August 01, 2017

Democrat challenging Curbelo lived in the district — for 2 months

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@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell will challenge Republican Carlos Curbelo to represent voters living in a sprawling Miami-to-Key West district. She doesn’t live in the district now, but history shows she has a handy fallback option in the Florida Keys.

When Mucarsel-Powell ran for office in 2016 — an ultimately unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat — she changed her voter registration two months before Election Day from an out-of-district Pinecrest home she has owned since 2009 to an in-district rental property 60 miles away in the Florida Keys. It was a gambit that allowed her to criticize her competitor for living outside of the district.

“My opponent can’t vote for herself,” Mucarsel-Powell tweeted a few weeks before Election Day. “Why should the voters of SD 39?”

 After the vote, she switched her registration back to Pinecrest  raising the question of whether she ever really lived in the Keys, or simply rented an apartment there because it was good politics. A questionable residency could be fodder for Curbelo and Republicans looking to keep his swing seat.

Mucarsel-Powell declined to comment Tuesday. Pressed by the Miami Herald, her campaign produced a lease for a rental property in Islamorada signed on Oct. 9, 2016. The $3,000-a-month lease was set to end in January 2017, but Mucarsel-Powell switched her voter registration to Pinecrest in December. Mucarsel-Powell and her husband have three school-age children.

In an interview Monday announcing her candidacy, Mucarsel-Powell acknowledged currently living outside the 26th congressional district and made no claim that she’d plan to move there — though she said she rents property in the Keys and would love to live there.

“That’s where my heart is,” she said.

Members of Congress aren’t required to live in the districts they represent.

In 2016, Mucarsel-Powell was in the midst of an expensive state Senate campaign against Anitere Flores, a Republican with a massive campaign warchest.

But both Flores and Mucarsel-Powell shared the same political disadvantage: Neither candidate lived in the sprawling Senate District 39, which closely mirrors Curbelo’s congressional district, at the start of the campaign.

In October, Mucarsel-Powell changed her voter registration from her Pinecrest home to Islamorada, according to voting records in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Four weeks later, on Nov. 5, she touted her vote on Twitter.

“Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and her husband Robert cast their ballots today in Islamorada!”

November 2016 Herald story from highlighting candidates who didn’t live in their districts identified Mucarsel-Powell as “Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Islamorada.” But in December 2016, after losing to Flores by about 8 percentage points, Mucarsel-Powell changed her voter registration back to her Pinecrest home, about 5 miles outside the congressional district.

Read more here.

Curbelo draws Democratic challenger in swing Florida district

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@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty

Months after Democrats began calling him a top national target, Carlos Curbelo has drawn a serious 2018 challenger.

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who ran a stronger-than-expected state Senate campaign in 2016, will run for Congress. She plans to hold a news conference announcing her candidacy Wednesday.

“It’s shocking that the people in Washington are trying to strip healthcare from millions of Americans,” Mucarsel-Powell told the Miami Herald in an interview Monday, taking a jab at Curbelo. “The person that I’m running against voted for Trumpcare.”

She claimed Curbelo “has voted more than 86 percent of the time with Trump,” but also insisted: “I don’t want to focus my entire energy on what’s happening with the president.”

The bilingual Mucarsel-Powell, 46, was born in Ecuador, where she lived until she was 14. That’s when she and her single mother and three sisters moved to southern California. Mucarsel-Powell followed a sister to South Florida in 1996.

Now married with a stepdaughter, a daughter and a son, Mucarsel-Powell lives in Pinecrest, which is outside the 26th congressional district, a stretch of Westchester to Key West. She rents property in the Florida Keys, she said. Curbelo lives about a mile from the district’s boundaries in West Kendall.

After years of working in various nonprofit organizations, at ZooMiami and for Florida International University, Mucarsel-Powell opened a consulting firm on strategic planning.

“I’ve spent my entire life in nonprofits trying to bring change, positive change,” she said. “People are really charged. They’re angry. They’re frustrated. They want change.”

For months, national Democrats have labeled Curbelo a top target, citing his district’s Democratic-leaning makeup. It favors Democrats by 6 percentage points, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, making Curbelo’s district the most Democratic in the country currently held by a Republican. Last year, Hillary Clinton bested Trump in the district by 16 points.

But Curbelo defeated Democrat Joe Garcia by 12 points, a 28-point swing showing Curbelo’s crossover appeal among Democrats and independents. He’s also a prolific fundraiser who had $1.1 million in his campaign account as of June 30 and consistently posts among the highest fundraising hauls of House members in both parties. Mucarsel-Powell said she expects to have to raise at least $4 million to compete.

