September 19, 2016

Three Republicans campaign together in Miami-Dade. Don't ask them about Trump.


In Miami-Dade County, where Republican sentiment toward Donald Trump remains skittish, the three politicians who campaigned together formed an unusual sort of political club.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Miami U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Miami state Sen. Anitere Flores gathered at the New Hope Substance Abuse Center in Homestead to draw attention to their own work in benefit of mental health and drug treatment.

But they shared something else in common: None of the three Republicans has backed Trump. And they still wouldn't when a reporter asked them about their intentions Monday.

Kasich, who has said it's "very unlikely" he'll vote for Trump, said he's "been pretty darn clear." "My actions speak even louder than my words," he said, apparently referring to his travels across the country to campaign for down-ballot Republicans like Curbelo, whom he formally endorsed Monday.

"My position on the presidential race hasn't changed," said Curbelo, who has been courted by the Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. "I'm obviously not pleased with the choices that this country has before it. Neither are about two-thirds of the American people."

"We're in the same boat," said Flores, adding that she's "still under 'we'll see' mode." "It's unfortunate that in a country of hundreds of millions of people we have ended up with two major party nominees that are the most unpopular even in our history."

Curbelo's Westchester-to-Key West district has been redrawn to lean more Democratic. He faces a reelection challenge by former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia. Flores isn't in quite as pitched a reelection fight against political rookie Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. But the senator is campaigning in a new district where many voters don't know her.

Kasich's trip was meant to highlight Curbelo's bona fides as a moderate. The Ohio governor campaigned for president as a centrist, outlasting Republicans such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio but also infuriating conservatives who considered him too liberal and questioned his remaining so long in the race despite only ever winning a single primary, in his home state.

"He's a rising star," Kasich said of Curbelo, praising the congressman's interest in immigration and criminal justice issues. "Young, charismatic, smart -- I think he's the ticket for making sure that this whole part of the great state of Florida is going to have the attention and resources that they need. I look at Carlos as an investment: This is an investment that will pay off."

Curbelo returned the praise on Kasich's presidential candidacy: "His campaign was about the least fortunate people who have been forgotten in this country."

Kasich, who remains popular in Ohio, a key presidential swing state, also used his visit to urge Congress to approve federal Zika funding.

"If we don't figure out a vaccine for Zika, it's going to devastate many parts of Florida and many parts of the South," Kasich said. "This is just ridiculous."

Photo credit: Matias J. Ocner, Miami Herald

September 18, 2016

Kasich to campaign for Curbelo in Miami


A former presidential candidate not named Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio is hitting the campaign trail Monday for U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo

Ohio Gov. John Kasich plans to tour the New Hope Substance Abuse Center with Curbelo in Homestead, at the heart of Florida's swing 26th congressional district.

Kasich often brought up substance abuse on the campaign trail during the Republican primary, in which he ran as a moderate. Curbelo is also touting the political center in his reelection race against Democratic challenger Joe Garcia.

September 15, 2016

Rubio criticizes Murphy, Obama over Gitmo

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio on Thursday criticized a vote by Rep. Patrick Murphy against a GOP measure to prevent transfers of detainees held at Guantánamo Bay.

“Today, Patrick Murphy voted to fund the release of terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, despite even more evidence that they are rejoining militant groups,” Rubio campaign spokesman Michael Ahrens said. “Murphy continues to stand in lock step with the Obama administration’s liberal policies that pose a direct threat to our national security and the safety of all Americans.”

Murphy supports President Obama's attempt to close the prison.

Florida lawmakers voted party line with the exception of Democrat Gwen Graham, who joined Republicans.

Rubio also condemned the Obama administration amid a report that two former detainees had returned to fighting. Nine total have done so, according to the government.

