March 28, 2017

Miami Republicans call Trump order on climate change 'dangerous,' 'misguided'

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo on Tuesday once again criticized President Donald Trump, their party's leader, this time over his executive order undoing many of the Obama administration's climate change rules.

The reversal is "troubling" and "dangerous," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. Curbelo called Trump's action "misguided."

Both lawmakers represent coastal South Florida districts directly affected by rising sea levels and other effects of global warming. They have already been critical of Trump's executive order on immigration.

"The administration's decision to roll back emissions standards is troubling due to the impact it has on sea level rise and ocean acidification on our South Florida beaches," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Instead of taking this dangerous path, we should be working to promote clean energy and other methods that will help preserve our environment for future generations to come. My coastal South Florida district is negatively impacted by this order and it takes us backward during a time when we should be monitoring climate change and working assiduously to stop its damaging impact."

"While I am encouraged the Administration did not ask the EPA to reconsider its endangerment finding, which declares greenhouse gas pollution threatens human health and welfare, today's rollback of emission standards is misguided," Curbelo said in a statement of his own. "Climate change is occurring and it is not a coincidence global temperatures have risen at the same time tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide have been added to the atmosphere.  We see the effects of climate change firsthand in South Florida, resulting in rising sea-levels, bleached coral reefs, and salt water intrusion. Climate change is also a threat to our national security and local economies across the country. We cannot, and must not, ignore these challenges.

"I continue to believe economic growth and dealing with this threat are not mutually exclusive. We have a responsibility to our citizens and future generations to support market-based solutions, investments, and innovations that could alleviate the effects of climate change and make our nation more resilient. In South Florida we know well that the economy and the environment are one in the same. Weak environmental policies ultimately lead to the destruction of jobs and quality of life. I hope the Administration will work with me and my colleagues in the Climate Solutions Caucus to Act on this in a responsible, bipartisan way going forward, but today that is clearly not the case."

Democrats also decried Trump's action -- including Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman.

 That prompted the National Republican Congressional Committee to criticize Luján for caring "more about serving his far-left environmentalist financial backers than New Mexico families."

The same NRCC will be tasked next year with defending Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen from almost-certain challengers in their Democratic-leaning districts.

Photo credit: José A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Rubio slams Democrats' plan to filibuster Gorsuch

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday blasted the growing possibility of a Democratic filibuster against Neil Gorsuch, a preview of the next round of fighting to reach Capitol Hill.

On Monday, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he'd join a filibuster, which would force Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to change the rules for a simple majority. Nelson in 2006 opposed a filibuster of Sameul Alito, though voted against him.

Democrats counter GOP criticism with two words: Merrick Garland.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

March 27, 2017

Nelson makes up his mind: He'll vote 'no' on Gorsuch

Senate Supreme Court
@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson announced Monday that he will vote against Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. 

"Deciding whether to confirm a president's nominee for the highest court in the land is a responsibility I take very seriously," Nelson said in a statement. "Over the past few weeks, I have met with Judge Gorsuch, listened to the Judiciary Committee's hearings and reviewed his record with an open mind. I have real concerns with his thinking on protecting the right to vote and allowing unlimited money in political campaigns. In addition, the judge has consistently sided with corporations over employees, as in the case of a freezing truck driver who, contrary to common sense, Judge Gorsuch would have allowed to be fired for abandoning his disabled rig during extreme weather conditions.

Nelson also made clear he would join Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who last week urged his colleagues to filibuster Gorsuch's nomination.

"I will vote no on the motion to invoke cloture and, if that succeeds, I will vote no on his confirmation," Nelson said.

Nelson faces reelection in 2018 and is a top target of national Republicans, who have been pressuring him to back Gorsuch. In 2006, they noted, Nelson voted against Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito but did not join the filibuster against him.

"In the past, Nelson thought nominees deserved an up or down vote," the National Republican Senatorial Committee said in a statement. "Remember, in 2006, Nelson voted for cloture to end the filibuster on Judge Alito’s nomination. The same year, Nelson joined his Senate colleagues to confirm Judge Gorsuch to the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in a unanimous vote. Clearly Nelson has been in Washington way too long and is forgetting he represents Florida, not Washington liberals."

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Shortly after revealing his decision, Nelson emailed supporters asking them to pitch into his campaign.

 

Photo credit: Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Democrats launch first video ads against Curbelo and Diaz-Balart over healthcare votes in committee

@PatriciaMazzei

Republicans failed last week to pass an Affordable Care Act replacement -- but not before two GOP lawmakers from South Florida voted for the proposed American Health Care Act in congressional committees.

Those votes by Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart will be highlighted in a new digital ad campaign -- the first of the 2018 election cycle -- by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which says it's spending five figures to roll videos against 14 vulnerable Republicans who also voted in committee for the doomed legislation.

"You deserve better," the ads say. 

The ads, geographically targeted and set to pre-roll ahead of videos on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are geared at "swing voters 35 years and older, grassroots activists in the districts, and those that have engaged with the topic of 'healthcare' on social media," the DCCC said. 

