March 15, 2018

‘Beyond tragic’: Miami congressmen shaken by FIU bridge collapse

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Miami Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo were visibly shaken as they talked about the bridge collapse in Miami across from the main Florida International University campus.

The pedestrian bridge across Southwest Eighth Street sits on the border of Diaz-Balart’s and Curbelo’s congressional districts.

“There’s a very sad irony here. This project was built to keep students safe and pedestrians safe and it has ended up being the cause of death of drivers underneath,” Curbelo said.

Curbelo and Diaz-Balart both spoke with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Thursday afternoon. They said they’re unsure if the federal government has jurisdiction over the bridge, though it used federal funds. Both members of Congress said they would support any federal investigation or congressional hearings to figure out what happened, even if the federal government doesn’t have jurisdiction over the bridge.

“There’s going to be a lot of questions that are going to have to be answered,” Diaz-Balart said.

Diaz-Balart was present for a dedication ceremony for the bridge last weekend.

The uncompleted pedestrian bridge received federal funds through a Tiger Grant, which was part of the massive federal stimulus package passed by former President Barack Obama, Curbelo and Diaz-Balart said.

“We’re going to find out what the heck happened here. his is beyond tragic,” Diaz-Balart said.

Curbelo said the bridge’s accelerated construction method, where it the span was elevated over Southwest Eighth Street in a matter of hours last week, has been used in other projects in Miami-Dade County.

Read more here.

A Democratic wave may be coming in November. Miami Democrats may not be ready.

Mario Diaz-Balart


Are Miami Democrats snatching defeat from the jaws of victory?

It’s been nearly 17 months after the 2016 election and a day after Republicans appear to have lost a Pennsylvania U.S. House seat in a district Donald Trump won by 20 percentage points — and Democrats have yet to put up a serious challenger for a Miami-area seat Trump won by less than two percentage points.

Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s only Democratic opponent doesn’t have enough money on hand to host one catered fundraising dinner. And yet, a few miles away, seven Democratic candidates are raising serious cash in an effort to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Diaz-Balart’s Hialeah-based seat was, and still is, the most Republican-leaning congressional seat in Miami-Dade County. But a Democratic wave in 2018 could put Diaz-Balart’s seat in play if the party can find a credible candidate, making it possible for Democrats to win all three Republican-held seats in South Florida.

“It is more challenging because we haven’t had a strong challenger since 2007,” said Miami-Dade Democratic Party chairman Juan Cuba. “If any community leaders are thinking about running... this is going to be the year to do it.”

There are 10 other Republican-held districts around the country Republican-leaning as Diaz-Balart’s district. Nine of those 10 districts have at least one — and in one case as many as seven — Democrats running who have raised at least $100,000 so far.

Members of Congress don’t have to live in their district, which means anyone who lives in Florida can challenge Diaz-Balart. Cuba said one reason why so many Democrats are staying to run in Ros-Lehtinen’s district is because they live there, making it harder to mount a credible candidacy in places like Hialeah and Doral within Diaz-Balart’s district.

Ian Russell, who served as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s political director during the 2016 cycle, said the lack of a credible candidate to challenge Diaz-Balart at this point in the election cycle is a hole in the national map, though there is still time to mount a credible challenge thanks to Florida’s late filing deadlines and primary elections. He noted that current Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Orlando, announced her bid against former Republican Rep. John Mica at the last second in 2016, and ultimately won the race.

“At the DCCC we got Stephanie Murphy to file on the day of the filing deadline,” Russell said. “I’m sure the DCCC and Democratic groups are recruiting somebody strong [in Diaz-Balart’s district] if not it’s a massive missed opportunity.”

Read more here.

March 13, 2018

Would Carlos Curbelo want Donald Trump to campaign with him?



It's not surprising that Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has tried to distance himself from President Donald Trump as he runs for reelection. 

After all, Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by 16.3 percentage points in Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West district.  

But Curbelo's campaign said they would be open to Trump campaigning in the district when asked by Axios on Tuesday. 

"While Carlos has never invited public figures to campaign with him, he has welcomed those who have offered," Curbelo spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said to Axios. "He has also joined Presidents Obama and Trump in South Florida to stand with them on issues in which ‎he agrees with them ... Anyone who wants to support Carlos' efforts and endorse his bipartisan approach to public service is welcome to do so." 

Trump jumped on the campaign trail this past weekend in Southwestern Pennsylvania to stump for a Republican running in a special congressional election. In a speech that lasted over an hour, Trump insulted the intelligence of Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters, along referring to Meet the Press host and South Florida native Chuck Todd as a "sleeping son of a bitch." 

