November 17, 2017

Florida lawmakers incensed that Trump disaster plan doesn't include citrus relief (Updated)

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@alextdaugherty

Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam came to Washington with a simple message: include disaster relief funding for Florida citrus industry. The state's congressional delegation and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio also made a similar pitch to the Trump administration. 

Fast forward to Friday, and Florida lawmakers are angry that the Trump administration did not include a $2.5 billion for the state's citrus industry in a $44 billion disaster relief request for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. 

"Floridians have been kicked to the curb in this proposed disaster supplemental, which lacks relief for Florida’s citrus growers who suffered immensely from this storm," said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. "The Florida delegation specifically requested this relief because there isn’t a citrus grove that wasn’t affected, with some experiencing 100 percent losses – worse than anything the industry has experienced in over 20 years. I cannot—I will not—support a proposal that leaves behind over 60,000 Florida jobs. I urge my colleagues in the Florida delegation to oppose it as well. I believe we have a duty to fight to ensure our citrus growers get the relief they need." 

Ross, a senior deputy majority whip, plans to rally fellow members to vote against any disaster relief package that does not include the citrus money. He requested federal help from U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue days after Hurricane Irma made landfall in September. 

It is possible for GOP leadership to revamp the Trump administration's disaster relief proposal before Congress votes on the plan, which will likely occur when Congress returns from a Thanksgiving break. 

Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, also pushed for citrus relief funding. 

"Do we want to say that orange juice is produced and made in America? Without the inclusion of funds to address citrus crop losses; that is at risk," Rooney said. "The threat to the domestic industry is real: oranges imported to Florida, primarily from Brazil and Mexico, are already projected to surpass what is grown in Florida this season. This storm has jeopardized an iconic Florida crop and way of life. Washington must act and provide relief so that generations of family citrus growers can continue to produce, employ, and put Florida-grown orange juice on America’s breakfast tables." 

Nelson also criticized the $44 billion disaster funding request in more general terms, noting that Puerto Rico asked for $94 billion in disaster relief earlier this week while Texas asked for $61 billion after Hurricane Harvey. 

"This request by the administration doesn’t come close to providing what is needed," Nelson said in a statement. "People are hurting and they desperately need our help, yet this request has no money to provide housing for evacuees and barely any money for Florida’s citrus growers. That’s unacceptable. Congress needs to pass a more robust disaster bill that actually provides the funding needed to help people recover."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, also opposed the package and said she will use her spot on the House committee that determines federal spending to push for changes. 

“This Trump administration request is an insult," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. "It ignores evacuee housing, and demands matching funds that will hinder Puerto Rico’s ability to tap CDBG relief. It also falls way short of what of Florida’s citrus growers need. As an Appropriator, I will work across the aisle in Congress for a recovery package that actually takes seriously the tremendous need we have after this ravenous storm season.”

November 16, 2017

Diaz-Balart, Nelson meet with Trump administration on TPS for Haitians

@PatriciaMazzei

Two members of Florida's congressional delegation met with President Donald Trump's Homeland Security chief Thursday ahead of a looming deadline over whether to extend Temporary Protected Status for Haitian immigrants.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, advocates of extending TPS, met with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, who has until Thanksgiving to decide on whether to renew the program, which affects some 50,000 Haitians.

"Though we are approaching the eighth anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake, conditions on the island remain difficult," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "The United States was a place of comfort and solace for so many Haitians in the wake of the devastation, and forcing them to return to Haiti in its current state would be counterproductive."

Last week, Duke ended TPS for Nicaraguans, a decision that disappointed South Florida lawmakers who represent many of those immigrants and their families.

Staffers for other Florida legislators also attended the meeting with Duke, who spoke by phone Thursday with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. In May, Scott asked John Kelly, then Homeland Security secretary and now the White House chief of staff, to extend TPS.

"The Governor hopes for a permanent solution for these families," Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis told the Miami Herald.

--with Mary Ellen Klas

This post has been updated.

