November 08, 2017

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

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@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. 

October 27, 2017

Bill Nelson files legislation to help Puerto Rico's Medicaid woes

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@alextdaugherty

Puerto Rico's Medicaid system was in trouble before Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. territory. 

Now, thousands of residents are in need of medical care after Maria sapped power from most of Puerto Rico, and the island's Medicaid funding is set to run out of money in the next few months.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló came to Washington in September before Hurricane Maria and lobbied lawmakers to treat Puerto Rico's Medicaid system like any other state. Currently, Congress provides Puerto Rico with a set amount of Medicaid dollars. 

Sen. Bill Nelson filed legislation on Friday that would eliminate Puerto Rico's cap on Medicaid funding as thousands of residents are in need of medical care in the wake of Hurricane Maria. 

"The people of Puerto Rico need our help," Nelson said in a statement. "As we work to help them recover and rebuild in the aftermath of this devastating disaster, we also have to look toward the future and help them avert what could be a serious health care crisis if nothing is done." 

Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Richard Blumenthal, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker all signed on to the bill. Nelson is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicaid. 

The bill would also provide prescription drug subsidies for low-income senior citizens in Puerto Rico. 

October 26, 2017

Mason-Dixon poll: Scott moves up, ties Nelson at 44%

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@PatriciaMazzei

Yet another Florida poll shows a tied 2018 U.S. Senate race between Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott has not announced his candidacy. But pollsters are treating him as the de facto GOP nominee — and he’s tied with Nelson at 44 percent, according to a survey released Thursday by the Jacksonville-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy. Twelve percent of respondents were undecided.

The results represent a post-Hurricane Irma bump for Scott, who in February trailed Nelson by 45-41 percent. A Wednesday poll by Mason-Dixon found a majority of Floridians thought Scott handled Irma well.

“The swing has come primarily among unaffiliated voters, with Scott taking a 44-40 percent lead,” pollster Brad Coker wrote in a memo summarizing the results. “In February, nelson was ahead of Scott 46-37 percent among these Independents.”

More here.

October 24, 2017

Bill Nelson blasts FEMA response in Florida and Puerto Rico

BillNelsonCarlJusteApril172017

@alextdaugherty

Sen. Bill Nelson sharply criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday, arguing that the federal government isn't doing enough to get inspectors out to damaged properties and help people who are still displaced. 

in a 15-minute speech on the Senate floor, Nelson said it takes too long for people to reach FEMA by phone, and that the agency is caught up in bureaucracy. 

"People are suffering and people are hurting," Nelson said. "Red tape just should not stop anyone in this country from having a safe place to live."

Nelson also referenced a Miami Herald report detailing that 50,000 people waited in Tropical Park last week for special food stamps handed out to Hurricane Irma victims. 

"People are getting desperate," Nelson said."There were 50,000 people waiting at a center in South Florida and many were turned away after waiting in the heat for hours and hours. And then the next day, it was the same story in another city." 

Nelson's remarks come as the Senate is expected to pass a $36.5 billion hurricane relief package this week. The package was passed by the House two weeks ago and will likely not include $2.5 billion in specific funding for Florida's citrus industry and direct funds to help Puerto Rico, elements that Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio argued must be included into a relief package now. 

The White House has said a third relief bill will likely come sometime in November. This week's relief package must be passed to keep the federal flood insurance program afloat and fund FEMA.

"I hope very much that in November...we’re going to pass a new thing, and it’s going to have this money in there to help them," Rubio said in a speech on Monday. "That would be fantastic. But we all know how this place works, and I just don’t know why we couldn’t do it now." 

Nelson also said it's taking too long for FEMA to get inspectors out to damaged properties in the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida. 

"You call FEMA, you're supposed to get a FEMA representative and you have to wait and wait and wait," Nelson said. "The last time we checked, the expected wait time to get a housing inspector is 45 days. That's too long for families to wait for an inspector." 

October 18, 2017

Senate committee to investigate Florida nursing home deaths

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via @learyreports

The Senate Finance Committee will investigate the hurricane-related deaths of 14 people at a South Florida nursing home.

The top members of the committee, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today questioned the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about its new nursing home emergency preparedness requirements and have requested responses from state agencies in Florida and Texas regarding their preparations and responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“We are writing to request information from Florida about its preparations for and responses to Hurricane Irma as it relates to nursing homes and other similar facilities,” the senators wrote in a letter to Florida’s Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, Justin Senior.

“The Senate Committee on Finance has jurisdiction over both the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs. As part of our oversight responsibilities, we want to ensure the safety of residents and patients in nursing homes and other similar facilities during natural and manmade disasters.”

The action follows a call for investigation from Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the committee, and that was echoed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Nelson has questioned Gov. Rick Scott, a potential 2018 election rival, after the governor personally received calls for assistance from the nursing home. Scott has insisted the calls were properly routed and that the nursing home had an obligation to call 911 after losing power.

Koch-backed group urges Bill Nelson to support Trump's tax reform effort

BillNelsonCarlJusteApril172017

@alextdaugherty 

For months, president Donald Trump and various conservative groups have courted moderate Democrats to join in their plan to overhaul the nation's tax system, which hasn't been significantly changed since 1986. 

This week, the Senate will likely vote on a 2018 budget proposal, and Americans for Prosperity, a Koch Brothers-backed group that is pushing for tax reform, is urging Sen. Bill Nelson to vote in favor in a new digital ad released on Wednesday.

"Nelson has hinted at being willing to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to reform the tax code to make it more fair and efficient," AFP Florida director Chris Hudson said in a statement. "This is a once in a generation opportunity that deserves his full endorsement immediately."

