January 10, 2018

Puerto Rico leaders create a 'shadow delegation' in Washington and demand statehood

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@alextdaugherty

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and a host of current and former officeholders are using newfound attention after the U.S. territory suffered a direct hit by Hurricane Maria to push for their biggest political priority: statehood. 

Rosselló and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González are using a 2017 plebiscite where a small portion of the electorate voted overwhelmingly for statehood as justification for Washington to listen. The pair appeared with a group of current and former political leaders in Puerto Rico who will act as four symbolic "shadow" U.S. Representatives and two shadow U.S. Senators. The group will meet with members of Congress and their staffs to demand statehood. 

"If we were an island of 3.5 million Irishmen, we would have been a state long ago," said Carlos Romero Barceló, a shadow U.S. Senator who served as governor of Puerto Rico from 1977 to 1985.

Baseball Hall of Famer Iván "Pudge" Rodríguez is also serving as a shadow U.S. Representative, but was absent on Wednesday due to a scheduling conflict.

The effort by Rosselló and the New Progressive Party leadership is mostly symbolic but it does have precedent. Tennessee sent a shadow congressional delegation to Washington to demand recognition as a state and succeeded in 1796. Alaska carried out a similar plan in the 1950s. 

Puerto Rico's ongoing debt crisis, significant hurricane damage and complicated tax status are all barriers to statehood, and statehood doesn't appear to be a top priority for either party in Congress, though both Republicans and Democrats have signaled support for statehood in the past. 

"It is our moral imperative to demand Congress recognize 3.4 million disenfranchised Americans," Rosselló said. "It is time to end Puerto Ricans' second-class citizenship, and statehood is the only guarantee for that to happen." 

Rosselló has said he will put political pressure on those "who turned their back" on Puerto Rico during the hurricane recovery process and discussions on the tax bill, and thousands of Puerto Ricans have settled in Florida since Hurricane Maria struck the island. 

January 02, 2018

Republicans can’t generate buzz for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, and some say it’s unwinnable

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@alextdaugherty

The GOP’s inability to find top-shelf candidates to run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s U.S. House seat has some Republicans ready to write off the race and shift money and attention to more winnable contests.

The seat that encompasses Little Havana, most of downtown Miami and Miami Beach is now considered unwinnable by some Republicans in Congress and fundraisers who could infuse millions into a competitive congressional race, according to interviews with high-ranking GOP officials and potential donors. Others are slightly more hopeful but caution that a Republican path to victory is narrow, especially in an environment where President Donald Trump’s approval ratings remain low and Republicans brace for a potential Democratic wave in 2018.

Keeping Ros-Lehtinen’s seat was always going to be a challenge for Republicans after the longtime Miami congresswoman announced her retirement in May. Republicans couldn’t draw top-tier recruits, such as Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera; one announced candidate made national news for claiming to have boarded a spaceship with aliens; fundraising has lagged; and one of the top GOP candidates recently left the race.

“The seat is now going to go to the Democrats,” said Raquel Regalado, a former Miami-Dade school board member and candidate for Miami-Dade mayor who recently announced she was dropping out of the Republican race to replace Ros-Lehtinen. “I think I was the only moderate who could have fought that fight for a bunch of different reasons. I don’t think you’re going to see a large GOP financial investment. They’re looking for a moderate candidate, but I don’t think they’re going to find one.”

One Republican member of Congress rolled his eyes and sighed when asked about the GOP’s chances in the district. Five Republicans, including members of Congress, staffers and fundraisers who said the seat is not winnable, requested anonymity to discuss their own party candidly.

Ros-Lehtinen, a political veteran who knows the Miami scene well, is doing her part to keep the seat in Republican hands.

“They have to spend in my district. I don’t want national groups to think it’s not winnable,” she said. “They’ve got to be all in. I will beat down their doors if they take my district and write it off.”

Ros-Lehtinen is talking to any Republican who might be willing to step up. She personally met with Spanish-language TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar at a Cuban restaurant in South Miami in an effort to drum up more competition in the primary.

“The district is totally winnable for the right candidate,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “She could be the right candidate.”

But Salazar, like many other names bandied about in Miami Republican circles, demurred when asked if she’ll run.

