February 17, 2017

Ros-Lehtinen backs potential House Intelligence investigation into Russia and Flynn

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Friday she backs a congressional investigation into Russia and its ties to ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Ros-Lehtinen, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said such an investigation should include "former and current officials of our government."

"Our House Intelligence Committee, of which I am a member, has undertaken a Russia investigation and a bipartisan investigative team has been formed to examine documents," she said in a statement. "As the spokesperson for our Committee said yesterday, we aren't excluding anyone or any entity from our examination and we expect to be interviewing former and current officials of our government. I hope that a report issued following the investigation will be made available to the public."

February 15, 2017

Florida lawmakers in Congress pledge to deal with water issues

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via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Florida's congressional delegation, which stretches from the far left to the far right, has successfully joined together to fight oil drilling efforts. Now the lawmakers are seeking common cause on a broader array of water quality issues facing the state.

A group of Republican and Democratic members met this morning to discuss algae blooms, red tide, Everglades restoration and Apalachicola Bay, even the sewage situation in St. Petersburg.

“Let’s get the politics out of this and make a difference,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, co-chairman of the delegation. “We should be doing all we can to preserve the natural beauty of our state’s beaches and waterways. Coasts, lakes and rivers are key contributors to Florida’s thriving economy and serve as a vital habitat for plants and wildlife.”

It was the first meeting of the delgation this year and members posed questions to officials from the Army Corps and NOAA.

Attending the meeting was Buchanan, Neal Dunn, Gus Bilirakis, Darren Soto, John Rutherford, Francis Rooney, Charlie Crist, Al Lawson, Ted Yoho, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Brian Mast and Lois Frankel.

"We are a powerful delegation when we united together," Wasserman Schultz said, recalling the effort to fight oil drilling. She and Buchanan are preparing new legislation against drilling. 

Buchanan said he wants the group to develop a multi-year plan. "A lot of things have been brushed under the rug for too long and now we need to get a comprehensive vision."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

February 14, 2017

Rubio backs broad investigation into Russian meddling

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio says questions into Michael Flynn’s dealings with the Russians are best handled as part of a broader investigation into Russia’s involvement in U.S. affairs.

“There’s an ongoing, bipartisan investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee,” Rubio, a member of the committee, said Tuesday at the Capitol. “I believe the scope of that would cover anything that has to do with Russia and its involvement in before, during and after the election. …

“I have full confidence that the intelligence committee is going to do a good job. If they don’t, I’ll let everyone know that we didn’t, but I believe that we can and I believe that we will.”

Yesterday, Rubio made similar remarks. “We are going to go wherever the truth leads us,” he said.

Rubio did not directly comment on the Flynn situation.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

February 13, 2017

Miami Republican lawmakers praise Trump for sanctioning Venezuelan VP

@PatriciaMazzei

The Trump administration's move Monday to sanction Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami and accuse him of being a drug kingpin drew immediate support from Miami Republican lawmakers.

Five days ago, 34 members of Congress from both political parties -- led by Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez -- urged President Donald Trump in a letter to target El Aissami and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's inner circle. The letter was also signed by Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, and several Florida representatives.

Here are some key reactions from Monday:

Rubio:

The Venezuelan government is run by corrupt, incompetent and criminal thugs who have inflicted misery on their own people and routinely used violence to crush dissent. For years, I’ve talked about how Venezuelan regime officials are committing crimes in Venezuela, stealing from the Venezuelan people and then spending their riches living in the lap of luxury in Miami. Today’s announcement further confirms how true this is, and the extent to which corrupt and criminal Venezuelan regime officials have been allowed to freely travel and prance around U.S. soil with impunity.

I’m hopeful this is only the beginning of making sure the Maduro regime feels pressure to cease its illicit activities, free all political prisoners, tolerate dissent, and respect the will of the Venezuelan people, who voted to abandon the disastrous path of Chavez and Maduro.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo:

The rise to power of Tareck El Aissami has been an alarming development for anyone desiring a future of freedom, democracy, and dignity for the Venezuelan people. These sanctions send a strong message of solidarity to the people of Venezuela and against the gangsters who have destroyed that country and brought so many Venezuelans to the point of starvation. I’m grateful the Administration took such swift action after my colleagues and I urged the President to sanction this Maduro thug last week. I look forward to continuing to work with this Administration to prioritize human rights and hold corrupt regimes accountable.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart:

I thank President Trump and his administration for taking swift action on our letter to sanction a corrupt and dangerous Maduro regime operative. I greatly appreciate the ability to work closely with the White House on such an important issue to our national security within our hemisphere. Human rights abuses and corruption inVenezuela continue to escalate, and El Aissami’s recent appointment as Maduro’s right-hand thug will only worsen conditions for the Venezuelan people. El Aissami is an infamous narcotrafficker under investigation by the U.S. government for drug crimes.

I commend the Trump Administration for taking a strong stand against the oppressive, anti-American Maduro regime, and I look forward to working with the White House in pressing for human rights, rule of law and a restoration of democratic institutions for the Venezuelan people.

