December 08, 2016

Sen. Bill Nelson calls astronaut John Glenn "first-class gentleman"

 

@amysherman1

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida, a former astronaut, spoke on the Senate floor today about the death of astronaut John Glenn today:

"John Glenn was one of the original seven astronauts of this country. All of them were characterized as having the ‘right stuff.’ And if you knew any of them, that was certainly true.

John Glenn was not only a pioneering astronaut, a great senator, he was a first-class gentleman and also he was a devoted husband and father. He leaves behind Annie, his beloved, who always stood with him as he ventured into the unknown cosmos. And it was unknown because John was the first to go into orbit as an American.

He paved the way for all the rest of us, and now at his passing, America is in the planning and the developing of the rockets that will take us, a human species, all the way to Mars. John Glenn was the pioneer. He was the one who paved the way."

 

December 07, 2016

'America is stronger' because of Dreamers, Nelson says

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson has stepped into the growing debate over the fate of immigrant "Dreamers," using a floor speech to honor a Jacksonville-area veteran who faced legal trouble in 2011.

“Always he thought he was an American citizen,” Nelson said Tuesday of Elisha Dawkins, who was brought to the U.S. when he was six months old by his Bahamian mother.

A paperwork issue arose and Dawkins, who served in the Army and Navy Reserves, was sent to a detention center, facing possible deportation. Nelson stepped in.

Today, Dreamers face uncertainty with President-elect Donald Trump vowing to strip away the legal protections afforded under an Obama administration program. A bipartisan group of Senators is working on legislation to help and Nelson signaled his support.

(Sen. Marco Rubio, who once tried to come up with his own bill, is not part of the effort and won’t comment.)

“I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. The DREAMers are our neighbors, they're our friends,” Nelson said. “They are our high school valedictorians, and they are our veterans. They were brought to this country before they ever even knew of the significance of their trip, and they have benefited our communities greatly.

“And so it's clear that America is stronger for a person like Elisha Dawkins. And as this Congress comes to a close, I want to remind all of us and urge us to remember next year ,when there's an attempt to turn around that White House executive order, I want us to remember the faces of people like Elisha Dawkins, and I want us to come together and to acknowledge their many contributions to this great country.”

 

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

 

November 30, 2016

Who will Sen. Bill Nelson support for Florida Democratic Party chair?

Billnelson111616_8colTBT

@amysherman1

Sen. Bill Nelson, the key elected Democrat in Florida who will likely have influence in selecting the next Florida Democratic Party chair, hasn’t publicly revealed who he will support.

“The Senator is aware of some candidates who have expressed an interest and will be monitoring the upcoming local DEC elections which determine who is officially eligible to run,” said Pete Mitchell, Nelson’s former longtime chief of staff who is advising him on his 2018 campaign.

It appears that Nelson is waiting for some of the large Democratic counties to first elect their own leaders before he weighs in publicly on who should replace Allison Tant, who announced after the Nov. 8th election that she wouldn’t seek re-election in January.

Broward Democrats will elect their state committeeman and woman Saturday while the Miami-Dade party elects its leaders Tuesday.

Across Florida, committeemen and women vote for the state party chair according to a formula based on the number of registered Democrats in the county which means that Broward and Miami-Dade have the most influence.

Nelson is the lone statewide Democrat in elected office in Florida and the Republicans have placed a target on this back for 2018.

While Nelson easily beat U.S. Rep. Connie Mack in 2012, this time he could face a far more formidable opponent: Republican Gov. Rick Scott appears poised to run. A former hospital CEO, Scott can tap his personal wealth and friendship with President Elect Donald Trump.

Broward County Commissioner Steve Geller who has known Nelson for decades said he hasn’t heard from Nelson who he plans to support.

“When he weighs in I think for a lot of us that will be a very very important step,” Geller said. “He is the single individual that if he chooses to influence the race will have the most influence. Thus far I have not heard him choose to use it.”

In 2013, Nelson backed Tant.

Nelson will want a party chair who can help unify the party and raise millions of dollars. The key candidate who could generate big bucks for the party is Stephen Bittel, a prominent national fundraiser and Coconut Grove developer. Bittel told the Herald earlier this month he “might” want the position but he appears to be a serious candidate because he has been contacting Democratic activists. However, for Bittel to run would require some maneuvering because he isn’t a precinct committeeman, a prerequisite to run for the state chair position.

There is a long list of potential candidates to run for state chair. Sen. Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay and Susannah Randolph, former district director for U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson have both said they will run for chair.

November 22, 2016

Fact-checking Bill Nelson's claim about Donald Trump and oil drilling

Billnelson111616_8colTBT

@amysherman1

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson spent the week after the 2016 election fighting against a bill that would have steered more royalties from oil drilling to some Gulf states.