“I am a news reporter, not a news maker,” Salazar said in an email. “It’s an honor that over the years both parties have approached me to consider running for office. My plans are to continue being a TV journalist — until God and the audience give me that opportunity.”

Read more here.

December 15, 2017

Democratic Senator calls out Republicans, including Carlos Curbelo, for supporting tax bill with Arctic drilling

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@alextdaugherty 

Last week, a group of 12 House Republicans, including Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, signed a letter encouraging Republican leadership to pass a tax overhaul without a provision that would allow oil drilling in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

But the provision was included in the Senate's tax bill, and is likely to stay when House and Senate negotiators finalize the bill on Friday. 

On Thursday, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee called out the 12 Republicans for engaging in "pure posturing." 

"It is now clear that the letter from twelve House Republicans opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was pure posturing," Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell said. "If these Republicans want to stop their party from turning the refuge into an oilfield, they should vote no. Lip service won't protect the Arctic." 

Six of the 12 Republicans who signed the letter, including Curbelo, voted in favor of the initial tax bill before Thanksgiving.

Curbelo hasn't indicated that he will vote against the tax bill even though he opposes expanding oil drilling in Alaska's North Slope. He is also the co-founder of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who are concerned about the impacts of climate change. 

"I don’t think there’s any one provision that would motivate me to deny tax relief for all of my constituents," Curbelo said this week.

Curbelo has been a vocal advocate for the tax overhaul, frequently appearing with Speaker Paul Ryan and touting the bill in Spanish. 

December 12, 2017

Puerto Rican officials lobby Congress against ‘devastating’ GOP tax measure

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@KyraGurney

Puerto Rico is still drowning from Hurricane Maria but it’s already facing its next crisis — a U.S. tax reform bill that island officials fear will devastate the economy.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Lt. Gov. Luis Rivera Marín will make a final plea on Wednesday to Republican officials, asking them to exempt the U.S. territory from a 20 percent excise tax on goods that American companies import from their overseas subsidiaries.

The measure in the GOP tax bill is designed to stop American companies from avoiding taxes by shifting profits overseas. But it would also apply to Puerto Rico because the island is treated as both a foreign and domestic entity under the U.S. tax code.

It’s a hit that Puerto Rico’s elected officials say the island’s economy cannot take.

“If the U.S. Congress ignores our situation and gives us this mortal blow to our economy, the immediate and direct effect will be Puerto Ricans boarding airplanes,” Rivera Marín told the Miami Herald.

Puerto Rico already was struggling through a deep recession before hurricanes Irma and Maria hit in September. The island’s unemployment rate hovered around 10 percent and the country was $72 billion in debt. Since the storms, thousands of Puerto Ricans have lost their jobs as businesses remain without power and unable to reopen.

Rivera Marín warned that the tax could wipe out the island’s manufacturing sector and a third of the government’s tax revenue, sending thousands more families fleeing to Florida and New York.

Read more here. Photo by @dsantiagophoto

Curbelo calls on Congress to find a Dreamer solution this week

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@alextdaugherty 

Congress has less than three days to find a solution for Dreamers in order for it to become law by the end of the year, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said on Tuesday. 

But Curbelo is hopeful that Democrats and Republicans can find a compromise for the 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents who face uncertainly after President Donald Trump said he will cancel an Obama-era executive order known as DACA that allowed Dreamers to be protected from deportation.

"We had very good meetings last night, three meetings," Curbelo said. "For the first time a lot of the like-minded Republicans and Democrats who want to get to yes got together. We're getting closer to filing a compromise, which has been my frustration. There's an obvious compromise out there, DACA fix and border security, but no one has proffered that compromise." 

If both parties can find a compromise, then a spending bill that funds the government known as a continuing resolution is the likely legislative vehicle that can include a solution for Dreamers. It is expected that a continuing resolution will get a vote sometime next week before a December 22nd deadline. 

"If they (leadership) want to give us a standalone vote, that's fine, it'll pass. I know it will," Curbelo said. "The most obvious vehicle is whatever continuing resolution is with a budget cap with new bipartisan numbers. We're getting closer and a lot of people have put aside partisan differences we've had in recent weeks to focus on trying to have something next week to take a run at this before the end of the year."

If congressional leaders fail to find a compromise in an end of the year spending bill, Curbelo said he will vote against the legislation that keeps the government running. Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she will do the same. 

