June 20, 2017

Nelson tries to avoid getting pinned down on Trump Cuba shift

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Bill Nelson was quiet as President Donald Trump unveiled his new policy on Cuba. So we were curious about his views, especially as future rival Rick Scott embraced the change.

What we got Monday evening was a statement that seemed to have it both ways.

"While I support the embargo and agree that American dollars shouldn't go to the Cuban government or military, I also support the people of Cuba,” the Democrat said. “I support families helping families. And I believe allowing more Americans to interact with the people of Cuba is in their best interest, while we continue to pressure the Castro regime for human rights and freedoms."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Tampa Bay Times file

June 13, 2017

VA accountability bill sponsored by Rubio and Nelson passes House, heads to Trump's desk



A bill sponsored by Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson that aims to make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire bad employees passed the House by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it soon. 

The bill, dubbed the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, passed the House by a vote of 368-55. A group of liberal Democrats, including South Florida Reps. Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson, voted against the bill. 

The legislation would authorize VA secretary David Shulkin to fire or demote senior and non-senior employees and lowers the burden of proof needed to dismiss an employee. The bill also protects whistleblowers by not allowing Shulkin to fire employees who have filed a formal complaint regarding conduct at the VA.

In 2014, the VA was rocked with scandal after a some veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the Phoenix VA hospital and employees created secret lists to cover up the delays. 

The House passed a similar bill earlier this year that passed largely along party lines when the largest union of federal employees opposed the swift appeals process for employees accused of misbehavior.

The Senate revamp of the bill lengthened the appeals process to please Democrats and won the approval of the union, and it passed the upper chamber on a voice vote last week. 

Tim Canova to announce 2018 political plans Thursday



Tim Canova, who lost a heated Democratic primary against U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in August, will announce his political plans for 2018 Thursday.

Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor and Hollywood resident, confirmed to the Miami Herald in a text Tuesday that he will announce his plans at a progressive caucus event at the Broward AFL-CIO office in Plantation at 6:30 p.m Thursday:

Canova wrote on Facebook  that he will speak at the event where he will be “making a big announcement on our plans for 2018, which will be live streamed on this page. You won't want to miss out!”

In September, Canova filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission so he could start fundraising in case he decided to run against Wasserman Schultz who represents a Broward/Miami-Dade district. But through April he hasn’t fundraised.

While Canova has argued someone on the left should challenge Wasserman Schultz, he hasn’t made clear if that someone will be him or whether he will run for another office. Two possibilities: he could be joining an already crowded Democratic field for governor or running against U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida’s only statewide Democratic office holder who is likely to face Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Earlier this year, Canova delivered petitions to Nelson’s Coral Gables office to demand he take action to halt the Sabal Trail Pipeline.

Despite Canova’s loss to Wasserman Schultz by 14 percentage points in the August primary, his prolific fundraising showed he is a serious candidate. In his first race ever, Canova drew drew support from Bernie Sanders’ fans and raised $3.8 million.

Last year was the first time that Wasserman Schultz faced a challenge from the left in many years. She defended her seat when she was at her most vulnerable -- several weeks after she resigned as chair of the Democratic National Committee amid leaks of emails showing the party favored Hillary Clinton over Sanders.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Canova expressed frustration with the Florida Democratic Party and said that it is allowing Wasserman Schultz to make welcoming remarks at the annual Leadership Blue gala. Canova directed some of his ire at party chairman Stephen Bittel, an ally of Wasserman Schultz.

“Why the party would want to promote the very personification of scandal, disgrace, and failure to open the gala says more about the incompetence and bad faith of Bittel and his leadership team than any lip service they've given in recent months and even recent days about remaining neutral and impartial in contested primaries.”

But Wasserman Schultz's spokesman David Damron said that Wasserman Schultz isn't speaking at the gala.

The Florida Democratic Party has not yet released a list of speakers -- other than headliner former Vice President Joe Biden -- and declined to comment.

Nelson will speak at the event, his spokesman Ryan Brown said.

