timjohnson4

lorida Sen. Bill Nelson said Thursday that Twitter is taking steps to guard against the kind of fake tweets that hit The Miami Herald last month, but that “a lot more has got to be done.”

Nelson called for a technical summit, led perhaps the Federal Trade Commission, to “get all of the relevant companies in the same room and talk about this problem with a collective sense of urgency and come up with some solutions.” Such a summit should include social media platforms, digital content companies, software developers, news organizations and government agencies, he said.

However, the Twitter executives who met with Nelson Thursday declined to identify those behind the hoax, which came shortly after the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

In the aftermath of the school massacre, a perpetrator sent out tweets containing manipulated images purporting to be tweets from a reporter at the Herald. The fake tweets appeared intended to rile the public, asking the race of the gunman and seeking photos from the scene.

The Herald reporter, Alex Harris, notified Twitter in the late afternoon of the fake tweets and received a response from the company at 5:23 p.m. that it would look into the matter. Over the course of the evening, other fake tweets went out at 8:25 p.m. and again at 10:50 p.m.

According to the Twitter executives, the 10:50 p.m. fake tweet was seen only by 600 people. Harris posted her own tweet at 10:52 p.m. decrying the “doctored versions of tweets I sent while trying to tell the stories of victims and survivors.”

Nelson said Twitter executives told him the company’s algorithms elevated the visibility of Harris’s last response so that 600,000 account holders saw it. He said the hoax could have gone uncontested for many hours if it weren’t for the reporter’s quick response.

“What if she had been asleep and didn’t see that until the next morning when she’s drinking coffee?” Nelson asked.

Read more here.

March 08, 2018

Parkland dad who grilled Rubio on national TV pleads with senators for assault-gun ban

Congress Gun Violence


Fred Guttenberg couldn’t sit down.

His 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was murdered by a former student on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and he stood before a dozen Democratic U.S. senators on Wednesday, voice trembling, as he laid out his demands.

After finishing his prepared remarks, which included a plea to pass an assault-weapons ban and a threat to vote out lawmakers who refuse to change gun laws, Guttenberg’s fist shook. He raised a picture of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, a screen shot from a recent video where Loesch turned over an hourglass and declared that “time is running out” for those who stand in the way of the influential gun lobby.

“If this was put out by a terrorist organization, we would be raising the terror threat level in this country,” Guttenberg said.

His emotional testimony was part of a hearing organized by Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill Wednesday. The Republican-controlled Senate didn’t announce any hearings with parents and survivors of some of the nation’s worst mass shootings, so Democrats staged their own.

The witnesses included people affected by gun violence from Parkland, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, three of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Most of the hearing was dominated by the personal stories of fathers, mothers and siblings whose lives were upended by gun violence.

David Hogg, a Parkland student who has become one of the most prominent national voices opposing gun violence in recent weeks, joined the hearing via Skype. He laid out a five-point legislative plan he says will decrease the chances of a future mass school shooting: allowing the federal government to research gun violence, digitizing records of gun sales, establishing universal background checks on all gun purchases, banning high-capacity magazines and banning assault-style weapons.

“Now is the time we need to take action, because how many more children need to be slaughtered?” Hogg said.

Read more here.

March 06, 2018

Nelson votes in favor of banking bill trashed by liberal Democrats

Bill Nelson


Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted against the majority of his party on Tuesday, joining Republicans to pass a bill that eases regulations on banks. 

The Senate bill sponsored by Idaho Republican Mike Crapo lessens oversight requirements on banks that hold between $50-250 billion in assets. Every Republican present, including Marco Rubio, voted in favor of the bill while 16 Democrats and independents who caucus with Democrats voted with Nelson and the Republicans to pass it with 67 votes.

A host of Democrats with 2020 presidential ambitions, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have said the bill could have dangerous financial implications for the nation's markets. 

Proponents of the bill say it reduces the regulatory burden on financial institutions while maintaining oversight of the nation's biggest banks. 

Nelson, a moderate Democrat, is up for reelection this year but doesn't face a serious primary challenge from the left. Gov. Rick Scott is expected to announce if he'll challenge Nelson after the current legislative session wraps up in Tallahassee. 