The party will be spending more in Curbelo's swing 26th district than in any other district in the country -- six times more, to be exact -- in order to test which voters might be more persuaded by healthcare attack.

Curbelo voted for the AHCA in the Ways and Means Committee but later said he was undecided on the final bill; Diaz-Balart voted in the Budget Committee and ultimately said he'd vote for the legislation. It never came to a vote because Speaker Paul Ryan withdrew it, knowing he didn't have enough Republican support.

"This targeted ad campaign makes clear that Representatives Curbelo and Diaz-Balart’s vote for this devastating Republican repeal bill will not be forgotten," DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement. "Curbelo and Diaz-Balart knowingly voted for a bill to raise premiums and deductibles, slap an age tax on older folks, and rip insurance away from 24 million hardworking Americans."

The National Republican Congressional Committee came to Curbelo and Diaz-Balart's defense, particularly noting Curbelo's ambivalence toward the final bill.

"Congressman Curbelo and Congressman Diaz-Balart promised to reform health care, and were committed to moving proposals forward to continue the debate," NRCC spokeswoman Maddie Anderson said in a statement. "For his part, Curbelo never came out in support of the bill because he was working to secure changes would be made to in the Senate to protect his most vulnerable constituents, and that the Administration would rectify Obama's disastrous funding cuts to Florida's Low Income Pool."

This post has been updated.

Curbelo, Rutherford played it safe on health care

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON — Some of their responses came slowly, others right away. But each Republican member of Congress from Florida indicated their stance on the Obamacare replacement that imploded Friday.

Except two.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami and Rep. John Rutherford of Jacksonville refused to give a position.

Curbelo’s spokeswoman later said he was undecided. “He had not made a final decision because he was working with Senate offices to get assurances on increased tax credits for lower income Americans and with administration officials on restoration of Florida’s Low Income Pool funding. It was clear to him the bill needed improvement and he was fairly certain that we would not be voting today.”

Curbelo voted to advance the bill in the Ways & Means Committee, before the legislation faced a damaging assessment from the Congressional Budget Office. The details then changed to appease conservatives.

Rutherford would not answer a simple yes or no question on the bill.

“Maintaining a status quo is not an option,” he said after it was pulled from the floor. “There is a widespread consensus that President Obama’s signature health care law is broken and unsustainable. I remain committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare to improve and protect Americans’ access to quality, affordable health coverage.”

His reticence stands out because Rutherford had appeared with Vice President Mike Pence at a Jacksonville event designed to sell the Obamacare replacement.

Trump reportedly wanted a vote, even if the bill would die, so that he could see who was on his side — a feeling shared by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz.

“Today the Republican controlled House of Representatives let down President Trump and, more importantly, the American people,” Gaetz said. “We did so in the most cowardly, craven way possible by failing to  vote on the repeal of Obamacare. … We should know who was willing to stand with President Trump and who wasn’t. Now we never will."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

March 24, 2017

Here's where divided Florida Republicans stand ahead of healthcare vote

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Hours before a dramatic vote on the GOP Obamacare replacement plan, Florida Republicans are a window into the divided party.

Here is where thing stand.

Matt Gaetz: Yes

Neal Dunn: Yes

Ted Yoho: No

John Rutherford: Will not say

DeSantis: No

Bill Posey: No

Daniel Webster: No

Gus Bilirakis: Yes

Dennis Ross: Yes

Vern Buchanan: Yes

Tom Rooney: Yes

Brian Mast: Yes

Francis Rooney: Yes

Mario Diaz-Balart: Yes

Carlos Curbelo: Will not say

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: No

--with Patricia Mazzei

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Will Nelson join Democratic filibuster of Gorsuch?

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via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Democrats are lining up to oppose Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, but Florida Sen. Bill Nelson isn't saying where he stands.

"Still undecided on both," Nelson's spokesman tells The Tampa Bay Times on whether how he will vote or whether he supports growing Democratic calls for a filibuster.

A filibuster, which New York Sen. Charles Schumer called for yesterday, would force Republicans to upend Senate rules to allow for a simple majority.

Nelson oppossed a filibuster for Sameul Alito in 2006, though voted against him. Yet Nelson previously told us he supports 60-vote threshold for a Supreme Court nominee.

"You bet I do. The filibuster has always forced the political extremes to come of the middle to build consensus," Nelson said in February, adding it was a "mistake" for former Democratic leader Harry Reid to lower the threshold on other nominees that were stymied by Republicans.

The NRSC says Nelson should tell voters where he stands.

"Floridians made it clear when they hit the polls in November that they trusted President Trump to appoint the next Supreme Court Justice. Bill Nelson needs to tell his constituents whether he will side with them and vote to confirm President Trump’s nominee, or join Chuck Schumer and Washington liberals and filibuster Judge Gorsuch."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Associated Press

Diaz-Balart, previously a 'lean no,' says he'll vote yes on health care

2 Mario Diaz Balart
via @lesleyclark

WASHINGTON -- Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said Friday he will vote for the American Health Care Act, after saying for a week that he was leaning against it.

