April 20, 2018

Parkland parents say public officials need to be fired soon for failing their children

Guttenberg

@alextdaugherty

Fred Guttenberg, the Parkland parent who confronted Marco Rubio on national television about the senator’s opposition to an assault weapons ban, had a very different conversation with the Florida Republican on Capitol Hill this week.

“Senator, see you tomorrow?” Guttenberg asked.

“I’m around all day, flying out Thursday night,” Rubio replied.

The pair disagree on gun-control policy, but Guttenberg and the Parkland families are united with Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson behind an effort to make the authorities who failed their children accountable.

History suggests they may be successful.

The families of the 17 victims in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School persuaded the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to sign a gun bill over the objections of the National Rifle Association. They successfully got the slow-moving U.S. Senate to fast-track limited school safety legislation into a must-pass spending bill last month.

And the voices that no lawmaker can ignore are pushing for agencies like the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Broward School Board and FBI to be held responsible, and soon.

“We all think we know, but we need to know with certainty, we need to find out why they made the mistakes and we need to fire people for their mistakes,” Guttenberg said. “Do any of the mistakes cross over to a criminal activity? I don’t know the law, but I do know at a minimum people need to be fired and they need to be fired soon.”

Three Parkland parents are serving on a state commission established by Scott and granted subpoena powers. The commission is set to meet next week. One parent recently met with FBI Director Christopher Wray to discuss how the agency can learn from its mistakes. And the parents are confident something will happen, even if it takes a lot longer than they would want.

Read more here.

April 18, 2018

NASA administrator opposed by Bill Nelson approved in drama-filled vote

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty

For months, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has railed against the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., as NASA administrator, and his nomination stalled when Democrats along with Sen. Marco Rubio opposed him. 

On Wednesday, Bridenstine was finally confirmed to lead the nation's space program, but it wasn't without drama.

Rubio's belated support appeared to give Republicans enough votes, but Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake surprisingly voted "no" on Wednesday. Vice President Mike Pence was out of town, unable to break a 49-49 tie. Two senators were out for health-related reasons. 

The vote remained open for nearly an hour before Flake had a conversation with party leaders and switched his vote, though he was coy about his reasons for doing it. 

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Flake was trying to exert leverage over one of his signature issues: increased trade and interaction with Cuba. Flake wanted to talk Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo about travel restrictions to Cuba, according to Cornyn.   

Nelson has argued that Bridenstine, an elected official, should not be tapped to lead an agency typically led by a scientist. Bridenstine also attacked Rubio on immigration during the 2016 Republican primary. 

April 17, 2018

Scott wants to end career politicians. So why are they fundraising for him? He won’t say

Scott and nelson

via @scontorno

Gov. Rick Scott told a room of local businessmen and women Tuesday that he wants to put an end to career politicians, a frequent mantra of his nascent Senate campaign.

Yet in the 48 hours after his Tampa appearance, the Republican's campaign will hold fundraisers with some of the most seasoned creatures on Capitol Hill.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — the early front runner to be the next Speaker of the House — is scheduled to appear at a Wednesday night D.C. fundraiser for Scott. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is headlining another fundraiser, this one with a suggested contribution of $5,000, that features a half dozen other Senators and former elected officials.

McConnell was sworn into the Senate in 1985 — a career that easily surpasses Scott's proposal to cap a Senator's tenure at 12 years. McCarthy was first elected to the House in 2006 after a long career in California politics, so this would be his last term in office if Scott's idea was in affect.

Term limits are so central to Scott's early campaign, they were the subject of his first campaign ad. He plans to spend $2 million getting that message to voters across Florida.

So how does Scott reconcile these two realities? Asked about it after his Tampa event, he didn't really say.

"I think this concept of career politicians is why we don't get change in Washington," Scott said. "I really do believe we've got to bring in new ideas, fresh ideas, people that are up there saying I've got limited time, I want to get something done."

But why would you take money raised by career politicians if you want to get rid of them?

"My focus is, I have been very clear, I don't like the concept of career politicians," he said, "and I believe we ought to have term limits."

