October 16, 2017

Republicans trail Democrats in the money race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

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@alextdaugherty

Over a dozen hopefuls have filed paperwork to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a Miami-based district that national Democrats hope to flip in 2018. 

But six months after Ros-Lehtinen retired, the declared Democrats are soundly beating the Republicans in the money race. 

Five Democrats have raised well over six figures in the latest fundraising quarter and a sixth has hauled in over $200,000 since the spring.

But zero Republicans have raised anything close to $100,000 in the latest quarter spanning July 1 to September 30.

Three Republicans have posted fundraising results that were publicly available on the Federal Election Commission's website on Sunday. Miami-Dade County commissioner Bruno Barreiro hauled in $41,950, former school board member and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado raised $15,050 and former Doral council member Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, who said that aliens took her on a spaceship, raised $4,990. 

Regalado said in a statement posted to her Facebook page that she suspended her campaign just before Hurricane Irma hit South Florida. Irma made landfall on September 10, about six weeks after Regalado officially announced her bid. 

"I made this decision knowing full well that all of the other candidates in this 2018 race would continue raising funds despite the challenges that we, our neighbors and fellow Floridians faced," Regalado said. "Rather than call and email my supporters for funds I decided to ask them to set this race aside and help our community recover." Regalado told the Miami Herald that she is fundraising this quarter.  

"The issue is that I officially became a candidate a week before the hurricane hit and during the hurricane all i did was help people," Rodriguez Aguilera said. "I didn’t think that was the moment to really fundraise." Rodriguez Aguilera announced her candidacy about 10 days before Irma made landfall. 

Barreiro, the only Republican who fundraised in the previous quarter, has just over $187,000 on hand for his campaign as of October 15. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

A host of other Democrats and Republicans in South Florida suspended fundraising efforts due to Hurricane Irma, including Democrats running for Ros-Lehtinen's seat.

Seven Democrats are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn, Miami city commissioner Ken Russell and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman. All of them except Hepburn have raised over $100,000. 

In contrast to the race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat, sitting Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who also represents a Democratic-leaning district in South Florida, raised $431,580 during the latest quarter. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who represents a more conservative district without a big-name Democratic challenger, raised $199,766 in the latest quarter. 

 

 

Carlos Curbelo outraises Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Miami congressional race

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@alextdaugherty 

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo outraised his main Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in the latest federal fundraising quarter. 

Curbelo raised $431,580 from July 1 to September 30 while Mucarsel-Powell raised $177,048, according to Federal Election Commission records. The latest quarter is Mucarsel-Powell's first fundraising total since announcing her bid for Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West seat in August.

Curbelo's fundraising numbers were down this quarter, as many South Florida politicians chose to suspend fundraising for weeks due to Hurricane Irma. Last quarter, Curbelo raised $705,026. His campaign has raised over $1.7 million in the 2018 cycle so far, putting him 21st nationally among all House incumbents and challengers. 

The Miami-to-Key West district is one of the most Democratic-leaning in the country currently represented by a Republican in Congress, but Curbelo, a second-term Republican, has garnered financial support from some local Democrats and is one of his party's leading voices on climate change. 

Mucarsel-Powell has $161,762 cash on hand while Curbelo has $1.3 million. 

In a statement, Mucarsel-Powell blasted Curbelo's vote for legislation that would repeal and replace Obamacare. 

"This race comes down to a choice: Carlos Curbelo and Washington Republicans have spent years trying to strip millions of Americans of their healthcare coverage," Mucarsel-Powell said. "I've spent my career working to expand access to those who need it the most in our communities, I know we must improve on what is working and fix what is broken not abandon those who need health care access the most."

Three other Democrats have filed to run for Curbelo's seat, though none of them have reported any fundraising totals as of October 16. Curbelo does not have any announced primary challengers.

Miami politician says aliens took her on a spaceship. Now she’s running for Congress.

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@alextdaugherty

Florida has a U.S. senator who once flew aboard the Space Shuttle.

A congressional candidate from Miami can go one better: Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera says she’s been aboard a spaceship too. But this one was crewed by aliens. As in extraterrestrials.

Three blond, big-bodied beings — two females, one male — visited her when she was 7 years old and have communicated telepathically with her several times in her life, she says. (Sen. Bill Nelson served as payload officer aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. All seven people aboard were from Earth. As far as is known.)

Rodriguez Aguilera, 59, a Republican who is running to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, recounted her experience with the ETs during a 2009 television interview.

She described “going up” inside the spaceship — though whether it went into space or just hovered around town was left unclear

“I went in. There were some round seats that were there, and some quartz rocks that controlled the ship — not like airplanes,” Rodriguez Aguilera said.

