September 14, 2017

Miami Republican demands straight answer from Trump on Dreamers

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty 

Donald Trump was striking a deal over dinner with Democrats on Wednesday night to save Dreamers from deportation. By Thursday morning, his aides were playing catch up and insisting nothing changed in his position on immigration or border security.

Now, as confusion reigns over Trump’s true intentions for dealing with 800,000 people affected by a now-canceled Obama-era order that allowed them to live and work in the United States, one senior Republican lawmaker wants the White House to come clean.

“It is unfortunate that the President continues to play coy with young people who benefit our American society instead of being serious and straightforward about an important policy that will impact the lives of nearly 800,000 DREAMers,” said Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a statement provided to Miami Herald.

Ros-Lehtinen, the most senior Republican from Florida and a co-sponsor of a bill called the Dream Act that gives these young people a path to citizenship, was unable to be in Washington for congressional business this week, as her district continues to recover from Hurricane Irma.

“We hear reports that he is working on a deal that would help DREAMers, but he flatly denies such a deal,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Instead of changing with the prevailing wind, the President must be clear about his intentions. If he is interested in protecting DREAMers, he must cut out the rhetoric of trying to please all sides and, instead, put forth clear guidance on what legislative language he is willing to accept or reject on protecting Dreamers.”
 
As Trump looks increasingly willing to buck his far-right base to score some legislative victories — first on the nation’s borrowing limit and now on border security and the immigration policy known as DACA — three Miami-based Republicans find themselves in a new and potentially influential role as center-right lawmakers able to form a coalition with Democrats. Including Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo have something to gain from Trump’s dealmaking with Democrats.
 
Read more here.

September 12, 2017

Florida presses for federal dollars after Irma, but budget hawks resist

Middle Key Boat Block

@alextdaugherty

Many members of Florida’s congressional delegation couldn’t be in Washington for votes on Tuesday, as the state began a massive cleanup after Hurricane Irma. But that hasn’t stopped them from pressing colleagues who were spared Irma’s wrath to join in their quest for federal help.

Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the only member from Florida in office when Hurricane Andrew made landfall 25 years ago, is urging Washington to treat her state as it did Texas just a week ago.

Carlos Curbelo and I are determined to go back to D.C. and work with our colleagues to find the funds needed for the hurricane relief efforts,” Ros-Lehtinen said at a press conference. “We found it for Hurricane Harvey, we're going to band together and find it for the residents who are survivors of Hurricane Irma.”

But efforts to spend billions on hurricane relief will likely meet resistance from conservative Republicans who bristle at any new spending that doesn’t include corresponding cuts elsewhere. For them, Florida’s storm damage is a secondary concern to the long-term consequences of increasing the federal deficit.

“The unsustainable national debt remains the greatest existential threat to our nation that is routinely ignored in Washington,” said Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling in a statement. “Emergency funding should not come to the House without an opportunity to propose offsets, a number of which can easily be found in President Trump’s budget.”

Last week, Hensarling, along with 106 Republicans in the House and Senate, voted against a $15.25 billion Hurricane Harvey relief bill that was coupled with an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling and a measure to keep the government funded for a short period, signaling that a faction of conservatives will likely vote against billions in Irma relief if they deem the money isn’t directly related to storm recovery.

“The extremists in the Republican conference who somehow think we should be offsetting the cost of an emergency don’t understand the concept of an emergency,” Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said. “ It was the largest storm to hit the state in modern times. We are going to need significant relief and recovery.”

But despite the opposition, Miami-Dade’s congressional delegation, including Ros-Lehtinen, Curbelo, Wasserman Schultz, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Rep. Frederica Wilson, and Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson are united in getting attention, and funding, for Florida.

“I spoke to Speaker Ryan last night and we were talking about how we have to get FEMA funded,” Wasserman Schultz said. “There’s no question that we’re going to need an emergency supplemental. He’s already put people on notice.”

Wasserman Schultz said it’s impossible to even ballpark how much money Florida will need from the federal government. The cleanup is just beginning, and the immediate priorities are restoring power and getting fuel into the state. Those efforts don’t require additional funding from Congress.

Nelson and Rubio have teamed up for a variety of press conferences and events before and after the storm, notably a flyover of the Florida Keys with Coast Guard personnel on Monday to view the damage and recovery efforts.

Read more here.