Ros-Lehtinen (with Menendez):

Adding Tareck El-Aissami and Samark Jose Lopez Bello to the Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals list is long overdue, but we welcome these sanctions because they signal a fundamental step in charting a positive role the United States can continue to play given the deteriorating crisis in Venezuela. Last week, we led a bicameral and bipartisan letter to the administration calling for action against Maduro regime officials responsible for the Venezuelan people’s suffering and we welcome this and any additional efforts to support Venezuelans languishing under this corrupt and repressive regime. With democracy under total siege in Venezuela and without any due process or rule of law left, we can and must do more to hold the Maduro regime accountable, including all those in the kangaroo court responsible for the unjust incarceration of Leopoldo Lopez. We commend the Administration for acting quickly and decisively as the human rights violations, political persecution and impunity in Venezuela cannot go unpunished.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston:

Placing Tareck El-Aissami and his key front man Samark Jose Lopez Bello on the Treasury’s Specially Designated Nationals list is an important move that will allow the United States to play a much tougher role in reversing the dramatically worsening political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

The corrupt Maduro regime has shredded any due process protections, and unleashed a brutal campaign of political persecution and human rights abuses. I strongly support these sanctions, and the swift push to punish those responsible for using it as an excuse to further pillage and punish the Venezuelan people. These sanctions are overdue, and ensure that the United States cannot be used as a financial haven for these illicit, narco-stained assets.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R):

February 10, 2017

Those hot congressional town halls? Don't expect many in South Florida

@PatriciaMazzei

Over the past week, a string of town-hall meetings held across the country by Republican members of Congress have drawn hordes of constituents angry about repealing the Affordable Care Act and the GOP's embrace of President Donald Trump

But if South Floridians want a similar forum to vent to their Republican lawmakers, they're out of luck.

The only local member of Congress who plans to hold open meetings soon is U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, who's got two scheduled -- in Wilton Manors and Pompano Beach -- Saturday. Democrats just haven't been getting the same sort of protests as Republicans at their public events.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has no town hall planned, a spokesman said, noting that the Senate is still in session. (Progressive activists say they will nevertheless stump outside his Doral office Tuesday to ask him for one.) Neither does Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. No in-person town halls are scheduled either for Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, though he hopes to let constituents call into a "tele-town hall" in late March, a spokeswoman said. 

A spokeswoman for Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart refused to admit the congressman isn't holding town halls.

"The Congressman is constantly traveling the district and meeting with constituents, but we do not publicize his schedule," Katrina Valdés said in an email.

When pressed if that means no public events without pre-screened attendees, she added: "He has countless meetings with constituents and constituent groups while traveling the district. Our office is in touch with those who he will be meeting with."

More than 200 pro-Obamacare protesters showed up last Saturday at a town hall for Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Palm Harbor, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

February 08, 2017

South Florida Congressman Ted Deutch to host town halls

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U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, will host town halls in Broward this weekend.

The town halls will be held at E. Pat Larkins community center, 520 NW 3rd St., Pompano Beach at 10:30 a.m. Saturday and at The Pride Center at Equality Park, 2040 N. Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Deutch represents District 22 which includes parts of Fort Lauderdale, Coral Springs, Parkland, Margate and Boca Raton.

Deutch, who represents a solidly Democratic district, has been a vocal critic of the administration of President Donald Trump including Stephen Bannon's role on the National Security Council and his nominee, Neil Gorsuch, for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Deutch supported the Treasury department's recent sanctions against Iran. He opposed the Iran deal in 2015.

 

Rubio calls for civility after McConnell rebukes Warren

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio joined Republicans in voting last night to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was speaking out against Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Sen. Bill Nelson joined Democrats in objecting to the move.

The rebuke came as Warren was reading a 1986 letter Coretta Scott King wrote as Sessions was being considered for a federal judgeship. The letter said Sessions, as a U.S. attorney in Alabama, “had used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens."

Amid the debate, Rubio gave a lengthy speech. "We have become a society incapable of having debates anymore," he said, adding figures in both parties, himself included, have engaged in heated rhetoric.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

GOP says it will target Crist, Murphy in 2018

via @learyreports

Florida Reps. Charlie Crist and Stephanie Murphy are among GOP targets for the midterm elections.

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Wednesday named 36 seats it will focus on in 2018. Crist and Murphy are in their first term.

The DCCC recently named its targets, which include FL-18, held by Rep. Brian Mast; FL-25, Mario Diaz-Balart; FL-26, Carlos Curbelo; and FL-27, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

January 28, 2017

What do South Florida politicians think of Trump's refugee order?

@PatriciaMazzei

The short answer: It's hard to say, because most of them have been silent.

The Miami Herald asked the offices of local members of Congress to comment Saturday on President Donald Trump’s order from late Friday, which cut the number of refugee admissions into the U.S. in half, immediately barred all refugees from entering the the country for four months, indefinitely banned all Syrian refugees, and prohibited entry of visitors from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — all Muslim-majority countries — for 90 days.

“I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” Trump said Friday when he signed the order. “We don’t want them here.”

Implementation of the policy caused widespread confusion at major international airports, prompting some protests after people were detained. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Trump.

“It’s working out very nicely,” Trump said Saturday about his policy. “You see it at the airports, you see it all over.”

More here.

This post has been updated.

January 25, 2017

Miami lawmakers offer early praise for North Carolina senator's immigration plan

@PatriciaMazzei

A pair of Miami Republicans in Congress who back comprehensive immigration reform have given props to the beginnings of legislation being cobbled together by Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo applauded Tillis' "broad proposal that will tighten border security and enforce immigration laws, while also providing certainty and relief for immigrants who have been contributing to our country's economy."

"There is a great deal of anxiety among our immigrant communities, especially in South Florida," Curbelo said in a statement Wednesday, adding that he's met with Tillis to join his effort.

The Wall Street Journal quoted Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart on Tuesday calling Tillis' bipartisan approach "the only thing that would have a shot to pass the House or Senate."

Diaz-Balart was deeply involved in the previous, unsuccessful effort to pass an immigration bill in 2014. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, an original member of the Gang of Eight that put that legislation forward, has since abandoned support for a comprehensive approach.

Earlier this month, Curbelo joined a bipartisan group of House members, including Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, in re-introducing what's known as the BRIDGE Act, a law that would protect so-called Dreamers brought into the country illegally as children from deportation and give them temporary work authorization.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign executive orders on immigration Wednesday, though the White House has said undoing the protections for Dreamers helped by former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program isn't a priority.