May 26, 2017

55 senators sign on to bill eliminating U.S. travel restrictions to Cuba

The Week That Was in Latin America Photo Gallery(8)
via @ngameztorres

As the Cuba policy review reaches its final stage, politicians, companies and organizations that support the policy of engagement are making an extra effort to send a message to Donald Trump: Mr. President, do not eliminate opportunities to travel to the island.

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) re-introduced a bill Thursday to eliminate all prohibitions to travel to Cuba. The bill, which had only eight co-sponsors when first filed in 2015, now has the support of 55 senators from both parties.

“As the administration is finalizing its Cuba policy review, it is important to show that a bipartisan majority in the Senate supports not only not rolling back the measures that President Obama took to expand travel, but to go even further and remove all restrictions,” James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, told el Nuevo Herald. Engage Cuba is a coalition of companies and organizations that lobby to eliminate sanctions to Cuba.

The bill would remove all restrictions on U.S. citizens and residents to travel to Cuba, and will authorize the associated banking transactions made by travelers. A similar project was presented in the House but with fewer sponsors.

Even if the bill is not discussed on the Senate floor, said Williams, it sends a strong message to the White House that there is support for the current policy of engagement.

More here.

Photo credit: Ramon Espinosa, Associated Press

May 25, 2017

Florida Republican operative asked alleged Russian hacker for documents to hurt Democrats

From the Wall Street Journal:

The hacking spree that upended the presidential election wasn’t limited to Democratic National Committee memos and Clinton-aide emails posted on websites. The hacker also privately sent Democratic voter-turnout analyses to a Republican political operative in Florida named Aaron Nevins.

Learning that hacker “Guccifer 2.0” had tapped into a Democratic committee that helps House candidates, Mr. Nevins wrote to the hacker to say: “Feel free to send any Florida based information.”

Ten days later, Mr. Nevins received 2.5 gigabytes of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee documents, some of which he posted on a blog called HelloFLA.com that he ran using a pseudonym.

Soon after, the hacker sent a link to the blog article to Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, along with Mr. Nevins’ analysis of the hacked data.

Mr. Nevins confirmed his exchanges after The Wall Street Journal identified him first as the operator of the HelloFLA blog and then as the recipient of the stolen DCCC data. The Journal also reviewed copies of exchanges between the hacker and Mr. Nevins. That the obscure blog had received hacked Democratic documents was previously known, but not the extent of the trove or the blogger’s identity.

More here.

May 24, 2017

Florida Republicans offer muted response to healthcare CBO score

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Republicans in Congress had little to say Wednesday after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the revised House GOP bill to replace Obamacare would leave some 23 million people without health insurance by 2026.

That's a slight improvement from the 24 million who would have been left uninsured over the next decade under a prior CBO projection. But legislators weren't exactly celebrating -- especially because they expect the Senate to write their own, different version of the legislation.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Carlos Curbelo, one of two Miami Republicans to vote for the American Health Care Act called the new CBO score "a reminder that there is a lot of room for improvement in the AHCA."

"Since before it was voted out of the House, Congressman Curbelo has been working to enhance it by strengthening protections for those with pre-existing conditions and increasing support for lower income Americans and those nearing the age of retirement," spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement. "He has continued those efforts by engaging Senate offices in recent weeks."

A spokeswoman for the other Miami Republican to back the bill, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, said he had yet to review the CBO report because he had "been in meetings and hearings."

"While understanding the CBO is not infallible, he greatly respects the office and hopes to review the report this weekend," spokeswoman Katrina Valdés said in an email.

A spokesman for Sen. Marco Rubio would not comment.

Democrats, on the other hand, were eager to continue slamming the AHCA.

"This Republican health care bill is a disaster," Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement. "It takes health care coverage away from 23 million people, allows older Americans to be charged more and ends the guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. We should be focused on improving our nation's health care system, not making it worse."

South Florida congressman wants Trump to pay for Mar-a-Lago travel

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- This bill won’t go anywhere, but give Rep. Alcee Hastings creative points with the TRUMPED Act, aka Taxpayers Require Urgent Mandatory Protection from Egregious Debt Act of 2017:

“Since President Donald John Trump’s election, my Congressional offices have received numerous calls and letters expressing concern over his use of Mar-a-lago as an almost weekly retreat. His constant use of his own property is padding his own pockets with taxpayer money, while significantly harming local businesses and straining primary law enforcement agencies to the brink. For instance, over just one holiday alone, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office was forced to absorb $250,000 in unforeseen expenses.

“It is offensive that President Trump insists on a budget that unequivocally, and without mercy, attacks hardworking Americans, and then has the audacity to turn around and insist that our local police officers, first responders and small businesses suffer under his insistence that he be allowed to enjoy a lavish life style at taxpayer expense.

“That is why I introduced the TRUMPED Act. The bill is based on a simple premise: if President Trump wants to make continual use of his properties, then he may do so, but he can't have taxpayers foot the bill.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Regalado casts herself as Ros-Lehtinen's political heir

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@PatriciaMazzei

As she mulled a run for Congress, Raquel Regalado was nagged by a question she said was posed to her again and again that might not usually be asked of male candidate.

