November 17, 2017

Florida lawmakers incensed that Trump disaster plan doesn't include citrus relief (Updated)

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@alextdaugherty

Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam came to Washington with a simple message: include disaster relief funding for Florida citrus industry. The state's congressional delegation and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio also made a similar pitch to the Trump administration. 

Fast forward to Friday, and Florida lawmakers are angry that the Trump administration did not include a $2.5 billion for the state's citrus industry in a $44 billion disaster relief request for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. 

"Floridians have been kicked to the curb in this proposed disaster supplemental, which lacks relief for Florida’s citrus growers who suffered immensely from this storm," said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. "The Florida delegation specifically requested this relief because there isn’t a citrus grove that wasn’t affected, with some experiencing 100 percent losses – worse than anything the industry has experienced in over 20 years. I cannot—I will not—support a proposal that leaves behind over 60,000 Florida jobs. I urge my colleagues in the Florida delegation to oppose it as well. I believe we have a duty to fight to ensure our citrus growers get the relief they need." 

Ross, a senior deputy majority whip, plans to rally fellow members to vote against any disaster relief package that does not include the citrus money. He requested federal help from U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue days after Hurricane Irma made landfall in September. 

It is possible for GOP leadership to revamp the Trump administration's disaster relief proposal before Congress votes on the plan, which will likely occur when Congress returns from a Thanksgiving break. 

Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, also pushed for citrus relief funding. 

"Do we want to say that orange juice is produced and made in America? Without the inclusion of funds to address citrus crop losses; that is at risk," Rooney said. "The threat to the domestic industry is real: oranges imported to Florida, primarily from Brazil and Mexico, are already projected to surpass what is grown in Florida this season. This storm has jeopardized an iconic Florida crop and way of life. Washington must act and provide relief so that generations of family citrus growers can continue to produce, employ, and put Florida-grown orange juice on America’s breakfast tables." 

Nelson also criticized the $44 billion disaster funding request in more general terms, noting that Puerto Rico asked for $94 billion in disaster relief earlier this week while Texas asked for $61 billion after Hurricane Harvey. 

"This request by the administration doesn’t come close to providing what is needed," Nelson said in a statement. "People are hurting and they desperately need our help, yet this request has no money to provide housing for evacuees and barely any money for Florida’s citrus growers. That’s unacceptable. Congress needs to pass a more robust disaster bill that actually provides the funding needed to help people recover."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, also opposed the package and said she will use her spot on the House committee that determines federal spending to push for changes. 

“This Trump administration request is an insult," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. "It ignores evacuee housing, and demands matching funds that will hinder Puerto Rico’s ability to tap CDBG relief. It also falls way short of what of Florida’s citrus growers need. As an Appropriator, I will work across the aisle in Congress for a recovery package that actually takes seriously the tremendous need we have after this ravenous storm season.”

Miami Democrat cites Trump’s silence after soldier’s death in run for Congress

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@PatriciaMazzei

Marvin Dunn, a former college psychology professor and longtime chronicler of Miami’s African-American history, is running for Congress as a Democrat, motivated by his growing anger at President Donald Trump.

“I don’t recognize this new America that Trump has created,” Dunn said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “I have the sense that we’re just an uncivil society now — that we’ve lost our moorings.”

He’d been toying with the idea of entering the race for Florida’s Democratic-leaning 27th district for a while, Dunn said, but his mind was made up after Trump was slow to address the deaths of four American soldiers, including the late Sgt. La David Johnson of Miami Gardens, killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.

“When I saw what happened with those bodies, coming back from Niger, I thought, I was in the service for six years. Had I lost my life for my country, and had my life been ignored for two weeks before the president even spoke — that was the last straw.”

Dunn also referenced the prospect of Republican Roy Moore winning a special Senate election in Alabama next month despite a slew of sexual-misconduct allegations against him. 

“When is a better time to send a psychologist to Washington than when they’re debating whether to seat a child molester in the Senate?” Dunn said. “I’m serious.”