Al Franken, accused of groping set to fundraise for Bill Nelson, speak at Miami Book Fair

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via @learyreports

Sen. Al Franken, who on Thursday faced allegations of groping and kissing a woman without her consent, is set to appear at a fundraiser Saturday for Sen. Bill Nelson, and at the Miami Book Fair on Sunday.

We've asked Nelson's team if the fundraiser, to be held at Alex Sink's home near Tampa, is still on.

A radio host, Leann Tweeden, said Franken made unwanted advances while practicing a skit for a USO tour in 2006.

"I certainly don't remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann," Franken said in a statement. "As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't. I shouldn't have done it."

Nelson issued a statement Thursday on the Franken allegations.

"Sexual harassment is never acceptable," Nelson said. "The Senate Ethics Committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as I believe they should." 

His campaign said Franken will no longer attend the fundraiser.

"As for the events this weekend, Sen. Franken is no longer available. The campaign events will continue as scheduled."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times, with Patricia Mazzei

This post has been updated.

November 15, 2017

Rubio sees ‘progress’ on Senate tax bill

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via @learyreports @alextdaugherty

Senate Republicans unveiled changes to their tax overhaul plan on Tuesday, and one of the changes is a $2,000 child tax credit championed by Sen. Marco Rubio.

The $2,000 tax credit is the minimum amount that the Florida Republican said was necessary to help working families in a tax proposal and he previously indicated he would vote against any plan that did not meet the $2,000 minimum.

"We are making progress," Rubio said Wednesday on Twitter.

The initial Senate plan increased the child tax credit to $1,650 from the current $1,000 maximum, $50 more than the House proposal released two weeks ago. Democrats say the credit should be even higher and Rubio at one point talked up $2,500. 

Rubio held numerous meetings with Ivanka Trump and Utah Sen. Mike Lee to discuss a higher child tax credit. 

"I’m not going to vote for an increase on the middle class," Rubio said in October. "But we’re not going to get to that point. We’re not that crazy around here."

Democrats are not expected to vote in favor of the GOP tax bill, especially after Republicans included a provision to repeal Obamacare's individual mandate on Tuesday. Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, is frustrated that Democrats were not included in any preliminary discussions on a tax bill. 

November 13, 2017

Bill Nelson calls out Republicans by name for refusing to work with him on taxes

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@alextdaugherty

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson loves to talk about his bipartisan work in Washington and close relationship with Republican colleagues like Florida counterpart Marco Rubio

But Democrats weren't part of drafting the Senate's plan to rewrite the nation's tax code, and Nelson is personally appealing to his Republican colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee to find common ground. The bill is set for a committee markup on Monday afternoon, though Republicans can push the bill through with a simple majority. 

"We are completely rewriting our tax code," Nelson said, according to remarks prepared for delivery. "Yet, we haven’t had any hearings on the bill. Or any time to seriously debate the slew of policy changes that will affect people’s everyday lives." 

Then Nelson calls out several Republicans on the Finance Committee by name, referencing work he's done with them in the past. 

"Mr. Chairman (Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch), how many times have we come together to find common ground and get something good done for the American people? Just last year, we passed the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act out of committee with a bipartisan vote of 26 to 0. It started with you and the Ranking Member hashing out differences to find a workable middle. Why can’t we do that again?"

"Senator (Chuck) Grassley, we worked together on the ACE Kids Act, which would create a national network of children’s hospitals and other providers to better serve kids needing specialized care."

"Senator (John) Cornyn, we’ve worked together to increase accountability at the VA, to honor helicopter air ambulance crews that served in Vietnam, and to help citrus growers struggling to deal with a plant disease known as citrus greening."

"Senator (John) Thune, you and I have partnered on so many issues in the Commerce Committee it’s hard to keep count. If anyone wants a good example of how we should be conducting ourselves, just look to how Senator Thune and I work together in the Commerce Committee."

"You all get the picture. I could go all the way down the line citing examples of times when each of us crossed the partisan divide to do the people’s work. It doesn’t happen as much as I’d like. But it is possible," Nelson said. 

Nelson also offered nine amendments to the tax bill, including lower tax rates for people making less than $170,000 a year, reinstating personal exemptions and providing funding for citrus trees struck by disease in Florida. His amendments are likely to fail in the GOP-controlled committee. 

