September 01, 2017

As Dems play catch-up on Venezuela, immigration attack could fall short

Week That Was In Latin America Photo Gallery (1) (1)

@alextdaugherty

Democrats see Donald Trump’s tough-on-immigration stance as a political pitfall for Florida Republicans who profess to care about the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.

But Venezuelan immigration advocates disagree.

A Trump-sponsored system that rewards job skills and English speakers over familial connections could actually benefit Venezuelans, whose relatively high levels of education and English competency could put them ahead of other groups trying to get into the United States, especially other Latin American groups.

“The vast amount of Venezuelans who are coming here have advanced degrees,” said Jorge Guttman, a Miami-based attorney and Vice President of the Venezuelan American National Bar Association.

According to the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of Venezuelan immigrants ages 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 29 percent of Hispanic immigrants overall. About 70 percent of Venezuelan immigrants speak English proficiently, according to Pew.

“If there were to be some sort of merit-based immigration measure imposed I think that Venezuelans for the most part would not be necessarily affected,” Guttman said.

That could neutralize arguments against a merit-based immigration system as a political weapon for Democrats to use against Republicans, who are already emerging as the key advocates in South Florida for Venezuelan-Americans.

Trump has spent months talking tough on Venezuela, arguing that Barack Obama and Democrats did little to help Venezuelans suffering from malnutrition and political violence. As the situation worsens, Venezuelans fed up with Nicolás Maduro’s regime will likely turn to the Untied States for refuge.

“The community that is coming to the U.S. from Venezuela is highly educated and most obtain their green cards through an employment-based opportunity,” said Adriana Kostencki, president of the Venezuelan-American chamber of commerce and an attorney who focuses on immigration law.

In fact, Venezuelans are more educated than the overall U.S. population, where 33 percent of all adults have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher and the U.S. Hispanic population, where 15 percent have bachelor’s degree or higher.

Part of the Trump-sponsored plan, dubbed the Raise Act, would slash the number of green cards available on a yearly basis from more than 1 million to about 500,000. The Venezuelan attorneys and some Republicans, including Marco Rubio, are not in favor of reducing the number of green cards.

But a system that curbs the overall number of immigrants and downplays family ties would have less of an effect on Venezuelans than on other immigrant groups, given the number of Venezuelans living in the U.S., about 225,000, is lower than the number of Mexicans, Cubans or Dominicans currently in the United States.

There are still questions over how the Raise Act will move through Congress. Rubio said the bill won’t pass as written.

“I think the White House knows that you don’t have 60 votes in the Senate,” Rubio said.

Rubio said he’s long been an advocate for an immigration system that priorities job and language skills over familial connections, even though his parents came to the United States as low-skilled Cuban immigrants in the 1950s.

Venezuelans in Florida see the recent sanctions on Venezuela by Trump and supported by Rubio as hard evidence that Republicans are going to bat for them. And the community is still wary of elements of the Democratic Party that associated with Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Read more here.

August 30, 2017

Democrats around the country urge Trump to expand TPS to Venezuelans

Week That Was In Latin America Photo Gallery

@alextdaugherty 

Nearly two dozen Democrats from 11 states and the District of Columbia sent a letter to acting Department of Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke on Tuesday calling for the expansion of Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans currently in the United States, joining a growing chorus of lawmakers from both parties and Venezuelan activists pushing for the Trump administration to take action. 

Florida lawmakers including Sen. Bill Nelson and Reps. Kathy Castor, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Stephanie Murphy and Debbie Wasserman Schultz signed the letter. 

"Granting TPS in these circumstances is also in line with our national interest," the letter reads. "Venezuelans in the U.S. have not just become a vibrant part of our communities, but have also made important contributions including as lawyers, doctors, and small-business owners. Further, sending these individuals back could spur mass forced migration, destabilizing the region as neighboring Colombia implements its peace accord and as we seek to curb illicit narcotics flows to the United States." 

Donald Trump, who continues to talk tough on immigration, hasn’t indicated that he is open to extending the program to another country.

The TPS program is designed to help individuals affected by “ongoing armed conflict, an environmental disaster, an epidemic or other extraordinary and temporary conditions,” according to the Department of Homeland Security. 