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

November 16, 2017

Should Hispanic caucus have snubbed Curbelo? Miami Democrat endorsed by group won't say

@PatriciaMazzei

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, the only Miami Democrat backed so far by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus ahead of the 2018 election, won't say whether the group should have allowed Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo into its ranks, chalking up the dispute to "political gamesmanship."

"I'm not focused on the political gamesmanship of D.C., in fact that's why I'm running, to change that," Rodríguez said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "I'm focused on campaigning in my district and earning the trust and support of CD27 residents to be their voice and champion in Congress."

In September, Rodríguez made much ado about being one of only three Democratic candidates nationwide endorsed by the CHC's political arm. Rodríguez is one of eight Democrats trying to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a district that leans even more Democratic than Curbelo's neighboring 26th district. 

Despite hailing from opposing political parties, Curbelo and Rodríguez share a Cuban-American heritage and a moderate approach to politics. 

The 30-member CHC is made up strictly of Democrats, some of whom argued that Curbelo -- who didn't seek membership as a freshman two years ago -- was pushing to join now solely to help him get reelected to a district where Hillary Clinton trounced Trump. Curbelo countered he sought to join in February, long before his reelection, to discuss issues affecting Hispanics.

--with Alex Daugherty in Washington

Diaz-Balart, Nelson meet with Trump administration on TPS for Haitians

@PatriciaMazzei

Two members of Florida's congressional delegation met with President Donald Trump's Homeland Security chief Thursday ahead of a looming deadline over whether to extend Temporary Protected Status for Haitian immigrants.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, advocates of extending TPS, met with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, who has until Thanksgiving to decide on whether to renew the program, which affects some 50,000 Haitians.

"Though we are approaching the eighth anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake, conditions on the island remain difficult," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "The United States was a place of comfort and solace for so many Haitians in the wake of the devastation, and forcing them to return to Haiti in its current state would be counterproductive."

Last week, Duke ended TPS for Nicaraguans, a decision that disappointed South Florida lawmakers who represent many of those immigrants and their families.

Staffers for other Florida legislators also attended the meeting with Duke, who spoke by phone Thursday with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. In May, Scott asked John Kelly, then Homeland Security secretary and now the White House chief of staff, to extend TPS.

"The Governor hopes for a permanent solution for these families," Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis told the Miami Herald.

--with Mary Ellen Klas

This post has been updated.

Hispanic caucus tells Cuban American he can't join the club — he’s too Republican

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@alextdaugherty

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, made up strictly of Democrats, rejected Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s bid to join its ranks Thursday, saying some members are concerned about his stance on immigration.

The caucus, currently made up of 30 members of Congress who are all Democrats, took a vote on Thursday morning after Curbelo appeared in front of the group to make his pitch.

“He made a presentation and it was a good presentation,” said caucus chairwoman Michelle Grisham Lujan, a New Mexico Democrat.

It didn’t work.

“It is truly shameful the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has decided to build a wall around the organization to exclude Hispanic-Americans who aren’t registered in the Democratic Party,” Curbelo said in a statement afterward. “This sends a powerful and harmful message of discrimination, bigotry, and division. Unbelievably, petty partisan interests have led the CHC to formally endorse the segregation of American Hispanics. It is a dark day on Capitol Hill. However, this only strengthens my commitment to working with my colleagues on both sides to urgently seek a solution for young immigrants in the DACA Program.”

Grisham Lujan said Curbelo’s voting record, which includes voting in favor of a proposal to repeal Obamacare, factored into the decision to deny his membership.

“We discussed several items, healthcare, the tax bill, relief for Puerto Rico,” Grisham Lujan said. “Many of those votes in this climate gave members who voted no, and maybe other members, pause over whether or not this was a good time for changing membership.”

Individual members declined to reveal their votes while leaving Thursdays’ meeting, though some members like Arizona Democratic Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ruben Gallego had previously said they planned to vote against Curbelo’s inclusion.

“Once we've done that [the vote], he can possibly stop complaining that he hasn't been given an audience and start complaining about the result,” Grijalva said earlier this month.