Curbelo faces a likely challenge from Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in November. 

Update: Curbelo's campaign sent an additional statement after the Miami Herald asked about whether or not he would campaign with Trump. 

"Supporters buy into Carlos and his bipartisan, civil approach to public service, not the other way around," Rodriguez said in an email. "Anyone who wants to support Carlos is welcome to do so. While Carlos and the President have major differences in both style and substance, if the President is willing to get behind Carlos' style of leadership and the policies he supports, that would be a positive development for our country's toxic politics. However, as stated previously, Carlos is not seeking the support or endorsement of any other politicians. He is exclusively focused on earning the support and respect of the people of South Florida." 

This post removed a paragraph after Axios amended their story.

March 09, 2018

Miami Republicans urge Trump to denounce potential Raúl Castro successor



The entire Miami-Dade Republican congressional delegation along with a gubernatorial contender urged President Donald Trump to denounce Raúl Castro's successor as illegitimate unless Cuba schedules "free, fair, and multiparty elections." 

Sen. Marco Rubio, along with Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Reps. Ron DeSantis (who is running for governor) and Ted Yoho all sent a letter to Trump on Friday voicing their concerns. 

Text of the letter below: 

Dear Mr. President,

We write today to thank you for holding the Castro regime accountable for its oppression and ongoing human rights abuses against the Cuban people, and for furthering U.S. national security and foreign policy interests of promoting democracy. We also request, within all applicable rules and regulations, that you continue to work toward empowering the Cuban people in their struggle for liberty. As you said in your June 16, 2017 announcement on Cuba policy from Miami:

For nearly six decades, the Cuban people have suffered under communist domination. To this day, Cuba is ruled by the same people who killed tens of thousands of their own citizens, who sought to spread their repressive and failed ideology throughout our hemisphere, and who once tried to host enemy nuclear weapons 90 miles from our shores. . . This is the simple truth of the Castro regime. My administration will not hide from it, excuse it, or glamorize it. And we will never, ever be blind to it. We know what’s going on and we remember what happened.

Toward that goal, we respectfully ask that you denounce Castro’s successor as illegitimate in the absence of free, fair, and multiparty elections, and call upon the international community to support the right of the Cuban people to decide their future.

As you know, dictator Raúl Castro has said that he will step down from the presidency on April 19, 2018. However, we know that a predetermined, charade election orchestrated by regime officials will continue the dictatorship.

This sham election is yet another example of the regime’s dictatorial repression of fundamental freedoms which must not be recognized by those who value freedom and democracy. This, along with your ongoing efforts to restrict financial transactions with the Cuban military that aid the Castro regime, will assist the Cuban people in their goal of self-government.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. We look forward to continuing to work with your Administration on this matter.

March 08, 2018

Democratic super PAC reserves $1.1 million in Miami TV time



A super PAC that seeks to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives is reserving $1.1 million in Miami TV time ahead of the 2018 elections, the first of what could be millions in outside TV spending in two competitive Miami congressional races. 

House Majority PAC announced Thursday it has reserved just over $43 million for television ads in the final weeks of the 2018 election cycle nationwide. The outlay includes $1,119,500 in Miami and $420,000 in West Palm Beach.

“The Republicans are panicking about losing their majority in the House, because they know that across the country Democrats have top-notch candidates running, and there’s a surge in grassroots participation,” House Majority PAC Executive Director Charlie Kelly said in a statement. “2018 will bring a barrage of frantic negative attack ads from GOP outside groups, but HMP is ensuring we’re prepared early-on to fight back. Momentum is on our side, and with smart, strategic investments, we will help Democrats win across the country.” 

The largest chunk of the $43 million is $5.2 million for the Los Angeles media market, while the group is spending more than $2 million in the Dallas, Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Minneapolis media markets. 

The most competitive House election in Miami is expected to be incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's race against Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Curbelo represents a Miami-to-Key West seat that leans Democratic, though he enjoys a sizable lead in fundraising along with greater name recognition. Multiple election prognosticators rate Curbelo's seat as a toss up. 

The race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen could also get some attention from national groups, though Democrats are favored to flip a seat that Hillary Clinton won by over 19 percentage points in 2016. 

The other two incumbents whose districts fall mostly within the Miami media market, Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, have not drawn serious challengers yet.  

Treasure Coast Republican Rep. Brian Mast, whose district includes parts of Palm Beach County, is also facing a competitive reelection bid. 