Curbelo’s support in May for the American Health Care Act, House Republicans’ proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, was political manna for Democratic Party leaders, who see the vote as one of Curbelo’s biggest electoral weaknesses in a district where 92,500 people get health insurance through Obamacare — one of the highest rates in the country. Republicans have already vowed to spend millions of dollars defending Curbelo and other Republicans in competitive districts who backed the legislation.

Read more here.

Seventh Democrat enters race to replace Republican Ros-Lehtinen

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@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty 

Matt Haggman, the former program director of Miami’s Knight Foundation, will run for Congress as a Democrat to seek retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat.

“Our biggest challenges continue to go unmet,” he told the Miami Herald on Monday. “We’re not building for the future. Sea-level rise is being ignored. Many of the jobs today will be dramatically different in a very, very short time. We’re doing very little on that — and that has to change.”

Haggman has invited backers to a Tuesday event dubbed “Building a Better Miami,” where he will announce his candidacy. He signaled his impending run when he resigned earlier this month from Knight, where he had worked since 2011. He plans to be a full-time candidate and cast himself as a political newcomer with the sort of civic experience that might appeal to pragmatic progressive voters. 

Haggman, 46, said he’s been contemplating a run since President Donald Trump won the presidency last November — and before Ros-Lehtinen stunned the local political establishment by announcing her retirement in April. He has never been a candidate before, though Democrats have tried to recruit him in the past for local office.

Trump’s victory — and how Republican leaders in Congress have handled him — nudged him to run, Haggman said. 

“With the election of Donald Trump, who I stand firmly and strongly and adamantly against, many of our bedrock values are under threat: the values of welcoming immigrants with open arms, of a free press guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.

Hillary Clinton beat Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in the district — the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican.

Haggman, a Boston native and Coconut Grove resident, is married to Danet Linares, vice chairman of Blanca Commercial Real Estate. Before joining Knight, Haggman was a Herald reporter, covering real estate and Miami-Dade County Hall; he had previously worked for the Daily Business Review. Though he holds a law degree from the University of Vermont, Haggman never practiced as an attorney.

Accustomed to awarding Knight’s grants, Haggman will now have to get used to asking political donors for campaign cash. He’s hired Washington firm SKDKnickerbocker as his political consultant and Anzalone Liszt Grove Research as his pollster.

Mostly unknown outside of the tight-knit technology, media and arts community supported by Knight, Haggman will face the challenge of raising his public profile in a Democratic primary field rife with candidates, most of them with past ballot experience.

Read more here.

July 30, 2017

Matt Haggman, who may run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat, to make "special announcement" on Tuesday

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@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

Matt Haggman looks more like a congressional candidate with each passing day. 

When Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced that she would not run for reelection in 2018, Haggman told the Miami Herald in April a run for her seat is "something I've been actively thinking about for a while now."  

Two weeks ago, Haggman quit his post as the Knight Foundation's program director in Miami, telling a reporter to "stay tuned" about his future plans.

And now Haggman is hosting an event on Tuesday evening dubbed "Building a Better Miami" where he promises a "special announcement," according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald. 

Haggman, a Democrat and former Miami Herald reporter, declined to comment. 

If Haggman jumps in the race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat he will become the sixth Democrat aiming for the Miami-based seat that Democrats argue is likely to flip after Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement in April. 

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, attorney Mary Barzee Flores, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person are all running in the Democratic primary. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell formed an exploratory committee as he considers a run. 

Three Republicans are also in the race, former Miami-Dade mayoral candidate and school board member Raquel Regalado, County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and Maria Peiro

Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in Ros-Lehtinen's district, the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican. 

 

 

July 28, 2017

Members of Congress to Tillerson: Don't unilaterally ban Venezuelan oil imports

@PatriciaMazzei

A group of nine House Democrats cautioned Friday against banning Venezuelan oil imports, a drastic sanction the Trump administration has considered imposing if the South American nation carries out an election Sunday for a national constituent assembly.

In a letter, the lawmakers asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has been largely absent from the Venezuela issue, to work with other countries in the region to pursue negotiations between Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his opponents. Otherwise, they wrote, the U.S. risks triggering an"armed internal conflict [that] would undoubtedly provoke an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and would also likely lead to major disruptions in oil production."

"We would point out that U.S. unilateral sanctions in effect since 2015 and have done nothing to improve the political situation in the country," the lawmakers wrote Tillerson. "Instead, they were successfully exploited by the government to stoke nationalist resentment against U.S. 'imperialism,' undermining U.S. credibility as an impartial arbiter among Venezuelans."

 The letter was signed by Democratic Reps. John Conyers, Jr. of Michigan, Ro Khanna of California, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut, Ruben Gallego of Arizona, James P. McGovern of Massachusetts, Barbara Lee of California, Henry C. 'Hank' Johnson, Jr. of Georgia, and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri.