Grisham Lujan implied that she voted in favor of Curbelo’s membership, which also hit a snag after it was reported that Curbelo had a heated meeting with Grisham Lujan over his inclusion.

“I will tell you that I have been a member who has been on the record being favorable to membership by both Senate and House Republicans, and I’ve been consistent in that effort,” Grisham Lujan said after the vote.


Read more here. 

Emily's List backs Barzee Flores in Democratic race to replace Ros-Lehtinen

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Democrat Mary Barzee Flores won the endorsement Thursday of Emily's List, which backs progressive, pro-abortion rights female candidates.

Barzee Flores, a former state judge, is one of two women seeking to replace Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring, in Florida's swing 27th congressional district.

"This open seat represents an opportunity for Floridians to send a message to Washington," Emily's List president Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. "Working families need a representative who will fight to protect basic women's health care services, defend against the rolling back of environmental protections, and push to reform our broken immigration system. Mary is ready for the job, and we look forward to supporting her every step of the way."

Last week, Barzee Flores joined a small group of vocal Democrats across the country calling for President Donald Trump's impeachment.

The only other woman running in the packed field of eight Democrats is Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez., who sent supporters a fundraising email Thursday blasting Emily's List.

"Well, the establishment has spoken. Emily’s List has decided who your Congressperson should be. Did they ask you?" Rosen Gonzalez wrote. "No. They told me their endorsement came at a price. They told me I'd have to hire their consultants at astronomical prices as the price for their endorsement. I said 'No.' They said I'd have to sit in a room and 'dial for dollars' all day, putting the arm on all the special interests as the price for their endorsement. I said 'No.' Selling my independence is too high a price to pay."

The fundraising leader so far is Matt Haggman, former program director for the Knight Foundation.

This post has been updated.

November 14, 2017

All South Floridians in the House voted against flood-insurance overhaul. Here’s why

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@alextdaugherty

The entire South Florida delegation in the House of Representatives voted Tuesday against a proposal to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program, as Congress seeks a long-term solution for the program saddled with billions in debt after Hurricane Irma.

Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo joined the majority of Democrats to vote against the proposal, which passed by a vote of 237-189, with 15 Democrats voted in favor.

“It doesn’t make the changes that I need to satisfy... a big percentage of my district,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Miami Beach and coastal areas of central Miami-Dade County. “We have a lot of homes that are highly valued and it’s going to incur a lot of cost. It’s got to be fair for everybody. To have a home that you can’t find anybody to insure, that doesn’t do anyone any good.”

South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch also voted against the bill.

The National Flood Insurance Program is set to run out of money by Dec. 8, and if Congress lets the program lapse, thousands of real estate transactions and construction projects in flood-prone areas could be affected. Florida has 35 percent of the nation’s 5 million policies covered by the federal program — three times as many as the second-ranked state, Texas, which has 593,000 policies.

The flood insurance funding bill was the product of an agreement between House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. Hensarling has fought for years to privatize portions of the flood insurance program in an effort to make it fiscally solvent. Lawmakers from coastal areas, like Scalise, have cautioned that reforms could result in higher premiums and hurt investment.

Read more here.

Puerto Rico requests $94 billion from Congress for hurricane recovery

Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria

@alextdaugherty

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló unveiled a $94.3 billion disaster relief request to Congress on Monday, a massive sum that he said will help the U.S. territory adequately recover from Hurricane Maria.

Rosselló also promised that the island’s recovery effort will be the “most transparent” in U.S. history as the governor faces criticism over awarding a now-canceled $300 million contract to a small Montana-based power company to rebuild the nation’s electric grid. Over half of Puerto Rico is still without power 54 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall.

The largest chunk of Rosselló’s request, $31 billion, goes to housing assistance with $17.7 billion to rebuild the island’s power grid and $14.9 billion for health care.

“This is a critical step forward in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico where we’re not only looking to rebuild as was before but we want to make it much stronger and much more resilient and make Puerto Rico a model for the rest of the Caribbean,” Rosselló said.