March 05, 2018

Rubio, Nelson bill seeks crackdown on people who fail gun background checks

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

People who fail a background check trying to buy a gun could face increased risk of prosecution under a bill introduced Monday by Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and other lawmakers.

The NICS Denial Notification Act, which had previously been introduced in the House, requires federal authorities to alert state law enforcement within 24 hours when individuals "lie and try" to purchase firearms, according to a release from Rubio's office.

State officials could then decide to prosecute or "keep an eye on these denied individuals for signs of future criminal activity." The Justice Department would have to publish an annual report about prosecutions.

Only 13 states that use NCIS get notified when someone fails a background check, according to Rubio's office.

"In the 37 states and the District of Columbia that rely on the FBI to run some or all of their background checks, state authorities generally are not aware when prohibited persons fail background checks run by the FBI. Individuals who are willing to 'lie and try' to buy a gun may be dangerous and willing to obtain guns through other means," read the release.

"As a result, these states and D.C. lack critical law enforcement intelligence that they could use to try to keep their communities safe."

The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Rubio and Nelson along with Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Chris Coons, D-Del.,  John Cornyn, R-Texas, Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

February 15, 2018

Rubio votes against bipartisan immigration bill; Nelson votes for it


via @learyreports

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson were on opposite sides of a bipartisan immigration bill that died Thursday afternoon amid a veto threat from the White House.

Rubio, who helped write the 2013 bipartisan immigration overhaul, voted against the bill, while earlier indicated he could be supportive. Nelson voted for the measure.

It would have provided 1.8 million Dreamers a chance for citizenship plus budgeted $25 billion for a border wall.

The bill was crafted by moderate Republicans and Democrats billing themselves as the "Common Sense Coalition." They described the proposal as having the most bipartisan support in the Senate, but it came under fire from the White House and the Department of Homeland Security.

The vote was 54-45, six votes short of the 60 needed to advance.

The moderates' measure does not alter a lottery that distributes about 55,000 visas annually to people from diverse countries. Trump has proposed ending it and redistributing its visas to other immigrants.

The group spent weeks trying to craft a middle ground on the thorny immigration issue.

The defeat casts serious doubt about a solution for the Dreamer issue.

February 14, 2018

‘I said a little prayer’— Florida lawmakers react to Broward school shooting

Bill Nelson


Democrats representing Broward County and South Florida seethed Wednesday over congressional inaction on firearms, hours after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland left 17 people dead. It was the second time in just over a year that Florida’s second-most populous county experienced a major mass shooting.

But while Democrats demanded action, Republicans generally avoided calling for legislative change, at least in the immediate aftermath.

“I said a little prayer, for all of them, then the next thought that popped into my head was, do we have to go through this again?” Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said. “Look how many of these mass shootings have occurred and we say enough is enough and then nothing is done. Here in the Senate we cannot even get Senator [Dianne] Feinstein’s bill that would prohibit people on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat who represents Parkland in Washington, choked up during an interview as he waited for a flight home. He said he spoke at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School just a few weeks ago.

“I have a picture of an adorable six year old who was killed at Sandy Hook whose father gave me that picture so I can remember every day why were working so hard to try to reduce gun violence,” Deutch said. “Everyone cares about safe communities. I shouldn’t need a mass shooting in my district to give me legitimacy to talk about why we need to prevent more mass shootings but I guess that’s the sad reality.”

Florida state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat who represents northern Broward County in Tallahassee, said “This country and its elected leaders collectively have failed our children.”

Read more here.

February 13, 2018

Nelson wants a 'simple' immigration solution: DACA and border funding

Bill Nelson


The U.S. Senate is supposed to debate and vote on immigration legislation this week as nearly 690,000 immigrants could face deportation next month if Congress doesn't act. 