Read the letter here.

Florida Democrats urge state lawmakers to remove Confederate statue in U.S. Capitol

Confederate Statue Florida

@alextdaugherty 

 

The entire Florida Democratic congressional delegation wants Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers to remove a statue of Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith from the U.S. Capitol.

On Wednesday, 11 House Democrats from Florida sent a letter to Scott, State House speaker Richard Corcoran and State Senate president Joe Negron urging the trio to call a one-day special session to replace the statue in September.

“No family visiting our nation's Capitol should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred, inequality and oppression,” the letter said.

Last year, the state legislature agreed to remove Smith's statue but it remains in National Statuary Hall in Washington, where daily tours are conducted in the Capitol, because lawmakers couldn't agree on a replacement.

But with the recent violent protests in Charlottesville and elsewhere over the legacy of Confederate statues, and debates about streets named after Confederate generals in Florida, Democrats around the country are pushing to remove statues in public places.

Two weeks ago, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, asked state lawmakers to make the change.

“It's time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Now, Wasserman Schultz is joined by her Democratic colleagues in Washington, including Miami Gardens Rep. Frederica Wilson.

Scott and Corcoran ruled out the possibility of a special session two weeks ago.

“Like most politicians in Washington, the Congresswoman is out of touch,” Corcoran said on Twitter. “We've already made this decision and are now having a conversation about which great Floridian we should honor. The Congresswoman should stop grandstanding and focus on balancing the Federal budget.”

Read more here. 

August 29, 2017

Marco Rubio calls for temporary protected status for Venezuelans

Rubio 01 EKM

@alextdaugherty

Marco Rubio has spent months pushing the White House to expand a temporary program that would allow Venezuelans who have fled Nicolás Maduro’s regime to stay in the United States, according to a previously unpublished letter from Rubio to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

The letter, dated March 20, asks Tillerson and Kelly to “review the existing conditions in Venezuela and consider granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to eligible Venezuelan nationals residing in the United States.”

“In light of the ongoing political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, it is not in the best interests of the United States to deport non-violent Venezuelan nationals back to the country at this time,” the letter reads.

President Donald Trump, who continues to talk tough on immigration, hasn’t indicated that he is open to extending the program to another country.

Rubio’s position puts him in line with an increasing number of Venezuelan activists and Florida politicians from both parties who want to expand the temporary program, which currently applies to foreign nationals from 10 countries already in the United States.

Last week, Democrats Bill Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, along with Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, voiced their support for the program, which would not be a permanent solution for Venezuelans seeking to stay in the United States.

In recent days, José Javier Rodríguez, a Democratic state senator and congressional candidate, along with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, have also called for expanding the TPS program.

“Temporary Protected Status will allow Venzeuelans fleeing violence to live and work here legally and contribute to our state’s diverse communities until it is safe for them to return home,” Graham said in a statement.

Rubio has positioned himself as an important voice on Venezuela under Trump as the State Department deals with a downsized staff. He set up a meeting between Trump and Lilian Tintori, a human-rights activist married to jailed Venezuelan dissident Leopoldo Lopez, and Rubio’s vocal criticism of Maduro and his associates led to the Florida senator getting protection from a security detail.

Rubio and Nelson hinted as far back as 2014 that they would consider the possibility of TPS for Venezuelans, but the issue has drawn increased attention after Maduro held a constituent assembly vote with the power to redraw the nation’s constitution.

Read more here.

Congress has one month to fix flood insurance. Hurricane Harvey makes it harder.

Flood(4)

@alextdaugherty

For months, political foes like Marco Rubio and Elizabeth Warren united behind a push to overhaul the nation’s flood insurance program by capping annual premium increases and focusing on preventing damage in future floods.

Hurricane Harvey could change all of that.

Congress has spent most of 2017 negotiating the National Flood Insurance Program, which must be renewed by Sept. 30. If the program lapses, thousands of real estate transactions and construction projects in flood-prone areas could be affected. But Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented flooding in the Houston area changes the debate about the future of flood insurance.

Massive storms like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 led to thousands of expensive claims — and the program plunged further into debt as the federal government continued to provide subsidized flood insurance rates well below market costs.