"I'm not going to back down from that commitment," Curbelo said. "If I get maybe a time-certain commitment from leadership that there will be a vote, maybe I would think about saying 'Okay, that's good enough.' But I doubt I would get that clarity." 

Curbelo said that if the year-end spending bill doesn't include a Dreamer solution, the next opportunity will likely be in January when Congress takes up another spending bill. 

Congress has just under three months to find a solution for Dreamers before the DACA order officially ends on March 5. 

Florida Dem accused of sexual harassment gets support from Congress

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@alextdaugherty

The phrase “I believe the women” has become a motto for lawmakers in the wake of career-ending sexual harassment allegations against Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken. But when sexual harassment allegations against South Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings from 2011 resurfaced last week, the reaction was different.

“I believe him,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Gardens Democrat.

Capitol Hill news outlet Roll Call reported on Friday that a woman who accused Hastings of unwanted touching and lewd remarks in 2011 received a $220,000 taxpayer-funded settlement, the largest amount reported since a wave of sexual harassment allegations began sweeping through Congress.

The 81-year-old Hastings denies the allegations and said he had no previous knowledge that taxpayer funds were paid out to Winsome Packer, a congressional staffer who worked for a commission that studies security and cooperation in Europe. Court documents show that he was removed from the sexual harassment lawsuit in 2012. Packer continued the lawsuit against the commission after Hastings was removed, and the payment was made in 2014, according to Roll Call.

“I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needlessly paid to Ms. Packer,” Hastings said in a statement. “At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made.”

Hastings, who lives in Miramar and represents majority African-American neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, has been a magnet for controversy throughout his four decades in public office, and he has survived every time.

Hastings was stripped of his federal judgeship in 1989 after he was impeached and convicted of bribery and perjury, but successfully ran for Congress in 1992. His longtime girlfriend who works at his district office in Florida received the $168,411 maximum congressional salary for years. And the 2011 sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Packer and funded by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch was rife with tabloid fodder and embarrassing anecdotes.

But Hastings has been reelected with ease every two years.

“If there is someone in the United States House of Representatives who can survive this, it’s Alcee Hastings,” said Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “My goodness, he’s been impeached by this body. Alcee Hastings, God bless him, he doesn’t care about...news cycles.”

Read more here.

December 11, 2017

Congress goes to the dogs (literally)

IMG_1936@alextdaugherty 

Under normal circumstances, no one wants to have the eyes of the House Oversight Committee on them. 

Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz pounded Hillary Clinton's email usage from the Oversight gavel during the 2016 campaign. Baseball player Rafael Palmeiro famously wagged his finger in front of the committee in 2005 and declared, "I never used steroids, period." (He later tested positive). 

But on Monday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had no problem with everyone in the Oversight Committee hearing room craning their necks to see the Miami Republican. 

She was there to pet dogs, and there were treats to distribute. 

"No one brought any treats?" Ros-Lehtinen asked incredulously, before producing a bag of her own and making many new four-legged friends in the process. 

Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, had their office dogs on display during a "Bipawtisan Howliday" gathering of Capitol Hill dogs on Monday. 

Curbelo's dog Riggins, a 2-year-old Welsh terrier owned by Curbelo communications director Joanna Rodriguez, donned a green elf outfit with a hat adorned with the slogan "Santa's lil' helper." 

Ros-Lehtinen's dog Mya, who showed up to the event sans holiday garb, shed ample amounts of fur. 

"She's a little old and a little cranky, just like me," Ros-Lehtinen said, referring to Mya as the "office boss." 

Most of the dogs brought by staffers were relatively well-behaved, though there was some growling and intimate sniffing. Ros-Lehtinen sat in the middle of it all, handing out treats and belting out various iterations of the phrase "That's a good dog!" 

But soon the bell for votes rang, causing Ros-Lehtinen and Mya to scamper back to the office, though they did run into more dogs on the way back.

Upon entering the office, Mya was released from her leash and darted into the abyss, while the senior member of Florida's congressional delegation went on the hunt for a lint roller.

Ros-Lehtinen's search was successful, and she showed up to votes on Monday evening no worse for wear. 

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December 08, 2017

Trump to Jewish Democrats: No Hanukkah party for you

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@alextdaugherty

It’s the holiday season in Washington, which means politicians, dignitaries and hangers-on try to elbow themselves into as many exclusive parties as possible.