September 11, 2017

Congress shoves Dreamer fix down the docket

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@alextdaugherty 

When President Donald Trump urged lawmakers to draft a new law that would stop him from deporting young people brought illegally into the country as children, Republicans and Democrats alike eagerly scrambled to make it happen.

Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., held a press conference to tout their “Dream Act” while Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., began pushing a bill they view as a compromise for conservatives who want to take a harder line against illegal immigrants.

But now – just one week later – much of that momentum is already gone.

The dynamics have completely changed on Capitol Hill. Two devastating storms landed Congress a multi-billion-dollar aid fight. Trump and Congressional leadership want a big tax deal passed into law, and Republicans are still fuming about a separate agreement the president struck with Democratic leaders on the debt ceiling and government spending that hands the opposition party the advantage in negotiations on all of those issues.

Plus, Trump promised that if Congress fails to save the people known as Dreamers, he would readdress their predicament in six months, giving lawmakers even less incentive to get DACA on the docket in 2017.
 
And in Congress, six months is an eternity.

“I just never shook my eyes away from the shiny objects,” Tillis said when asked about his biggest priorities over the next few months. “We’ve got to work on health care, we’ve got to work on tax reform, we’ve got to work on infrastructure, we’ve got to be prepared to deal with disasters when they come up.”

Absent from Tillis’ list: immigration.

“We’ve got to come up with a solution...but we can’t all the sudden shift all of our focus and resources to this thing that needs to be accomplished because tax reform is that important. Immigration is up there but we can’t shift our focus away from the thing that may get the most headlines over the next week.”

Overhauling the nation’s tax system will require a 2018 budget resolution, as Republicans are pushing to lower personal and corporate taxes through a process called reconciliation, which requires a simple majority in the Senate instead of 60 votes. But they can’t use reconciliation until they pass a budget, since the 2017 budget expires at the end of September.

That gives Congress three months to pass a tax overhaul if lawmakers are going to meet a soft goal set by senior Republicans to get some big legislative priority accomplished by the end of 2017.

“The enemy is time,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

It’s also substance. Conservative Republicans are demanding that significant border security measures are included in any proposal that deals with Dreamers, and House Speaker Paul Ryan is well aware that angry conservatives conspired to oust his predecessor, John Boehner, over immigration.

“Our focus in Congress should be on the border wall, sanctuary cities,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, who represents a conservative district in the Florida Panhandle. I’m not a supporter of DACA because when you permanently invite child illegal aliens across the border you create other undesirable conditions.”

Read more here.

Miami politicians take to the skies to view Irma damage

@alextdaugherty 

A gaggle of Miami politicians are getting an up-close-and-personal view of Hurricane Irma's destruction in Key West. 

Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson along with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, state Sen. Anitere Flores and Miami-Dade County commissioner José Pepe Díaz were all aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cargo plane bound for Key West with personnel dispatched to help with recover operations. 

The flight followed a Miami press conference with Curbelo, Flores Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Gov. Rick Scott

"We're working with FEMA, I can tell you the White House has been outstanding," Scott said. "I talked to President Trump three times yesterday, I talked to administrator Brock Long of FEMA multiple times yesterday. The White House and everybody at the federal level is showing up and my belief is they are going to show up and do everything they can." 

"Carlos Curbelo and I are determined to go back to D.C. and work with our colleagues to find the funds needed for the hurricane relief efforts," Ros-Lehtinen said. "We found it for Hurricane Harvey, we're going to band together and find it for the residents who are survivors of Hurricane Irma." 

"The Florida Keys is going to need a lot of help and we're blessed to have a wonderful governor and a very effective adminstrator at FEMA who is well aware of what the sitaution on the ground is starting to look like," Curbelo said. "We keep getting this question of how much this is going to cost and we don't have an exact estimate. But I can guarantee you this, it's going to cost billions upon billions upon billions of dollars to help the Florida Keys, Florida's Southwest Coast and obviously some of our residents here in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to recover."  

Curbelo said he talked to Long, who relayed to him that FEMA has enough money to get through September. 

"What I would tell all my colleagues is...we cannot fund an agency like FEMA month to month," Curbelo said, adding that he plans to speak with Speaker Paul Ryan about a "robust" funding plan for FEMA.