This week, the U.S. sanctioned 13 Venezuelans tied to Maduro's government. An oil-sector sanction would represent a far more serious punishment. Friday's letter was drafted, circulated and sent within one day, in response to Wednesday's sanctions. 

In pushing for negotiations, the lawmakers mentioned the past role of Pope Francis in trying to broker a Venezuelan peace. But the Vatican has stayed out of recent developments, after its initial talks went nowhere. 

The lawmakers nevertheless urged further talks.

"These negotiations should seek to address both the political crisis, with the objective of achieving a democratic, electoral solution within Venezuela’s constitutional framework, as well as the country’s economic crisis, for which foreign governments and multilateral institutions can be invited to contribute expertise and resources," the lawmakers wrote. "Talks must take into account legitimate concerns of retribution against both supporters and opponents of the government, and guarantee fundamental legal protections of both sides in the event of any political transition."  

Legislators had no kind words for Maduro, who has no apparent friends left in Washington. The letter noted that falling oil prices, corruption and "some of the worst economic mismanagement in the world" have led to widespread Venezuelan food and medicine shortages that have prompted the current political and social crisis. More than 100 people have died in nearly four months of street protests.

Still, they said, an oil-import ban is not the answer. 

At least one high-ranking Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, has also warned against an oil-import ban. The White House has said it is considering all options on Venezuela; an oil ban has the support of Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. But a range of sanctions are possible, including financial restrictions aimed at limiting Venezuela's access to credit.

The opposition controls the democratically elected National Assembly, whose power would be wiped out by the new national constituent assembly to be elected Sunday.

Read the letter here.

Venezuela doesn’t have any friends left in Washington

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@alextdaugherty 

Marco Rubio and Nancy Pelosi rarely see eye to eye.

But both the liberal Democratic leader from San Francisco and the conservative Republican from Miami agree on one thing:

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is a brutal dictator.

“The President of Venezuela, to me, looks like he’s a thug and we just can’t let them exploit poor people in the country... with a message that looks like he’s their champion,” Pelosi said.

Ahead of a vote Sunday that could dramatically change Venezuela’s constitution in favor of Maduro, the tough talk from Pelosi and other liberal Democrats now mirrors the rhetoric of Miami Republicans who have long opposed Caracas.

As a result, any sympathy towards Maduro in Washington, even among liberal Democrats who once praised the leadership of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, has vanished.

Members of Congress who maintained a dialogue with Caracas during Chavez’s administration no longer speak to Maduro.

The leadership of the Washington-based Organization of American States is demanding free and fair elections.

And the White House declared the U.S. “will take strong and swift economic actions” if the Maduro regime goes ahead with the vote Sunday.

For pro-Venezuela politicians and diplomats in Washington, Chavez’s commitment to the country’s 1999 constitution was a redeeming characteristic for a leader who trafficked in anti-U.S. rhetoric during his 14 years in power.

“I’ve known Chavez and Maduro. Anytime we met, [Chavez] would always go into his pocket and bring out the constitution of Venezuela,” said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat and the only sitting member of Congress who attended Chavez’s funeral in 2013. “Unfortunately, what Maduro is doing is tearing up the constitution.”

Meeks maintained regular contact with Caracas even as Chavez accused the U.S. of orchestrating a failed 2002 coup and referred to former President George W. Bush as “the devil” in 2006.

But Maduro’s decision to annul the Venezuelan legislature in March, and widespread protests that have led to the deaths of more than 100 people, are too much to reconcile.

“He doesn’t seem to me to be same guy that I knew when he was the leader of the Parliament back when I first met him with Hugo Chavez or the individual I spoke with briefly after he became president,” Meeks said.

The congressman added that his conversation with Maduro in 2013 was about “getting diplomatic relationships going again.”

But something changed between 2013 and 2015, when Maduro arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and began suspending democratic norms.

“It seems to me at some point, I don’t know what happened, that he was not interested in having further dialogue, he’s not the same guy,” Meeks said. “Something has to happen to change what has been going on for years now. The lines have been crossed and there’s no attempt at trying to have reconciliation.”

That wasn’t the case years ago, when Chavez enjoyed amicable relations with U.S. officials appointed by President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.

“The name of the game was to engage,” said John Maisto, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela from 1997 to 2000.

Maisto said despite Chavez’s antagonistic rhetoric toward business interests and the United States, he was deeply committed to Article 350 of the Venezuelan constitution, which states “the Venezuelan people will not recognize any regime, legislation or authority that runs counter to democratic values, principles and guarantees, or undermines human rights.”

Protesters, including a man who attacked government buildings with a helicopter in June, have said Maduro is disregarding Article 350.

“The current regime is blatantly violating the constitution by not having local elections, by not having referenda... by trampling separation of powers and the non-recognition of the legislature,” Maisto said. “They are crossing a red line.”

