January 12, 2018

Rubio and Nelson say Senate stalling on disaster relief


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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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. 

January 11, 2018

Targeting Florida Republicans in 2018 will be tricky for Puerto Rican leaders

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Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló intends to throw his political weight around in the 2018 elections, mobilizing Puerto Ricans who recently moved to the mainland to vote against lawmakers he says “turned their back” on the U.S. territory in its time of need.

Rosselló’s threats are ostensibly aimed at Republicans in Congress tasked with doling out billions in disaster aid and in charge of an overhaul of the nation’s tax system, where Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory creates rules that don’t exist on the mainland. He called out Sen. Marco Rubio by name in December, saying he was “disappointed” in his tax bill vote, though Rosselló stopped short of offering any specific political retribution against the Florida Republican.

“Once it’s crunch time for the elections, that’s when our organization is going to start saying, ‘These are the folks who have been for Puerto Rico and these have been the folks that are against Puerto Rico,’” Rosselló said this week in Washington.

But carrying out political advocacy in swing state Florida, where Puerto Ricans who are Democrats and Republicans hold elected office, is a tricky balancing act for Rosselló, a Democrat.

Puerto Ricans in Florida could form a large enough voting bloc to affect statewide elections for governor and U.S. Senate in 2018. But Florida Republicans like Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott enjoy widespread support among many members of Rosselló’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party, in contrast to heavily Democratic states with many Puerto Ricans, like New York, Illinois and Connecticut.

“You don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” said state Rep. Bob Cortes, one of two Puerto Rican Republicans in the state Legislature.

Read more here.

January 08, 2018

Miami Republicans oppose Trump decision to end TPS for Salvadorans

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The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it will end Temporary Protected Status for about 200,000 Salvadorans in September 2019, and the three Miami Republicans in Congress voiced opposition to the Trump administration's decision. Monday's move comes after the Trump administration decided to end TPS for Haitians and Nicaraguans last year. TPS allows foreign nationals from countries affected by disaster and unrest to live and work in the United States for a period of time. 

"I am in strong disagreement with the Administration’s decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadoran nationals who reside in the United States," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. "These innocent people fled their home country after a disastrous earthquake, and while living conditions may have slightly improved, El Salvador now faces a significant problem with drug trafficking, gangs, and crime. Since 2001, these people have established themselves in the United States, making countless contributions to our society and our local communities. As I did with the decisions to end TPS for Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Honduran nationals who reside in the United States, I strongly urge the Administration to reconsider this decision."

"Today’s decision about Salvadoran TPS – and previous decisions about Honduran and Nicaraguan TPS – are disappointing," said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. "Many years of short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty, not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for employers and neighbors who have welcomed them to our communities." 

"It is unconscionable that @POTUS would terminate the much needed  status of more than 200,000 people from  who have been here for years, working legally + sending remittances to their families," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said on Twitter. 

The three Miami Republicans, who all represent districts with large Latino populations, are signed on to a bill that would provide a path to permanent residency and American citizenship for immigrants currently living in the U.S. under TPS from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicarauga and Honduras.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is also in favor of extending TPS for Haiti, and all of the Democrats representing South Florida including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson and Sen. Bill Nelson are opposed to the Department of Homeland Security's decision. 

January 05, 2018

Trump plan for oil drilling off coast ripped by Florida leaders — in both parties

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Florida waters long closed to offshore drilling would open up under a Trump administration plan to dramatically expand domestic oil and gas production.

The plan drew swift criticism from political leaders of both parties in Florida. Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who previously opposed protections put in place by the Obama administration, objected. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who have fought to extend a drilling ban in the eastern Gulf, also criticized a draft proposal released Thursday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration,” Scott said in a statement.

According to the proposal, open to public comment for the next 60 days, the nation would more than quadruple the number of drilling leases available in U.S. waters. The plan covers parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast not available since 1988, as well as the Atlantic coast and Florida Straits. In total, the plan would open the nation’s offshore oil and gas reserves in all but one area off Alaska over the next five years.

“This is clearly the difference between energy weakness and energy dominance,” Zinke said in a press call.

Zinke said Florida’s worries, still colored by thedisastrous oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig failure in 2010, would factor into the final plan, along with concerns about sensitive military operations in the Gulf.

“Certainly, Florida is going to have a say,” he said. “Interior should not be the role of adversary. We should be a partner.”

Read more here.

January 04, 2018

Rick Scott agrees with Bill Nelson and opposes Trump's oil drilling plan

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that he opposes a planned measure by the Interior Department that would potentially open up Florida for offshore drilling, putting him in agreement with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott is likely to run against Nelson, a longtime opponent of offshore oil drilling, in 2018. 

“Based on media reports, it is likely that the Department of the Interior will consider Florida as a potential state for offshore oil drilling – which is something I oppose in Florida," Scott said in a statement. "I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary (Ryan) Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration. My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected, which is why I proposed $1.7 billion for the environment in this year’s budget."

Scott, an ally of President Donald Trump, was largely silent on opening up Florida for offshore oil drilling during his tenure in Tallahassee, an idea opposed by many Florida Democrats and Republicans in Congress. 

Nelson vehemently opposed the Interior Department's plan, which is expected to be officially announced later on Thursday, during a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday. He argued that loosening regulations and expanding drilling could lead to more environmentally destructive oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. 

