July 28, 2017

Marco Rubio throws cold water on Bill Nelson's bipartisan health care push



Less than 24 hours after Sen. John McCain scuttled the GOP's push to repeal Obamacare, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson confirmed he is working with moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on a bipartisan health care plan.

"Sen. Collins and I have discussed this issue many times and we are now working together," Nelson said. "As former state insurance commissioners, we know how complicated this issue is and we are working with a small bipartisan group of senators equally dedicated to finding real solutions. This group of senators met for dinner the other night to start sharing our ideas and discussing a path forward." 

But Nelson's Florida colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio, threw cold water over a bipartisan health care plan on Friday afternoon. 

"I'd love to see a bipartisan effort to repeal and replace Obamacare," Rubio said. "Unfortunately, the growing consensus within the Democratic party, although they didn't have the courage to admit it yesterday, was to vote in favor of a single payer system." 

Rubio was referring to an effort by Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines on Thursday to force red state Democrats like Nelson on the record as to whether or not they support a single payer health care system. Instead, the majority of Senate Democrats, including liberals who support single payer like Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, voted "present" instead of yes or no.  

"I don't think they (Democrats) are really interested in repealing and I'm not sure we would like the replacement they have in mind because single payer is not a good replacement," Rubio said. "It would make things far worse than what we see now." 

Nelson said Friday he and Collins met earlier in the week to begin laying out ideas.

"While the imminent disaster of 20 percent rate hikes and 16 million people losing coverage has been avoided by the defeat of the Republican’s health care bill, now is the time to come together and start working in a bipartisan way to stabilize the market and make health care more affordable," Nelson said.

Rubio said Friday he's "proud" to be in a party that includes moderates like Collins and hard-line conservatives like Utah Sen. Mike Lee, even if it makes it harder to pass legislation. 

"I'd rather have them both and be a majority than have a more ideologically concise group but be in the minority," Rubio said. 

Rubio, who said he knew that McCain was going to vote against the Obamacare repeal measure dubbed "skinny repeal" about an hour before the dramatic vote early Friday morning, said the effort to repeal Obamacare isn't dead despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing "it's time to move on" after the failed vote.

"I imagine dictatorships are a lot more efficient, but I wouldn't want to live in one," Rubio said. 


July 25, 2017

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Ted Deutch hold hearing on Coral Springs native Bob Levinson



South Florida Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, and Ted Deutch, D-Fort Lauderdale, held a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday with Doug Levinson, the son of Coral Springs native Bob Levinson, and other families whose loved ones were detained in Iran.

Levinson is a former FBI agent from Coral Springs who went missing from Kish Island, Iran, while working on an unauthorized mission for the CIA in 2007. 

Ros-Lehtinen and Deutch, the chairwoman and ranking member of the House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, held the hearing to raise awareness of individuals held as hostages in Iran. 

Deutch introduced a resolution calling on Tehran to do more to bring Bob Levinson home safely. 

"Iran's outrageous disregard for international law should give every country, every company-especially every American company, pause as to whether this is a country they should welcome back into the community of nations," Deutch said during the hearing. 

Earlier in July, Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson sent a letter to the White House urging President Donald Trump to “maintain pressure on Iran to see that [Bob] is returned as soon as possible.”

Last week, the Associated Press reported that the Levinson family met with senior State Department officials in Washington, and that many senior U.S. officials believe that Levinson is no longer alive.  

July 20, 2017

Sen. Bill Nelson blasts Interior Department nominee over offshore drilling stance

Bill Nelson


Sen. Bill Nelson sharply criticized Donald Trump's nominee for the number two position at the Interior Department on Thursday, saying in a speech on the Senate floor that he plans to oppose David Bernhardt due to his noncommittal position on an oil drilling moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Trump and Interior Department secretary Ryan Zinke announced a review on drilling in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico in April, a sign that the administration wants to loosen drilling restrictions. 

"I am going to lift the restrictions on American energy, and allow this wealth to pour into our communities," Trump said in April.