In two separate videos posted to YouTube years ago, one by local Spanish-language station America TeVe and another by a political critic with the user name DoralGirl26, Rodriguez Aguilera spoke on television in detail about her extraterrestrial experiences. She said the alien beings reminded her of the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer, with arms outstretched.

Among the things she said she found out from the aliens:

▪ There are 30,000 skulls — “different from humans” — in a cave in the Mediterranean island of Malta.

▪ The world’s “energy center” is in Africa.

▪ The Coral Castle, a limestone tourist attraction South Miami-Dade, is actually an ancient Egyptian pyramid.

▪ “God is a universal energy.”

She also said that the aliens had mentioned Isis, though she didn’t clarify if they meant the terrorist organization or the ancient Egyptian goddess.

The Miami Herald asked Rodriguez Aguilera about her experiences Friday. She responded with a statement that waxed astronomical but failed to mention close encounters of any kind.

“For years people, including Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and astronauts have publicly claimed to have seen unidentified flying objects and scientists like Stephen Hawking and institutions like the Vatican have stated that there are billions of galaxies in the universe and we are probably not alone,” she said. “I personally am a Christian and have a strong belief in God, I join the majority of Americans who believe that there must be intelligent life in the billions of planets and galaxies in the universe.”

Read more here.

October 14, 2017

Miami commissioner Ken Russell joins race to replace Ros-Lehtinen

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@alextdaugherty

Congress could get its first professional yo-yo player if Ken Russell makes it to Washington.

The current Miami city commissioner, who once traveled around the world to showcase his yo-yo skills, told the Miami Herald that he is officially joining the crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“I love my job as city commissioner and once Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement it started a new conversation,” Russell said. “It’s almost serendipity that [her retirement] is coinciding with what’s going on with the federal government. Instantly, I felt inside this is something I want to do.”

 

Russell set up an exploratory committee in May to gauge his electoral prospects and begin fundraising. After conducting internal polling, Russell concluded that there was a path to victory, even though other Democrats jumped in the race.

The 44-year-old, who won a Miami city commission seat in 2015, is now the eighth Democrat who has declared a candidacy for a Miami-based district that national Democrats hope they can flip in 2018. The district is among the most Democratic-leaning in the country that is currently represented by a Republican.

“There’s a lot of good people running, we’re all very different,” Russell said. We come from different backgrounds, we appeal to different backgrounds, we all have different visions.”

Seven others are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn, Mark Anthony Person and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman.

Russell, who said his interest in politics started when the park across the street from his house was fenced off because of environmental neglect, plans to highlight the need for infrastructure development to offset sea level rise during his campaign.

“In Miami it’s more prevalent than anywhere else in the country, we cannot expel the water from our streets,” Russell said, adding that the Trump presidency will dominate a lot of the conversation during a Democratic primary but that the electorate will be attracted to a candidate “who is looking beyond the Trump years and has a vision.”

Read more here.

October 13, 2017

Miami Republican attacks Trump’s decision to end Obamacare payments

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty 

Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sharply criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to end cost-sharing reduction payments intended to help low-income Americans afford health insurance.

Ros-Lehtinen, a frequent critic of Trump who is retiring in 2018, said late Thursday night on Twitter that “cutting health care subsidies will mean more uninsured in my district.”

“POTUS promised more access, affordable coverage,” Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. “This does opposite.”

The Trump administration said Thursday night that it will stop making payments to health insurers that participate in Obamacare. Trump continued to make the subsidy payments through the summer as he publicly pressured Congress to repeal the 2010 law.
 
“The bailout of insurance companies through these unlawful payments is yet another example of how the previous administration abused taxpayer dollars and skirted the law to prop up a broken system,” the White House said in a statement. “Congress needs to repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare law and provide real relief to the American people.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s Miami-based district has 96,300 people enrolled in Obamacare, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the highest number of enrollments of any congressional district in the country.

Another Miami Republican, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, tweeted on Friday morning that Congress should continue funding the subsides through the federal funding process.

“Cost sharing reductions are critical to low income Americans,” Curbelo tweeted. “Congress should guarantee their funding through the appropriations process.”

Curbelo’s district has 92,500 people enrolled in Obamacare.

Read more here.

October 12, 2017

Every Floridian in Congress votes for $36.5 billion hurricane relief bill

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@alextdaugherty 

All 27 Floridians in the House of Representatives voted in favor of a $36.5 billion hurricane relief bill on Thursday, a measure that funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other hurricane relief programs as the federal government manages a massive recovery effort in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico. 

