February 06, 2018

Bill Nelson says SpaceX launch is the next step on getting humans to Mars

SpaceX New Rocket Launch (2)

@alextdaugherty

Sen. Bill Nelson, the only member of Congress who has been to space, was giddy after SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket successfully launched a red Tesla Roadster towards Mars on Tuesday. 

He had his entire staff watch the launch on TV and then walked to the Senate floor to inform his colleagues. 

"The largest rocket since the moon program, the Saturn V, launched from the Kennedy Space Center today," Nelson said. "The test launch of the Falcon Heavy is a spectacular demonstration of the comeback of Florida’s Space Coast and of the U.S. commercial launch sector, which is succeeding in a big way. That’s good news for the civil space program. It's good news for national security. It's good news for employment in the U.S. and it's great news for jobs and the economy." 

Nelson hurdled into space 32 years ago from the same launch pad in Cape Canaveral that SpaceX used on Tuesday. 

"The icing on the top of the cake was the two boosters coming and simultaneously landing a hundred yards apart on two landing pads on Cape Canaveral air force station," Nelson said. 

Nelson is the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee which has jurisdiction over the nation's space program. He said Tuesday's launch is a big step for future exploration of Mars. 

"By all means when we launch in a year in a half, Americans on American rockets, that will rivet the attention of the entire country and that will help enormously as people start to focus that we're serious about this, taking humans all the way to Mars and returning them safely," Nelson said, referencing the NASA plan to get humans on Mars by the 2030s.  

NASA still doesn't have a permanent director after Nelson and other Democrats, along with a few Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio, voiced concerns over Trump's pick to run the agency, Oklahoma Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine. Bridenstine's Senate confirmation is currently in limbo, though Trump did renominate Bridenstine after his nomination expired at the end of last year.   

Russian threat to elections is not over, Nelson warns

BillNelsonCarlJusteApril172017

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson said Tuesday that the threat of Russian interference in elections is not over and faulted the Trump administration for not imposing further sanction.

"As the 2018 midterm elections are now only months away, there is no time to lose in countering Russian influence through multiple means," the Florida Democrat, running for re-election this year, wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

"Because Russian influence is conducted largely through cyberspace, National Mission Teams (NMTs), part of the U.S. Cyber Command's Cyber Mission Force, should be ordered to prepare to engage Russian cyber operators and disrupt their activities as they conduct clandestine influence operations against our forthcoming elections. The mission of these forces is to defend the Nation, including critical infrastructure like our election systems, from foreign attack and we urge the Department of Defense to consider employing them as soon as possible."

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has voiced similar concern — as recently as this morning on Fox News — and has offered legislation to punish Russia.

January 30, 2018

Nelson and Rubio urge the U.S. Senate not to forget about disaster aid

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@alextdaugherty

The U.S. Senate is operating on borrowed time, with less 10 days remaining until another potential government shutdown as a debate over immigration policy consumes Washington. 

But Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio reminded their colleagues on Tuesday that the U.S. Senate hasn't passed a disaster relief bill in over three months, even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said additional relief bills would come to help Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"There will be additional rounds, and we are all fully committed to meeting the needs that have arisen as a result of these devastating hurricanes," McConnell said in October. 

In back-to-back speeches on the Senate floor, Nelson and Rubio delivered a laundry list of arguments in favor of a new disaster relief bill that helps victims of Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey along with wildfires in California. 

"I hope our colleagues in the Senate will understand the urgency of this matter," Nelson said. "We can't keep pushing this off down into the future. The need to act is now." 

Nelson said Florida received only $600 million of the $7.4 billion doled out in September for long-term disaster relief through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

"What percentage is that of $7.4 billion? It's well less than 10 percent. It defies comprehension," Nelson said. 

Nelson also listed a number of other issues that must be resolved through a disaster aid package, including Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico, help for Florida's citrus industry and additional funding for Florida schools dealing with a glut of new students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

The Federal Emergency Management Administration is also set to end food and water aid in Puerto Rico this week as grocery stores reopen, a decision Nelson blasted. 

"I am absolutely shocked that FEMA has announced that on Wednesday, it will stop distributing food and water to Puerto Rico," Nelson said. "Cutting this aid to the people of Puerto Rico, almost a third of them who still do not have electricity, it's unconscionable, and it's a travesty." 

Rubio echoed many of the arguments made by Nelson. 

"Long after the cameras leave and long after the stories aren't being written real people and real lives are disrupted, sometimes permanently," Rubio said, pointing to floating debris in the Florida Keys and its negative impacts on tourism and business.  

"I am disappointed," Rubio said. "If you had told me that we would have gotten to the last week of January and still hadn't taken up disaster relief, I would have been surprised because we had a chance to actually address this at the end of last year. The House sent over a bill that didn't go far enough, the Senate had ideas about how to make it better and then for reasons involving leverage and using it as a tool to get people to vote for...short-term spending at the end its kind of been held up." 

Rubio also highlighted Puerto Rico's needs in a disaster aid package, adding that he would like to see the U.S. territory's Medicaid program addressed, a temporary payroll tax deduction and a temporary expansion of the child tax credit in Puerto Rico. 