This post has been updated to include information from spokespersons for Wasserman Schultz and Nelson.

Digital ad campaign from Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity targets Bill Nelson



Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political group financed by the industrialist Koch brothers, is launching a new, six-figure digital ad campaign targeting Florida Sen. Bill Nelson on tax reform.

AFP wants Nelson, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, to follow its principles for comprehensive tax reform. It's an unlikely request, given that Nelson is a Democrat.

Nelson is also running for reelection next year, and is expected to face a serious challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

AFP has been pushing Republican lawmakers to oppose a border-adjustment tax, which the group says would act as a tax on consumers.

June 08, 2017

Sen. Bill Nelson says AG Sessions should testify before Senate Intelligence Committee (UPDATE: Rubio wants Sessions to testify)

IMG_1782 (1)


Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson nabbed the hottest ticket in Washington on Thursday—a front row seat to former FBI Director James Comey's hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

As other senators who weren't on the committee went about a normal work day in Washington, Nelson leaned back in his chair to hear the detailed steps that Comey took to document his conversations with President Donald Trump because he didn't feel the president was trustworthy. 

"Let me give you my strongest impression, the testimony was riveting and I was riveted when he (Comey) answered that he took copious and detailed notes because he felt that the president would lie," Nelson said. "That was stunning."

Nelson told reporters after the hearing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should testify before the committee to explain his role in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

"He was part of it," Nelson said. "The special counsel certainly has lots of information to work with." 

Sessions, a former senator from Alabama and Trump ally, recused himself from the Russia investigation after a flurry of criticism over his previously undisclosed contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Nelson, leaned back in his chair as his fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, asked Comey questions during Thursday morning's open hearing. Rubio repeatedly questioned Comey about why he chose not to disclose publicly that Trump was not a target in the Russia investigation. 

UPDATE 3:23pm: Rubio said Sessions should testify before the Intelligence Committee to reporters after the hearing. "The attorney general...will hopefully answer some questions on a number of topics." 

June 05, 2017

Bill Nelson will fight Donald Trump over air traffic control privatization

Bill Nelson


President Donald Trump threw his weight behind a proposal to privatize the nation’s air traffic control system on Monday, and a White House adviser called the multi-billion dollar effort “low-hanging fruit” that can get through Congress quickly.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson doesn’t see it that way.

Nelson, up for reelection in 2018, is the top Democrat on the Senate committee which oversees the Federal Aviation Administration. He fought for years against proposals to hand the nation’s air traffic control system over to a private non-profit, which he argues will hurt smaller airports and recreational flights.

“The safety of the flying public should not be for sale,” Nelson said Monday. “Handing air traffic control over to a private entity partly governed by the airlines is both a risk and liability we can’t afford to take.”

Nelson’s opposition has been successful for years, as Democrats and Republicans from rural states fretted about privatization’s effect on small airports and recreational aviation. A privatization bill proposed by House Transportation chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., didn’t even make it to the House floor last Congress.

But President Trump, with Shuster at his side, pitched air traffic control privatization as a win for consumers on Monday, putting pressure on congressional Republicans to get on board.

“For too many years, our country has tolerated unacceptable delays at the airport, long wait times on the tarmac and a slowing of commerce and travel that costs us billions and billions of dollars in lost hours and lost dollars themselves,” Trump said at a White House speech touting the plan.

Read more here. 

As Trump reviews Cuba policy, Rubio, Nelson want to address 'stolen property'

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson are pressing the Trump administration to seek compensation for Americans whose property was taken by the Cuban government.

The move comes as Trump is reviewing policy toward Cuba.

“The U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (FCSC) has certified more than 5,900 claims against the Cuban Government for stolen property,” the lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “These claims—now valued at approximately $8 billion—remain unresolved.

“While the Cuban Government has manufactured ridiculous counter-claims to avoid responsibility, we urge you to seek fair compensation on behalf of these Americans as soon as possible. To that end, we request that you work with Congress to develop a plan and timeline for resolution of these claims, as well as consider instructing the FCSC to conduct a third Cuban Claims Program to allow for potential new claimants.”