February 28, 2018

Environmental group downgrades Carlos Curbelo’s climate change record

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Carlos Curbelo’s climate-change record took a step down in 2017 in the eyes of one influential environmental group, as the Miami Republican gears up for a reelection bid in a Miami-to-Key West district that is still recovering from Hurricane Irma and dealing with the effects of sea level rise.

The League of Conservation Voters released its 2017 scorecard on Tuesday, and Curbelo, who had the best score among House Republicans currently in Congress on the 2016 scorecard, now ranks tied for 13th among House Republicans. Curbelo had a 53 percent rating for his votes during 2016, and now has a 23 percent rating for his votes last year.

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” Curbelo said when asked about his rating. “I don’t follow NRA ratings, chamber ratings, League of Conservation Voters ratings. I just try to do the right thing on every vote and I usually end up finding out about my scores later come campaign season.”

Part of Curbelo’s drop can be attributed to Hurricane Irma, as he missed a series of votes while dealing with the hurricane in September. The eight missed votes due to the hurricane count against him on the LCV’s scorecard.

But even if he received a 100 percent score on his missed votes Curbelo would still have a 49 percent rating, which is lower than his 2016 mark. The downgrade comes after a year in which Curbelo expressed pro-environment positions, like opposing President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, while also voting for bills like the Republican tax plan that included a measure allowing oil exploration in a portion of Alaska’s North Slope.

Curbelo’s office said he would have voted for the LCV-favored position on six of the nine votes he missed in 2017, meaning his rating would have been 40 percent instead of 23 percent.

The LCV said it would like to see more legislative work from Curbelo’s Climate Solutions Caucus, a group founded by Curbelo and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, that is comprised of lawmakers from both parties who are concerned about the impacts of climate change.

“Environmental votes weren’t always as partisan as they’ve become today,” LCV press secretary Alyssa Roberts said. “We would love to see higher scores from Republicans, and appreciate the Climate Solutions Caucus as a step to build bipartisan support, but the urgency of the climate crisis requires action, not just talk.”

Curbelo said the LCV is a partisan organization whose primary concern is getting Democrats to Washington, and that scorecards like theirs are “all subjective... designed to yield a certain score.”

Read more here.

February 20, 2018

Some Florida Republicans begin push for stricter gun measures


@katieglueck @alextdaugherty

In what could signal the start of a shift in Republican politics, some GOP donors and officials in Florida are urging their political networks to consider some gun control measures and buck their party's longstanding refusal to even engage in the debate.

"I already have impressed upon people I talk to, the way the law is now is incorrect, it's wrong, it's a moral obligation to make certain changes to the law," said Ronald Krongold, a Miami-based board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, speaking with McClatchy several days after a gunman in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people in a school shooting. The interview also came hours before President Donald Trump moved to ban "bump stocks," which make semi-automatic weapons shoot much more rapidly.

Krongold said he's not issuing ultimatums, but that “this issue could influence who I support and who I don’t."

Major GOP donor Al Hoffman Jr., also of Florida, went further over the weekend, indicating to top GOP officials there that he would not support candidates or organizations that didn't back a new assault weapons ban, The New York Times reported.

Those remarks come as the Florida legislature scrambles to respond to last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that resulted in the deaths of 14 students and three faculty members over the course of six minutes. While there appears to be little GOP appetite for banning high-powered assault weapons —on Tuesday, the Florida House voted down a measure to even consider a bill that would ban them — incoming Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, a Republican, is promoting a slate of other ideas. Those include a "gun violence restraining order" which could keep certain at-risk individuals from accessing firearms, as well as raising the age for purchasing and possessing semi-automatic firearms, and banning bump stocks. On the last measure, he has an ally in Trump, who announced Tuesday that he has asked the Justice Department to pursue regulations that would ban bump stocks.

Read more here.

Where South Floridians in Congress stand on gun legislation



The pressure is building in Washington.

Students are meeting with President Donald Trump, organizing protests outside the White House and planning a mass demonstration in March with the aim of getting Congress to do something to prevent another mass school shooting. after the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week.

In response, Trump has indicated he’s considering support of a narrowly tailored bill that would ensure federal and state authorities accurately report relevant criminal-history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and penalize federal agencies that fail to upload relevant records. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, also has the blessing of the National Rifle Association and Republicans from South Florida, though Murphy tweeted that “no one should pretend this bill alone is an adequate response to this epidemic.”

Trump also directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday to craft regulations to ban “bump stocks” and other devices that turn semi-automatic firearms into automatic weapons.

