January 16, 2017

Miami congresswoman to Trump: ‘Please do not tweet anymore’

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson plans to skip Friday’s inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump – but not because she’s boycotting it, exactly.

The Miami Gardens Democrat never intended to attend, because her goddaughter’s getting married Saturday. A handful of Democratic members of Congress have said they won’t go to the inauguration in protest of Trump.

“My constituents have been calling and emailing me, asking me not to go to the inauguration,” Wilson told reporters in Miami on Monday. “They’re disturbed.”

Wilson said after Trump became the Republican nominee, she steeled herself to work with him – despite their ideological disagreements – on criminal justice issues. But Trump’s appointments have made her question her resolve.

“I’m wondering, ‘How can I work with him?’” she said.

Wilson spoke at a breakfast for her signature mentoring program, 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project. Her invited guest for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event was U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who said Friday Trump isn’t a “legitimate president” because of Russian interference in the election. Trump followed up by slamming Lewis, a leader of the civil-rights movement, on Twitter.

“To have a president who responds to everything someone says on Twitter is disgraceful,” Wilson said. “He’s not a good role model for our children.”

“Please do not tweet anymore,” Wilson implored Trump. “All it does is, it causes divisions in our country. People have the right to express their opinions. You don’t have to tweet a response to everything a public official says. That is so unpresidential.”

January 14, 2017

Miami GOP lawmakers won't ask Trump to reinstate special immigration status for Cubans

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@PatriciaMazzei @lesleyclark @ngameztorres

For all the bluster Miami’s Cuban-American Republicans in Congress delivered after President Barack Obama’s stunning decision Thursday to dispose of a decades-old U.S. policy favoring Cuban immigrants, the likelihood of President-elect Donald Trump reversing the decision seems almost nonexistent.

And Cuban-American lawmakers seem to know it: By Friday, some of them were reluctantly conceding that they don’t even intend to ask Trump to reinstate “wet foot/dry foot,” the policy that allowed any Cuban who arrived on U.S. soil to legally remain in the country.

“It was going to happen, sooner or later: some reform, some change,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged to the Miami Herald.

She criticized Obama for making a sudden, “arbitrary” move with no lawmaker input. But she also predicted the policy would not have lasted another year.

“Congress would have done away with it — we would have reformed it. Something needed to be done,” she said. “Shame on us for not fixing it. But to do this within one week of his presidency ending?”

Trump, who last year said Cubans’ special treatment wasn’t “fair,” remained uncharacteristically silent Friday about Obama’s move, saying nothing on his preferred platform — Twitter — or through his transition team, which ignored repeated emailed requests for comment.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

January 13, 2017

Where would Obamacare repeal be felt most? Miami

House Republicans Obamacare
via @lesleyclark

WASHINGTON -- Perhaps nowhere in America would so many people be as personally affected by the Republican-led repeal of Obamacare than Miami.

Three congressional districts – all represented by Republicans – have among the highest number of Affordable Care Act enrollees in the country, posing a bit of a wrinkle as those House members prepare to follow their Senate colleagues and vote Friday to begin the process of dismantling the 2010 federal law that has extended health insurance to as many as 20 million Americans.

There are 96,300 people enrolled in the Florida district represented by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, the highest number in the country, according to estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Her district is followed closely by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, whose southwest Miami-Dade and Monroe County district has 92,500 enrolled in the insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, who opposes rescinding the law, has the third-greatest number at 94,100, followed by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, whose Hialeah to Naples district has 83,300 enrolled.

Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged the incongruity, noting that many in her district are worried about losing what she called the “positive aspects” of President Barack Obama’s signature law, including keeping children on their parents’ insurance through 26 and covering pre-existing conditions.

More here.

Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Miami congressman joins bipartisan group extending Trump offer to work together on infrastructure, tax reform

@PatriciaMazzei

A bipartisan group of members of Congress extended an invitation to President-elect Donald Trump on Friday to work together on issues with broad appeal across political-party lines, such as rebuilding infrastructure and reforming the tax code.