The congressman said the bill isn't perfect.

"There are still some issues," he said. But he credited the centrist House GOP "Tuesday Group" with making some modifications, such as adding $15 billion for certain healthcare services. That was "a really big improvement," according to Diaz-Balart.

"I've been focused on trying to get changes," he said. "We had some success. Did I get everything I wanted? No, by any stretch of the imagination."

Diaz-Balart was among the lawmakers who met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday.

"It's pretty clear that this president is very serious about fulfilling what he said he was going to do," Diaz-Balart said, and the AHCA's failure would put a "big damper" on tax reform.

"If this fails, it's a big hit," he said. "It makes it very difficult to do the tax reform that a lot of us think that we need to do."

One of the issues Diaz-Balart previously raised with White House officials during the healthcare debate was the administration's inaction on Cuba policy.

Though Diaz-Balart insisted his vote isn't about politics, he said sinking health care would be "a big blow to the agenda -- and that means everything."

"In the legislative process, every day there is a tough issue, and the reality is that once this is done, we go on to the next issue," he said. "The repeal and replace is dead if it dies today... This is the one shot to deal with health care."

--with Patricia Mazzei

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

March 23, 2017

How Nelson and Rubio voted on internet privacy rules

via @learyreports

The Senate voted today to kill regulations that would prevent Internet providers from tracking and sharing personal data without consent, and Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio were on opposite sides.

Nelson voted against the measure; Rubio voted for it.

The Associated Press explains:

The regulations would have required a company like Verizon to get approval before telling an advertiser what websites customers visited, what apps they used, their health and financial information, or their physical location. Under the regulations, many more people likely would have chosen not to allow their data to be shared than if they had to take an extra step of asking a company to stop sharing or selling their information.

Industry groups and Republicans protested the regulations. They said broadband providers would have to operate under tougher privacy requirements than digital-advertising behemoths like Google and Facebook.

Nelson blasted the move. “We are talking about taking privacy rights away from individuals if we suddenly eliminate this rule,” the Democrat said in a statement after the vote. “This is a gold mine of data, the Holy Grail, so to speak.”

“It is no wonder that broadband providers want to be able to sell this information to the highest bidder without the consumer's knowledge or consent,” Nelson continued. “And they want to collect and use this information without providing transparency or being held accountable. Is this what you want to inflict upon your constituents in your state by changing this rule about their personal, sensitive privacy?”

Rubio: "The FCC’s last-minute regulation was poorly conceived and held internet service providers to a different standard than other companies handling the same information, all while doing nothing to protect consumers’ privacy. It was important to overturn this burdensome rule so that we encourage innovation and investment instead of adding another complex layer of bureaucracy to the internet.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Miami Republicans will have to make up their minds on health care today

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@PatriciaMazzei

With a vote looming Thursday evening on House Republicans' healthcare bill, two of three Miami lawmakers whose districts have among the highest number of Affordable Care Act enrollees have yet to announce their support or opposition.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart have been undecided -- with Curbelo leaning "Yes" and Diaz-Balart leaning "No" -- since both voted for the American Health Care Act in different House committees.

Curbelo helped move the law out of the Ways and Means Committee before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that 14 million Americans would drop or lose their insurance coverage in 2018 under the law; Diaz-Balart helped break a tie to pass the legislation out of the Budget Committee, despite saying he had concerns with it.

The White House has been wooing Diaz-Balart and other ambivalent Republicans all week. Curbelo was among the group of moderates who met Wednesday night with House Speaker Paul Ryan. They reached no broad agreement.

The third Miami Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was the first Florida member of Congress to oppose the bill -- and she still does, she said Thursday.

"After studying the impact of this legislation on my constituents, I will vote no on this bill because it does not provide adequate solutions for the working poor, disabled, and elderly in South Florida," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Too many of my constituents will be left paying more for coverage and many will be left without coverage at all. The cuts and changes to Medicaid will make it more difficult to effectively care for uninsured patients as well as individuals with high costs of coverage due to special needs or chronic diseases. Additionally, costs for seniors will increase significantly as insurance companies will charge older Americans exorbitantly high premiums and fees which many cannot afford."

Later, Ros-Lehtinen said in an interview on WIOD-AM (510) that any of the proposed cuts to "essential" healthcare benefits to appease the most conservative members of the GOP caucus would amount to a "humongous concession."

"Oh my gosh -- why have insurance?" she told host Fernand Amandi, who is also a Democratic pollster.

Amandi asked if the White House had tried to entice Ros-Lehtinen to change her mind. She said she'd gotten overtures from "people who never even knew I existed."

"I did get invited to bowl at the White House. Yaaaay!" she said. "But I turned that down."

Spokeswomen for Curbelo and Diaz-Balart said Thursday morning the lawmakers are in negotiation meetings over the bill all day.

A national Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed 56 percent of respondents oppose the AHCA, and only 17 percent support it.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Hector Gabino, el Nuevo Herald