May 04, 2016

Marco Rubio travels to Middle East


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is visiting the Middle East, his office said Wednesday, highlighting meetings the Florida Republican has held over the past three days in Qatar and Iraq.

Rubio is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's staying in the region for the rest of the week.

"During my meetings with officials in Qatar, I thanked them for remaining a key U.S. partner in the region. I was also able to visit with U.S. military servicemembers, including Floridians," Rubio said in a statement.

"Iraq remains in a precarious political situation that threatens to further destabilize the country and the broader region, and disrupt efforts to destroy ISIS," he added. "I stressed to Iraqi officials my grave concerns about ‎the ongoing sectarian rivalries and political turmoil that are taking the focus off of ISIS and threaten not only Iraq's stability but that of the entire world."

Rubio's agenda included sit-downs with the U.S. ambassadors to Qatar and Iraq, as well as with diplomatic officials from both countries and U.S. military personnel.

May 03, 2016

Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld is in Cuba, and a Miami congresswoman is not happy about it

Cuba Chanel


Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen knows a thing or two about how to troll on Twitter.

Her account, @RosLehtinen, has spent the past couple of weeks periodically posting about French fashion house Chanel, which plans to hold a runway show Tuesday night in Havana.

Ros-Lehtinen's particular target: designer Karl Lagerfeld, the German haute couture powerhouse heading Chanel's line, "inspired" by Cuba. The congresswoman used the opportunity to highlight repression against Cuba's Ladies in White dissidents.

A sample of her tweets:

Ros-Lehtinen is a vocal opponent of President Obama's reestablished diplomatic relations with the Castro regime. That puts her at odds with Miami Cuban-American superstar musicians Emilio and Gloria Estefan, who told New York Magazine they back the new policy and are happy to see Chanel on the island.

Photo credit: Ramon Espinosa, Associated Press

April 28, 2016

The back story on Marco Rubio's deal to extend Venezuela sanctions and name a new U.S. ambassador to Mexico



It happened with little fanfare Thursday: The U.S. Senate agreed to three more years of sanctions against key officials of the Venezuelan government, a law pushed by South Florida legislators to punish President Nicolás Maduro’s government.

The extension passed in the Senate by unanimous consent. The back story of how it happened, however, is far more interesting than the easy vote suggests.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio took to the Senate floor Wednesday to ask his colleagues to extend the 2014 sanctions, co-sponsored with New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and set to expire at the end of this year. The law lets the U.S. freeze assets and deny visas for Venezuelan officials deemed responsible for violence and political arrests that roiled the South American country in 2014. It prompted Maduro and his government to brand Menendez, Rubio and other South Florida lawmakers “terrorists” and ban them from Venezuela.

“Because the Maduro regime continues to violate human rights and expand its political oppression, the U.S. must continue doing our part to address this growing crisis in Venezuela,” Rubio said in a statement late Thursday. “The Maduro regime’s abuses of power and violations of human rights are hurting innocent people in our hemisphere and threaten the national security interests of the United States, and we have a responsibility to stand with the Venezuelan people by extending these sanctions.”

The extended sanctions became part of a four-part deal that resulted in the confirmation of a new U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

Here’s what took place, according to a Senate aide who briefed the Miami Herald:

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

Three Floridians among Obama nominees to federal district bench


President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated U.S. magistrate judges in Jacksonville and Ocala and a prominent Tampa lawyer for federal district court seats, adding their names to a backlog of dozens of judicial picks the Republican-controlled Senate has failed to confirm.

Obama named Magistrate Judge Patricia D. Barksdale of Jacksonville and Tampa white-collar defense attorney William F. Jung to the Middle District of Florida, and he chose Magistrate Judge Philip R. Lammens for the Northern District of Florida.

"There is a judicial emergency in the Middle District of Florida right now," Sen. Bill Nelson said. "Sen. Rubio and I have conferred on these three nominees, and even in this highly partisan environment, I'm hopeful that we can get them approved quickly."

Aides to Rubio confirmed that the two senators had worked together in recommending the Florida nominees to Obama.

Rubio, however, declined to say whether he would push for his Senate Republican colleagues to confirm them. Republicans are refusing to hold hearings or to vote on Obama's nomination last month of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

With 85 federal district seats unfilled nationwide, Florida has three of 28 vacancies deemed "emergency" by the U.S. Judicial Conference, the policy-making body for federal courts overseen by the Supreme Court.

The emergency designation is based on a combination of the length of vacancy and how many cases are pending before a court.

Both seats that Obama moved to fill Thursday for the Middle District of Florida are among the 28 emergency vacancies, with one seat empty since June 30, 2015, and the second seat unfilled since August 1 of last year.

The Middle District of Florida had 9,401 cases in 2015, which is considered a heavy load. It stretches from south of Naples on the Gulf Coast to the Georgia border and includes Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando.

Obama also nominated five other district judges to seats in Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.

"Throughout their careers, these nominees have displayed unwavering commitment to justice and integrity," Obama said of his eight choices for judicial promotion. "Their records are distinguished and impressive, and I am confident that they will serve the American people well from the United States District Court bench."

The Senate on April 11 unanimously confirmed Waverly Crenshaw Jr., an African-American lawyer from Nashville, Tenn., to a federal district judgeship.

The Senate confirmed just 17 of Obama's judicial nominees last year, the fewest since 1960.

Before becoming a U.S. magistrate judge in 2012, Lammens was a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville, the city's No. 2 attorney and a civil trial lawyer in the torts division of the U.S. Justice Department. He earned his law and undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida.