"All I’m asking is to give bipartisanship a chance," Nelson said.

The House is expected to vote on its tax overhaul, dubbed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, this week. If the Senate passes its version, the two chambers will deliberate in conference to come up with a final bill. 

November 09, 2017

Marco Rubio says Roy Moore should be disqualified from the Senate if allegations are true

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@alextdaugherty 

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Roy Moore should disqualify himself from running for an Alabama Senate seat if an on-the-record account by a woman who said that Moore had sexual contact with her when she was 14 is true. 

The Washington Post reported that Moore had multiple relationships with underage women decades ago, including a relationship with a 14-year-old that began when the young girl's mother let Moore look after her outside a courthouse. 

"Today’s report in The Washington Post raises allegations against Mr. Moore that are deeply disturbing and, if true, disqualifying," Rubio said in a statement.

Moore, a fiery Republican former judge who has said that LGBT individuals are unfit to serve in Congress, is the Republican nominee for attorney general Jeff Sessions' former seat after winning a fierce GOP primary earlier this year. The election between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones is just over a month away, meaning Moore's name will still appear on the ballot even if the Alabama GOP revokes the party's endorsement. 

Rubio never endorsed Moore after he won the Republican nomination, in contrast to some of his Senate Republican colleagues. His campaign had no plans to speak or raise money on Moore's behalf.

Disavowing Moore could lessen the GOP's advantage in the Senate, which currently stands at 52 Republicans and 48 senators who caucus with Democrats. 

Many Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, called on Moore to step aside if the allegations are true. 

Sen. John McCain did not include a qualification about proving truthfulness in his statement. 

"The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying," McCain said. "He should immediately step aside and allow the people of Alabama to elect a candidate they can be proud of." 

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he could not comment on the sexual assault allegations against Moore because he hadn't read the story yet. 

Bill Nelson: 'This is not the way to make complicated tax law'

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@alextdaugherty

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson is a member of the Senate Finance Committee tasked with drafting the chamber's tax overhaul after the House of Representatives released their version last week. 

He isn't happy with how things are going. 

When asked if there are any areas of potential compromise for Democrats and Republicans on a tax bill, Nelson chuckled.

"How can I answer that when I don't know that they're going to do?" Nelson said, adding that Finance Committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, "doesn't seem to be cooperating at all." 

"They're cutting out the members of the Finance Committee who happen to be Democrats," Nelson said. "They're accelerating saying that they're going to file it (the tax bill) today or tomorrow and that we're going to markup on Monday. That's no hearings, nothing. This is not the way to make complicated tax law." 

Nelson, who often touts the benefits of bipartisanship, is one of 12 Democrats on the Finance Committee. 

A leaked memo of the Senate tax plan released Thursday sets the child tax credit at $1,650, $50 higher than $1,600 House proposal but lower than the $2,000 proposal championed by Sen. Marco Rubio. Rubio has said that he will not vote for a tax plan if the current $1,000 child tax credit tax credit doesn't at least double. 

Nelson, Florida's only Democrat holding statewide office, is up for reelection in 2018 and is likely to face a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott.

November 08, 2017

Bill Nelson wants the Treasury Department to sanction Venezuela's entire constituent assembly

BillNelsonCarlJusteApril172017

@alextdaugherty

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson asked the Treasury Department on Tuesday to sanction all 545 members of Venezuela's newly elected constituent assembly and ban U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude oil until "constitutional order" is restored. 

The constituent assembly that was elected in July has the power to rewrite Venezuela's constitution and is widely seen as a vehicle for President Nicolás Maduro to assume more control over all facets of government. Opposition parties boycotted the ballot and staged protests throughout the country on election day. 

“In July you stated that ‘anyone elected to the constituent assembly should know that their role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela could expose them to potential U.S. sanctions,’” Nelson wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. “Only a handful of members of this illegal body, however, have been sanctioned; I strongly urge you to sanction all its members as soon as possible.”

Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio have repeatedly urged the Trump administration to enact harsher sanctions on Venezuela. The socialist Venezuelan government won 17 of 23 governorships during regional elections in October that were widely decried as fraudulent by opposition parties. 