It's unclear when a disaster relief bill will be addressed by the U.S. Senate. A proposal could be attached to the upcoming short-term spending bill or it could be brought up on its own.

"Do not forget about disaster relief...we have to get this done," Rubio said. 

January 24, 2018

Poll: Bill Nelson has highest net approval of any red state Senate Democrat running in 2018

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@alextdaugherty 

Sen. Bill Nelson is facing criticism from his own party and Gov. Rick Scott, his likely 2018 opponent, after helping craft a plan to reopen the federal government on Monday. 

But Nelson does have one advantage over his nine fellow Democratic Senators running for reelection in states won by President Donald Trump in 2016: a 25 percentage point net approval rating that ranks as the best among senators facing tough reelection challenges, according to a new poll released by Morning Consult

Fifty-one percent of registered voters polled by Morning Consult approved of Nelson's job performance while 26 percent did not approve. Nelson's net approval rating fell by two percentage points from an earlier Morning Consult poll but his marginal drop was smaller than many other Democrats facing tough reelection bids. Additionally, 23 percent of registered voters either have no opinion of Nelson or don't know enough about him to form an opinion. 

Only three senators have a net disapproval rating, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican Trump critic who is retiring and Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who is being retried for corruption after beating charges last year. Flake and Menendez are two of the most vocal senators on Cuba, with Flake favoring a thaw between Washington and Havana while Menendez advocates for a tough-on-Cuba approach. 

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has a 10 percentage point net approval rating, with 47 percent favoring his job performance and 37 percent disapproving. Rubio isn't up for reelection until 2022. 

January 22, 2018

Miami Republican says Senate-brokered promises for Dreamers 'aren't good enough'

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a rebuke to her own party and a significant amount of Democrats on Monday, voting against a short-term spending bill agreed to by Senate leaders because it didn't include a legislative remedy for Dreamers, a group of nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants who could face deportation in March in Congress fails to act. 

“I’ve heard these promises once and again that we will find a permanent legislative remedy for Dreamers but a promise ain’t good enough any longer so that is why I voted no on the CR (Continuing Resolution)," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

The congresswoman also mirrored the arguments of Democrats who voted against the bill, saying that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise to debate and vote on a solution for Dreamers, which will likely face opposition from conservative Republicans, isn't the same as concocting a deal. 

"We have been duped and strung around enough so Dreamers can’t rely on broken promises any longer," Ros-Lehtinen said. "I will vote to approve a budget once we fulfill our pledge to these young people who know no other home but the U.S.”

Her comments were similar to New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, one of 16 Senate Democrats to vote against the deal, which funds the government through Feb. 8. 

"Nothing in this legislation gives me any confidence that in three weeks Congress won’t end up exactly where we are today," Menendez said to CNN. 

Ros-Lehtinen's No vote differed from the majority of Senate Democrats, where moderates like Florida Sen. Bill Nelson praised McConnell's commitment to debate and vote as enough of a concession to reopen the government after it shut down on Friday night. 

"Now we have a path forward in which we can work a bipartisan solution that will take care of the Dreamers,” Nelson said. “I think the American people are going to be cheering that this occurred.”

While only 16 of 47 Senate Democrats voted against the bill, the majority of House Democrats did vote against the bill. Five other House Republicans also voted against the bill with Ros-Lehtinen because they typically disapprove of spending bills without spending cuts attached. 

Ros-Lehtinen is not running for reelection in 2018, though she represents the most Democratic-leaning district in the country currently held by a Republican. She is a frequent critic of President Donald Trump and has signed on to multiple legislative solutions for Dreamers before an Obama-era executive order rescinded by Trump expires. 

Bill Nelson votes to reopen the federal government without an immigration deal

BillNelsonCarlJusteApril172017

@alextdaugherty

Senator Bill Nelson was under pressure after voting to reopen the federal government on Monday, three days after he voted to shut it down.

Gov. Rick Scott, his likely 2018 opponent, said Nelson’s vote to shut down the government “didn’t make any sense.”

Some Democrats weren’t happy either, arguing that moderates like Nelson surrendered to Republicans and reopened the government without a deal to protect nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation.

But Nelson was unfazed.

After negotiating a deal to reopen the federal government for three weeks, Nelson was unable to contain a wide smile while explaining that a deal he helped broker was the best possible compromise to get federal employees back to work while getting Republicans to commit to a vote on the status of Dreamers.

“Before this agreement they (Dreamers) had no assurance for protection and we were not getting any help from the White House, we weren't getting any help from the House and we really weren't getting any help from the Republican leadership in the Senate. But now we have a path forward in which we can work a bipartisan solution that will take care of the Dreamers,” Nelson said. “I think the American people are going to be cheering that this occurred.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not commit to a deal or compromise for Dreamers on Monday, something that many Democrats previously said was a condition for reopening the government after it shut down on Friday night, though he did commit to debate and vote on the issue.

“So long as the government remains open it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues as well as disaster relief, defense funding, healthcare and other important matters,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Read more here.