 

September 07, 2017

Congress confident it will find money for Irma as FEMA runs low on funds

IMG_Hurricane_Irma_2_1_OQCADA70_L340040219 (1)

@alextdaugherty @andreadrusch

Donald Trump gave Florida some fiscal breathing room as Hurricane Irma approaches the state’s east coast.

The president gave Congress more time to pass a recovery package worth billions if Irma causes major damage when he defied Republicans on Wednesday. Trump cut a deal with Democrats to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and keep the government running as part of a package to provide hurricane-related aid.

FEMA is set to run out of money by Friday, but Congress is expected to quickly send a $15 billion relief bill for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts and potential damage from Irma to Trump’s desk. The Senate passed the bill 80-17 on Thursday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., like many Republicans, was not happy that Trump made a deal with Democrats instead of GOP lawmakers. But he acknowledged that the agreement makes it easier to get funding as Florida prepares for a major hurricane. The deal would extend government funding and the debt limit, which was expected to be reached this month, through December 15.

I have “never supported a debt limit increase without fiscal restraint,” Rubio told Fox News radio. “And about the only good news in this whole endeavor is that it does provide funding for FEMA and it does those sorts of things I’ve talked about until December, which hopefully gives us time to go about doing it the right way.”

Members of Congress from South Florida expressed optimism that Congress will provide FEMA with the funding necessary to help Florida recover.

“Congress has always been there for the victims of natural disasters and I have no doubt that we will use the people’s money wisely,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “This isn’t the government’s money, it’s the taxpayer’s money and that’s what they expect from their government agencies, to replenish the coffers of state and local officials who have dedicated a lot of funds to helping the community. I have no doubt that Congress will come through for us.”

The relatively quick response from Congress on Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged parts of Texas and Louisiana, as well as potential Hurricane Irma relief is in contrast to the months-long debate over funding for a Superstorm Sandy aid package in 2012 and 2013. When Congress was debating how much money to spend on Sandy, FEMA was relatively flush with cash to provide short-term relief to affected areas in New Jersey and New York.

That isn’t the case with FEMA in 2017.

The agency only has a few hundred million dollars, and it’s spending it fast.

“Earlier today, we had a conference call with FEMA officials, and the latest update is that FEMA has approximately $460 million remaining in its disaster relief fund,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo said at the Miami-Dade County Emergency Operations Center in Doral on Thursday. “They are spending at a clip of $200 million a day.”

The $15 billion Congress is considering gives FEMA 75 more days of funding if it spends about $200 million a day. FEMA’s spending could go up depending on how much is needed for Harvey and Irma.

“I want the Senate to be forewarned that this $15 billion package, this is only temporary, it will probably only take us through mid-October at the most,” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said Thursday.

Members of Congress from Florida and Texas were confident more money will be available if needed.

Read more here.

Miami congressman might take family to shelter for Hurricane Irma

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@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo lives in Miami's Kendall neighborhood -- not one of the low-lying coastal areas under mandatory evacuation orders for Hurricane Irma.

But the Republican might leave his house voluntarily anyway, for fear that strong winds could endanger his family.

"I am considering going to a shelter," Curbelo said in response to a reporter's question Thursday at the Miami-Dade County emergency operations center. "We do have some tall trees around our house, and given the strength and the magnitude of this storm, I don't feel entirely secure at home -- especially with our two little girls, ages 7 and 5."

Responding to the same question, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said his family is "still trying to debate" what to do though it is not in an evacuation zone, either.

"I'm confident my home will withstand" Irma, Rubio said, noting his West Miami house was built in 2005, after Hurricane Andrew. The 1992 Category 5 monster forced Florida to rewrite its building codes and make them stronger.

"The question is, how will we get in and out and, more importantly, how to get to my mom," added Rubio, who said he's studied 500-year flood maps for the area and found neighboring streets might flood.

Rubio said Irma's projected path, up Florida's east coast, should make residents in evacuation zones wary about trying to drive far.

"If you look at the map of Florida right now," he said, "there's not many places you look at and think, 'That looks like a pretty safe place.'"

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

September 06, 2017

Rubio voted against Sandy aid in 2013. Now he wants money for Irma.

Marco Rubio

@alextdaugherty 

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson urged Congress to approve additional funds for disaster relief as Hurricane Irma threatens Miami, a bipartisan ritual for politicians with constituents facing hardship from a major storm.