"The first question that I was asked was, 'How are you going to be a mother and a congresswoman?'" Regalado said Tuesday at a women-centered Miami Young Republicans event where she kicked off her candidacy. "I think it's sad that we're in a place where people still ask those questions."

With that, Regalado, a former Miami-Dade County School Board member, portrayed herself as the political heir to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the retiring GOP congresswoman Regalado is hoping to replace.

Regalado didn't explicitly draw the line between her nascent candidacy and Ros-Lehtinen's trailblazing political career. But it was clear that, as the most prominent Republican woman who's filed for the Democratic-leaning 27th district, Regalado plans to campaign as a politician cast in Ros-Lehtinen's centrist mold.

Ros-Lehtinen has been a frequent GOP critic of President Donald Trump. Regalado didn't endorse him last year, and preemptively dismissed the suggestion that Republican voters -- especially in blue Miami-Dade -- want candidates to echo the president. (Her biggest opponent so far, Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, appeared as a Trump surrogate at South Florida rallies.)

"This is not about a particular person," Regalado said, referring to Trump. "This is about having a party that represents its residents.... The party, to be successful, has to have different voices." 

Regalado's answer to how she'd juggle motherhood and Congress, by the way, was that her children were born into a political family and are used to the balance. Her father is Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado.

"They don't know any better," Raquel Regalado said, citing her school board experience as positive for her two children, since they benefited from her focus on policies to help kids on the autistic spectrum, as they are.

"I told them, 'Going to Congress would be the best thing that could happen to my family,'" she said.

 

Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff

May 23, 2017

On House floor, lawmakers urge 'decisive' U.S. steps on Venezuela

@PatriciaMazzei

Five members of Congress from both political parties took to the House floor Tuesday evening to deliver a series of related speeches denouncing the Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro.

The lawmakers, two of them from Florida, urged further U.S. sanctions. Last week, the Trump administration penalized eight Venezuelan Supreme Court judges, citing their short-lived decision earlier this year to strip legislative power from the elected National Assembly.

"The situation in Venezuela is becoming more desperate by the day: the humanitarian situation is worsening, the Maduro regime continues its flagrant human rights abuses, and despite the latest round of sanctions issued by the Treasury Department, the United States needs to take more decisive steps in support of the Venezuelan people," said Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who led the effort.

Also speaking were Reps. Albio Sires, D-New Jersey; Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina.

Florida lawmakers unimpressed by Trump budget

via @learyreports

President Trump's budget proposal brought negative reviews from Florida Democrats and little reaction from Republicans, a telling sign of overall lack of enthusiasm.

"This plan cuts some of our most critical programs including Medicaid and food stamps," said Sen. Bill Nelson. "It also cuts funding to agencies such as NIH, which is working to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, and the EPA, which protects our environment. Slashing these vital programs will hurt millions of hardworking families. We should be focused on helping people, not hurting those who need our help the most.”

Nelson said the budget would also eliminate Amtrak service in Florida. More than 950,000 Floridians used the service in the last fiscal year.

Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart: “As a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, I will thoughtfully review and consider the President’s request. The Constitution is clear in that funding decisions are ultimately in the hands of Congress, and it is critical we ensure hard earned taxpayer dollars are well spent.  I look forward to working with Chairman Frelinghuysen, Chairwoman Black, and the White House to put together a fiscally responsible budget.”

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo: “Today’s budget proposed by the Administration does not reflect the appropriate allocation of funds to get our country back on sound fiscal footing. From cuts to agencies needed to protect our environment and combat the threats of climate change, to cuts to our safety nets for the most-needy Americans, to complete slashing of public broadcasting funds, this budget abandons progress already made on programs that enjoy bipartisan support. As the House looks to begin its own budget and appropriations process, my colleagues and I will work to ensure many of these programs remain adequately funded."

We've asked Sen. Marco Rubio for comment.

Rep. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee: "In my district, one in every four Floridians has been on food stamps at some point over the last 12 months. That is twice the national average. It is unconscionable for the President to propose cutting nutrition benefits at any level, because any reduction would mean less for those in North Florida who need it most. Every day, children who qualify for free breakfast and lunch attend school and are fed the only meals they will receive that day because their parents can’t afford to feed them. We put hard-working Floridians in the no-win position of having to choose between paying their light bill or affording healthy food. This is unacceptable."

Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg: "A budget is a reflection of our principles and this proposal illustrates a complete lack of values. It decimates vital programs – from environmental protections to public education to medical research. It cuts taxes for the very wealthy while leaving the poor, sick, and disabled out in the cold. It doubles down on cruel cuts to Medicaid – despite promising not to touch it. In Pinellas County where 40% of our children depend on Medicaid and CHIP for their care, what could be more heartless? This budget is fiscally irresponsible and morally repugnant.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Here's ad from Ryan-backed group 'thanking' Curbelo for healthcare vote

@PatriciaMazzei

The promised TV ad from a political nonprofit backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan to praise Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo and other vulnerable Republicans who voted for the American Health Care Act is here.

American Action Network pledged to politically back House lawmakers who supported the Obamacare replacement legislation, a priority for Ryan and President Donald Trump. Curbelo and 20 other Republicans who voted "yes" could face challenging reelection races in their swing districts next year. Curbelo has yet to draw an opponent.

The ad features a California woman who lost her doctor under the Affordable Care Act. It will be tailored to each of the representatives' districts. The only other Florida Republican also getting the help is Rep. Brian Mast of Hutchinson Island.

The bill still hasn't moved in the Senate.

 This post's headline has been changed to avoid confusion with Ryan's political arm, "Team Ryan."

May 19, 2017

Curbelo alluded to impeachment. His critics took to Facebook.

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@PatriciaMazzei

The comments came in fast and furious Friday after Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo published a Facebook post to explain his thoughts on the wild week of White House news.

"You spineless piece of crap," began a commenter named Dan Capote, who urged Curbelo to stand by President Donald Trump.

In a flurry of national TV interviews, Curbelo had suggested Trump might have obstructed justice -- an impeachable offense -- if, as reported first by the New York Times, he asked former FBI Director James Comey to stop investigating Russian ties to former National Security adviser Michael Flynn.

"It has been YOU obstructing justice," wrote a commenter named Stephanie Paige who apparently wanted Curbelo to be more critical of the president. "I want you to actively oppose the wrong you see- NOT vote to hide & obstruct the truth!"

Curbelo had set off the conversation by saying that, amid the controversy, the "main priority at this time is to seek out the truth and lay out the facts with transparency."

"My sincere hope is that no one in our government is guilty of any wrongdoing and that we can move beyond this difficult time in our country's politics," he wrote. "In the meantime, we should all make an effort to remain sober and measured as we take in all the news."

The comments were anything but.

A few hours later, Curbelo responded:

"Fascinating and entertaining to read the diversity of responses to this post. It's impossible for all of you to be right. However, it is quite possible that all of you are wrong," he wrote.

"A few points for all of you 1) My loyalty is to our community, our country, the Constitution, and the truth. Sorry if that's inconvenient or unacceptable to some. 2) I have 0 interest in a career in Congress. I just want to do the best that I can while I'm there. 3) Some of you should really consider taking a deep breath (count to 10; or maybe 100). So much anger and hate is unhealthy. Would you be proud to show your children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews your expressions? I wouldn't. 4) Have a good weekend. I hope that at some point we can all come together as one nation under God." 

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

May 17, 2017

South Florida lawmakers welcome special counsel on Russia

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@PatriciaMazzei

The Justice Department's appointment Wednesday of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead the investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election was met with praise from Florida lawmakers.

Republicans in particular have spent the past two days fielding question after question about the White House's handling not only of former FBI Director James Comey's firing, but also of classified information President Donald Trump shared with the Russians.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida:

"Bob Mueller has the experience to conduct a thorough investigation. Now, the administration must provide him the resources and independent authority he needs to follow the facts wherever they lead."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida:

"Mr. Mueller is widely respected for his independence and professionalism. I have confidence that he will conduct a fair and thorough investigation. For the sake of the country, all parties must fully cooperate with his efforts that are focused on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This effort should in no way be allowed to impede the ability of the Senate Intelligence Committee to conduct and conclude its investigation into the same subject. It is my hope that these investigations will now move expeditiously."

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami:

"This is a very positive development, it is evidence that this Administration is taking this Russia probe seriously, that this is going to be a probe that is independent," Curbelo told MSNBC. (Earlier, he had maintained to the Washington Post that a select committee appointed by Congress would be best.)

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami:

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami:

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston:

“I’m encouraged by the Justice Department’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump-Russia connection, and I have a deep respect for former FBI Director Mueller. Assuming he is given true independence, this appointment will remove some of the clouds that have hung over our system of justice during this deeply troubling situation. It’s certainly overdue.

However, the investigation must include Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, the Kremlin’s possible ties to the Trump campaign, and the President’s alleged interference in the Michael Flynn investigation. This is a positive step, but more still needs to be done to ensure that we provide the whole truth to the American people.”

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens:

“="The appointment of Robert Mueller to investigate possible ties between President Trump’s campaign and the Russian government is a long-awaited step in the right direction. After a week of constant controversy, Americans’ faith in government may begin to be restored.

"I applaud Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for having the courage to name a special counselor, a decision that Mr. Trump has denounced as a “witch hunt.” My view is that if there is no connection between the president or his campaign and Russia, he should have nothing to worry about. But the news that the president’s team knew that General Michael Flynn was under investigation and hired him anyway, underscores the need for the Russia probe.

"Mr. Mueller is widely viewed as a man of the highest integrity who can be counted on to maintain that standard. I hope he will have all of the authority and resources necessary to conduct a thorough investigation, no matter where it may lead him, without any interference by the White House."

Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press file