Nelson also reaffirmed his desire to impose oil sanctions on Venezuelan government, a move that the Trump administration contemplated over the summer but ultimately did not implement, though it remains on the table. 

"Additionally, I urge the Department to continue targeting Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), and consider banning the import of Venezuelan crude to the United States until constitutional order has been restored in Venezuela," Nelson said. "PDVSA should be a source of wealth for the Venezuelan people, but because of the corruption of the socialist government and years of mismanagement, it has become a source of cash for Maduro and his cronies to line their pockets. I encourage you to seek the support of our European allies in imposing both targeted and sectoral sanctions on the Venezuelan regime, too." 

November 01, 2017

Bill Nelson defends his "friend" Marco Rubio during NASA confirmation hearing

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@alexdaugherty 

Sen. Bill Nelson launched into a full-throated defense of bipartisanship and the nation's space program during a confirmation hearing for Donald Trump's pick to lead NASA on Wednesday. 

Nelson, the only sitting member of Congress who has been to space, took Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine to task for his past comments that were critical of Sen. Marco Rubio's role in crafting a comprehensive immigration bill with Democrats in 2013. 

"You made television commercials attacking my friend and fellow Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, deriding his work to find common ground on immigration and claiming he was working to make America less safe," Nelson said during his opening statement. He also criticized Bridenstine for his attacks on former House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. John McCain for working with Democrats to craft legislation. 

"NASA represents the best of what we can do as a people," Nelson said. "NASA is one of the last refuges from partisan politics. NASA needs a leader who will unite us, not divide us. Respectfully, Congressman Bridenstine, I don’t think you’re that leader." 

The administrator of NASA is tasked with running the nation's space program and conducting research, and the position is usually given to someone with a background in research and science instead of an elected official. 

Rubio also voiced displeasure at Bridenstine's nomination when it was first announced in September, telling Politico Florida "it could be devastating for the space program." 

"Obviously, being from Florida, I'm very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission," Rubio said. "It's the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics and it's at a critical juncture in its history."

Though Bridenstine's nomination has been opposed by many Democrats and some Republicans, the Oklahoma congressman has received endorsements from space industry groups along with Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. 

"NASA is at a crucial time in its history, preparing to explore Deep Space again for the first time in forty-five years," Bridenstine said. "To do this sustainably, we must develop a consensus-driven agenda, based on national interests."

Nelson flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1986, 10 days before the space shuttle Challenger exploded in midair, killing all the astronauts on board. Columbia itself disintegrated during re-entry in 2003, killing all the astronauts on board. 

"It is certainly no secret how passionate I am about NASA having qualified and effective leadership," Nelson said. "This passion comes from a deep respect I have for NASA and for everything the space program does to advance our national security, our economy, our understanding of cosmos and of ourselves, and for the hope and inspiration that NASA provides to all.  It also comes from having witnessed, very directly, the tragic consequences when NASA leadership has failed us." 

Nelson is up for reelection in 2018 and is likely to face a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott.

October 30, 2017

Feds to allow South Atlantic red snapper fishing after lobbying by Rubio and Nelson

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@alextdaugherty 

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson lobbied the Commerce Department to let South Florida anglers fish for red snapper in July, and now the federal government is implementing a short 2017 season for red snapper off the South Atlantic coast.

Recreational anglers can now fish for red snapper in the South Atlantic during the next two weekends while commercial fishers can begin harvesting red snapper on November 2 until the end of the year. This year marks the longest red snapper statewide since 2013 and the first time red snapper fishing was opened off the South Atlantic since 2014. 

"This fall’s new Red Snapper season will benefit Florida fishermen and small businesses," Rubio's office said in a tweet. 

The federal government has jurisdiction over red snapper fishing in federal waters, which begin nine miles offshore on the Gulf Coast and three miles offshore on the Atlantic coast. Closer to shore, the state of Florida regulates recreational red snapper fishing.

Recreational red snapper fishing will be allowed from Nov. 3-5 and Nov. 10-12 in waters off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina after the Commerce Department issued its decision.