“We know that the remaining detainees are considered ‘the worst of the worst,’ and with a confirmed recidivism rate of 30 percent, it’s baffling the Administration continues to set these terrorists free to threaten America and our allies, including our military men and women serving overseas,” Rubio said. “The President’s efforts to preserve his legacy at any cost is hindering U.S. national security precisely at a time when the threats to our country are growing, and terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS are giving these former detainees more options for reengagement. This is why I will continue to urge President Obama to stop setting terrorists free from Guantánamo and immediately work to recapture those who have returned to terrorist activity.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

TSA says no U.S. marshals aboard new Cuba flights

via @HeraldMimi

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is calling for the suspension of the regularly scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba that began in recent weeks because he says, despite previous claims, federal air marshals still aren’t aboard the new flights to and from the island.

In response to a request from the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, the TSA issued a statement in August that said: “In the spirit of enhancing the security of international civil aviation, the United States and The Republic of Cuba entered into an aviation security agreement that sets forth the legal framework for the deployment of U.S. in-flight security officers — more commonly known as federal air marshals — on board certain flights to and from Cuba.”

But during a House hearing Wednesday, TSA Deputy Administrator Huban Gowadia said that the Cuban government has not yet signed the agreement, meaning the first scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba since 1961 began without the deployment of air marshals.

Gowadia clarified that air marshals only fly on select charters rather than the new flights, and said the United States and Cuba are continuing to work toward an agreement covering regularly scheduled flights.

More here.

Everglades restoration plan passes senate

Everglades aerial (2)

by @jenstaletovich

Everglades restoration took a step forward Thursday when the U.S. Senate passed a massive waterworks bill that includes a plan aimed at fixing the overlooked heart of the vast wetlands.

In 94-3 vote, senators approved the Water Resources Development Act, which includes about $2 billion for the Central Everglades Planning Project. The project, launched in 2011 to speed up restoration and focus efforts on central wetlands critical to moving fresh water south into Florida Bay, got a big assist in the spring when Sen. Jim Inhofe vowed to throw his weight behind it. The powerful chairman of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, remembered for being the only no vote opposing the original comprehensive restoration plan in 2000, said he changed his mind after Sen. Marco Rubio convinced the work was necessary.

The vote comes after a brutal winter for the region. Record rain forced the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to repeatedly release dirty water from Lake Okeechobee into coastal estuaries, triggering a massive algae bloom along the Treasure Coast.

The WRDA still has to pass the House, no small hurdle, which has not yet scheduled a vote. However, including $220 million in emergency funding to address the water crisis in Flint is drawing support that may help push it through.

"It addresses a lot of big ticket items that have gotten a ton of attention this year," said Julie Hill-Gabriel, deputy director of policy for Audubon Florida.

Hill-Gabriel was hopeful the House schedules a vote this year on the plan. Two years ago, the plan stalled when the Corps, which oversees work, balked at approving it in time for that year's WRDA bill.



"We’re hopeful it will happen this year," Hill-Gabriel said. "Whether it’s next week or the lame duck session, we hope the House steps up and gets it done."



Rubio defends Nelson after Scott Zika attack

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott’s attack on Sen. Bill Nelson didn’t go over so well in Washington. First Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen rebuked Scott for partisanship then Sen. Marco Rubio defended Nelson, though without naming Scott.

“I would remind everyone that the Senate did act on this issue back in May in a bipartisan way,” Rubio said Wednesday afternoon in a floor speech about Zika. “And I would like to take this moment to point out that my colleague, Senator Bill Nelson from Florida, has been great to work with on this and multiple issues but on this one in particular and I thank him for his partnership and hard work in this regard.

"I enjoy our partnership on many issues involving the state of Florida including a water bill before the Senate. But on this issue of Zika in particular.”

Scott did not back down Wednesday, a day after saying Nelson turned his "back" on Florida by voting against a Zika funding bill that included provisions Democrats say attacks Planned Parenthood. Rubio voted for that bill but also supports a so-called clean funding bill.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio missed nearly half of Foreign Relations hearings on Iran

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON – Sen. Marco Rubio has made opposition to the Iran nuclear deal a focus of his re-election campaign, using it to assert that Democratic opponent Patrick Murphy is weak on the issue.