Passing the budget plan would enable the GOP to proceed on their tax overhaul without a 60 vote threshold in the Senate, a necessity when Republicans only control 52 seats. Some moderate Democrats like North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin have indicated a willingness to work with Republicans on taxes. 

Nelson, one of 10 sitting Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 in states won by Trump in 2016, voted against a procedural motion to start debate on the 2018 budget on Tuesday. The motion passed on a 50-47 party line vote. 

 

Watch the ad here.

October 16, 2017

Miami politician says aliens took her on a spaceship. Now she’s running for Congress.

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@alextdaugherty

Florida has a U.S. senator who once flew aboard the Space Shuttle.

A congressional candidate from Miami can go one better: Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera says she’s been aboard a spaceship too. But this one was crewed by aliens. As in extraterrestrials.

Three blond, big-bodied beings — two females, one male — visited her when she was 7 years old and have communicated telepathically with her several times in her life, she says. (Sen. Bill Nelson served as payload officer aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. All seven people aboard were from Earth. As far as is known.)

Rodriguez Aguilera, 59, a Republican who is running to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, recounted her experience with the ETs during a 2009 television interview.

She described “going up” inside the spaceship — though whether it went into space or just hovered around town was left unclear

“I went in. There were some round seats that were there, and some quartz rocks that controlled the ship — not like airplanes,” Rodriguez Aguilera said.

In two separate videos posted to YouTube years ago, one by local Spanish-language station America TeVe and another by a political critic with the user name DoralGirl26, Rodriguez Aguilera spoke on television in detail about her extraterrestrial experiences. She said the alien beings reminded her of the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer, with arms outstretched.

Among the things she said she found out from the aliens:

▪ There are 30,000 skulls — “different from humans” — in a cave in the Mediterranean island of Malta.

▪ The world’s “energy center” is in Africa.

▪ The Coral Castle, a limestone tourist attraction South Miami-Dade, is actually an ancient Egyptian pyramid.

▪ “God is a universal energy.”

She also said that the aliens had mentioned Isis, though she didn’t clarify if they meant the terrorist organization or the ancient Egyptian goddess.

The Miami Herald asked Rodriguez Aguilera about her experiences Friday. She responded with a statement that waxed astronomical but failed to mention close encounters of any kind.

“For years people, including Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and astronauts have publicly claimed to have seen unidentified flying objects and scientists like Stephen Hawking and institutions like the Vatican have stated that there are billions of galaxies in the universe and we are probably not alone,” she said. “I personally am a Christian and have a strong belief in God, I join the majority of Americans who believe that there must be intelligent life in the billions of planets and galaxies in the universe.”

Read more here.

October 15, 2017

Nelson says he'll encourage Puerto Ricans newly arrived in Florida to register to vote

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@PatriciaMazzei

SAN  JUAN -- Sen. Bill Nelson doesn't know how many Puerto Ricans have made their way to Florida since Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean island on Sept. 20. And he doesn't know how many plan to stay on the mainland as their home slowly recovers.

But if they plan to stick around the Sunshine State, the Florida Democrat wants them to go to the polls in 2018, when he's up for reelection.

"If they will register to vote, which I'm certainly going to encourage, because I can tell you among the Puerto Rican community in the greater Orlando area, they have been very embracing of my public service," he said at a San Juan news conference after  Puerto Rican reporter asked him about the post-storm migration. "The question is how many will want to register, and how many will want to return."

Standing next to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Nelson took pains to say he wasn't encouraging Puerto Ricans to depart forever. Puerto Ricans worry an exodus of working professionals -- on the heels of years of emigration during the island's financial crisis -- will only make it more difficult for the economy to get going again.

"It could be a while coming before things get back," Nelson said, referring in particular to the island's destroyed power grid. "I will certainly encourage our fellow citizens to return home."

The question of how a wave of Puerto Ricans,, who tend to vote Democratic, could reshape Florida politics is perhaps more urgent for Nelson than for any other statewide politician. He faces a potential challenge next year from Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whose administration has set up relief centers for Puerto Rican arrivals at Orlando and Miami airports and seaports to assist them with schooling, housing and employment.

Also advocating on Puerto Ricans' behalf: Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the first mainland politicians to trek to the island after the storm. At the time, Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón, referred to Rubio as the closest thing the island had to a senator of its own.

"I have zero concern" of what an influx of Puerto Ricans might do to Florida politically, Rubio told the Miami Herald in a recent intervew. "What's the difference between that and people moving here from New York, New Jersey or Carlifornia?

"It's not a problem," he added. "It's a problem for Puerto Rico. It's not a problem for Florida." 

Nelson said he wanted to visit Puerto Rico earlier. But a planned trip last weekend was canceled. So he hopped on a JetBlue flight to San Juan early Saturday morning.

He didn't just want to get the politician tour, he said. He wanted to go inland, to the hard-hit central mountains still struggling to get aid.

So Nelson boarded a helicopter with Rosselló and flew to Utuado, a town that has become a symbol of just how badly Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico.

"The main river there, it's washed out a number of the bridges," Nelson said. "But the people are very ingenious. They have strung a line with a pulley system" to get supplies across, using a supermarket cart over the water.

Without naming names, Nelson criticized fellow mainland lawmakers who have remarked after flying over Puerto Rico that the devastation doesn't look so bad because the island's homes weren't flattened.

"Well, they don't know what's happening inside that concrete structure that is wet, and now the mold and mildew is building up," Nelson said. "This is the story that I will tell tomorrow afternoon on the floor of the United States Senate, because a lot of the reports that have come back have not told about the extent of the damage."

Rosselló called Nelson a longtime "champion for Puerto Rico, and a great friend," and alluded to the help the island will need to get an aid package through Congress soon.

"Now more than ever we're going to need him and his colleagues to continue championing our efforts here," Rosselló said.