June 14, 2017

Florida Congressional Democrats join suit against Trump

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@learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Most Florida Democrats are among the nearly 200 members of Congress who have joined a lawsuit alleging President Donald Trump has improperly benefited from business dealings with foreign governments.

The suit, filed Wednesday morning, contends he is in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

Organizers say it’s the most members of Congress to sue a sitting president.

Florida Democrats on board: Reps. Ted Deutch, Kathy Castor, Val Demings, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson.

It was not immediately clear why Sen. Bill Nelson, facing re-election in 2018, did not join. Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist are also not on a list distributed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office.

Trump faces two other similar suits, though this is the first by members of Congress. Blumenthal argued the group has standing. “The framers gave Congress a unique role, a unique right and responsibility,” he told reporters.

Republicans will be asked to join, he said.

Florida members confirmed safe after shooting at congressional baseball practice

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@alextdaugherty 

Four Florida members of the Republican congressional baseball team were confirmed safe after an early morning shooting at practice on Wednesday in Alexandria, Virginia. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisana was shot along with Capitol Police officers and congressional staffers. 

The shooter was pronounced dead a few hours later. None of the five victims were killed.

Florida Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz, Tom Rooney, Ron DeSantis and Dennis Ross were listed on Republican roster for the congressional baseball game, set for Thursday at Nationals Park in Washington. All were confirmed safe or did not attend practice this morning. 

DeSantis told Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo he was approached by a man in the parking lot before the shooting who “wanted to know whether it was Republicans or Democrats that were out there.”

DeSantis left the field with South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan minutes before the shooting after taking batting practice and shagging balls. 

"I told Jeff, hey, we got to get on the road so we beat traffic, so we left about ten after seven," DeSantis said. "I think shots began you know within 3-5 minutes after that. We reported to police that there was a gentleman that confronted us when we were going to our car and he wanted to know whether it was Republicans or Democrats that were out there. We said it was Republicans and he kind of started walking to the field. I don’t know if that was the guy, but I think it’s important to put that information out there and it was a little bit different than someone would do that. He was really interested in wanting to know who was out there."

Rooney also left practice minutes before the shooting to take his children to school, according to the Palm Beach Post. 

"It's not a secret that we're here," Rooney told the Post, adding that the incident would have been much worse if Scalise's security detail was not there.

Scalise is a member of House leadership, so a security detail accompanies him unlike rank-and-file members. Rooney told the Post a black SUV with at least two officers blocked a gate on the first base side of the field. The gunman apparently began firing from behind the third base side of the field, injuring Scalise and others.

Ross and Gaetz were not present at practice, according to statements from their offices. 

 

June 13, 2017

Digital ad campaign from Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity targets Bill Nelson

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@PatriciaMazzei

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political group financed by the industrialist Koch brothers, is launching a new, six-figure digital ad campaign targeting Florida Sen. Bill Nelson on tax reform.

AFP wants Nelson, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, to follow its principles for comprehensive tax reform. It's an unlikely request, given that Nelson is a Democrat.

Nelson is also running for reelection next year, and is expected to face a serious challenge from Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

AFP has been pushing Republican lawmakers to oppose a border-adjustment tax, which the group says would act as a tax on consumers.

June 09, 2017

GOP lawmakers from outside Florida urge Trump to keep Obama Cuba policy

@ngameztorres @PatriciaMazzei

Seven Republican members of Congress who favor closer U.S. ties to Cuba sent President Donald Trump a letter Thursday urging him to reconsider revising the reengagement policy set by former President Barack Obama. A Trump policy is expected soon.

The congressmen -- none of them from Florida -- argued the U.S. has a national security interest in maintaining a foothold in Cuba. They represents districts that in some cases see serious agricultural, industrial or commercial opportunities in Cuba.

"For instance, Russia is already strengthening its ties with Cuba, supporting infrastructure investment and resuming oil shipments for the first time this century," they wrote. "China is also expanding its footprint in Cuba as well. China is now Cuba's largest trading partner and heavily invested in providing telecommunications services, among other investments, on the island."

"Reversing course would incentivize Cuba to once again become dependent on countries like Russia and China," they continued. "Allowing this to happen could have disastrous results for the security of the United States. Alternatively, we can counter the growing threat of foreign influence in our region by engaging with our island neighbor."

Signing the letter were Reps. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Ted Poe of Texas, Darin LaHood of Illinois, Roger Marshall of Kansas, James Comer of Kentucky and Jack Bergman of Michigan.

Read the congressmen's letter here. 

On Thursday, three Republican senators with similar views also National Security Adviser Henry McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laying out their own case for sticking to the Obama policy.

Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and John Boozman of Arkansas wrote that increasing U.S. travel and business ties to Cuba helped improve the lives of Cubans and expand the island's private sector. Like the congressmen, they argued the Obama policy benefited American interests -- and undoing them would be detrimental.

"To conclude, there are those who suggest that any changes in U.S.-Cuba policy are concessions that must be met by some definitive action by the Cubans," the senators wrote, without naming Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and others who have made that argument. "Instead, we view recent reforms to U.S.-Cuba policy as providing critical strategic advances that have already benefited everyday Cubans and provided direct benefits to Americans by enhancing U.S. national security and boosting the U.S. economy. We strongly urge you to weigh carefully any rollback of policies that would endanger these benefits."