April 09, 2018

Gov. Scott announces Senate run, says 'this concept of career politicians has got to stop'

 

Annescott
Rick Scott and Anne Scott. [AP]

Gov. Rick Scott announced his long-expected run for the U.S. Senate today in an Orlando rally, setting the stage for a contentious and expensive battle against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

"Today, with my wife by my side, I’m announcing I’m running for U.S. Senate for the great state of Florida," Scott said in a sweaty construction company warehouse in Orlando, surrounded by wooden pallets and supporters fanning themselves with his campaign signs.

He kicked off his campaign by taking direct aim at Nelson, who was first elected to Senate in 2001, by calling for term limits for members of Congress.

"We shouldn’t be sending the same type of people to Washington," he said. "This concept of career politicians has got to stop."

Nelson, in response, sought to project confidence Monday.

"I've always run every race like there's no tomorrow – regardless of my opponent," Nelson said in a statement. "While it's clear that Rick Scott will say or do anything to get elected, I've always believed that if you just do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself."

The race between the two-term governor and three-term senator promises to be a test of the popularity of President Donald Trump. Scott was an early and consistent supporter of the president, which Nelson is expected to exploit.

Scott did not mention Trump, but he picked up Trump's message, promising to "fix" Washington and denouncing the "tired old thinking" in the nation's capital.

"We gotta stop sending talkers to Washington. Let's send some doers to Washington," he said.

"Drain the swamp!" someone in the audience yelled.

The race between Scott and Nelson is one of the most expensive and closely watched in the nation, and it's likely to be close.

Scott, a 65-year-old disgraced former health care executive, used his millions to eke out narrow wins in both races for governor in 2010 and 2014. He frequently generated controversy during his governorship, and he's never been considered an especially beloved or charismatic figure on the campaign trail.

But his opponent, whom Floridians have been voting for since the 1970s, is a moderate Democrat with few distinctions during his 17 years in the Senate. The 75-year-old is Florida's only Democrat currently elected to statewide office.

Scott on Monday made a clear play for a constituency he thinks can help him win: Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria. He was introduced at the rally by the territory's lieutenant governor, Luis G. Rivera-Marin, and Scott closed his speech in Spanish.

Scott came out of nowhere in 2010 to win his first elected office. He was known primarily as the health care executive who oversaw massive health care fraud. His company, Columbia/HCA, paid a record $1.7 billion in fines and pleaded guilty to 14 felonies.

But he found success running on an obsessive jobs platform at the height of the Great Recession. That message was apparently so successful that Scott repeated it verbatim Monday, in both slogan - "Let's get to work" - and style - U.S. Navy baseball hat and blue dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves.

Scott tried to cast himself as an outsider who reformed Tallahassee politics.

"I didn’t fit into Tallahassee because I didn’t play the insider games," he said. "And guess what? I’m not going to fit into Washington, either."

Scott will be in Fort Myers at Sun Harvest Citrus for a second rally at 2:30 p.m. today, and he's expected to be in Hialeah for another rally Tuesday afternoon.

April 05, 2018

Gun-related town halls are a partisan affair in South Florida (updated)

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@alextdaugherty

A national group that promotes face-to-face interactions between lawmakers and constituents is working with the March for Our Lives organizers to host town hall events on preventing gun violence during the current congressional recess, and no South Florida Republicans are planning to attend. 

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, who represents Parkland, held a town hall earlier this week, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, will hold a town hall on Saturday in Pembroke Pines, while Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, will host a town hall tonight in Miami Gardens. 

The three Republicans from Miami-Dade County, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, do not have any town hall events scheduled during the recess. 

A March for Our Lives-affiliated event is being held in Curbelo's district tonight, though Curbelo's office said he was not invited to the event at John A. Ferguson High School. While pro-gun control student activists from Parkland have demanded town hall events during this congressional recess, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart and Curbelo have not held any in-person town hall events since the beginning of 2017, according to the Town Hall Project. Curbelo and Diaz-Balart both hold office hours with staff at various locations throughout their districts. 

Curbelo's seat is a target for Democrats in 2018 while Ros-Lehtinen is retiring and Diaz-Balart does not have a serious Democratic challenger. 

Neither of Florida's two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, have held an in-person town hall since the beginning of 2017, according to the Town Hall Project.  

UPDATE (4/6/18): A student organizer with pro gun-control group Students Demand Action said Curbelo was invited to the town hall event in his district, but he declined citing a scheduling conflict. 