Nelson’s state of Florida already bans offshore oil drilling near its coasts. But Nelson feared that by dangling more royalties, state leaders would be more open to drilling near Florida in the future.

In a speech on the Senate floor Nov. 16, Nelson said President-elect Donald Trump’s position on the issue is concerning to environmentalists.  

"Ever since I was a young congressman, I’ve been fighting to keep oil rigs off of Florida’s coast," he said, "and now it's especially important at this time as we have a new administration coming in that took a public position in the election declaring the president-elect's intent to open up additional areas off the coast to oil drilling."

The American Energy and Conservation Act of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., failed to get enough Senate votes to move forward on Nov. 17. But the future of oil drilling along coasts in Florida and the United States will remain a hot topic of conversation under Trump’s administration and potentially in Nelson’s re-election campaign in 2018.

Here we will look at Trump’s position on opening up additional coastal areas to drill for oil. We heard back from Nelson’s office but not from Trump’s transition team.

Keep reading here from PolitiFact Florida.

November 16, 2016

Sen. Nelson wants to try to block oil-drilling bill

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson is corralling opposition to a bill he says would incentivize oil drilling off the coast of Florida.

“I’m going to block it,” Nelson said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

“The senator from Louisiana is going to try to get his camel’s nose under the tent so that the camel will eventually, completely take over the tent on drilling off the coast of Florida.”

Nelson said legislation to be considered Thursday is a “head fake” because it excludes Florida. He said Sen. Bill Cassidy’s bill sets up a revenue sharing agreement between Gulf states and that Florida would regret not being involved over lost revenue.

Nelson, up for re-election in 2018, is confident he can get the 60 votes to block the bill. He plans a floor speech Wednesday afternoon.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

November 15, 2016

Bill Nelson says he'll run for reelection 'like there's no tomorrow'

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson can't take a breather after the wild ride of 2016. The Florida Democrat faces re-election in 2018 and a possible challenge from Gov. Rick Scott.

"Whoever it is, I run my race like there's no tomorrow," Nelson said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

Democrats, who failed to gain control of the Senate, will have to defend far more seats than Republicans. What's more, Democrats saw even more white voters leaving their side.

Nelson said that's a concern but added: "This was an unusual election, and you can't judge what's going to happen in 2018 on that. First of all, there's not going to be nearly the turnout and secondly, it's going to be in the mid-year of a Donald Trump administration. Thirdly, you're going to have a Democrat at least for the Senate, the good Lord willing, that cuts through a lot of those party circles."

Nelson said he does not have a preference for the next chair of the Florida Democratic Party. "I want a real pro and somebody who is going to shake up the whole party. The Florida Democratic Party needs to be a well-oiled machine that can organize."

As for the national chair, Nelson said that person must do the job full-time, indicating he does not support liberal Rep. Keith Ellison, "unless he resigns his membership in Congress."

On Trump, Nelson said he was "encouraged" by the Trump he saw in the "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday. "I thought that he exhibited a practicality and a willingness to be much more measured."

But then came Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon to a top White House advising role. That leaves Nelson unclear which Trump will govern.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

October 07, 2016

Democratic lawmakers ask Florida governor to reconsider moving voter-registration deadline

@PatriciaMazzei

Eleven Democratic members of Congress from Florida asked Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Friday to reconsider pushing back the state's voter-registration deadline because of Hurricane Matthew.

In the letter, spearheaded by Weston Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the lawmakers thank Scott for his handling of the powerful storm -- and then urge him to change his mind on the deadline.

"We respectfully request an extension of the voter registration deadline so that we may ensure the franchise, the integrity of our democracy, and the rights we as Americans hold dear, are fully protected," they wrote.

Scott said Thursday he planned to keep the Tuesday deadline, after Hillary Clinton's campaign urged for an extension. The storm canceled plans from Democratic-leaning groups to sign people up at the last minute; there's typically a surge of interest right before the deadline. An attorney for a firm that does work for the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party suggested on Twitter late Thursday that the campaign could sue Florida if Scott doesn't budge.

White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters who asked about the dispute Friday that "generally speaking, the president thinks we should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder."

"Any steps that impede on citizens' ability to exercise that right to vote is a step in the wrong direction," Schultz said.

Two liberal organizations, Project Vote and People For The American Way, also released statements Friday imploring Scott to delay the deadline.

Among the lawmakers who signed the congressional letter were U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whom Scott is considering challenging in 2018. The others who signed -- several of whom are on the Nov. 8 ballot themselves -- were U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, Kathy Castor of Tampa, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Alan Grayson of Orlando, Alcee Hastings of Delray Beach and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter.

