May 04, 2017

Rubio taps Lopez-Cantera to head Florida judge-vetting panel

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Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera has been named head of a Florida panel that will vet candidates for federal judicial bench.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio announced Thursday that Lopez-Cantera will chair Florida's federal judicial nominating commission, or JNC. The commission will be formed by Rubio, a Republican, and Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat. It will take applications for judgeships and send finalists to the two senators.

"This is an extremely important process and I am committed to ensuring that the commission identifies for our senators' consideration the most qualified applicants to serve as U.S. district judges," Lopez-Cantera said in a statement. 

Lopez-Cantera, a Republican, is a longtime Rubio friend who ended his U.S. Senate candidacy last year after Rubio chose to run for reelection.

"Carlos is well-suited for this position and I am confident he is dedicated to this important process and will successfully lead the commission in identifying exceptional candidates to serve on the federal bench in Florida," Rubio said in a statement.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

May 03, 2017

Rubio, Nelson file bill to aid Venezuelans

via @learyreports

Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson on Wednesday introduced legislation that would provide assistance to Venezuela, including $10 million for medicine and nutritional supplements and $9.5 million for organizations working to defend human rights.

Rubio spearheaded the bill with Sen. Ben Cardin, and Nelson signed on with a bipartisan group.

“Venezuelan civilians are being harmed and killed by their own government as the dictator [Nicolás] Maduro and his thugs use violence to suppress peaceful pro-democracy protests,” Rubio said. “The United States must stand with and support the Venezuelan people as they struggle to defend their rights and restore constitutional mechanisms and bring back democracy in their country.”

Details below:

Continue reading "Rubio, Nelson file bill to aid Venezuelans" »

May 01, 2017

Pentagon wants to maintain moratorium on drilling in Gulf of Mexico



The Pentagon says maintaining the current moratorium on oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico beyond 2022 is “essential for developing and sustaining our nation's future combat capabilities," according to a letter sent to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

The Department of Defense "cannot overstate the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium,” Anthony M. Kurta, the acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, wrote in the letter, released Monday by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson's office.

In 2006, Nelson and then-Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican, successfully brokered a deal to ban oil drilling off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast through most of 2022. As a result, there is currently a no-drilling zone that extends 125 miles off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast and as far as 235 miles at some points to protect vital military training areas in the eastern Gulf until June 30, 2022. 

Even as President Donald Trump was signing an executive order encouraging an expansion of offshore drilling, Florida lawmakers from both parties have filed legislation to extend by five years a ban on oil drilling off much of Florida’s Gulf coast until 2027,.

The debate over expanding drilling is occurring just after the seventh anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which left oil tainting beaches in eight Florida Panhandle counties. Trump just ordered an easing of the safety measures implemented in the wake of that disaster, which killed eleven people and caused billions of dollars in damages.

April 28, 2017

At NRA, Gov. Rick Scott bashes Sen. Bill Nelson -- his potential 2018 rival



In his speech to the National Rifle Association, Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott bashed Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his position on U.S. Supreme Court appointments.

Scott may run against Nelson in 2018.

Scott criticized Nelson for not backing Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee with “sterling credentials”  who was confirmed.

"Look at the votes on this Supreme Court nominee and you can see that there are a number of senators who did not represent their states. These senators need to be retired. Unfortunately one of my Florida senators -- Bill Nelson -- has beared far to the left. He voted for Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and he just voted against Neil Gorsuch,” Scott told the NRA crowd in Atlanta. “I will leave you with this. You all have done great and important work but there is no rest for the weary. There is no time to relax. The opponents of freedom and liberty are constantly on the move. But fortunately for America today the defenders of freedom and liberty are stronger but we have to keep fighting to keep it that way.”

Scott’s speech followed President Donald Trump who gave Scott a welcome shout out. Scott also praised Trump for being a “strong supporter of our military and our veterans and he is going to cut our taxes.”

In 2012, the NRA attacked Nelson for voting in favor of Sotomayor. Nelson easily won his 2012 race against U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, but Scott will be a far better financed and formidable opponent.

Scott spoke to the NRA about a week before the end of the Florida legislative session. Nearly all of the bills to expand gun rights this session have died.

File photo of Gov. Rick Scott. 

Trump signs order on drilling, prompting backlash in Florida


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - President Trump this morning signed an executive order that could open up more oil drilling, setting up a confrontation with Florida politicians.

The “America First Offshore Energy Strategy” calls for a review of drilling in the outer continental shelf. President Obama before leaving office put into place restrictions that closed off areas in the Arctic and Atlantic as well as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

"It’s a great day for America workers, unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs," Trump said. "Our country is blessed with incredible natural resources, including abundant offshore oil and natural gas reserves."

Sen. Bill Nelson Thursday filed a bill to block the move but with a Republican majority in both chambers that effort may falter. Still, any changes under Trump could take years to implement.

Florida opposition emerged immediately.

