March 22, 2018

Two bills supported by Parkland families included in massive spending package

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The House and Senate are scheduled to vote on a massive $1.3 trillion spending package on Thursday and Friday, and the spending bill includes two bills that were a priority for the families of victims of the nation's deadliest high school shooting in Parkland. 

The STOP School Violence Act and Fix NICS Act are both in the package. Both bills received widespread support from both parties though a few Republicans were opposed to the Fix NICS Act, which aims to improve the background check system for guns by penalizing federal agencies that fail to report records, and increases federal funding for reporting domestic violence records.

"Today, we’re moving a little closer to turning the voices of the students marching across the country into action. While we still have so much work to do, I am happy to see some movement on bipartisan legislation I’ve worked on with Senator Rubio to help address gun violence in our country, including the Fix NICS Act and the STOP School Violence Act, which funds programs to help keep our schools safe," Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement. 

The spending bill also stipulates that the Centers for Disease Controls can conduct research on gun violence, a measure pushed by Orlando Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy after the Parkland shooting. A number of Republicans, including Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have backed the idea. Previously, the CDC was not allowed to spend money to research gun violence due to an amendment passed in 1996. 

"We are very happy that by the end of this week there should be close to a billion dollars over the next ten years available so that states can set up these systems to identify potential shooters and stop them before they kill anybody," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. 

March 21, 2018

Who’s going and who’s skipping? Where pols stand on Saturday’s March for Our Lives



On Saturday, young people around the world will participate in the March for Our Lives, urging lawmakers to find solutions that stop gun violence and mass shootings just over a month after the nation’s deadliest high school shooting in Broward County.

But South Florida’s Republican lawmakers in Congress either have no plans to attend, or won’t say what they’re doing on Saturday.

The March for Our Lives was organized by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students after a former classmate killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day. The students have also been coordinating with gun-control advocacy groups who generally do not support Republican officeholders. As of Wednesday, the organizers announced that 837 marches will take place around the world, including the main event in Washington, D.C.

Every Democratic officeholder from South Florida who responded to the Miami Herald has plans to participate, either in Washington or marches in South Florida.

Read more here.

March 20, 2018

Parkland families push for progress in Washington before the March for Our Lives



The families of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are among the most powerful lobbyists in Washington right now.

Lawmakers from both parties are willing to rearrange their schedules for an in-person meeting with a group of people who have already successfully shepherded a gun bill through the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature that was opposed by the National Rifle Association.

But the Florida Legislature is a part-time body, bound by time constraints to pass bills within a few weeks. Congress is under no such pressure, so many bills that have strong support from both parties can still languish for years.

“We don’t move as fast as Florida legislatures do,” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said. “This Congress, with 500-something members, represents a vast and diverse country and as a result there are people in different parts of the country that have different views on these issues.”

The families of the Parkland victims have varying beliefs about access to firearms. Some, like Fred Guttenberg, want to ban all assault-style weapons. Others, like Ryan Petty, are concerned that a debate about banning assault weapons will shift the conversation into a partisan fight where nothing gets accomplished.

But the victims’ families are united behind three bills in Washington, and they’re pushing to get two of them passed before the March for Our Lives on Saturday. The families are discussing legislation through Slack, an instant messaging application that allows users to break different topics into channels of discussion.

“We’re probably one-upping the kids on that,” Petty said of the parents’ use of technology. “We put a proposal in one of the channels and then discuss it. I’ve been the liaison this past week, so as I was speaking with [Sen. Orrin] Hatch, Rubio, [Sen. Mitch] McConnell’s office, I posted the messages into our group.”

Petty said the parents come together and read the various bills and proposals in Slack, then one of them will write a statement either in favor or against the proposal before a final vote. The families don’t come out in favor or against something unless there’s a consensus.

But he acknowledges lobbying for legislation in Washington is “absolutely tougher” than trying to pass bills in Tallahassee. 

Read more here.

As kids prepare to march in Washington, this congressman is facilitator and consoler



Parkland’s congressman walked away from the spotlight.

Ted Deutch was standing on stage with Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, had been killed three weeks earlier in the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. An audience of a thousand people — children, parents and gun control activists — at T.C. Williams High School in liberal Northern Virginia were itching to hear from Deutch, who sparred with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio during a televised town hall debate a few weeks earlier.

As Guttenberg began to speak, Deutch inched away from the light illuminating the middle of the auditorium stage, giving Guttenberg the ability to make eye contact with the dozens of students and parents and drive the conversation about how best to prevent another school mass shooting.

Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat who lives a few miles away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is playing the role of consoler and facilitator as thousands of his constituents prepare to travel to Washington for the March for Our Lives on Saturday. He’s met with the families of victims and survivors dozens of times, and he’s also devising a political gameplan that turns upset parents and students across the country into single-issue voters capable of changing elections.

“We have student activists who have inspired a lot of adults, who because of them are now single-issue voters, Republicans and Democrats,” Deutch said. “We’ve seen some big-name Republicans come together to form groups to say if you aren’t committed to keeping our communities safe by getting weapons of war off of our streets, then we’re not going to support you. My colleagues now have been doing events in their districts, town hall meetings, where they tell me that for the first time there are high school kids who are coming out and they’re coming out in droves.”

Deutch’s message on guns, which doesn’t stray far from the liberal orthodoxy of banning assault weapons, limiting magazine capacity and implementing universal background checks, was well received among the attendees in Northern Virginia hearing him for the first time.

“Clearly, his constituents want him out here,” said Mary Monroe, a 38-year-old teacher from Alexandria who hadn’t heard of Deutch before his speech. “I was very impressed he came to our town hall with [Virginia Democratic Rep.] Don Beyer. To me, that just shows how much he cares.”

Deutch is also close with the Parkland students who are planning the March for Our Lives in Washington. He brought them to meet high school students in Maryland two weeks after the shooting, and sat down with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School politics club in January, less than a month before the shooting.

In the middle of Deutch’s picture from January was Emma González, the Parkland student who garnered international attention after she called out pro-gun lawmakers in a speech the weekend after the shooting.

“Congressman, thank you for fighting the good fight,” Parkland student and March for Our Lives organizer Cameron Kasky said recently on Twitter.

Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter, Alaina Joann Petty, was killed at Stomenan Douglas, doesn’t agree with most of Deutch’s positions on guns. But he said Deutch has been helpful to every family dealing with the loss of a loved one.

“He’s clearly had strongly held beliefs and despite those strongly held beliefs he’s been able to still play an advocacy role for the families,” he said.

Read more here.

March 15, 2018

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 08, 2018

‘Angry’ Shalala says Trump motivated her run for Congress



Donna Shalala says she’s running for Congress because she’s angry.

At Trump. At his administration. At Congress.

On Wednesday, the former University of Miami president officially rolled out her campaign to succeed the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, releasing a video on her campaign website. She filed her statement of candidacy earlier this week, immediately becoming the favorite, though vulnerable, candidate to take a seat that many expect will flip to Democrats after decades of Republican control.


“Everything we fought for in our lives is under attack under the slogan, ‘Make America Great Again,’” Shalala said in the video. “Running for Congress was never in my plans. But now I realize everything we fought for is at risk.”


Shalala, 77, says the ruling party in America has frustrated her by undercutting education, the working class, the environment, civil rights for women, immigrants and the LGBTQ community. In an interview with the Miami Herald, she also said she’s disturbed by the lack of federal legislation following last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“Frankly, what’s going on in Washington really made me angry,” said Shalala, who was Health and Human Services secretary under Bill Clinton in 1996, when Congress passed a law banning the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence. “Elected officials ought to make decisions based on evidence. If you stop us from collecting the evidence, you’re doing real damage to making public policy.”

Read more here.

March 06, 2018

How Miami Republicans plan to help DACA recipients

Mario Diaz-Balart

Monday was supposed to be the deadline for Congress to get its act together and find a way for 690,000 young immigrants to avoid potential deportation.

But lawmakers have at least a few more months to pass a law as the court system continues to determine the legality of President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

For Miami Republicans, caught between a national party that is agitating for stricter immigration laws and a diverse constituency back home, the delay on DACA gives them more time to find a compromise but also keeps thousands of their constituents in limbo.

“It’s good news for people in the DACA program because they can continue renewing their permits,” Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said. “I have mixed feelings on what it means for us here because we know this institution [Congress] sometimes only works as deadlines approach and now there isn’t a deadline. Now, on the other hand, it gives us more time, especially here in the House, to work towards that consensus position that has eluded both the House and Senate.”

Curbelo and Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Republican leaders need to come up with a solution, though the sole immigration bill currently being considered by House leadership is a conservative plan that Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen don’t support. The U.S. Senate tried and failed to pass a slew of immigration bills last month.

“I’m incredibly disappointed that the leadership in the House and Senate have failed to find a legislative solution to protect our DREAMers,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “While a court decision has halted the Trump administration’s plan to begin deporting DACA recipients, circumstances can and do change thus Congress should not rest on this one decision. We should take action now.”

Read more here.