January 19, 2018

Bill Nelson votes against short-term spending bill without immigration deal

BillNelsonCarlJusteApril172017

@alextdaugherty

Sen. Bill Nelson voted against a short-term spending bill to keep the government running on Friday as the Florida Democrat balked at a proposal that did not include a solution for nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants who could face deportation in March if Congress fails to act.

As of 10:40 pm the Senate vote was still open and not finalized.

Nelson remained undecided on his vote for over 24 hours after the House of Representatives passed a short-term spending bill on Thursday night. Nelson’s office said on Thursday he would wait to see what the House passed before making a decision, but then the Florida Democrat did not make his vote public until giving his thumbs down on the Senate floor just before 10:30 pm.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needed Democratic support to keep the government open because a spending bill requires 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, and Republicans control only 51 seats.

Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat from Florida, faced pressure from immigration activists to join the more liberal wing of his party to vote against a short-term spending bill without a solution for Dreamers.

Nelson is one of 10 Democrats up for reelection in 2018 in states won by President Donald Trump in 2016. Some of the red state Democratic senators like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin backed the short-term spending bill while others like Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey did not.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio voted in favor of the bill along with most Senate Republicans. He blamed Senate Democrats for voting to shut down the government.

“At a time when we face so much chaos in our politics, the only thing worse than a short-term spending deal is a government shutdown. I too support border security, dealing with DACA, increasing defense spending and disaster relief for Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico,” Rubio said in a statement shortly before the vote. “We should keep the government open while we continue to work on these issues.”

Two Miami Republicans in the House of Representatives, Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also voted against the spending bill after arguing that it is irresponsible to keep stalling on the Dreamer issue.

January 15, 2018

Bill Nelson raised $2.4 million in last quarter, campaign says

BillNelsonCarlJusteApril172017

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson raised about $2.4 million in fourth quarter of 2017, his campaign said Monday, and has $8 million cash on hand.

The Democrat "received more than 30,600 contributions from more than 21,500 individual donors during the last three months of 2017 alone," his campaign said in a release.

Nelson is seeking a fourth term and is expected to face Gov. Rick Scott, though Scott hasn't declared he's running.

January 12, 2018

Rubio and Nelson say Senate stalling on disaster relief

Citrus

via @learyreports

Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson today urged their respective leaders to speed up a vote on a massive disaster relief package that will help Florida.

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

We write to highlight the importance of the disaster supplemental and urge you to consider this much needed appropriations measure on the floor as soon as possible. As you are well aware, last fall produced a number of devastating natural disasters, and our communities are still in need of federal assistance in order to continue their recovery efforts.  In particular, hurricanes and wildfires caused catastrophic destruction throughout the country, and we are deeply concerned that affected states, territories and local governments will not have the resources needed to address critical issues including agricultural aid, healthcare, and housing if Congress does not act immediately.

These disasters caused unprecedented destruction, and yet the federal government has still not provided an acceptable response.  Congress has a duty to fulfill, and a disaster supplemental appropriations bill would provide the federal aid our states and territories were promised months ago.  The House of Representatives passed a disaster supplemental, and while it did not fully encompass what is needed, it is past time for the Senate to act.  Unfortunately, Congress has delayed providing this aid for too long while our communities face the consequences of our inaction.

It is imperative that Americans nationwide know that the federal government is both ready and willing to direct resources needed to help them in the recovery process. As such, we strongly urge you to bring the disaster relief measure to the floor for consideration at the earliest opportunity to ensure that our communities are able to address and assist their respective needs.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Also, Gov. Rick Scott has called on Senate leaders to act.

"It is imperative that we as a state see relief from Congress in the aftermath of these storms. Now that the House passed a significant relief package prior to Christmas, the Senate must act immediately to lock in this critical funding for Florida and ensure the full recovery of families in our state and across the country," Scott wrote in a Jan. 3 letter.

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen to vote against a spending bill (again) unless there's a DACA fix

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@alextdaugherty

The federal government will shut down on January 19 if Congress can't pass a temporary spending bill, and Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen both said they will vote against the legislation, like they did in December, if an immigration deal is not imminent. 

Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen are frustrated with the pace of negotiations on a solution for 800,000 immigrants, known as Dreamers, who came to the U.S. as young children. Congress must find a legislative solution for Dreamers by March after President Donald Trump announced he will rescind an Obama-era executive order that protected them from deportation. 

"The way things stand today, I plan to keep my commitment to Dreamers and if there’s some breakthrough next week I will consider (voting yes)," Curbelo said on Friday. "If the status quo persists I am going to continue pressuring the leadership in both parties to forge a compromise because 800,000 lives are at risk." 

The two Miami Republicans were the only House Republicans who voted against the bill that keeps the government running due to immigration concerns. If enough Republicans join them, they could gain leverage to forge an immigration deal.

The vast majority of House Democrats voted with Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen against the plan in December, though moderate Florida Democrats like Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Charlie Crist voted in favor of the spending bill, even though Democratic-leaning immigrant advocacy groups urged Democrats to vote against it.