"I hope the public understands that and starts registering some complaints, and I hope that during that time every Floridian remembers what happened to us when the beaches of Pensacola Beach were blackened with tar and oil, and we lost a whole season of our guests, our tourists who come to this extraordinary state," Nelson said.  

With one year to go, numbers sum up Rick Scott’s governing legacy

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Rick Scott rewrote the playbook of Florida politics, not once but twice, as a candidate and governor, in ways that will endure long after he leaves Tallahassee.

As Scott begins his eighth and final year as Florida’s 45th governor, he’s considering a bid for the U.S. Senate against three-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. If he were to win, it would extend an improbable winning streak for a multi-millionaire who as recently as 2010 was a political novice and unknown.

But one cornerstone of his legacy is secure: He’s the tireless and nerdy CEO with a singular focus on jobs that bordered on an obsession while he was governor, who’ll be remembered chiefly for leading his state out of the Great Recession.

The rest of Scott’s legacy is less glowing.

He relegated Florida motorists and tourists to decades of gridlock by killing a high-speed rail system that would have linked Tampa to Orlando, and later to Miami.

His reversal on Medicaid expansion denied up to a million low-income Floridians access to affordable healthcare, left billions of federal dollars on the table and brought criticism from fellow Republicans that he was a flip-flopper.

Scott is the first governor who was sued successfully for violating state public records laws, including the failure to disclose emails involving public business sent from a private account, and was forced to spend $700,000 of taxpayers’ money to pay his opponents’ legal fees. He publicly apologized for mishandling the firing of a top state law enforcement official that cost taxpayers another $55,000 in legal fees to advocates for open government.

He has exercised the death penalty more than any governor in Florida history. More inmates have been put to death under his watch (26) than by any of his predecessors.

Read more here.

January 03, 2018

Bill Nelson tries to overrule offshore oil regulation changes by the Trump administration



Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is turning to legislative tactics developed by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich in an effort to halt changes proposed by the Trump administration that would loosen regulations on offshore oil drilling. 

Nelson said he plans to invoke a procedural rule known as the Congressional Review Act to stop a ruling by the Interior Department that would end a current requirement for a third party to certify that an offshore oil rig's blowout preventer is working properly. The Congressional Review Act was initiated by Gingrich in the 1990s as a check on President Bill Clinton, but it went mostly unused until last year when Republicans in Congress used the rule to overturn a number of Obama-era regulations. 

"Almost five million barrels of oil spilled as a result of a defective device called a blowout preventer," Nelson said on the Senate floor Wednesday. "The BP spill devastated my state's economy and eleven people lost their lives. That's why I plan to subject this misguided rule to the Congressional Review Act." 

Since Democrats don't control Congress, it's unlikely that Nelson's use of the Congressional Review Act will succeed. Barack Obama simply vetoed rules that were overturned by Republicans via the Congressional Review Act when he was president, so Donald Trump could do the same if Nelson's effort is successful in Congress. 

The Interior Department is currently accepting public comments on its change to the Obama-era drilling regulations until January 29

"I hope the public understands that and starts registering some complaints, and I hope that during that time every Floridian remembers what happened to us when the beaches of Pensacola Beach were blackened with tar and oil, and we lost a whole season of our guests, our tourists who come to this extraordinary state," Nelson said.  

In 2006, Nelson and then-Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., passed a moratorium on drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast through the year 2022. Nelson filed legislation last year to extend that ban an additional five years, to 2027.

December 26, 2017

Bill Nelson to visit Puerto Rico tomorrow



Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is visiting Puerto Rico tomorrow to meet with Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and other officials as thousands of Puerto Ricans settle in Florida after Hurricane Maria severely damaged the U.S. territory.

Nelson is traveling with Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, the only Puerto Rican in Congress from Florida, who predicted that Puerto Ricans who are new to Florida will create political pressure for Florida Republicans in 2018 because of President Donald Trump's inadequate disaster response and a GOP-led tax bill that Rosselló and other Puerto Rican politicians vehemently oppose

Interestingly, Nelson's office cited media reports that more than 1,000 people may have died due to Maria's effects instead of the official tally of about 60 deaths. Puerto Rico's government said it will review the death toll after the Center for Investigative Journalism and the New York Times published accounts that deaths in Puerto Rico spiked in 2017 after Hurricane Maria made landfall compared to the same time in 2016. 

Nelson first visited Puerto Rico in mid-October, about three weeks after Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was among the first elected officials to visit Puerto Rico after the storm and his office sent staffers to the island, though Rosselló criticized him by name for ultimately supporting the GOP-led tax bill that became law last week. 

December 06, 2017

Bill Nelson says Al Franken should resign


via @learyreports

Update: Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said Minnesota Sen. Al Franken should resign after he was accused of unwanted sexual touching by multiple women. 

“Sexual harassment is never acceptable," Nelson said in a statement. "I agree with a majority of the Democratic senators that Sen. Franken should step aside."

Nelson made his comments hours after a slew of Democratic senators called on Franken to resign. Franken said he will make a decision about his political future tomorrow. 

From earlier:

A majority of Democratic Senators — including Chuck Schumer — today called for Al Franken to resign but Florida's Bill Nelson is not yet among them.

Nelson's office hasn't responded to multiple questions about his stance.

When the allegations first surfaced, Nelson told us, "Sexual harassment is never acceptable. The Senate Ethics committee will fully investigate this troubling incident, as I believe they should."

Franken was to appear at a fundraiser for Nelson, at Alex Sink's Tampa-area home, but then canceled. Nelson is up for reelection in 2018.