May 18, 2016

Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart pushes back on White House over Zika funding


Count Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart among the Florida Republican members of Congress skeptical of President Obama's request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat Zika.

"I believe we need to provide and spend every dollar needed for Zika prevention, treatment, and response programs, and not one penny less," Diaz-Balart said in a statement to the Miami Herald.

The Senate on Tuesday passed a compromise measure setting aside $1.1 billion to fight the mosquito-borne virus, with both Florida senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, reluctantly voting in favor. The two men want the full $1.9 billion.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, is considering a $622 million funding measure the White House has threatened to veto as inadequate. Obama's press secretary, Josh Earnest, specifically called out Florida Republicans in the House on Tuesday for failing to push for more money.

Diaz-Balart stressed that the $622 million proposed in the House is in addition to the $590 million already set aside this budget year for Zika efforts (from money that had been allocated to fighting Ebola).

"This will total almost $1.3 billion to combat Zika this fiscal year alone," he said in his statement. "Congress has a responsibility to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent effectively, unlike the fiasco that happened with the 'shovel-ready' projects. Once the Obama administration provides full details as to how they will spend these funds, we can then determine what if any additional resources are required."

Diaz-Balart's fellow Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo told the Herald last week he supports Obama's request, though he hasn't taken a lead in pushing for it. The third local GOP member of Congress, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, did not respond to requests for comment.

Rival polls show Joe Garcia leading Democratic primary for swing Miami congressional seat



The Democratic race for Florida’s most competitive congressional district looks like former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia’s to lose.

Garcia holds a 25-point lead over rival Annette Taddeo, according to a new internal poll by Garcia’s campaign. That’s 15 percentage points higher than it was in January, when Garcia’s team surveyed the match-up before he launched his candidacy for the 26th congressional district.

“This poll reflects the strong support this community has for Joe Garcia,” campaign spokesman Javier Hernandez said in a statement released with a two-page summary of the latest results. “The people of this district know that when they choose Joe Garcia, their voices will be heard in Washington.”

Garcia bests Taddeo by 53-28 percent, with 19 percent of likely Democratic primary voters undecided , according to the poll conducted by the campaign’s pollster, Pete Brodnitz of Expedition Strategies. The January poll by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, an outside firm, pegged Garcia’s lead at 34-24 percent, with 42 percent undecided.

The new lead jibes with an internal poll by Taddeo’s campaign shared in its entirety with the Miami Herald. That survey had Garcia ahead 48-27 percent — by 21 points — with 25 percent undecided.

But Taddeo’s poll also showed her doing far better than Garcia once voters learned about Taddeo’s personal background as the Colombian immigrant daughter of a Colombian mother and an American father, and about her positions on issues important to progressives.

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

May 17, 2016

White House calls out Florida Republicans in Congress over Zika funding


The White House on Tuesday pressured Florida's 17 Republicans in Congress to say publicly whether they support $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus.

Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama would veto a House of Representatives bill that would provide far less money -- $622 million -- and referred again to support for the full $1.9 billion from Florida's Republican senator, Marco Rubio. Florida has more confirmed Zika cases than any other state in the country.

"The Republican senator from the state of Florida has indicated that the Congress should act expeditiously to pass the $1.9 billion funding proposal that our public-health experts say is needed," Earnest told reporters. "I think it'd be interesting to understand exactly what position the 17 other Republicans from Florida who represent the state in the Congress think of this."

Some of them have already come out in favor of Obama's request, including Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota and Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami (Curbelo drew some Democratic criticism for not being very vocal about his position).

On Tuesday, Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee sent Republican Speaker Paul Ryan a letter -- signed by more than 120 House Democrats -- urging the GOP to accept Obama's request.

Rubio said on the Senate floor Tuesday he's "concerned" about the House's reluctance to approve the full $1.9 billion. The Senate later signed off on a bill to fund $1.2 billion toward fighting the mosquito-borne virus.

"I'm glad that there has finally [been] some movement and that something's happening, but I'm really concerned about the direction their own funding measure is going," he said. "Their funding measure isn't even $1.1 billion, it's $622 million and, quite frankly, that's just not going to cut it."


Marco Rubio is writing his own tweets again


Marco Rubio embraced Twitter as a social-media platform before he ran for president, obviously writing his own posts about anything that crossed his mind.

That changed when the Republican U.S. senator from Florida jumped in the 2016 race. His account was taken over by aides who crafted careful tweets, aware of the media glare on a presidential candidate.

No more.

Rubio began writing his own tweets again recently, taking the platform by storm Monday. He began the day with a complaint about airlines -- a classic Twitter gripe -- and ended it with a rant about anonymous sources in political reporting. (And yes, a "source" confirmed to the Miami Herald that Rubio is manning his own account.)

The senator told host Jimmy Cefalo on Miami's WIOD AM radio station Tuesday morning his tweets weren't intended as a rant.

"I would have said it all in a tweet, but they only let you put 140 characters," he said. "Then I started having fun with it a little bit."


His tweetstorm:

May 16, 2016

Rep. Wilson to chair hearing on helping young people of color


Rep. Frederica Wilson on Tuesday will bring together lawmakers and youth experts from Florida and beyond for a congressional forum on expanding opportunities for black and Latino young people.

Michael Smith, special assistant to President Barack Obama and head of the White House My Brother's Keeper program, will moderate the forum. Wilson will be joined by Arnaldo Gonzalez, Miami-Dade Schools chief of growth and development, and education leaders from North Carolina, Virginia and other states.

Also speaking will be Albert Dotson Jr., a board member of 100 Black Men of America who helps run the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

"As the founder of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, an in-school dropout prevention and mentoring program, I have experienced firsthand the powerful influence that a caring adult can have on a young person's life," Wilson, a third-term Democrat from Miami Gardens, said.

In February, Wilson helped launch the Congressional My Brother's Keeper Caucus. It now has 18 members, among them Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar; South Carolina's Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat; and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

When he started the My Brother's Keeper mentoring program in 2014, Obama drew criticism from some advocacy groups for excluding young women and girls. Wilson's hearing Tuesday will focus on expanding opportunities for male and female people of color.





In emotional plea, Miami congresswoman and family push for transgender rights


Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and her husband joined forces with their son in a new campaign to promote transgender rights and acceptance.

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen is a transgender man. His parents -- the longtime congresswoman and former Miami U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen -- are the face of a new public-service announcement created by the advocacy group SAVE.

From el Nuevo Herald videographer Jose A. Iglesias:

Take a look at the PSAs, in English and Spanish:

May 15, 2016

Carlos Curbelo cut David Rivera a check in 2012 but says he didn't end up voting for him


Carlos Curbelo admitted to a Miami radio station recently that he didn't vote in the 2012 congressional election between then-incumbent Republican Rep. David Rivera and Democratic challenger Joe Garcia.

“When it became apparent that both those campaigns had been involved in unethical and illegal activities — because people went to jail from both campaigns — I did not vote in that election,” he told WIOD, as we reported in our story about Curbelo's political future.

Rivera is now running for the Florida House of Representatives. Garcia, who won the 2012 election and then lost to Curbelo in 2014, is running in the Democratic primary to try to oust Curbelo in November.

Curbelo may not have voted for Rivera, his fellow Republican, in 2012. But he did give him a financial contribution: $1,000 on June 29 of that year, campaign records show. The donation came before the Miami Herald revealed suspicious ties between Rivera and a ringer Democratic candidate.

But even before then, Rivera had found himself on shaky legal and ethical ground. Earlier Herald reporting led to a 2010 state investigation into Rivera's questionable use of campaign finances. Those investigations ended without charges in April 2012, a few months before Curbelo wrote his check. (A pair of separate investigations by the FBI and IRS appeared to be ongoing at the time but never went anywhere.)

So why back Rivera despite his prior troubles -- but then not vote for him?

"Once it became clear that the campaign had recruited and illegally financed a straw candidate, I no longer felt comfortable being supportive," Curbelo told the Herald in an email Saturday. "At first I figured it would be better to support him against Joe Garcia who had always shown a penchant for dishonesty, nastiness, and manipulation. Later we discovered that in fact Garcia pioneered the concept of attempting to rig elections by using straw candidates. It's all disgusting."

Carlos Curbelo was the face of the new GOP. Then came Donald Trump


When he was first elected in 2014, Carlos Curbelo seemed like the perfect face of the new,post-Mitt Romney Republican Party: a young Hispanic who supports immigration reform,believes in climate change and is well-liked by GOP leaders in Congress.

Then came the 2016 presidential election. Out went Republicans’ plans — swept away by Donald Trump’s populist force — to grow their party by embracing diversity and a soft political touch. The presumptive nominee derided some Mexican immigrants as “rapists,”opined global warming is a “hoax” and dismissed House Speaker Paul Ryan’s vacillation over whether to endorse him.

In the midst of it all, Curbelo — the 36-year-old congressman who gained national notoriety last year when he suggested Trump might be a ringer planted by Democrat Hillary Clinton — has pushed a legislative agenda aimed at notching incremental victories as a freshman and trying to appeal to constituents in a district more Democratic than the one that put him in office two years ago.

Can a moderate like Curbelo survive in Trump’s GOP?

Yes, Curbelo insists — assuming Trump’s name leading the November ballot doesn’t end his congressional career after a single term.

More here.

May 13, 2016

Rep. Alan Grayson takes to House floor on 'The Great American Bathroom Controversy'


U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, used his time on the House floor Friday to give an extensive speech in favor of transgender rights -- complete with placards he used as props.

Do we need a new law on this subject, much less a stupid law, a bad law, a ridiculous law? Now you know, I understand that it's possible, even with the absence of this law, there might be some conceivable problems about this kind of situation. I’m not sure exactly what they are. I’m pretty sure if everybody acted as an adult we could get beyond them without having to litigate over it. And I’m wondering how do you even enforce a law like this? What are we going to do, have to give saliva samples every time we go to the bathroom to see what gender we were born with?


White House praises Marco Rubio on Zika


From White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest's briefing with reporters Friday:

QUESTION: ... yesterday. And on Zika -- I know you mentioned that the funding is not that -- on the current legislation that's making its way through right now.
Does the president expect to pass these pieces of legislation if they reach his desk? And are you championing about the effort by the Florida Senators Rubio and Nelson to give -- fully fund at $1.9 billion?
EARNEST: Yeah. Well, we certainly welcome the bipartisan support that our Zika proposal has received, including from Senator Rubio.
I think this reflects the degree to which, for all of our policy differences with Senator Rubio, when it comes to looking out for the public health and well being of the American people, there shouldn't be a partisan difference.
And I think Senator Rubio and Senator Nelson both understand the consequences for mothers and babies in Florida, of not doing everything possible to fight Zika.

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