And 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the hottest ticket of them all.

But Jewish Democratic lawmakers won’t be greeting President Donald Trump with a Chag Sameach at the annual White House Hanukkah Party on Thursday evening.

They insist their feelings aren’t hurt, but an invite would have been nice.

Trump did not invite Jewish members of Congress who are Democrats to the annual White House Hanukkah party, according to six congressional offices.

“I think its an unforced error on the president’s part and a missed opportunity,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston. “Why would you make partisan decisions about invitations that are entirely not partisan? Hanukkah is something that’s important to all Jews; the tradition is to invite the Jewish members of Congress. My feelings certainly aren’t hurt by not being invited but the few opportunities that we do have to come together certainly should include a celebration like Hanukkah.”

While Democrats didn’t get an invite, the two Jewish Republicans in Congress did.

The offices of New York Rep. Lee Zeldin and Tennessee Rep. David Kustoff confirmed they received invitations and will attend.

Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Jewish Republican, was invited to White House Hanukkah parties held by President Barack Obama, according to past press accounts. Cantor and Zeldin were the only Jewish House Republicans who served in Congress during Obama’s administration.

The President’s staff referred questions on the guest list to the First Lady’s office.

“I am not aware of the political affiliation of any of the guests, but I do know that this year was meant to be more personal than political,” said Stephanie Grisham, a spokesman for First Lady Melania Trump.

About 600 invitations were distributed, according to the White House. Grisham said that while the West Wing may release guest lists for meetings and working lunches or dinners, it’s the policy of the social office not to release the guest list for social or holiday events.

Wasserman Schultz, who entered Congress in 2005, said she was always invited to White House Hanukkah parties hosted by President George W. Bush and Obama.

Read more here.

December 06, 2017

For some South Florida Democrats in Congress, Trump is right on Jerusalem

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@alextdaugherty

South Florida Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch rarely agree with President Donald Trump, but the pair supported his decision on Wednesday to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital along with moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

“My longstanding view is that Jerusalem is and will remain the undivided capital of Israel, and it should remain a city accessible to people of all faiths,” Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said in a statement. “We must work toward a day where the entire world recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that can be achieved through final status negotiations. I remain as committed as ever to safeguarding Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, at peace with its neighbors, with Jerusalem as its undisputed capital.”

Deutch, D-Boca Raton, issued a joint statement supporting the move with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The two are the highest ranking members on the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee.

“There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection,” Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen said.

Deutch and Wasserman Schultz represent districts with large Jewish populations and are seen as supporters of Israel in Congress.

South Florida Republicans uniformly praised Trump’s decision on Wednesday, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.

“I commend President Trump for following U.S. law and recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel,” Rubio said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is an important step in the right direction. Unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be complete when the U.S. embassy is officially relocated there.”

But some of Trump’s top Cabinet officials reportedly opposed the decision, arguing that the move to recognize Jerusalem would needlessly inflame tensions between Israel and Palestinians and potentially put people in danger.

Read more here.

Frederica Wilson votes to move forward on impeaching Trump

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@alextdaugherty

Miami Gardens Rep. Frederica Wilson, who had endured days of criticism and false attacks from President Donald Trump and White House chief of staff John Kelly after she criticized the president's choice of words to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, was one of 58 House Democrats to buck leadership and vote for moving forward on a motion to impeach Trump on Wednesday.

The impeachment motion offered by Texas Democratic Rep. Al Green was expected to fail, though nearly a third of House Democrats voted in favor of Green's proposal despite House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and minority whip Steny Hoyer urging their members not to vote in favor of moving forward with it. 

Green defended Wilson during an October floor speech that morphed from a defense of Wilson into justification for moving forward on impeachment. 

"I rise today to defend the honorable Frederica Wilson," Green said. "I do so because in this country, we have allowed public discourse to be degraded to the extent that the president of the United States of America would call a member of congress – an honorable woman – wacky. This is not a wacky person, this is a person of honor and integrity and of intellect. There are those who say wait until the next election – I am not one of them. I believe that the remedy for this kind of behavior and the impact that it is having on society is impeachment." 

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, who was impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate in 1989, also voted in favor of moving forward on impeachment.