Bernhardt told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during his confirmation hearing that he supports the Trump administration's review. His nomination passed out of committee by a vote of 14 to 9, with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Maine Independent Sen. Angus King voting with Republicans. 

"During his confirmation process, [Bernhardt] gave some very troubling answers to questions about the moratorium," Nelson said. "When it comes to the eastern Gulf, there is no good way to increase offshore production while balancing environmental concerns. … And, secondly, as I have explained time and time again, it makes no sense to drill in an area that is critically important to the United States military."  

In 2006, Nelson helped pass a ban on oil drilling 125 miles off of Florida's coast. That ban is set to expire in 2022 and a number of congressional Republicans and industry groups are in favor of ending the ban.

"The top brass in the Pentagon are asking that we extend this moratorium," Nelson said, adding that the moratorium allows for military training operations in the Gulf in addition to the environmental benefits. "So we should not put someone in charge at the Department of the Interior if he has an open objection to what is obviously needed for the national security and if he has such a demonstrated history of siding just with special interest, which would be a bad decision when it comes to the national security of this country." 

Nelson filed legislation earlier this year that would extend Florida's moratorium by five years.

The Senate will vote Monday on Bernhardt's nomination. Bernhardt is a longtime lobbyist on environmental issues in Washington who once sued the Interior Department. He also worked as legal counsel for the Interior Department under George W. Bush. 

"Bernhardt is a walking conflict of interest," said U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., in April. 


July 14, 2017

Bill Nelson on Obamacare repeal: It's on the ropes, 'the message has gotten through'

Bill Nelson 71417U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was approaching the dugout at Tropicana Field to throw out the first pitch at the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Red Sox on July 7, when a woman shouted his name.

"She came down the aisle to tell me: Please don't let them take my health care away," Nelson recalled. "I hear that all the time. People come up to me on the airplane, street corners, public buildings, ballgames -- where ever I am. Some people have told me 'I would be dead without my healthcare.'''

Because of that, Nelson said, he predicts that the revised Senate healthcare bill, which was released on Thursday, is all but dead and repeal of Obamacare is on the ropes.

"I think the message has gotten through,'' Nelson said Friday after a series of constituent meetings at his Tallahassee office. "I think it's going to be hard for them."

Even Gov. Rick Scott, a long-time advocate of repealing Obamacare, said in an op-ed released Friday that smaller changes should be on the table even though he still says "Obamacare must be repealed immediately." 

"D.C. politicians have focused only on the grand bargain of repealing and replacing Obamacare, ignoring the opportunity to make incremental changes to get rid of the taxes and mandates and roll back the federal welfare state,'' Scott wrote. 

Nelson believes that Florida has put itself in a bind by refusing to expand Medicaid to 138 percent of poverty, which he says is about $45,000 for a family of four.

"Now the states like Florida are saying we want you to make us equal with all 31 states that have expanded Medicaid, including states that have Republican governors,'' he said. "This is not only the irony but the travesty of the situation."

Under Obamacare, Florida could have drawn $5 billion a year in federal funds and would have had to match a maximum of $500 million a year to cover an estimated 800,000 uninsured, he said.

Instead, Florida has persuaded the Trump administration to expand the Low Income Pool program and reimburse hospitals and health care about $1 billion over the next two years  to compensate for the care for the uninsured. But to get that money, local governments must pay a 40 percent match for 60 percent of the federal funds.

"So the people of Florida are going to pay $400 million to get $600 million when in fact, if they had expanded Medicaid, they would have paid a maximum of $500 million to get $5 billion," he said.

"They are paying more for it out of the pockets of the taxpayers of Florida and now when the health care bill revision is up, they say they want extra compensation so that the state's that expanded Medicaid don't get ahead of us. It's backwards."

July 13, 2017

Conservative group targets Bill Nelson and Carlos Curbelo in tax reform ads




Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a conservative group, is targeting U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican, in digital ads urging them to support tax reform.