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Senate floor was empty, devoid of senators from either party trying to debate and propose various amendments that could save DACA recipients from potential deportation. 
But Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said Tuesday a group of moderate senators led by Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin will offer a "simple" immigration solution that can get 60 votes in the U.S. Senate.
"I'm very optimistic," Nelson said. "I think that now that the process has started, when we get to what will be our amendment, which is a simple amendment, it takes care of the DACA kids, it takes care of the parents and then on the other side it takes care of the president with a wall that is, of course, many things other than concrete and steel. I think we'll get 60 votes for that, I'm very optimistic." 
Nelson pointed out that giving President Donald Trump about $25 billion for border security doesn't necessarily mean money for a physical wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.  
"A wall is many things, it's electronics, it's UAVs, it's natural boundaries, etcetera," Nelson said. 
He also said that proposals to deal with the so-called “chain migration” system that lets newly documented immigrants line family members up to attain legal status and the diversity visa lottery are not included in the amendment that moderates plan to offer.
"That is not within the simple amendment. It's being discussed and it will be offered in a version but I think the version that has the chance for the 60 votes is what I described," Nelson said, adding that Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake's plan to clear a backlog of people currently waiting for visas by using visas currently doled out in the diversity lottery won't get enough Republican support. 
"I don't think there's any way you get 60 votes for that," Nelson said. "I voted for comprehensive immigration but you're not going to get 11 Republicans even if you had all 49 Democrats." 
Nelson also said the group of moderate Senators hasn't engaged in discussions with House leaders about their amendment getting enough support in the more conservative lower chamber if it passes the Senate.
"We're trying to get 60 votes to get there with Senate," Nelson said. "You've got to get to first base before you can get to second base." 
A group of Senate conservatives are also expected introduce an amendment that mirrors Trump's preferred immigration framework. The framework includes a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA-eligible immigrants in exchange for funding a wall, ending "chain-migration" and limiting the number of visas available to legal immigrants. Trump's framework is not expected to receive 60 votes in the Senate. 

February 12, 2018

Bill Nelson slams Trump's proposed NASA cuts



Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, the only member of Congress who's been to space, had sharp words for President Donald Trump's proposal to cut funding for the International Space Station in 2025 as part of his 2019 budget framework released on Monday. 

"The administration’s budget for NASA is a nonstarter. If we’re ever going to get to Mars with humans on board and return them safely, then we need a larger funding increase for NASA. The proposal would also end support for the International Space Station in 2025 and make deep cuts to popular education and science programs," Nelson said in a statement. "Turning off the lights and walking away from our sole outpost in space at a time when we’re pushing the frontiers of exploration makes no sense." 

Nelson, the ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee which has oversight of NASA, is a strong proponent of robust NASA funding and getting astronauts to Mars sometime in the 2030s. 

Trump's budget proposal isn't likely to get morphed into law by Congress, though his 2019 plan would keep the federal deficit intact if enacted, which is in contrast to his 2018 plan released last year. Keeping the federal deficit intact after 10 years is a deviation from a longtime Republican Party goal of balancing the federal budget. 

NOAA gets $400 million in disaster funds in latest spending bill



The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is getting an infusion of cash to finish Hurricane Irma recovery efforts in Florida. 

Congress agreed to spend $18 million for marine debris cleanup and $200 million to help damaged fisheries in Florida and Texas as part of a massive $300 billion spending plan that was attached to a bill to keep the federal government running until late March. 

The $400 million for NOAA included about $200 million initially approved by the House of Representatives in October, and the $200 million in fisheries disaster assistance was added by the U.S. Senate in the plan that President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday. 

The NOAA money will go towards cleaning up debris-clogged canals in the Florida Keys along with $50 million for hurricane and flood forecasting along with flood mitigation. 

"NOAA will now have the resources to unclog waterways and clean beaches," said Addie Haughey, government relations associate director at the Ocean Conservancy. "Fishermen from Key West to Galveston will get relief from NOAA so they can get back out on the water. With Hurricane season four months away, Congress has given NOAA the tools to continue predicting storms and prevent flooding along the coasts." 

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson both praised the spending bill's disaster help for Florida and ultimately voted for it, though Rubio wasn't happy about adding billions to the federal deficit. 

Here's the breakdown of NOAA funds included in the spending bill, according to the Ocean Conservancy: 

Repair, replacement of property & equipment: $42.1 million 

Marine debris: $18 million 

Mapping, charting and geodesy services: $40 million 

Hurricane, flood forecasting and mitigation: $50 million 

Weather computing and satellite ground services: $50 million 

Fisheries disaster assistance: $200 million