"Florida's coasts and oceans are home to stunning wildlife, beautiful beaches and support a robust tourism economy, all things that stand to lose from offshore drilling,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida. “The President’s action opens the door to expanded drilling into our public waters, including the Eastern Gulf of Mexico – a move that goes against the values a majority of Floridians share: that our oceans and beaches should be preserved, not sold off to the highest bidder.”


April 27, 2017

Awaiting Trump executive order, Bill Nelson files bill to block more oil drilling


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - In a pre-emptive strike, Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democrats today filed legislation to block the Trump administration from opening up additional areas to offshore drilling.

“Drilling near Florida’s coast poses a direct threat to Florida’s environment and multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy,” Nelson said in a statement.

The action comes a day before President Trump is expected to sign an executive order calling for a review of drilling. Nelson says that would require the Interior Department to alter the current five-year oil and gas leasing plan that took effect earlier this year and expires in 2022. That plan prohibits oil and gas drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic Coast.

The new legislation would prohibit changes to the current plan. Nelson had previously filed legislation to extend the ban to 2027.

Trump calls out Democrats about position on Puerto Rico Medicaid shortfall

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump has a new target: Sen. Bill Nelson and others trying to address a health care funding crisis in Puerto Rico.

“The Democrats want to shut government if we don't bail out Puerto Rico and give billions to their insurance companies for OCare failure. NO!” Trump tweeted this morning. Last night he said, “Democrats are trying to bail out insurance companies from disastrous #ObamaCare, and Puerto Rico with your tax dollars. Sad!”

It seems Trump is referring to an effort from Nelson and Sen. Robert Menendez to address a Medicaid shortfall for Puerto Rico. The Democrats this week are pressing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the issue, noting that $6.4 billion in funding under the Affordable Care Act is set to run out at the end of the year, despite expectations it would last through 2019. The gap leaves Puerto Rico “facing a Medicaid cliff that will have far-reaching consequences for both the island and the continental United States,” Nelson and Menendez wrote to McConnell.

The Democrats were members of the bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico, which issued a report in December that included a call for Medicaid funding. Sen. Marco Rubio was a member of the group and signed onto an April 7 letter urging Health Secretary Tom Price to address the Medicaid issue.

We've asked Rubio for comment in light of Trump's comments.

UPDATE: As of 1:45 p.m., Rubio has not responded.

Despite what Trump says, it’s not clear Democrats are threatening to hold up a spending bill over the issue.

Rubio and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, are working the Territory Health Insurance Tax Relief Act of 2017, which would exempt health insurance providers in U.S. territories from paying a tax, “which has been passed on to consumers in the forms of higher premiums.”

“It is unfair to Puerto Ricans to have to pay this ObamaCare tax and endure higher premiums, only to be excluded from participating in the same health system that the rest of the United States does,” Rubio said in a news release. “As we work on the larger goal of repealing and replacing ObamaCare, this legislation would repeal the law’s costly and unfair tax on Puerto Rico and help begin the process of revitalizing the health care system on the island.”

April 26, 2017

Nelson says Trump will face 'flood of opposition' to oil drilling move

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Bill Nelson on Wednesday vowed bipartisan opposition to a coming move by President Donald Trump to open up oil drilling off the Florida coast.

"I hope he refrains from issuing this executive order, but if he does, this senator and a bipartisan delegation from Florida will fight," Nelson said on the Senate floor.

Trump's order is expected Friday and details are still unclear, though White House officials signaled it will target a late Obama-era restriction on offshore drilling and gas exploration in the Arctic Ocean and parts of the Atlantic.

Oil interests have long yearned for more access to the waters off Florida. Nelson invoked the BP oil spill and its damaging effect on tourism. Even if oil did not spread down the coast, as feared, people saw pictures and stayed away, Nelson said.

Trump can "expect a flood of opposition," Nelson warned.

Indeed, bipartisan voices have already spoken out.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

April 25, 2017

Nelson to Tillerson: Open temporary Miami passport office

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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wants the State Department to open a temporary Miami passport office, following the indefinite closure of the existing office Monday due to water damage.

In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Nelson urged the feds to "make every effort to minimize the inconvenience, including issuing clear guidance to affected travelers and opening a temporary location in Miami for emergency passport services as soon as possible."

Here's the full letter:

Continue reading "Nelson to Tillerson: Open temporary Miami passport office" »

April 21, 2017

Nelson: United Airlines evasive in probe of passenger removal

via @learyreports

United Airlines has snubbed Sen. Bill Nelson.

The Florida Democrat, who joined a letter demanding answers to the worldwide controversy of violently removing a passenger from a flight, says United did not sufficiently respond.

“We’re disappointed that neither United Airlines nor the Chicago Department of Aviation has yet provided substantive answers to the straightforward questions we asked about the forcible removal of a passenger on April 9, 2017," reads a letter from Nelson and other senators. "Getting answers for the public about what happened and what can be done to prevent such an incident from happening again is a priority for the members of our committee. We find any further delay in getting necessary answers unacceptable.”

The statement was drafted by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Nelson, who serve respectively as the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation along with Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) who serve as the chairman and ranking member of the Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security Subcommittee.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times