December 01, 2017

Florida, Texas lawmakers threaten government shutdown over hurricane relief funding

Irma debris 03 Ekm (1)

@alextdaugherty

It’s been 82 days since Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys, and lawmakers from Florida and Texas huddled together on Friday to gain leverage for their hurricane-stricken states as they seek billions in relief.

If congressional leaders don’t do enough to allay the concerns of lawmakers from Florida and Texas, the two states’ delegations will vote en masse against a disaster funding plan that could be attached to a spending plan known as a continuing resolution that keeps the government running.

“Unless substantial changes are made, we are not going to support the CR,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who co-authored a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signed by members from Florida and Texas on Friday. “We will use the clout of both of our delegations. Without significant changes this supplemental cannot be allowed to go through.”

Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, is opposed to the administration’s request and said the government could be shut down if Florida and Texas don’t get what they need.

“We do not have the adequate resources and this is going to be on the verge of a government shutdown if Texas and all the other victims of these hurricanes do not have a compromise where we can work together,” Jackson Lee said at a Homeland Security hearing on Thursday.

The letter opposing the White House’s disaster relief request was signed by 38 members from Texas and Florida as of Friday evening. The $44 billion disaster relief request, announced before Thanksgiving, upset Democrats and Republicans from Florida and Texas, who argue that much more needs to be done for disaster relief.

“Unless the disaster supplemental appropriations bill is significantly improved before it is brought to a vote on the House floor, we will be unable to support this legislation,” the letter reads.

While Republicans are stopping short of an explicit shutdown threat and express confidence that leadership will listen to them, the next disaster funding proposal could be tied to a proposal that funds the government for a period of time.

Congressional leaders must pass a bill that funds the government by Dec. 8 to avoid a shutdown. It is possible that congressional leaders could pass a short-term funding bill next week to keep the government open through the end of December or early January.

Read more here.

Lawmakers call on Trump to invoke "anti-Russia" law to punish Nicaraguan officials

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via @francoordonez

Cuban-American lawmakers are calling on President Donald Trump to consider punishing two top Nicaraguan officials for alleged human rights violations under a so-called “anti-Russia” law.

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is leading a bipartisan group of senators and representatives pressing Trump to consider imposing economic sanctions against the president of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council and a top Nicaraguan oil official connected to the Venezuela government, according to a letter obtained by McClatchy.

“We urge you to take immediate action to determine whether Nicaraguan nationals Roberto Jose Rivas Reyes and Francisco Lopez meet the criteria to be sanctioned in accordance with the law for human rights abuses, corruption, and illicit activity,” the lawmakers write in a joint letter.

The five Republican and five Democratic lawmakers are calling on Trump to investigate the officials under a law originally adopted to punish human rights abuses in Russia that has since been expanded globally.

They accuse Rivas Reyes, president of the Supreme Electoral Council, of overseeing fraudulent elections rigged to keep President Daniel Ortega Saavedra of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in power. And they accuse Lopez, vice president of Albanisa, a joint venture between the Venezuelan state owned-oil company, PDVSA, and its Nicaraguan counterpart, with corruption and profiting from improper loans.

Ten lawmakers signed the letter, including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J. as well as Reps. Paul Cook, R-Calif., Albio Sires, D-N.J. and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

Read more here. 

November 29, 2017

A Miami congressional candidate shares her #metoo moment

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@alextdaugherty 

Mary Barzee Flores was 17, working the night shift at Pizza Hut when her boss followed her into the walk-in freezer.

She had just been installed as the night manager after the previous night manager, the boss’s wife, was ousted after Barzee Flores noticed irregularities on the books.

Her boss was angry.

“The manager followed me in and shut the door,” Barzee Flores said. “He said if I was going to take his wife’s place I would have to do all of her duties, and he made clear what he meant by that.”

Her boss groped her, she said.

“It was terrifying thing to happen, but I pushed him off and told him off and got out of there,” Barzee Flores said.

Barzee Flores is now a 55-year-old lawyer and former judge who is running as a Democrat to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The recent #metoo movement that exploded after high-profile sexual assault and harassment allegations against dozens of men in politics, entertainment and media gives more women the opportunity to speak out about their personal experiences, Barzee Flores said.

She didn’t tell anyone about the Pizza Hut incident at the time, choosing instead to keep working while keeping her guard up. Looking back, she said, it was a “terrible position for a kid to be in.”

“Sexual harassment is a bipartisan issue, it doesn’t have to do with whether you’re a Democrat or Republican,” Barzee Flores said. “It’s an abuse of power when it happens and I think that the last few months with these allegations coming out, whether in politics or Hollywood and workplaces all over the country have been very important.”