“Hurricane Harvey is the latest example of why we must act swiftly in reauthorizing and reforming our National Flood Insurance Program,” Rubio said in a statement. “I would vote for a short term extension to prevent the program from lapsing, but I would prefer passage of the SAFE NFIP Act, a bipartisan bill I’ve co-sponsored … that would reform our current system.”

Rubio and other coastal-state politicians are pushing to lower flood insurance premium increases to a maximum of 10 percent per year, a move meant to help their coastal constituents. Currently increases are limited to 18 to 25 percent, depending on the property. But experts say meaningful flood insurance reform will involve moving government-subsidized rates set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rates that reflect the actual cost of insurance.

That means higher costs for Floridians living in flood-prone areas.

“It offers rates that are really below risk-based rates,” said Laura Lightbody, the project director for flood preparedness with the Pew Charitable Trusts. Lightbody said it will be a “missed opportunity” if Congress simply extends the flood insurance program and keeps rates the same instead of overhauling it.

Lightbody is hopeful that Congress will act because the House and Senate have already been negotiating the program’s renewal for months and the coverage of Hurricane Harvey will draw national attention to the fiscally troubled program.

Daniel Stander, the managing director of Risk Management Solutions, a worldwide catastrophic risk modeling company, said Hurricane Harvey will likely not result in an immediate increase of flood insurance rates but will compound the program’s $23 billion debt situation. However, the hurricane will likely cause FEMA to reassess the program’s cost-effectiveness.

“There is certainly a desire inside FEMA to modernize how the [flood insurance program] is run,” Stander said. Flood insurance rates are likely to increase but I see that more by movements toward risk-based pricing than by a specific event like Harvey.”

But Florida politicians bristle at the potential for higher rates.

Florida, with more than 1.7 million policies, has 35 percent of the 5 million policies covered by the federal program — three times as many as the second ranked state, Texas, which has 593,000 policies.

Read more here.

August 25, 2017

Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans gains bipartisan support in Florida (updated)

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty 

 

Florida politicians began expressing their support for expanding a temporary program that would allow Venezuelans who have fled Nicolás Maduro’s regime to stay in the United States, aligning themselves with a growing chorus of Venezuelan activists who are pushing the Trump administration to take additional action.

Sen. Bill Nelson said Friday at an event in Little Haiti that he wants the Trump administration to grant Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelan nationals already in the United States.

“Just as in Haiti with natural disasters, there is a political disaster in Venezuela,” Nelson said. “Increasingly, with the economic chaos in Venezuela... I think Venezuelans ought to be considered.”

The TPS program allows foreign nationals already in the United States from 10 countries to stay in the United States for a designated period of time. President Donald Trump, who continues to espouse a tough-on-immigration line in Washington, hasn’t indicated that he’s open to extending the program to another country.

“I’ve been to the White House and talked to the national security people about this,” Nelson said. “They have it under consideration, and we’ll see what they intend to do.”

President Trump, not Congress, must make the decision.

Nelson’s position has bipartisan support, as Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said they support extending TPS to Venezuelans.

“I'm in favor of TPS for Venezuelans, as well as for Haitians and other groups in our community who contribute greatly to our area and whose native country lacks the most basic commodities,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “However, raising false hopes is not productive so I advocate for our immigration system to be more compassionate when individual cases come before those officials.”

“I strongly support granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to all eligible Venezuelans who seek safe haven from a regime that has employed official violence and political oppression, and left that nation devastated by food and medical shortages,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “President Trump must grant this essential status for the safety of Venezuelans who came to the U.S. out of fear for theirs and their families’ safety.”

Republicans Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart and Rick Scott, who have all urged tough sanctions against Venezuela after Maduro installed a constituent assembly with the power to rewrite the nation’s constitution, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the TPS program.

More here.

August 23, 2017

August 22, 2017

Nelson shares Scott's cautious stance on Confederate monuments

via @learyreports

On the issue of Confederate monuments, Sen. Bill Nelson is taking the cautious route of Gov. Rick Scott.

“My attitude is a monument, a statue, ought to signify unity instead of division,” Nelson, told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Monday after a speech before the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

But should Confederate monuments be removed? “I think leaving it up to the good sense of the communities involved is the best thing to do," the Democrat running for re-election said.