The ads target House Ways and Means lawmakers who have expressed support for comprehensive tax reform, but who have yet to take a stand against the Border Adjustment Tax on imported goods, according to Freedom Partners. The ads, which also target key Senate members, target members from both parties and in Florida also includes U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan.

Freedom Partners supports a series of changes to taxes including lowering individual and corporate rates, eliminating most tax credits and deductions and the estate tax and taxes on gifts.

When asked for his opinion about the proposed changes, Curbelo's spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez replied: “Congressman Curbelo is still reviewing all the different proposals and concepts for comprehensive tax reform. His goal is a simpler, fairer tax code that leads to greater economic growth, prosperity, and opportunity for Florida families and employers.”

Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC, helped Curbelo in the 2014 race by attacking his Democratic rival U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.


July 12, 2017

Air Force agrees with Florida politicians on continuing oil drilling moratorium


via @craigtimes

The U.S. Air Force agrees with Florida politicians that an existing moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico should be extended, according to a letter that Sen. Bill Nelson released to reporters Tuesday.

The current moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf ends in 2022, A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers backs proposed legislation extending it another five years, to 2027 -- despite President Donald J. Trump's executive order pushing for an expansion of offshore drilling.

General David L. Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, wrote to Nelson on June 27 to say that the Air Force "needs the certainty of the proposed extension" to guarantee that it can continue testing and training flights in that area. The largest air force base in the world, Eglin Air Force Base, is located in the Florida Panhandle, covering three counties and more than 724 square miles of land as well as 123,000 square miles into the Gulf..

Goldfein's letter comes less than two months after the Pentagon's acting under secretary of defense for defense and readiness sent a similar letter to Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz supporting an extension.  

The Department of Defense "cannot overstate the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium,” Anthony M. Kurta wrote in the letter to Gaetz.

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. 

Florida's long-held opposition to offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf was bolstered by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Although the explosion and subsequent spewing of oil occurred off the coast of Louisiana, eight Florida counties wound up with oil washing up on their beaches -- in some cases, for years afterward.

July 11, 2017

Official who nixed Everglades from UN endangered-site list gets Trump job



An Interior Department official who removed the Everglades from the United Nations’ endangered-sites list during the Bush administration is back.

The Interior Department announced last week that Todd Willens, a longtime Washington-based lobbyist and congressional staffer, will take an assistant deputy secretary job under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

In 2007, Willens urged the United Nations World Heritage Committee to remove Everglades National Park from the list of endangered natural and cultural sites over the objections of the committee’s scientific advisory group.

The UN acquiesced to Willens’ request, and the Everglades was removed.

That decision didn’t sit well with Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

“As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Democracy and Human Rights, I plan on holding an investigative hearing into the circumstances surrounding this over-reaching and inappropriate decision to downplay the Everglades,” Nelson wrote in 2007. “This action is absolutely unacceptable and, I believe, warrants Willens’ removal.”

Fast forward to 2017, and Nelson is incredulous that Willens is headed back to the Interior Department.

“It didn’t even come to my attention until you called us,” Nelson, a Democrat, said to a reporter. “Is this the same guy coming back to the Department of Interior? He might try to take it off the list again. Anybody who has a disregard for the importance of the Everglades like this fella has indicated...shouldn’t be in the Department of Interior in a high and influential position.”

The Interior Department argued in 2007 that taking the Everglades off the list was evidence of progress on a longtime effort to cleanup the massive wetlands. But Nelson said the decision was politically motivated, and called for Willens to be fired.

In 2010, Nelson successfully lobbied the Obama administration to put the Everglades back on the list. The Everglades is the only U.S. site of the 54 on the UN’s endangered list.

“The ’Glades remains at risk and should’ve never been removed in the first place,” Nelson said in 2010. “There’s still a lot that needs to be done to restore the River of Grass.”

When asked if he plans to push for the Everglades’ removal from the UN list again, Willens referred questions to an Interior Department spokeswoman, who did not comment.

Read more here.