Read more here.

Rubio says he intends to keep campaign promises on Obamacare

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Marco Rubio says he remains committed to overturning Obamacare following the collapse of the latest attempt.

"In both 2010 and 2016, I ran on the promise of repealing and replacing ObamaCare, and I intend to keep that promise," Rubio told the Tampa Bay times in a statement. "The insurance markets are crumbling - the average premiums have more than doubled and earlier this year yet another rate increase has been proposed for 2018. If we do not to act, things will only get worse because a failing ObamaCare will remain in place.

"Many people, across Florida and the country, expect their elected leaders to keep their commitments and do the work they were sent to Washington to do. While last evening's vote was disappointing, I remain committed to passing a health care bill that leaves Floridians better off than they are under the disastrous Obamacare."

We have asked Sen. Bill Nelson for a statement.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

July 27, 2017

White House wants "thorough investigation" into fired IT staffer who worked for Wasserman Schultz

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@amysherman

The White House press secretary called for a "thorough investigation" into a fired information technology staffer who worked for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

During the press briefing July 27th, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if President Donald Trump was aware of the case and if he was satisfied with the pace of the investigation.

"I haven't had a conversation with him specifically about that but I do think it is something we should fully look into and there should be a thorough investigation," she said.

On Thursday morning, Trump retweeted a story by Town Hall headlined "ABC, NBC, and CBS pretty much bury IT Scandal engulfing Debbie Wasserman Schultz's office."

Imran Awan worked for many Democratic House members since 2004. But while other members fired him in February when news surfaced that he was under investigation, Wasserman Schultz waited to fire him until Tuesday. Awan was arrested for bank fraud while at Dulles International Airport enroute to Pakistan.

While news reports have stated, based on unnamed sources, that Awan is under investigation for theft of data and equipment, the bank fraud charge is based on misrepresentations to a Congressional credit union about a home loan.

Awan has entered a plea of not guilty and awaits a preliminary hearing Aug 21. 

 

Emily's List to target Curbelo, Mast and DeSantis in Florida

@PatriciaMazzei

Emily's List, which promotes women in politics who support abortion rights, will announce Thursday it is setting its sights on three Florida Republican congressmen seeking reelection in 2018: Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, Brian Mast of Hutchinson Island and Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach.

All three lawmakers will be listed in Emily's List "On Notice" group of 50 national Republicans the organization says "have amassed appallingly anti-woman, anti-family records."

Chief among Emily's List concerns: the legislators' support to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

"Curbelo voted for the Republican health care bill that would kick 23 million Americans -- including thousands of Floridians -- off their insurance," Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. "He has repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthood and to undermine equal pay protections for women."

Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who lost a state Senate race last year, is expected to soon challenge Curbelo, likely with Emily's List backing.

Emily's List also targeted Curbelo ahead of the 2016 election, which he won handily, defeating Democrat Joe Garcia by 12 percentage points even though President Donald Trump lost the district by 16 points.

July 26, 2017

U.S. to sanction 13 more Venezuelans ahead of showdown vote

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@PatriciaMazzei

The Trump administration plans to sanction 13 Venezuelans tied to the government of President Nicolás Maduro on Wednesday, four days before the South American nation plans to hold a vote that the U.S. says will turn Maduro’s rule into a dictatorship.

The U.S. will freeze assets and ban travel visas for the 13 individuals, who are high-ranking current or former leaders of the government, military and state oil producer, in an attempt to continue punishing Maduro loyalists for undemocratic actions. The White House, which has yet to announce the sanctions, is expected to brief key members of Congress about the decision Wednesday.

Eight of the names will coincide with a list of 10 Venezuelans that U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., sent President Donald Trump on Tuesday suggesting possible sanction targets.

The five new names are: Elías Jaua, who served vice president from 2010-12 and as foreign affairs minister from 2013-14; Néstor Reverol, minister for interior relations and justice; Alejandro Fleming, who served as vice-minister for North America and Europe from 2015-16; Sergio Rivero Marcano, commander general of the Bolivarian National Guard; and Franklin García Duque, director of the Bolivarian National Police.

The other eight Venezuelans to be sanctioned are: Tibisay Lucena, president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council; Carlos Erick Malpica Flores, national treasurer; Iris Varela, minister of Venezuela’s correctional system; Tarek William Saab, ombudsman; Jesús Suárez Chourio, commander of the Bolivarian Army; Carlos Alfredo Pérez Ampueda, director of the Bolivarian National Police; Simón Zerpa, vice president of finance of state oil producer PDVSA; and Rocco Albisini, president of the national center for foreign trade, known as CENCOEX.

More here.

Photo credit: Fernando Llano, Associated Press