Among the 23 representatives taking part in the self-titled "Problem Solvers" caucus: U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican who didn't vote for Trump but said he's willing to work with him in areas where they share common ground. Curbelo was recently appointed to the Ways and Means Committee that writes tax law.

"Washington is running out of time to restore citizens' trust in our government," they wrote. "People are angry and they have a right to be. But we believe the next administration and Congress have a brief window to turn it around; to show the people that we are capable of coming together to fix the problems that are harming the health, wealth and well-being of so many families."

Read their letter here.

January 11, 2017

Jacksonville congressman collapses in U.S. Capitol

via @learyreports @PatriciaMazzei

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Jacksonville, collapsed during voting Wednesday night and was removed from the Capitol on a stretcher, according to reports.

"He appeared to be receiving oxygen through a mask," according to The Hill. "GOP lawmakers emerged from the vote a short time later, saying Rutherford had been 'stabilized.' "

An email to Rutherford's office has not yet been returned. The Florida Times-Union reported Rutherford, a 64-year-old freshman and former Jacksonville sheriff sworn in eight days ago, was "conscious and alert" at the hospital, according to a spokesman.

Later Wednesday, Rutherford's chief of staff, Kelly Simpson, said in a statement the congressman had not suffered a heart attack, contrary to some media reports.

"Congressman Rutherford is conscious, alert and in good spirits," she said. "He did not suffer a heart attack, but he continues to be evaluated by doctors. A further update on the Congressman's condition will be provided once doctors have finished their evaluation.

"The Rutherford family appreciates the prayers, thoughts and support they have received this evening."

January 04, 2017

Flanked by Miami congressman, Obama brings healthcare fight to Capitol

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via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson was at President Obama's side Wednesday morning as he arrived on Capitol Hill to strategize with Democrats how to protect the Affordable Care Act.

More Floridians have enrolled in Obamacare than any other state and South Florida is a big driver of that.

But that hasn't stopped criticism of the cost and Donald Trump won the state in November, vowing to "repeal and replace" the law. Gov. Rick Scott has said he wants to play a role in the dismantling, serving as a bridge between Washington and the states.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was also on the Hill Wednesday to talk with Republicans, who Democrats are counting on struggling to produce an alternative health care delivery system.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Florida law professors take part in national effort to block Sessions as attorney general

via @learyreports

More than 30 law professors in Florida have joined a national effort opposing Sen. Jeff Sessions as Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, contending racial issues make him unqualified to lead the Justice Department.

“We are 1140 faculty members from 171 different law schools in 49 states across the country. We urge you to reject the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for the position of Attorney General of the United States,” reads a letter sent to Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“In 1986, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, in a bipartisan vote, rejected President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of then-U.S. Attorney Sessions for a federal judgeship, due to statements Sessions had made that reflected prejudice against African Americans. Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal district court judge.”

“Some of us have concerns about his misguided prosecution of three civil rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in 1985, and his consistent promotion of the myth of voter-impersonation fraud. Some of us have concerns about his support for building a wall along our country’s southern border. Some of us have concerns about his robust support for regressive drug policies that have fueled mass incarceration. Some of us have concerns about his questioning of the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change. Some of us have concerns about his repeated opposition to legislative efforts to promote the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community. Some of us share all of these concerns.

"All of us believe it is unacceptable for someone with Senator Sessions’ record to lead the Department of Justice."

That said, the Alabama Republican is expected to make it through confirmation. A hearing is set for next week.

"Many African-American leaders who've known him for decades attest to this and have welcomed his nomination to be the next Attorney General," a Sessions spokeswoman said Tuesday after the NAACP staged a sit-in at his Alabama office. “These false portrayals of Senator Sessions will fail as tired, recycled, hyperbolic charges that have been thoroughly rebuked and discredited.”

The Florida professors:

Continue reading "Florida law professors take part in national effort to block Sessions as attorney general" »

January 03, 2017

Rubio lands appropriations committee spot

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio, sworn in this afternoon to a second term, has taken on two new committees: Appropriations and the Special Committee on Aging.

He retains his posts on the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

He will no longer serve on the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which had oversight on space issues.