William Breslin, who lives outside of Curbelo's district, said he called Curbelo's official office three times before receiving a response that Curbelo could not attend. Breslin then invited Curbelo's Democratic opponents after the congressman declined the invitation, he said. 

Information on upcoming town halls: 

Town hall with Frederica Wilson and state Rep. Shevrin Jones: 

Thursday, April 5 6:30pm

Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex Auditorium

3000 NW 199th St. 

Miami Gardens, FL 33056 

Town hall with Debbie Wasserman Schultz: 

Saturday, April 7 2pm 

301 NW 103rd Avenue

Pembroke Pines, FL 33026 

Town Hall for Our Lives West Miami-Dade

Thursday, April 5 7pm

John A. Ferguson High School 

15900 SW 56th St. 

Miami, FL 33185

March 22, 2018

Two bills supported by Parkland families included in massive spending package

931455402 (1)

@alextdaugherty

The House and Senate are scheduled to vote on a massive $1.3 trillion spending package on Thursday and Friday, and the spending bill includes two bills that were a priority for the families of victims of the nation's deadliest high school shooting in Parkland. 

The STOP School Violence Act and Fix NICS Act are both in the package. Both bills received widespread support from both parties though a few Republicans were opposed to the Fix NICS Act, which aims to improve the background check system for guns by penalizing federal agencies that fail to report records, and increases federal funding for reporting domestic violence records.

"Today, we’re moving a little closer to turning the voices of the students marching across the country into action. While we still have so much work to do, I am happy to see some movement on bipartisan legislation I’ve worked on with Senator Rubio to help address gun violence in our country, including the Fix NICS Act and the STOP School Violence Act, which funds programs to help keep our schools safe," Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement. 

The spending bill also stipulates that the Centers for Disease Controls can conduct research on gun violence, a measure pushed by Orlando Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy after the Parkland shooting. A number of Republicans, including Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have backed the idea. Previously, the CDC was not allowed to spend money to research gun violence due to an amendment passed in 1996. 

"We are very happy that by the end of this week there should be close to a billion dollars over the next ten years available so that states can set up these systems to identify potential shooters and stop them before they kill anybody," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. 

March 20, 2018

Parkland families push for progress in Washington before the March for Our Lives

931455402

@alextdaugherty

The families of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are among the most powerful lobbyists in Washington right now.

Lawmakers from both parties are willing to rearrange their schedules for an in-person meeting with a group of people who have already successfully shepherded a gun bill through the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature that was opposed by the National Rifle Association.

But the Florida Legislature is a part-time body, bound by time constraints to pass bills within a few weeks. Congress is under no such pressure, so many bills that have strong support from both parties can still languish for years.

“We don’t move as fast as Florida legislatures do,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said. “This Congress, with 500-something members, represents a vast and diverse country and as a result there are people in different parts of the country that have different views on these issues.”

The families of the Parkland victims have varying beliefs about access to firearms. Some, like Fred Guttenberg, want to ban all assault-style weapons. Others, like Ryan Petty, are concerned that a debate about banning assault weapons will shift the conversation into a partisan fight where nothing gets accomplished.

But the victims’ families are united behind three bills in Washington, and they’re pushing to get two of them passed before the March for Our Lives on Saturday. The families are discussing legislation through Slack, an instant messaging application that allows users to break different topics into channels of discussion.

“We’re probably one-upping the kids on that,” Petty said of the parents’ use of technology. “We put a proposal in one of the channels and then discuss it. I’ve been the liaison this past week, so as I was speaking with [Sen. Orrin] Hatch, Rubio, [Sen. Mitch] McConnell’s office, I posted the messages into our group.”

Petty said the parents come together and read the various bills and proposals in Slack, then one of them will write a statement either in favor or against the proposal before a final vote. The families don’t come out in favor or against something unless there’s a consensus.

But he acknowledges lobbying for legislation in Washington is “absolutely tougher” than trying to pass bills in Tallahassee. 

Read more here.

March 13, 2018

A conservative Parkland student helps set the agenda in Washington

US-NEWS-SCHOOLSAFETY-BILL-4-ABA

@alextdaugherty

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’

NELSON_PUERTO RICO0138 JAI

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

@alextdaugherty

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.