The $94 billion request will likely be pared down by Congress and the Trump administration, as fiscally conservative Republicans will likely oppose such a massive long-term aid package as they did after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The package is over $30 billion more than a $61 billion relief request from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after Hurricane Harvey flooded parts of metro Houston and East Texas.

Read more here.

November 13, 2017

Curbelo hands in formal request to join Congressional Hispanic Caucus (Updated)

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@alextdaugherty

Rep. Carlos Curbelo submitted his formal request to join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Monday, the latest development in the Miami Republican's months-long quest to join the group that is currently made up of all Democrats. 

Curbelo sent a letter to CHC chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., on Monday after the caucus asked him to do so 10 days ago.

"I respect that we will sometimes have a difference of opinions on legislative strategies and goals – that is inevitable when working in the world’s greatest deliberative institution," Curbelo said in the letter. "I am very hopeful that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will send a strong message to the country that it welcomes all Hispanics and that it rejects the petty politics of exclusion and discrimination." 

A major hangup for some CHC members over Curbelo's potential inclusion is that he has not cosponsored a version of the Dream Act, though Curbelo has said he will vote in favor of any proposal to help undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children if such a bill makes it to the House floor. 

Curbelo asked to join the caucus early this year but his candidacy was delayed for months. The CHC used to include Republican members but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago over differences on Cuba policy and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. 

The Congressional Black Caucus is overwhelmingly represented by Democrats, though Utah Republican Rep. Mia Love is a member. Curbelo has said that if he is invited to join, he will not participate in CHC meetings where Democrats discuss partisan political strategy and only participate in meetings that are policy-oriented. 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he hopes the caucus lets Curbelo in. 

"Carlos is a quality legislator who is always seeking opportunities to reach across the aisle and find common ground on issues like immigration and education," McCarthy said in a statement. "I truly hope the Caucus doesn't send the American people the message that Hispanic Republicans and Independents are not welcome." 

“I feel like when people gather in St. Peter’s Square awaiting the smoke to emerge from the Sistine Chapel,” Curbelo said in October, joking as he likened his acceptance to the group to the top-secret selection of a new pope.

Lesley Clark contributed. This post was updated to include a comment from McCarthy. 

Florida Republican urges Trump to support Paris Climate Accord

Vernmug

@alextdaugherty 

For years, Miami Republicans were often isolated from the rest of their GOP counterparts in Florida on climate change issues. 

A 2018 election environment that appears to favor Democrats could change that approach. 

Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced Monday that he wants President Donald Trump to reconsider his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord after Syria joined the pact, leaving the U.S. as the only country who hasn't signed on. Buchanan also urged Trump to stay in the accord in May, though Trump announced that the U.S. would pull out in June. 

"Climate change is a serious threat, especially for a state like Florida that has two coastlines vulnerable to rising waters," Buchanan said. "There is a reason why 196 nations across the globe support this voluntary and non-binding agreement."

Since Trump made his decision to leave the accord, Hurricane Irma swept through the state and Buchanan drew a serious Democratic challenger who once came within 750 votes of winning a state House seat. Siesta Key attorney David Shapiro said Buchanan's stance on the Paris Climate agreement was "too little too late," indicating that climate change will be a major campaign issue in Buchanan's low-lying Gulf Coast district that includes Sarasota and Bradenton. 

Democrats also scored major victories in local elections across the country last week, including the St. Petersburg mayor's race in Florida where incumbent Rick Kriseman held off Republican Rick Baker despite trailing in most polls. Last week's results have put Republicans on edge ahead of a 2018 cycle where the House of Representatives could be up for grabs.

Buchanan's district voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 11 percentage points in 2016 though the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a Washington-based organization that seeks to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives, has put Buchanan's district on the organization's target list for the 2018 elections. The DCCC is now targeting 6 Florida seats, including all three Miami-based seats that are held by Republicans.

Buchanan has over $2 million on hand to defend his seat, according to Federal Election Commission records