And Barzee Flores has been quick to criticize members of her own party who have been accused of sexual harassment.

She was one of the first Democrats to call for the resignation of Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a civil-rights icon and the longest-serving member of Congress, after multiple women accused the congressman of sexual harassment. At least one woman reached a taxpayer-funded settlement with Conyers.

“There is no reason we should hold Rep. Conyers to a different standard than any TV show personality, movie mogul, or corporate leader,” Barzee Flores said last week. “In fact, we must hold him (and every elected official on both sides) to a higher standard. For that reason, given everything I’ve read and seen, Rep. Conyers should resign.”

Read more here.

November 28, 2017

This Miami Republican won’t vote for spending bill unless Dreamers are protected

0445 IMPAC Immigration Summ

@newsbysmiley @alextdaugherty

Congress faces a Dec. 8 deadline to fund the federal government, and Republican leaders are usually reliant on Democratic support to pass federal spending proposals that rankle deficit-conscious conservatives.

As the deadline approaches, Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a moderate Republican who usually supports House Speaker Paul Ryan, said Tuesday he won’t support any funding legislation unless there’s a deal to help undocumented young adults who came to the U.S. as young children. If enough Republicans follow Curbelo’s path, Ryan could be forced to find a solution in order to keep the government running.

“House leadership knows it is a major priority for me to get this done before the end of the year,” Curbelo said in an interview. “I know that we have until March [before an Obama-era executive order expires], but there’s no sense in waiting that long.”

Curbelo has faced criticism from Democrats for not signing onto the Dream Act, a legislative solution to the Obama order that protects Dreamers from deportation. Instead, Curbelo is pushing his own bill called the Recognizing America’s Children Act, which he touts as a more conservative version of the Dream Act. Curbelo has said he will support any legislation that helps Dreamers if it comes to the floor for a vote even if it isn’t his bill.

President Donald Trump said he will not renew the Obama-era executive order, known as DACA, which will end in March 2018.

It is possible that congressional leaders will propose a short-term spending bill to keep the government running through Christmas, which gives Democrats and Republicans more time to hash out a final plan. Curbelo said his position on first helping some 800,000 young immigrants applies specifically to “any appropriations bill that funds the government beyond Dec. 31.”

Read more here. 

Potential Democratic presidential hopefuls push their own Puerto Rico rebuilding plan

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@alextdaugherty

As congressional leaders mull another disaster relief package for Puerto Rico, a group of Democratic senators with potential presidential aspirations are pushing their own plan. 

Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kristen Gillibrand and Kamala Harris, all possible Democratic presidential contenders in 2020, are sponsoring a bill that aims to put disaster recovery "in the hands of the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands," a contrast to a $44 billion disaster relief request from the Trump administration last week that encompasses Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida and other areas around the country affected by recent hurricanes, floods and wildfires.

A host of Florida lawmakers voiced displeasure with Trump's disaster relief request for varying reasons. 

The bill, which is also supported by Trump critic and San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, focuses on making the territory more resilient to future storms, a potential sticking point for some deficit-conscious Republicans. Rep. Darren Soto, the only Puerto Rican in Congress from Florida, and Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Stacey Plaskett are sponsoring the House version of the bill.

"In the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, millions of people in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are still struggling with basic needs more than two months since the hurricane struck," Sanders said in a statement. "However, we cannot simply rebuild Puerto Rico the way it was. We must go forward to create a strong, sustainable economy and energy system in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands that corrects for years of unequal treatments of the islands.”

The bill specifically addresses Puerto Rico's ballooning debt, damaged electric grid, Medicare and Medicaid and requires FEMA to use local workers in disaster recovery efforts. The bill also seeks to stop the privatization of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands' electric grid, schools and roads along with debt relief. 

"Puerto Rico is struggling with an unsustainable $74.8 billion of debt, much of which is held by Wall Street creditors, with an additional $49 billion in unpaid pension obligations," a press release for the bill said. "A small group of hedge fund billionaires have demanded extreme austerity policies to decimate public services, including firing teachers and closing schools. That is unacceptable. Puerto Rico will require substantial debt relief so they can focus on rebuilding, not paying back Wall Street." 

Republicans are likely to oppose the bill but the new effort from Sanders, Warren, Gillibrand and Harris could have political impacts for Democrats as Puerto Ricans are relocating to the U.S. mainland in droves after Hurricane Maria destroyed power and communications throughout the island. The Trump administration's disaster response has been criticized by lawmakers from both parties, and Democrats have cautioned that Maria will become Trump's Hurricane Katrina. 

Democrats in Florida and are hopeful that an influx of Puerto Ricans will help them at the ballot box, though Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio have also voiced concerns with the Trump administration's disaster response. 

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló recently asked for $94 billion in disaster relief, a massive sum that the Trump administration is unlikely to approve. Rosselló, in contrast to Cruz, has refrained from directly criticizing the Trump administration. 

"The bill that Senator Sanders has introduced in the United States Congress is a comprehensive plan that provides the blueprint for the transformation of Puerto Rico," Cruz said in a statement. "While dealing with all major areas of immediate concern: energy, health and education it also sets the foundation to make Puerto Rico a more equitable, just and fair society for all."

 

November 26, 2017

Rubio: Franken 'should consider resigning'

Marco Rubio 3
@PatriciaMazzei

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Sunday that Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota "should consider resigning" over accusations that Franken inappropriately groped women before and after being elected to the Senate.

"I think the accusations against him, many of which he's admitted, are horrifying," Rubio told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4's Jim DeFede. "The things he's already admitted to I find to be outrageous and offensive -- and I do think on that alone he should consider resigning."

Putting Franken aside, DeFede asked, "Is groping a woman's butt, is that grounds for expulsion from the Senate?"

"I believe it is," Rubio said.

Asked about Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate in Alabama, who has been accused of preying on adolescent girls, Rubio reiterated that, if elected, Moore will immediately face ethics investigations in Congress.

"I find the accusations against him to be incredibly credible. I don’t think anything he’s done or said in the last two weeks has been convincing or effective," Rubio said. "If he's elected to the Senate … he will find himself immediately in an ethics situation or some other hearing where perhaps even more will be revealed."

Photo credit: Aaron P. Bernstein, Getty Images 

A Miami Republican makes enemies in Washington

Curbelo (1)

@alextdaugherty 

Carlos Curbelo is picking fights.

He attacked the NRA for opposing his bill to ban a firearm accessory that allows semi-automatic rifles to fire like automatics. He attacked the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, currently made up of all Democrats, for denying his membership application.

And he is attacking the Trump administration and fellow Republicans who oppose efforts to combat climate change.

These spats give the second-term Republican congressman from Miami ground to attacks both sides of the political spectrum for unyielding partisanship, and they allow Curbelo to deliver a message to his constituents and voters that the right and the left are both responsible for Washington’s dysfunction.

That talking point rings hollow for some Democrats, who say Curbelo is a political opportunist who will do or say anything to survive in a South Florida district that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 16 percentage points. And certainly, Curbelo represents the most Democratic-leaning congressional district in the country currently held by a Republican who is up for reelection in 2018.

He has spent the last four years trying to position himself as a political moderate.

“Most Americans are sick of the games, the hypocrisy, and honestly if that’s what’s required to be successful here, I’d rather go home,” Curbelo said. “It’s the only way worth doing this work. You can either go along to get along and just be polite all the time and ignore the underlying reality or you can kind of call things the way you see them and expose what’s really going on around here.”

Curbelo’s done plenty of exposing.

Over the past few weeks, he publicly called out multiple Hispanic Caucus members who stalled or opposed his membership application after previously working with them on various issues.

When California Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas told a reporter that Curbelo was “playing both sides” and “stabbing the Latino community in the back” by asking to join the Hispanic Caucus, Curbelo responded by calling him a hypocrite.

“This guy and I worked together last year,” Curbelo said. “He approached me on the floor about starting a caucus called the Connecting the Americas Caucus. We worked really well together, had a great relationship. Now, suddenly because I want to join the other caucus, the Hispanic Caucus, I’m a horrible person.”

Read more here.

November 21, 2017

Curbelo constituents will get robocalls in pitch to pass GOP tax bill

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON – Constituents of Republican Reps. Brian Mast and Carlos Curbelo will soon get robocalls informing the lawmakers voted for the sweeping tax reform package.

Mast and Curbelo both expect tough re-election battles and this is only the latest in a string of supportive efforts from American Action Network, an outside group tied to Speaker Paul Ryan.

On Tuesday, ANN said it would do 1 million robocalls in 29 Congressional districts across the country. "The calls are aimed to build momentum for the recently passed bill while families are home for Thanksgiving, and prompt constituents to call their representative to express their continued support for tax reform," the group said.

ANN has spent more than $20 million on TV, radio, direct mail, billboards and now robocalls to promote the tax package, which gained support of all Florida Republicans.

Script:

"Hello, I am calling on behalf of the American Action Network at 800-339-4650 about tax reform. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. This historic tax reform legislation will provide tax relief for millions of Americans. In fact, the average middle-class family will receive a $1,200 tax cut!

"Your Representative, [MEMBER OF CONGRESS], kept [his/her] promise and voted to cut middle-class taxes. Please call Representative [MEMBER OF CONGRESS] at [NUMBER] to thank [him/her] for voting for tax cuts and tell [him/her] to keep up the fight."

PolitiFact looked at the estimated savings.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Congress could eliminate the tax break that helped Miami Beach’s Art Deco renaissance

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via @joeflech @alextdaugherty

Behind the signature Miami pastels, perfectly symmetrical facades and terrazzo floors that give South Beach’s rich stock of Art Deco buildings its distinctive flavor, one section of the U.S. tax code fueled the rehabilitation of these once-crumbling structures.

As part of a sweeping tax overhaul, Republicans in Congress could eliminate the historic tax credit — a move that is upsetting local preservationists and developers who say the credit is an essential factor in the financial formula that keeps these decades-old buildings standing.

The tax plan passed by the House of Representatives on Thursday eliminates a 20 percent historic preservation tax credit. The tax plan under debate by the Senate currently keeps the tax credit, though it could be changed.

Locals who fight to save historic buildings and developers who take these buildings on as restoration projects agree that reducing the incentive would hamper future rehabilitation of Miami and Miami Beach’s historic architecture.

“In the development community, we take advantage of this,” said Sandor Scher, principal of Claro Development. “This is a real incentive.”

Claro is planning to rehab and reuse several late-era Deco and Miami Modern buildings in the redevelopment of Ocean Terrace, a block along the city’s north shore. Scher plans to apply for historic tax credits to help finance the project, which is currently under review by the city planners.

The credit enables developers to save on taxes and spend more on costly rehabilitation projects that preserve the facades of historic buildings while renovating the rest of the structure to make it economically viable.

Hotelier Alan Lieberman helped shape South Beach’s character through several historic restoration projects that met the stringent requirements set forth by the National Park Service, which runs the tax credit program and approves projects based on how faithful a restoration is to the building’s original look.

Lieberman’s company, South Beach Group Hotels, has preserved archetypal Art Deco hotels in the city’s tourist center, including the Collins Plaza Hotel, the Chesterfield and the Catalina Hotel and Beach Club. He said historic hotels are good for business because guests appreciate the uniqueness of the architecture.

So do people who live in the Beach, a rare intersection between tourism and resident interests.

“We take the buildings for granted,” Lieberman said. “It’s really nice, it’s interesting and it’s comfortable. People love historic buildings.”

At least one member of the local Congressional delegation agrees and hopes the final bill will leave the tax credit untouched when it comes to a vote.

“I will vote for this monstrosity with the hope that many of these things will get taken care of once the bill comes back and we have a conference and people come to their senses,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, of the House bill. But she did not rule out voting against the final bill if enough changes aren’t made.

“Preservation is so important in my congressional district, not only in the Gables but in Miami Beach. Oh my gosh, those beautiful Art Deco hotels and homes,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We want to preserve them. I’m not in favor of doing away with those deductions. Why take it out on the little guys like that?”

Read more here.

November 20, 2017

Sheriff’s deputy is reassigned after dressing as Frederica Wilson in blackface

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From the Washington Post 

A white Virginia sheriff’s deputy has been reassigned out of her job in the local school system after attending a Halloween party in blackface as part of a costume portraying Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens.

Deputy Jean Browning is a 20-year veteran of the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office in southeast Virginia. Sheriff J.D. Diggs said in a lengthy news release that Browning was an anti-drug officer teaching the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in local schools for 10 years and was “known as a kind and caring person who would do anything for anyone.”

A photograph of Browning dressed as Wilson, wearing blackface, large glasses and a red hat similar to Wilson’s signature hat, began circulating on the Internet soon after Halloween. She was accompanied by her boyfriend dressed as President Trump, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” baseball cap in the photo.

The local branch of the NAACP brought the photo to the sheriff’s attention, and Diggs said he met with members of the group on Nov. 6, then spoke by phone with the branch president the next day, asking for suggestions on how to handle the situation.

The NAACP called for Browning to be reassigned out of the DARE program and out of the schools completely. “It is inappropriate and disheartening when anyone mocks someone’s race,” the branch statement said, “but it is inexcusable when someone connected with our law enforcement finds it acceptable to paint their face to impersonate African-Americans.”

Read more here.