But as Rubio presents himself as an expert on Iran and the Middle East in general, his attendance problems come back into view.

During the 114th Congress, Rubio missed nearly half of the Foreign Relations Committee hearings that dealt specifically with Iran, records show.

He also skipped a number of other hearings in which issues pertaining to Iran came up, though were not the sole focus.

It adds another layer to a weak spot Rubio’s rivals – Jeb Bush and other Republicans during the presidential primary and now, Democrats – have tried to exploit. In addition to missing many votes while he sought higher office, Rubio skipped out on dozens of committee hearings. Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Times reported Rubio had missed 68 percent of all hearings since taking office.Now Rubio is running again and his record is available for scrutiny, especially since he has made Iran a focus. He has used it against Murphy and the Obama administration and to generally assert his experience.

Asked about the truancy, Rubio’s campaign said in a statement, “The difference between Marco and Murphy on Iran is clear. Marco opposes the dangerous Iran deal; Murphy supports it 100 percent. And despite more than $400 million in ransom payments to Iran, Murphy’s support for the deal has not wavered.”The campaign also noted that Murphy has a less than gold star attendance at his own committees, portending a likely response as the race heats up.

Polls show Rubio ahead.

Continue reading "Rubio missed nearly half of Foreign Relations hearings on Iran" »

September 14, 2016

Scott leaves Washington positive but without Zika deal

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Gov. Rick Scott concluded a two-day visit to Capitol Hill without gaining assurances that lawmakers will act on funding to fight Zika. Still, he maintained a positive air.

“Everybody’s supportive,” Scott said in an interview outside the Capitol.

At the same time the Republican seemed frustrated that “everybody wants to explain the politics” why funding has not moved. “It hasn’t been accomplished yet,” Scott said, adding he was concerned about babies that could be affected by the virus.

Scott met with a range of officials over two days, including this afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who holds the keys to a deal to insert $1.1 billion in a stop-gap budget measure. That deal has yet to emerge.

Scott stood by criticism of Sen. Bill Nelson, who voted last week against a $1.1 billion measure because, as Democrats contend, it would block funding to a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Puerto Rico. Earlier Wednesday Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Scott’s comments were not helpful.

“We don’t need to be calling people out,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Sen. Nelson has been trying to help get Zika funding.”


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

'There is a stink rotting in the Florida Attorney General's office,' Democrats say

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Asserting that Donald Trump used a political donation to Attorney General Pam Bondi to kill an investigation into his real estate seminars, congressional Democrats on Wednesday urged the Justice Department to open an inquiry.

Florida Reps. Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz joined a news conference and leveled accusations of pay-to-play. "There is way more than whiff here. There is a stink rotting in the Attorney General's office in Florida," Wasserman Schultz said.

Bondi and Trump deny acting improperly, thought Trump paid an IRS fine for using his foundation for the $25,000 donation to Bondi's political committee.

Whatever the merits of an investigation, Democrats -- and the Clinton campaign -- see a political gain. Trump provides added ammunition with his boasts about using his money and stature to influence politicians.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Florida lawmaker tells constituents he stopped Cubans at sea

via @learyreports

Rep. Ted Yoho went fishing in the Keys and caught some Cubans.

The Gainesville Republican recently told constituents that he was fishing with his son when they spotted a boat carrying 20 Cuban refugees. "They wanted liberty and freedom. What am I supposed to do? (Say) come on in, the water's great?"

He called the Coast Guard and tried to slow down the Cubans. "The Coast Guard showed up and they deported those people back to Cuba," Yoho said to applause.

"They were not happy. They were throwing stuff. I have a friend I know that's in the Coast Guard ... and (he) said that was the maddest group of immigrants they ever picked up."

"I'm protecting the sovereignty of the United States of America," Yoho declared.

The constituent meeting was shown on Perisocope and later uploaded to YouTube.


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times