July 05, 2017

Rick Scott, Jose Javier Rodríguez want to ban Florida from doing business with Maduro in Venezuela

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday his plan to ban the State of Florida from doing business with any entity that supports embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. 

“During the next meeting of the Florida Cabinet in August, I will bring forward a proposal that will prohibit the State of Florida from doing business with any organization that supports the oppressive Maduro dictatorship," Scott said in a statement. "Floridians stand with the people of Venezuela as they fight for their freedom, and as a state, we must not provide any support for Maduro and his thugs." 

Scott's announcement comes hours after Democratic State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez said he will file legislation seeking divestment by the State of Florida from businesses who work with the Maduro regime. He also encouraged state agencies not to wait for legislation to divest. 

"Venezuelan Independence Day is a fitting time to propose a response by the State of Florida to Goldman Sachs' callous decision to turn a profit at the expense of the Venezuelan people -- I call on state agencies to immediately initiate divestment from Goldman Sachs and I call on my colleagues to support legislation I intend to introduce during the 2018 Legislative Session that would prevent future business ties between the State of Florida and the Maduro regime," Rodríguez said in a statement. 

Rodríguez is vying for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's open congressional seat in 2018 while Scott is likely to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018. 

July 5 marks Venezuelan Independence Day, and pro-government militias attacked Venezuelan lawmakers during a special session that coincided with the holiday. 


Republican ad ties Bill Nelson to Elizabeth Warren

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via @learyreports

Republicans are re-opening a familiar playbook against Sen. Bill Nelson and attempting to tie him to the liberal wing of the Democratic party.

A Facebook ad released today by the NRSC contends Nelson has voted with Sen. Elizabeth Warren "90% of the time" and implies he stands with her on single-payer health care. He hasn't been vocal on that issue, however, and drew complaints in 2009 for being cautious in general to Obamacare.

On Monday, Nelson was in Tampa for a meeting with constituents worried about the GOP replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act.. "The ACA is not perfect, and there are a bunch of things we ought to fix," Nelson said.

The broader goal is to show Nelson as a liberal, a label he's been able to shake off in past elections. This is the second known digital ad this year from Republicans linking Nelson and Warren. The first came in February, also on low-cost Facebook.

Warren does support Nelson; earlier this year, her PAC donated $10,000 to his re-election effort.

The NRSC said the ad "will run statewide while Nelson is home for the July 4th recess and throughout the month."

Read more here.  

July 03, 2017

Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson urge Commerce Department to allow red snapper fishing in South Atlantic



Florida anglers have a line to Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. 

The state's Republican and Democratic senators may be divided on hot-button issues like health care but the pair can agree on one thing: the U.S. Department of Commerce should allow recreational red snapper fishing in the South Atlantic. 

Last week, Rubio and Nelson penned a letter to commerce secretary Wilbur Ross expressing disappointment over a decision not to allow recreational red snapper fishing off of Florida's east coast in 2017. 

"We cannot stress enough how important the red snapper fishery is to Florida's economy," the senators wrote. "This decision is disappointing for residents and small business owners from Jacksonville to Miami especially considering the enhanced opportunities being afforded to their peers along Florida's Gulf coast." 

The letter comes after the federal government announced an extended red snapper season off of Florida's Gulf Coast in mid-June. Recreational anglers now have 39 days to fish for red snapper this summer after the federal government initially announced a three day season at the beginning of June, raising the ire of fisherman accustomed to a longer season. 

"It is clear that excessively limiting recreational opportunities to fish for red snapper in federal waters--even as populations continue to rebound--threatens to further erode the public's trust in the federal institutions charged with science-based fisheries management decisions," the letter said. 

The federal government has jurisdiction over red snapper fishing in federal waters, which begin nine miles offshore on the Gulf Coast and three miles offshore on the Atlantic coast. Closer to shore, the state of Florida regulates recreational red snapper fishing. Recreational anglers can fish for red snapper in state waters on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through September 4.  

Read the letter here.