The bill now heads to the Senate, which is not in session this week, for approval. 

"In the weeks following Hurricane Irma, we are able to see the lasting effects this storm will have on our community, and it is evident that additional funding is necessary," Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said in a statement. Diaz-Balart is a leading member of the congressional committee that oversees federal spending. 

"This legislation delivers over $18 billion directly to FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, ensures the National Flood Insurance Program has the funding it needs to pay its claims, and grants food aid and loan eligibility to the storm-ravaged island of Puerto Rico," Diaz-Balart said. 

The bill passed the House by a vote of 353-69. All 69 "no" votes were Republicans, who were mainly concerned that the bill did not include federal spending offsets and did not overhaul the nation's flood insurance program. Instead, the bill included $16 billion to keep the nation's flood insurance program running as thousands of policyholders file claims after the hurricanes. 

"The NFIP urgently needs an overhaul, and until the House passes legislation that reforms this fractured program, I cannot support a $16 billion bailout that further kicks this problem to the future," said Texas Republican Roger Williams, one of the "no" votes, in a statement. 

Florida has the more national flood insurance policyholders than any other state. 

The bill also includes nearly $5 billion in low-interest loans to Puerto Rico to help the U.S. territory rebuild after Hurricane Maria. 

Thursday's bill did not include $2.5 billion in Department of Agriculture funding to help Florida's citrus industry recover from the storm. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was in Washington on Wednesday to push for the money's inclusion, but there wasn't enough time to get the provision in the bill, according to Rep. Tom Rooney's office. 

"I will fight to ensure Florida’s agricultural industry has the resources it needs to get back on their feet," Diaz-Balart said. 

A third hurricane relief bill is expected in the coming weeks, where Putnam's proposal and other Florida-specific provisions will be under consideration. 

Congress passed an initial $15 billion hurricane aid bill in September after Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding in Texas. Two Florida Republicans, Reps. Matt Gaetz and Ted Yoho, voted against that bill after President Donald Trump negotiated a deal with Democrats to raise the nation's debt ceiling as part of the relief package. Gaetz called that package "generational theft." 

 

Rubio, Frederica Wilson call for federal investigation into nursing homes in Florida, Puerto Rico

Marco Rubio

@alextdaugherty 

Sen. Marco Rubio is asking the Senate Finance Committee to investigate the oversight of nursing homes in Florida and Puerto Rico after 14 people died at a Hollywood nursing home after Hurricane Irma. 

Rubio sent a letter on Thursday to Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the leading members of the Senate committee responsible for oversight of Medicare and Medicaid. 

"As the chairman and ranking member of the committee with jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid, I implore you to investigate the failures that occurred at this nursing home and others throughout the country, particularly in Florida and Puerto Rico, to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future," Rubio said in the letter. "Additionally, I respectfully request that you consider examining other ways in which Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries were impacted by these storms and how better planning and coordination between the federal, state, and local government could mitigate harm caused by hurricanes." 

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, whose district contains the Hollywood nursing home, also called for a federal investigation during a meeting between Florida's congressional delegation and Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday. She plans to introduce legislation that would require nursing homes and long term care facilities that receive federal funding to have generators. 

"We have to do everything we can to keep all these individuals safe," Scott said. "We live in a peninsula, we are going to have hurricanes, we've got to be prepared." 

"While this terrible tragedy is currently under investigation, it has been widely reported that these individuals were left in sweltering conditions after the nursing facility’s air conditioning system lost power," Rubio said. "This has shocked the state of Florida, and rightfully raised questions about the oversight of nursing homes, particularly the enforcement of existing emergency preparedness requirements." 

October 11, 2017

Only one ship headed to Puerto Rico under the Jones Act waiver is delivering FEMA aid

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@alextdaugherty 

Waiving the Jones Act for 10 days in Puerto Rico was touted as a way to deliver crucial aid and supplies to the U.S. territory in its time of need after Hurricane Maria.

But the Trump administration did not renew the waiver when it expired on Sunday night, despite Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s desire for an extended waiver that allows foreign ships to deliver goods to Puerto Rican ports from the U.S. mainland.

“I think we should have it. I think we should have all the tools that we have at hand,” Rosselló said to CBS news. “I don’t know what the results are of that Jones Act, again, we only had it for 10 days. It still needs to be analyzed. It couldn’t hurt, it couldn’t hurt to have it.”

 
“Most humanitarian relief supplies are being delivered by U.S. government (DHS, FEMA and DoD [Department of Defense]) assets, or Jones Act-qualified vessels,” said DHS spokesman David Lapan.