U.S. Rep. Robert Brady of Pennsylvania, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on House Administration, also wrote Scott, making the same deadline-extension request. So did the ACLU of Florida.

Read the full letter below:

Continue reading "Democratic lawmakers ask Florida governor to reconsider moving voter-registration deadline" »

September 28, 2016

Zika funding inches forward in DC, but obstacles remain

 

NP-Zika-092816-IMG_09-23-ZikaHotels_4_1_CA9EESEL_L259433860

@jamesmartinrose

Overcoming its earlier divisions on Zika funding, the Senate on Wednesday approved $1.1 billion in research and prevention aid as it passed a bigger appropriations bill to fund the federal government into December.

Sen. Bill Nelson, aware of a looming potentially divisive House vote later in the day or this week, greeted the Senate's 72-26 vote with guarded optimism.

"We had a small victory today in our ongoing fight against the Zika virus," Nelson said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who's made Zika funding his top priority as he runs for re-election against Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, criticized the "political games" that had held it up for seven months.

"This anti-Zika package rightfully prioritizes Americans in Florida and Puerto Rico," Rubio said. "I'm encouraged that my calls for action have been answered, and that real assistance from the federal government is finally on its way."

The Zika money tucked inside a 10-week stopgap funding measure, the larger $1.1 trillion appropriations package went to the House, with a potentially divisive vote looming in the wake of Friday's end of the current fiscal year.

A large chunk of the $1.1 billion for Zika, less than the $1.9 billion President Barack Obama requested in February, would go to Florida, New York and Puerto Rico, which the virus ravaged during the summer.

The National Institutes for Health would receive more than $160 million of the Zika funds to continue its recently launched first clinical trial for a vaccine and to conduct other research.

The virus is carried primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but it can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse with an infected partner.

Florida had 904 Zika cases as of Tuesday, 109 of them locally transmitted through mosquitos.

Ninety-one of Florida's Zika infections involved pregnant women, an especially vulnerable group because of the birth defects the virus can cause in newborns.

Microcephaly, which causes infants to be born with abnormally small brains and heads, is the worst known defect.

The Senate vote Wednesday represented a turnaround for Zika funds in the higher chamber. In three earlier summertime votes, Senate Democrats joined by some Republicans rejected stand-alone Zika bills because of extraneous provisions.

The most contentious provision sought to deny any of the new Zika money from going to Planned Parenthood partner clinics in Puerto Rico.

The island has almost 19,500 cases of Zika, some 84 percent of all cases in the United States and far more than any other state or territory.

The divisive Planned Parenthood clause is no longer part of the Zika funding measure in the overall spending bill. The Puerto Rico clinics will be allowed to seek reimbursement for Zika treatment except for abortions, for which federal money has been banned from paying for four decades.

While Nelson, an Orlando Democrat, and Rubio voted for the $1.1 trillion bill, about 1 percent of it for Zika, 11 Republican senators and 10 Democratic senators voted against it.

That bipartisan split among opponents foreshadowed potential pitfalls in the House, which was expected to take up the appropriations measure later Wednesday.

About $400 million of the $1.1 billion in Zika funds is offset in spending cuts to a range of other programs supported by Democratic lawmakers.

Some conservative Republicans, by contrast, want all the new $1.1 trillion in spending offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, which is not achieved.

Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan voted against the larger measure because it did not include $500 million they'd requested to clean contaminated water and replace lead pipes in Flint.

Negotiators promised to provide $170 million to Flint in a separate water bill moving through Congress, but that didn't satisfy Stabenow and Peters.

Image credit: Marco Ruiz, Miami Herald

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

Senate approves budget deal that includes $1.1B for Zika

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate passed a short-term budget deal today that includes $1.1 billion to fight the Zika virus, ending months of wrangling over the issue. The House is expected to approve the deal.

Zika funding had been held up as Democrats objected to a GOP provision that prevented money from going to a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Puerto Rico.

"We had a small victory today in our ongoing fight against the Zika virus,” said Sen. Bill Nelson. "The emergency spending approved today will help increase local mosquito-control efforts to contain the spread of the virus and allow federal researchers to continue their search for a vaccine. The threat we face from Zika is a true public health emergency and we need our local, state and federal agencies working together to put this money to use as quickly as possible."

Said Sen. Marco Rubio:

"This anti-Zika package rightfully prioritizes Americans in Florida and Puerto Rico, and I’m encouraged my calls for action have been answered, and that real assistance from the federal government is finally on its way. It's shameful it took so long and that this public health crisis was made worse by people playing political games in Washington. But I'm glad these critical resources are now moving forward so we can help the thousands of Americans suffering from this virus, step up our mosquito eradication efforts, and develop a vaccine to eradicate Zika for good.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times