That’s effectively what Scott, who is likely to challenge Nelson next year, told the Tampa Bay Times last week.

"We have a democracy," Scott said. "We have the ability to have conversations about things, whether it's policy or things like monuments, and that's what's going on around our country right now. Some of these decisions will need to be made locally, some will be decided at the state level, some will be decided at the federal level, but what everybody needs to do is go through the process that's set up to make policy changes and make changes if they do with regards to a monument."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

August 14, 2017

Republicans use Spanish-language radio to attack Bill Nelson on Venezuela and Cuba

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty 

In their first radio ad against Sen. Bill Nelson, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is attacking the Democrat up for reelection over his perceived softness towards Venezuela and Cuba.

The ad, titled "Accomplice," is the latest evidence that the ongoing crisis in Venezuela will become a political issue in South Florida, where Venezuelan voters are concentrated in parts of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. It will air on four Spanish-language radio stations in the Miami area.

"Our government in Washington has to stop (Nicolás) Maduro and his accomplices," the ad says. "What has our Senator Bill Nelson done? In the past, he has aligned himself with communists and dictators. Look at him with Cuba. He supported (Barack) Obama when he negotiated with the other terrorists, the Castro brothers. When Nelson supports the Castros, that only reinforces and encourages others, like it did with (Hugo) Chavez and now with Maduro." 

Nelson is one of 10 Democratic Senators up for reelection next year in states won by Donald Trump in 2016. He figures to face a challenge from outgoing Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2018, though Scott has not announced a bid. 

That hasn't stopped national Republicans from going after Nelson. 

The ad also charges that Nelson visited Chavez in Venezuela in 2005 and that he went to Venezuela to "admire Chavez's revolution." 

 

Politicians from both parties, including Nelson, have vocally opposed Maduro in recent months. Nelson, along with others from Florida, are urging the Trump administration to impose a ban on Venezuelan oil imports after Maduro moved forward with a constituent assembly stocked with Maduro loyalists that can rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. 

“It’s time that we consider cutting the imports of Venezuelan oil,” Nelson said on the Senate floor recently. “We are now dealing with a Cuban-style dictator.”

The ad isn't the first attack by the NRSC on Nelson this year. In July the group tasked with electing Republicans to the U.S. Senate ran an ad on Facebook saying that Nelson wants a single-payer health care system championed by liberals like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Politifact rated that claim "mostly false," as Nelson is on record saying that he doesn't support single-payer and instead wants to preserve and improve Obamacare. 

Listen to the ad here: 

 

 

August 10, 2017

Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio: All options on table for North Korea

North_Korea_Nuclear_90583

@learyreports

Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio sounded deep concern over the situation with North Korea and say all options should be on the table, including a U.S. military strike.

“North Korea poses a serious threat to the U.S. and all options should be on the table to protect the American people,” Nelson said in a statement. “We either do nothing, go to war or negotiate a stand down, and so far we’ve seen no sign that they’re willing to negotiate.”

Rubio said the nation is moving toward a big decision whether to live with a North Korea with the capability of striking the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. “I think it’s an unacceptable risk and our options are limited,” he told reporters in Jacksonville on Wednesday.

“They all come with significant risks. But I think the unacceptable outcome would be to allow them to possess these weapons and the ability to strike us.”

Rubio said he was not advocating for a strike but, “as bad as that would be, it would be worse to live in a world held hostage by this man’s ability to strike the United States with a weapon.”

He defended President Donald Trump against criticism of using overly aggressive rhetoric.

“I don’t think the rhetoric is the problem,” Rubio said. “I think the problem is there is a lunatic in North Korea with nuclear weapons and the ability to put them on a missile that can reach the United States … And he was working on those nuclear weapons before Donald Trump was president. Trump is not the cause of a North Korea crisis.”

A reporter, however, questioned if Trump is inflaming things.

“I don’t have any concern about inflaming anything,” replied Rubio. “All the inflaming here is coming from this crazy guy in North Korea. Even if Donald Trump was the most diplomatic person in the world, he would be still be building a weapon and he would still be developing his missiles.”