Ships operating under the Sept. 28 waiver must have loaded their cargo by the October 8 deadline and have until October 18 to transport their cargo to Puerto Rico.

Sen. John McCain, a longtime opponent of the Jones Act, called on Congress to pass a permanent Jones Act exemption for Puerto Rico after the temporary waiver expired.

“Now that the temporary Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico has expired, it is more important than ever for Congress to pass my bill to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from this archaic and burdensome law,” McCain said in a statement. “Until we provide Puerto Rico with long-term relief, the Jones Act will continue to hinder much-needed efforts to help the people of Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from Hurricane Maria.”

McCain and some libertarian-leaning Republicans oppose the Jones Act because they argue that it stifles economic competition in U.S. ports. A number of Puerto Ricans in Congress also support a permanent Jones Act exemption because they argue it causes the cost of goods to rise on the island, though Florida benefits from the 1920 law intended to bolster the domestic shipping industry.

Read more here.

Wasserman Schultz clashes with Rick Scott over hurricane debris removal

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@alextdaugherty 

Debbie Wasserman Schultz argued Wednesday that Gov. Rick Scott is slowing Hurricane Irma debris cleanup by forcing certain municipalities to follow debris removal contracts negotiated before the storm.

The longtime congresswoman from Broward County and the governor engaged in a testy exchange over hurricane debris removal during a meeting between the governor and the entire Florida congressional delegation on Wednesday.

“Debris has become an emergency situation, a public health hazard, rot is setting in,” Wasserman Schulz said. “If we start getting another hurricane all this debris will become projectiles.”

Wasserman Schultz said that the debris removal companies are able to get more money from municipalities who didn’t pre-negotiate a contract because the demand for debris removal is so high around the state. Therefore, certain communities are prioritized for debris removal over others because they can pay more.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburses municipalities for the bulk of hurricane debris removal, while the state picks up about 10 percent of the cost.
 
Scott countered that his biggest priority is making sure that debris removal companies aren’t price-gouging certain municipalities, and that allowing certain towns and cities to be reimbursed for a higher debris removal rate will ultimately hurt taxpayers.

“I’m going to stand to try to make sure that we watch out for taxpayer money,” Scott said. “They have contracts, comply with the contracts. I’m not going to allow people to take advantage of our state.”

Scott said the state is doing “everything we can” to expedite debris removal, citing the National Guard’s presence in the Florida Keys.

Wasserman Schultz continued to press Scott in a public forum with most of the state’s congressional delegation and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam looking on. She said that Scott did not return seven emails and several calls from her over the past week regarding debris cleanup.

“I have tried to reach you and I have gotten no response from you,” Wasserman Schultz said.

“If you contacted me, I don’t have any evidence that you contacted me,” Scott replied.

The meeting’s moderator, Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, who was physically seated between Scott and Wasserman Schutlz, eventually stopped the exchange as Wasserman Schultz continued to criticize Scott.

“Let’s talk about that a little later,” Buchanan said.

Read more here.

October 10, 2017

Ros-Lehtinen dishes to Cosmo about climate change, Trump and mansplaining in Congress

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sat down for an early exit interview with "Cosmopolitan" magazine, sharing lessons from her extensive congressional career before she retires in 2018.

It's worth reading the entire piece, which highlights the areas in which Ros-Lehtinen has notably differed with the GOP: climate change ("People who argue that it isn't changing, that the sea levels are the same, are just delusional"), same-sex marriage ("If more members of our party listened to their hearts and acted on that, I think that we would be better off") and President Donald Trump ("I'm not the president of his fan club").

Of particular note is Ros-Lehtinen's nod to her trailblazing on Capitol Hill: She was the first Hispanic woman -- and first Cuban American -- elected to the House, and that made her all-too-familiar with "mansplaining," she told Cosmo:

When I first got to Congress many years ago, there weren't that many female members of Congress. And now there's so many more of us, and I think the male members have understood the changing nature of society. They’re more cognizant that maybe what they're thinking and their points of view are not the Magna Carta.

There came a time in my public service career where I really had the gumption to express my point of view and I felt like, OK, don't tell me about this issue of human rights. I really do know a lot about it and we can share opinions, but there's certain facts that you need to know. That only comes once you master a subject, and you feel like, OK, I trust my instincts and I trust my knowledge, and boy, I'm not gonna let anybody mansplain to me. I'm gonna dig right in and I'm gonna get my point of view across. Having that sense of self is really a confidence builder. Hoo-boy, you just feel it in your bones. More and more I think men are seeing, Oh boy, this person knows what she's talking about. And they're a little more cautious than they used to be.