A U.S. magistrate judge since 2013, Barksdale also previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville. She, too, has undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.

Jung is a founding partner of the Jung & Sisco law firm in Ocala, specializing in white-collar criminal defense. He was a federal prosecutor in Miami in the late 1980s and clerked before that for then-Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. Jung received his law degree from the University of Illinois and his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University





Florida congressman endorses Donald Trump

via @learyreports

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the VA committee, today endorsed Donald Trump, the latest sign that the GOP front-runner is beginning to pick up support from Washington.

"Donald Trump is the only person who has what it takes to shake up the status quo and entrenched bureaucrats in Washington D.C.," Miller said in a statement.  "I am more and more convinced that he has the ability to reach in and right the wrongs in the Department of Veterans Affairs once and for all.

“America needs Donald Trump and his conservative agenda to shore up and secure our borders and to rebuild our military. I stand today with Donald Trump, and l support his candidacy for President.”

Miller recently attended a Capitol Hill meeting with Trump. The longtime panhandle lawmaker has said he will not seek another term.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Recovering Miami heroin addict will tell story to Florida members of Congress

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Members of Florida's Congressional delegation will meet this morning to address a major concern at home: heroin.

Delegation co-chairs Vern Buchanan and Alcee Hastings convened the meeting that will feature a number of panelists, including Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., sponsor of H.R. 953, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2015.

A Miami resident currently in recovery from heroin addiction will also speak.

“I’m hopeful that we can gain a better understanding of the heroin crisis in Florida and identify specific actions needed to address it,” Buchanan said. “It’s clear that Congress must act to help control an epidemic that is destroying lives in Florida and across the country.”

Buchanan represents Manatee County, which in 2015 had more heroin overdoses than any other county in Florida. The problem has spread, generating headlines across the state.

Other speakers during the Thursday meeting are Frank Rabbito, senior vice president of WestCare Foundation and Melissa Larkin-Skinner, CFO of Centerstone.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

April 27, 2016

Marco Rubio pushes to extend Venezuela sanctions


Florida Sen. Marco Rubio asked his Senate colleagues Wednesday to extend sanctions leveled against Venezuelan government officials that are set to expire.

"There will be an effort here, I hope, in the next day or so, to extend those sanctions for another three years," Rubio said on the Senate floor. 

"Sanctions -- we have imposed sanctions on human rights violators, not sanctions on the people of Venezuela, not sanctions on the government, on human rights violators. Many of whom steal money from the Venezuelan people and invest it in the United States," he said. He then cited a Miami Herald story about a Venezuelan behind a Miami condo development.

"In my hometown, in my home state. You travel to Florida, you come down there, you let me know, any of my colleagues, and I will show you where these people live and I will show you the money they have stole[n] from the Venezuelan people and are living the highlife on weekends in Miami. You see them everywhere. And that's why we impose sanctions on them."

He gave a lengthy speech on Venezuela's political and economic crisis, which he again referred to as a "coup d'état."

Politico reported Wednesday that the sanctions against Venezuelans could get extended as part of a deal that would allow for the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson as U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Rubio had been one of the key Republicans blocking her confirmation, in large part because of Jacobson's involvement in normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.



Bill Nelson meets with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland


Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson met Wednesday with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, President Obama's pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

"Judge Garland is obviously qualified and should be confirmed as soon as possible," Nelson said in a statement after the meeting.

Garland has been working Capitol Hill, but most Republican senators, including Florida's Marco Rubio, won't sit down with him because they don't think the president should nominate a justice in his last year in office.

April 26, 2016

House passes oil spill law pushed by Carlos Curbelo, Patrick Murphy


The U.S. House on Tuesday passed a bipartisan bill sponsored by two South Florida members of Congress that would make sure any foreign companies responsible for oil spills are on the hook for clean-up costs.

The Foreign Spill Protection Act, by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Jupiter Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, would close a loophole in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 that leaves the U.S. footing the bill when spills caused by foreign rigs or rigs in foreign waters exceed $1 billion in clean up. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill cost $54 billion.

"I thank the House of Representatives for passing this critical legislation for Florida and coastal communities all across the country," Curbelo said in a statement. "This is a victory not only for our environment but also for American taxpayers and may lead our foreign neighbors to improve their safety and oversight standards."

"As a native Floridian, protecting our environment remains one of my top priorities," Murphy said in a statement. "When our economy so greatly relies on the health of our waters, we must do everything we can to protect our coastline from devastating oil spills."

Both congressmen spoke on the House floor about the bill, and in their written statements, they thanked each other for working together, and the House in general for its unanimous approval. Murphy is running for U.S. Senate in the nation's largest swing district, while Curbelo is seeking re-election to his own swing district that includes the Florida Keys.

The legislation has yet to be taken up by the Senate.



Payday loan attacks coming for another Florida member of Congress

via @learyreports

A liberal group that has run ads against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her support for payday lenders is looking for a new target.

Allied Progress says it will launch a new campaign against a Florida House member based on online voting. The “winner” will  be announced May 10.

Those up for consideration are Reps. Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Patrick Murphy, Bill Posey and Dennis Ross.

“Each has received at least $10,000 in campaign contributions from the payday industry,” according to the group, “signed a letter encouraging Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) director Richard Cordray to adopt the disastrous ‘Florida model’ of payday lending reform, and either sponsored or cosponsored H.R. 4018 which would gut the CFPB’s upcoming payday loan regulations by delaying those new rules in favor of states with Florida-style laws.”

Wasserman Schultz has faced a TV ad, billboards and negative press. Her Democratic opponent has seized the issue as well.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times