But in 2013, Rubio was one of 36 Republican senators who voted against a Hurricane Sandy relief bill for New Jersey and New York, and now his South Florida colleagues hope he has learned a lesson.

“You can be a fiscal conservative until it hits you and your community and then you have a different point of view,” said Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Rubio in 2013 argued that the $60 billion bill for Sandy relief, which passed after months of delays, was filled with unnecessary spending.

“The Hurricane Sandy supplemental bill goes far beyond emergency relief to impacted victims and communities, which is why I voted no on final passage,” Rubio said in a 2012 statement. “The current spending bill goes far beyond emergency relief and all efforts to strip the bill of unrelated pork are being blocked.”
 
He was the only member of Congress who represented Miami-Dade County to vote against the bill. Nelson, Republican Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, former Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia and Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson all voted in favor of the Sandy bill, which passed after a minority of Republicans joined Democrats.
 
Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who came to Congress after the Sandy vote, described the decision by some Republicans to vote against Sandy relief as “horrible.”

“I’m sure a lot of them are regretting it today,” Curbelo said of the Sandy vote. “My message is, you could be next. When a significant number of Americans are suffering due to a natural disaster, we need to come together as a country and we’re really worried about spending around here, we should look at our entitlement programs, not refuse to help people who are homeless and lacking food.”

On Wednesday, Rubio and Nelson issued a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging Congress to include additional funds for Irma relief in the spending package that lawmakers are preparing to help Texas recover from Harvey.

“As Floridians are preparing for one of the worst storms on record, they need to know that the federal government is both ready and willing to direct the necessary resources needed to help them in the recovery process,” Rubio and Nelson wrote. “As such, we strongly urge you to include additional funding in the Hurricane Harvey aid package to account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur responding to Hurricane Irma.”

Read more here. 

August 31, 2017

Miami Republican wants to keep White House from spending money to end DACA, if DACA survives that long

106 Curbelo Ryan DS (1)
@PatriciaMazzei

As early as Friday, President Donald Trump could end a program that protected from deportation young immigrants brought into the country illegally.

But if the White House doesn't immediately eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, at least one Miami Republican member of Congress wants to try to make it more difficult for the Trump administration to act on its own.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo recently filed three amendments to a House spending bill intended to block the use of budget funds to alter DACA. It appears to be a long-shot approach, given that the GOP-held House seems unlikely to oppose Trump on cracking down on immigration, an issue important to the president's base.

One amendment would prohibit the White House from using any funds appropriated in the bill to change DACA. Another would ban the funds from being used to deport DACA recipients or cancel or suspend their work permits.

A third amendment would allow DACA recipients, often called "Dreamers," to be eligible for government employment.

The mega appropriations bill is scheduled to be considered in the House next week, after Congress returns from its summer recess.

Some 50,000 people benefit from DACA in Florida. Curbelo filed a new version of the "Dream Act" -- legislation that would allow people brought into the country illegally as children to remain -- in March.

Photo credit: David Santiago, el Nuevo Herald

August 30, 2017

As Trump talks taxes, Republican group pushes Carlos Curbelo to act

IMG_Economic_Impact_of_I_2_1_8BAO5GJG_L296697696 (4)

@alextdaugherty 

As Donald Trump pushes for lower corporate and personal income tax rates during a speech in Missouri today, a Republican group is urging Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo to follow suit. 

American Action Network, a group aligned with House leadership, is releasing mailers in 34 congressional districts across the country with the aim of reaching one million voters. In addition to Curbelo, a member of the House tax writing committee, the mailers will target Treasure Coast Rep. Brian Mast. Mast and Curbelo are likely to face competitive and expensive reelection bids in 2018. 

The mailer argues that America's tax code leads to U.S. companies relocating jobs to China. 

“Thousands of good-paying jobs are fleeing to countries like China, the status quo is failing, and it is leaving America’s middle class behind,” said American Action Network executive director Corry Bliss. “Americans are ready to see meaningful, pro-growth tax reform become a reality. That’s why we are urging people across the country to call their member of Congress to pass reforms that will help create more jobs and raise wages here at home.” 

The nation's tax system has not been overhauled since Ronald Reagan's administration and congressional leaders like House speaker Paul Ryan and tax committee chair Kevin Brady are pushing to pass a tax overhaul by the end of the year. 

American Action Network's latest push is part of a $20 million effort to overhaul the tax code. 

View a copy of the mailer 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.