March 05, 2018

Rubio, Nelson bill seeks crackdown on people who fail gun background checks

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

People who fail a background check trying to buy a gun could face increased risk of prosecution under a bill introduced Monday by Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and other lawmakers.

The NICS Denial Notification Act, which had previously been introduced in the House, requires federal authorities to alert state law enforcement within 24 hours when individuals "lie and try" to purchase firearms, according to a release from Rubio's office.

State officials could then decide to prosecute or "keep an eye on these denied individuals for signs of future criminal activity." The Justice Department would have to publish an annual report about prosecutions.

Only 13 states that use NCIS get notified when someone fails a background check, according to Rubio's office.

"In the 37 states and the District of Columbia that rely on the FBI to run some or all of their background checks, state authorities generally are not aware when prohibited persons fail background checks run by the FBI. Individuals who are willing to 'lie and try' to buy a gun may be dangerous and willing to obtain guns through other means," read the release.

"As a result, these states and D.C. lack critical law enforcement intelligence that they could use to try to keep their communities safe."

The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Rubio and Nelson along with Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Chris Coons, D-Del.,  John Cornyn, R-Texas, Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

March 04, 2018

Rubio’s record on guns: two bills, no cosponsors — and a higher NRA rating



Marco Rubio has a message for critics after the Parkland school shooting who say he’s bought and sold by the National Rifle Association: The gun lobby buys into my agenda, not the other way around.

But Rubio’s legislative agenda on guns is light.

Since coming to Washington in 2011, the Florida Republican has introduced 463 bills, of which only two, both introduced twice, directly involve guns. Rubio’s Second Amendment Enforcement Act was first introduced on March 26, 2015, 18 days before he announced a presidential bid.

When Rubio introduced his bill, which would overturn most of Washington D.C.’s strict gun laws, his NRA grade was B+, a lower rating than all but two of his fellow Republican presidential contenders at the time. Rubio’s less than perfect rating stemmed from his time in the Florida legislature where he wavered on an NRA-approved bill that allowed people with concealed-carry permits to keep their weapons in their vehicles while at work.

A few weeks later, Rubio’s NRA grade went up to an A, and it has stayed there ever since. Since entering the Senate, he has consistently voted in favor of policies and co-sponsored legislation the NRA supports, arguing that restrictions on guns hinder the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

Rubio’s office said he decided to introduce the bill in 2015, and not when he entered the Senate in 2011, because a young woman who began working for him in 2014 wanted to bring two legally acquired handguns to D.C. to protect herself after a shooting near her building. The process to legally own a gun under D.C. law was so “unreasonable and complicated” that she had to take time off work to complete it, Rubio spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said.

“Based on this real-life story he witnessed firsthand, he introduced the bill so that D.C. law would be in line with federal law,” Perez-Cubas said in an email. “He also sent a letter to his colleagues asking for support on the measure.”

But it doesn’t appear that Rubio did much to push his legislation.

Rubio didn’t gain any cosponsors for his 2015 bill, and he hasn’t gotten any cosponsors after reintroducing the legislation in 2017. A nearly identical bill to Rubio’s measure had already been written and introduced by John McCain in 2010. McCain’s bill garnered 18 cosponsors, including three Democrats. Neither Rubio nor McCain’s bill received a hearing or markup in committee, or a vote on the Senate floor.

Read more here.

March 01, 2018

Journalist Maria Elvira Salazar joins GOP race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat


@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

Miami broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar is jumping into the Republican race for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat. 

“We all want a better country for our children, so we need to rise above the political rhetoric and divisions that are tearing our communities apart, and have the courage to respect and listen to others, even if we don’t agree," Salazar said in a statement. "That is democracy at its best." 

Ros-Lehtinen encouraged Salazar and other Republican candidates to join the race for months to drum up enthusiasm in the Republican primary.

“The district is totally winnable for the right candidate,” Ros-Lehtinen said late last year. “She could be the right candidate.”

Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro is the only announced GOP candidate who has so far raised enough money for a viable campaign operation, though two newcomers, Ariadna Balaguer and Angie Chirino, have entered the GOP race since the last filing deadline.

Democrats are favored to flip Ros-Lehtinen's seat after Hillary Clinton trounced Donald Trump in the district that encompasses most of coastal Miami-Dade County in 2016. Six Democratic candidates have raised over $100,000, while Barreiro is the only Republican to have done so. 

Salazar was a news anchor for Miami-based MEGATV, and she previously hosted her political news show called "Maria Elvira Live." A bio provided by her campaign said Salazar was "the first and ONLY
U.S. Spanish-language television journalist to obtain a one-on-one interview with Fidel Castro during his
50 years in power."