“With so many threats to America’s national security around the world, I look forward to continuing my work on the foreign relations and intelligence committees," Rubio said in a statement. "In the days and weeks ahead, we must reestablish America’s moral standing in the world, and make it absolutely clear that the United States will remain a true friend of Israel and a beacon of hope and freedom to oppressed people everywhere. The challenges posed by countries like Cuba, Iran, Russia, China and North Korea will require decisive American leadership and resolve.

“We also have a lot of work to do here at home. Too many Americans have been left behind in the 21st century economy, and there is real anxiety among parents that their children will not have the same opportunities they had to work hard, pursue the American Dream, and climb the economic ladder. That’s not acceptable, and I’m going to work with anyone who wants to find real solutions for workers and their families. Of course, a key factor in growing our economy from the bottom up is our small businesses, and I’ll continue to collaborate closely with Florida job creators during my work on the small business committee.

“One major thing that will cost us jobs and hamstring our economy is our rising debt. With federal spending at record highs, our national debt has nearly doubled over the last eight years, despite the fact that government is taking in more tax revenue than ever before. The primary drivers of this unsustainable imbalance are our entitlement programs. More and more people are retiring, and while sunny Florida hopes to welcome them all, the rising number of retirees means we’re going to have to find ways to make Medicare and Social Security work better for everyone, so that people like my mother can continue to rely on these important programs and they are still there when our children need them. The committees on aging and appropriations will be at the center of these policy discussions, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to go to work for the people of Florida on these committees.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

2 Miami Republicans favor gutting congressional ethics office

@PatriciaMazzei

UPDATE: In an emergency meeting Tuesday, House Republicans agreed to reverse their decision to curtail the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics, after facing public backlash and skepticism from President-elect Donald Trump. Here's an updated statement from Curbelo:

"The House ethics process needs to be reformed in order to better investigate allegations of misconduct. I support referring this matter to the House Ethics committee where Republicans and Democrats can work together on bipartisan reforms that would ensure Members of Congress are‎ held accountable while given due process to address accusations."

A full, updated story has been posted here.

ORIGINAL POST: U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Tuesday they backed the Republican conference's move to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

The OCE, created eight years ago after a series of congressional scandals, would be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and, instead of being independent, report to the GOP-controlled House Ethics Committee.

Republicans' decision, proposed by U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and made without notice in a private party meeting on Monday, a federal holiday, prompted immediate rebuke from Democrats, government watchdog groups and even some Republicans. But don't count Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo among them.

"I voted for Rep. Goodlatte's amendment to improve and reorganize the renamed Office of Congressional Complaint Review (OCCR) because it includes much needed oversight and accountability from the House Ethics Committee," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "The reforms will allow for due process rights for all parties involved and will ensure a fair hearing as Members of Congress seek to better serve our constituents."

Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement to the Herald that Curbelo also backs the changes.

"Coming from a district that knows firsthand the impact corruption has on a community, Congressman Curbelo has always been committed to ensuring members of Congress are held accountable and allegations of misconduct are investigated seriously<" she said. "The Office of Congressional Ethics has not lived up to its stated mission and reforms are long overdue to strengthen its ability to take complaints from the public, complete independent investigations, and provide due process for those facing allegations of misconduct. The Congressman supports Speaker [Paul] Ryan's commitment to protect the Office's independence and he is dedicated to making sure that commitment is honored.

"The Congressman will be supporting H.Res. 5, the complete Rules Package for the 115th Congress on the House Floor later today."

Ryan opposed the ethics amendment, which the GOP conference agreed to with a 119-74 vote. Because the vote took place in a private party meeting, there is no public disclosure of how each member voted.

The third Miami Republican in Congress, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, told the Herald in a statement that while the ethics office needs an overhaul, he doesn't think the rules legislation is the way to change things.

"The Office of Congressional Ethics is in dire need of reform," Diaz-Balart said. "Members of Congress must be held accountable to the highest standard in a process that is fair and just. I strongly believe the way to do this is in a bipartisan, open discussion through legislation, not through the rules package."

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that dealing with the ethics office shouldn't be Congress' first priority, though he still called the office "unfair." He used the hashtag "#DTS," from his campaign mantra to "drain the swamp."

This post has been updated to include Diaz-Balart.