Rubio and Nelson also express “concern” with a January 2016 decision allowing Cubaexport to renew a trademark for Havana Club rum.

“Cubaexport registered the trademark for Havana Club in the United States only after the Cuban Government stole the trademark from the original owners. The decision was a troubling development, given longstanding U.S. policy and support for the rightful owners of stolen property, and we urge you to reconsider.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

June 02, 2017

Sen. Bill Nelson decries Steve Bannon's influence over Donald Trump



Sen. Bill Nelson blasted President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement at his Coral Gables office on Friday, saying that Republicans who support the president's decision are "not living in the real world." 

"This is such a bad decision," Nelson said. "I don't know what set him off. It looks like he's being influenced by people like [former Trump campaign manager] Paul Manafort and the Breitbart guy." 

"The Breitbart guy" is Trump aide Steve Bannon, the former executive of the conservative website Bretibart who was once registered to vote in Miami.

Bannon is said to have orchestrated the decision to withdraw from the landmark climate agreement signed by every country except for Nicaragua and Syria over the objections of Trump's daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner.

"Certainly you hear about the war within the White House and his daughter and son-in-law are on one side and the others are on the other side," Nelson said. "I can't imagine what is happening that they have come down on this decision to align themselves with Syria and Nicaragua instead of almost the entire rest of the world."

Gov. Rick Scott, who will likely challenge Nelson for his Senate seat in 2018, on Friday praised Trump's decision Thursday to withdraw from the Paris agreement. 

Nelson did not attack Scott by name but said any elected official who denies that climate change is caused by humans is doing a disservice to the planet. 

"When you have 99 percent of the scientists in the world tell you what in fact is happening, and in South Florida we know what's happening because we see the daily effects of sea level rise, and then the leadership of any governmental organization that denies that, then they're not living in the real world." 

A number of South Florida Republicans, including Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado voiced opposition to Trump's decision. 

May 17, 2017

Nelson asks Homeland Security to extend protected status for Haitians

Nelson Venezuela (1)

Sen. Bill Nelson asked the Trump administration Wednesday to extend a temporary protected status, or TPS, for nearly 60,000 Haitians living in the U.S. following the 2010 earthquake.

"I understand that the Government of Haiti is working on a plan to further rebuild and develop the country so that its people can make their lives there," Nelson wrote in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. "To allow for successful implementation of its plan, the Government requests that you extend TPS for Haitian nationals for another 18 months."

Paul Altidor, the Haitian ambassador to the U.S., told the Florida Democrat that the country is still trying to recover from the earthquake and a 2016 hurricane, according to Nelson's office.

Last month, following reports that the White House might seek to end TPS, Nelson asked Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to extend the protection.

Here's the text of Nelson's latest letter:

Continue reading "Nelson asks Homeland Security to extend protected status for Haitians" »

May 10, 2017

Nelson has no faith in McConnell to allow fair Russian investigation

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson amplified calls Wednesday for a special prosecutor to oversee the Russian meddling probe, asserting that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot be trusted to oversee a fair investigation.

“I do not have any faith that Mitch McConnell, on the basis of his statement today on the floor of the Senate, will let a full investigation be done by legislative committees controlled by his office," Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times and other news outlets. "I believe that’s why we need an independent special prosecutor.”

Nelson, facing re-election next year, said the Senate Intelligence Committee review could also be hampered because federal agencies under control of President Trump may not fully cooperate.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, McConnell said: "Today we'll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation, which could only serve to impede the current work being done."

Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Intel Committee, also thinks the work should proceed. "People should wait for all the facts to come out via the Intelligence Committee report and then at that time a determination can be made," he said Wednesday.

Trump on Twitter has been bashing Democrats as two-faced. "Dems have been complaining for months & months about Dir. Comey," he wrote on Twitter this afternoon. "Now that he has been fired they PRETEND to be aggrieved. Phony hypocrites!"

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times