But where does South Florida’s congressional delegation stand on various federal bills that could limit access to guns and firearm accessories if passed into law?

Below is a list of relevant recent congressional legislation related to guns, and where South Florida’s two U.S. senators and eight U.S. representatives stand on such proposals, including campaign contributions from the NRA.


▪ Assault weapons ban: Congress passed a ban on certain semi-automatic “assault style” firearms like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting in 1994, though the ban expired in 2004 and wasn’t renewed. A bill to reinstate the ban in 2013 after the Sandy Hook school shooting failed in the U.S. Senate.

▪ Raising the age to legally own semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 from 18 to 21. The 19-year old Parkland shooter suspect legally purchased an AR-15 rifle after he turned 18 old. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein plans to introduce legislation that would raise the age requirements.

▪ Bump stock ban: Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo introduced a bill after the Las Vegas shooting in October that would ban “bump stocks,” or legal modifications to semiautomatic weapons that allow them to fire like automatic weapons. So far, there haven’t been any votes on Curbelo’s bill.

▪ Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act: This bill would allow concealed carry permits obtained in one state to be valid in another state, essentially transforming concealed carry permits into transferable documents like driver’s licenses. The bill passed the House and awaits consideration in the U.S. Senate.

▪ Purchasing guns while on the terror watch list: Feinstein introduced legislation after the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016 that would prevent U.S. citizens under investigation for suspected terrorist activity from purchasing a gun, while Cornyn countered with legislation that would have installed a review period for people on the terror watch list wishing to purchase guns. Both measures failed in the U.S. Senate; the House didn’t vote on them.

Read more here.

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen cosponsor bill to allow federal gun violence research



Rep. Stephanie Murphy's bill to repeal a ban on federal government gun violence research is now getting support from Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen after the deadliest high school shooting in the nation's history in Parkland, Florida. 

Murphy, D-Winter Park, already has 122 Democrats signed on to the bill that ends the prohibition on the Department of Health and Human Services using federal funds to advocate or promote gun control. The issue has received attention from Republicans in recent days as a potential area for compromise in Congress, though some Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio have stopped short of fully endorsing the idea. 

Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen are generally more moderate on guns than many of their Republican counterparts. They were part of just over a dozen House Republicans who voted against a bill that would allow concealed carry permits to be valid across state lines last year.

February 13, 2018

NOAA climate and hurricane research slashed in Trump budget



President Donald Trump wants to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency responsible for hurricane tracking and research. 

Trump's 2019 budget proposal was released Monday and it includes a 37 percent cut to NOAA climate research and a six percent cut to the National Weather Service compared to the 2017 budget that became law last year. 

Climate research funding would be cut from $158 million in 2017 to $98 million in 2019 while ocean, coastal and Great Lakes research would be cut from $192 million in 2017 to $93 million in 2019, according to a comparison by the Ocean Conservancy. 

“Today’s budget proposal from the Administration is certainly not reflective of the direction our federal government should take," Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said in a statement. "From significant reductions to agencies needed to protect our environment and combat the threats of climate change and sea level rise, to cuts to Community Block Grants that assist in disaster recovery, this budget abandons progress already made on many programs that enjoy bipartisan support." 

Trump's budget proposal isn't likely to become law and is mostly a signal of the administration's priorities. Congress has control of the government funding process and it's unlikely that a majority of members will support drastic spending cuts to multiple federal agencies, including NOAA. 

The largest proposed NOAA cuts occur in research while national environmental satellite, data and information services also receives a 25 percent cut, $2.2 billion to $1.6 billion, from 2017 to 2019. One area of the agency, the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, gets 1.9 percent funding increase under Trump's proposal. 

“President Trump proposes over $1 billion in cuts at NOAA, including a $273 million slash to grants and programs that support practical solutions to on-the-water challenges in states and local communities," Ocean Conservancy  Associate Director of Government Relations Addie Haughey said in a statement. "From coastal towns facing clear and dire needs for preparedness and repair after a devastating hurricane season, to fishermen whose livelihoods are threatened by changing fish stocks, this administration is turning a blind eye to our coastal economies. Despite pledging during the State of the Union to stand with victims of the 2017 storm season, President Trump’s proposal fails to honor his commitment to rebuild and prepare for future storms."

The 2018 hurricane season begins in June and federal agencies, including NOAA, are still completing disaster recovery efforts in Florida, Puerto Rico and Texas after three major hurricanes made landfall on U.S. soil in 2017.