Read the senators' letter here.

This post has been updated.

June 07, 2017

Rubio: If Trump has interfered with Russia investigation, 'American people deserve to know'

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio at Wednesday's Intelligence Committe hearing:

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

June 06, 2017

Because it's the Florida Keys: Activists send Curbelo message with coconuts

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From Miami Herald news partner WLRN public radio:

They called themselves the "coconut caravan." 

The Upper Keys Action Network, or UKAN was formed after the 2016 election as a way for people in the Keys to stay politically engaged. This week, 10 women from UKAN drove an estimated 300 coconuts to Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo's Miami office.

The women and many others had painted the coconuts with messages like "Save ACA [the Affordable Care Act]," "country over party," and "Climate change is real." 

It's all to call on the congressman, whose district includes the Keys,  to hold an in-person town hall in the Keys.

"The overall message is ‘Hey, come to the Keys. Come meet with us. Come hear what your constituents have to say,'” says Lindsey Crews, an organizer with UKAN who helped coordinate the coconut project. She says this isn't the first time coconuts have been used to send a political message.

Curbelo is in Washington DC, so he wasn't there to receive the coconuts in person.

"Carlos meets with constituents in-person in both Miami and the Keys during district work periods... and he held a tele-townhall for constituents in May," said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Curbelo. She said that tele-townhall reached thousands, but the women of UKAN say they'd like to have the opportunity to ask questions face-to-face.

Listen to the radio story here.

Photo credit: Holly Pretsky, WLRN

June 05, 2017

As Trump reviews Cuba policy, Rubio, Nelson want to address 'stolen property'

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson are pressing the Trump administration to seek compensation for Americans whose property was taken by the Cuban government.

The move comes as Trump is reviewing policy toward Cuba.

“The U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (FCSC) has certified more than 5,900 claims against the Cuban Government for stolen property,” the lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “These claims—now valued at approximately $8 billion—remain unresolved.

“While the Cuban Government has manufactured ridiculous counter-claims to avoid responsibility, we urge you to seek fair compensation on behalf of these Americans as soon as possible. To that end, we request that you work with Congress to develop a plan and timeline for resolution of these claims, as well as consider instructing the FCSC to conduct a third Cuban Claims Program to allow for potential new claimants.”

Rubio and Nelson also express “concern” with a January 2016 decision allowing Cubaexport to renew a trademark for Havana Club rum.

“Cubaexport registered the trademark for Havana Club in the United States only after the Cuban Government stole the trademark from the original owners. The decision was a troubling development, given longstanding U.S. policy and support for the rightful owners of stolen property, and we urge you to reconsider.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio, Rooney to dine with Trump on Tuesday

@anitakumar01 @PatriciaMazzei

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will dine with President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday, a White House source confirmed Monday to McClatchy.

Rubio will be one of several lawmakers at the dinner.  Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples has also been invited. Politico reported four other lawmakers are also slated to attend.

The potential discussion topics are unknown, but Rubio has been working with the White House and National Security Council on revising U.S.-Cuba policy. Trump is planning a Miami trip as early as this month to announce whatever policy is agreed to.

In February, Rubio and his wife, Jeanette, had dinner with Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. On that occasion, Rubio brought up the issue of Venezuela.

Progressives plan to target Diaz-Balart, Mast in summer campaign

@PatriciaMazzei

A progressive political group plans to target two Florida Republicans -- Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Brian Mast -- over the summer, to try to drum up grassroots political attention to potential congressional races.

"The groups will help mobilize communities through on-the-ground grassroots engagement and investments in multi-platform media campaigns to hold Republicans accountable for betraying the needs of their constituents and work to put more districts on the map for Democrats in 2018," according to Monday's announcement from House Majority PAC, America Votes Action Fund, Priorities USA and American Bridge.

Diaz-Balart, Mast and 10 other Republicans will be targeted over their vote for House Republicans' healthcare plan.

The progressive groups aren't going after Rep. Carlos Curbelo -- not because he's not important to them, but because he's already a top-level Democratic target for 2018. Mast and especially Diaz-Balart are less vulnerable, so their reelections have drawn less political scrutiny so far.

June 02, 2017

In ads, Koch-backed group asks Curbelo to oppose border adjustment tax

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@PatriciaMazzei

The political group created by the industrialist Koch brothers wants Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo to come out against the border adjustment tax, House Republicans' plan to impose a 20 percent tax on imports into the country.

The Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity is launching a six-figure digital ad campaign urging Curbelo to "support AFP's plan to un-rig the economy." Curbelo sits on the Ways and Means Committee that will rewrite tax policy. He hasn't publicly supported or opposed the tax so far.

"We hope Congressman Curbelo uses his leadership role in passing pro-growth tax reform based on AFP's 5 Principles of simplicity, efficiency, equitability, predictability, and no new burden on taxpayers," AFP state director Chris Hudson said in a statement. "That starts with opposing a border adjustment tax – a trillion-dollar tax on consumers masquerading as a tax on imports."

Photo credit: José A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald