January 03, 2017

2 Miami Republicans favor gutting congressional ethics office

@PatriciaMazzei

UPDATE: In an emergency meeting Tuesday, House Republicans agreed to reverse their decision to curtail the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics, after facing public backlash and skepticism from President-elect Donald Trump. Here's an updated statement from Curbelo:

"The House ethics process needs to be reformed in order to better investigate allegations of misconduct. I support referring this matter to the House Ethics committee where Republicans and Democrats can work together on bipartisan reforms that would ensure Members of Congress are‎ held accountable while given due process to address accusations."

A full, updated story has been posted here.

ORIGINAL POST: U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Tuesday they backed the Republican conference's move to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

The OCE, created eight years ago after a series of congressional scandals, would be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and, instead of being independent, report to the GOP-controlled House Ethics Committee.

Republicans' decision, proposed by U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and made without notice in a private party meeting on Monday, a federal holiday, prompted immediate rebuke from Democrats, government watchdog groups and even some Republicans. But don't count Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo among them.

"I voted for Rep. Goodlatte's amendment to improve and reorganize the renamed Office of Congressional Complaint Review (OCCR) because it includes much needed oversight and accountability from the House Ethics Committee," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "The reforms will allow for due process rights for all parties involved and will ensure a fair hearing as Members of Congress seek to better serve our constituents."

Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement to the Herald that Curbelo also backs the changes.

"Coming from a district that knows firsthand the impact corruption has on a community, Congressman Curbelo has always been committed to ensuring members of Congress are held accountable and allegations of misconduct are investigated seriously<" she said. "The Office of Congressional Ethics has not lived up to its stated mission and reforms are long overdue to strengthen its ability to take complaints from the public, complete independent investigations, and provide due process for those facing allegations of misconduct. The Congressman supports Speaker [Paul] Ryan's commitment to protect the Office's independence and he is dedicated to making sure that commitment is honored.

"The Congressman will be supporting H.Res. 5, the complete Rules Package for the 115th Congress on the House Floor later today."

Ryan opposed the ethics amendment, which the GOP conference agreed to with a 119-74 vote. Because the vote took place in a private party meeting, there is no public disclosure of how each member voted.

The third Miami Republican in Congress, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, told the Herald in a statement that while the ethics office needs an overhaul, he doesn't think the rules legislation is the way to change things.

"The Office of Congressional Ethics is in dire need of reform," Diaz-Balart said. "Members of Congress must be held accountable to the highest standard in a process that is fair and just. I strongly believe the way to do this is in a bipartisan, open discussion through legislation, not through the rules package."

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that dealing with the ethics office shouldn't be Congress' first priority, though he still called the office "unfair." He used the hashtag "#DTS," from his campaign mantra to "drain the swamp."

This post has been updated to include Diaz-Balart.

December 23, 2016

Florida members of Congress tell feds: Pay our state for Trump's Mar-a-Lago security costs

Mar-a-Lago

via @learyreports

President-elect Donald Trump's travel to Florida is causing steep security costs and lawmakers want the federal government to pay.

Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio along with Reps. Alcee Hastings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel and Patrick Murphy sent this letter:

Dear Attorney General Lynch and Secretary Johnson,

We are writing to make you aware of the attached request from the Mayor of Palm Beach County regarding reimbursement for ancillary costs associated with helping protect President-elect Trump, who has often visited his home in the area.

According to Mayor Burdick, the county spent approximately $250,000 to provide security support for the President-elect during his four-day visit over Thanksgiving alone.

Congress appropriated $7 million to the Department of Justice in the recently-passed government funding bill (P.L. 114-254) to reimburse State and local law enforcement agencies for overtime costs associated with protecting the President-elect before his inauguration.

We urge you to consider using those funds or any other resources that you deem appropriate to help the county offset these costs.

We appreciate your attention to this matter.

Photo credit: AP

December 08, 2016

Rep. Gwen Graham bids Congress farewell

via @learyreports

Rep. Gwen Graham, who decided not to run for a cond term after her district was redrawn, gave a farewell speech on the House floor. The Democrat is likely to run for governor in 2018.

She says she "never planned to follow in my father's footsteps into politics" but was dismayed by the divisiveness of politics and lack of action.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Curbelo makes National Geographic TV debut on climate change

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami got plenty of love Wednesday night as a Republican willing to take action in Congress to combat climate change.

Curbelo was prominently featured on a "Years of Living Dangerously" episode on the National Geographic channel that featured environmental activists' efforts to get congressional action.

"Why can't there be more Republicans like this guy?" asked actor Bradley Whitford, the episode's host. He's a liberal activist best known for his role as Josh Lyman in NBC's former TV series "The West Wing," and he's praised Curbelo on national TV in the past, to promote the NatGeo series.

The episode showed, among other things, a meeting of a small "climate change" caucus in Congress -- which means other South Florida representatives got some air time, too. U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, the Democrat who created the caucus with Curbelo, got a speaking role, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, also appeared on screen.

Here are two clips cut by Curbelo's office. Watch the full episode (number seven) here.

December 07, 2016

'America is stronger' because of Dreamers, Nelson says

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson has stepped into the growing debate over the fate of immigrant "Dreamers," using a floor speech to honor a Jacksonville-area veteran who faced legal trouble in 2011.

“Always he thought he was an American citizen,” Nelson said Tuesday of Elisha Dawkins, who was brought to the U.S. when he was six months old by his Bahamian mother.

A paperwork issue arose and Dawkins, who served in the Army and Navy Reserves, was sent to a detention center, facing possible deportation. Nelson stepped in.

Today, Dreamers face uncertainty with President-elect Donald Trump vowing to strip away the legal protections afforded under an Obama administration program. A bipartisan group of Senators is working on legislation to help and Nelson signaled his support.

(Sen. Marco Rubio, who once tried to come up with his own bill, is not part of the effort and won’t comment.)

“I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. The DREAMers are our neighbors, they're our friends,” Nelson said. “They are our high school valedictorians, and they are our veterans. They were brought to this country before they ever even knew of the significance of their trip, and they have benefited our communities greatly.

“And so it's clear that America is stronger for a person like Elisha Dawkins. And as this Congress comes to a close, I want to remind all of us and urge us to remember next year ,when there's an attempt to turn around that White House executive order, I want us to remember the faces of people like Elisha Dawkins, and I want us to come together and to acknowledge their many contributions to this great country.”

 

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

 

December 02, 2016

Florida Democrats in Congress mainly back Pelosi

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via @learyreports

Florida Democrats this week helped protect Nancy Pelosi from a leadership challenge driven by the party's abysmal November.

Pelosi on Wednesday was easily elected minority leader over Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who said the party has lost touch with the working class. But as the Washington Post notes, Pelosi’s margin of victory, 134 votes to 63, "signaled a large degree of discontent with her leadership after 14 years atop the caucus and, more broadly, with the Democratic policy agenda that many lawmakers say has grown stale."

We've asked Florida Democrats -- those who will be part of the 115th Congress -- who they supported.

Kathy Castor - Pelosi
Ted Deutch - Pelosi
Lois Frankel - Pelosi
Alcee Hastings - Tim Ryan
Frederica Wilson - Pelosi
Debbie Wasserman Schultz - Pelosi

Incoming members:

Charlie Crist - Pelosi
Darren Soto - Pelosi

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Associated Press

December 01, 2016

USDOT awards FIU $1.4M grant to study bridge restoration

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida International University won $1.4 million from the federal government earlier this week. The grant, from the U.S. Department of Transportation, is intended to pay for research on how to restore aging bridges and build new ones.

Miami members of Congress pushed for the money, according to U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican whose district includes FIU's main campus. The grant is part of USDOT's University Transportation Centers program, which was signed into law last December. Curbelo had introduced the program in a bill he filed in September 2015.

"FIU's work to address substandard bridges is critical to restoring our transportation infrastructure in South Florida and across the county," Curbelo said in a statement. "I'm grateful for the support of my colleagues Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and the Florida Delegation for championing this effort with me."

Atorod Azizinamini, chairman of the structure and bridge engineering program at FIU, said in a statement issued through Curbelo's office that supporting FIU "will benefit South Florida and the country as we improve our aging infrastructure."

November 30, 2016

House set to pass health bill with Miami ties

@PatriciaMazzei

The U.S. House plans to vote Wednesday on a wide-ranging health bill that includes several items of interest to South Florida.

The legislation, dubbed the "21st Century Cures Act," would exempt the University of Miami's Sylvester Cancer Center from Medicare reimbursement cuts imposed on hospitals last year -- a protection that should help Sylvester expand, according to the office of Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Also included in the bill is language Ros-Lehtinen and Boca Raton Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch drafted to direct federal health grants to train physicians and educators about early signs of eating disorders. In addition, the legislation supports federal drug courts modeled in part like the state ones pioneered in Miami.

The Cures Act had been passed by the House before, but the Senate objected to some provisions. The new version is a result of negotiations between both chambers.

Perhaps the best known part of the legislation in South Florida is lifting a restriction to allow the Food and Drug Administration to authorize, on an emergency basis, the use of technologies such as a genetically modified mosquito to combat the Zika virus.

In op-ed, Curbelo calls on Trump administration to be 'inclusive'

From a Miami Herald op-ed column penned by newly reelected Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo:

A long and uninspiring election season has come and gone. Americans from all regions of the country, with diverse backgrounds and beliefs, cast ballots for candidates who best represented their vision for the future. Since Election Day, we have seen a wide array of emotions, from celebration to protest. As the dust settles and we look towards the future, officials at all levels must put politics aside and serve the people who elected them to make government more efficient.

I have been given the honor of returning to the U.S. House of Representatives for another two years to represent our South Florida community in Congress. Throughout the campaign, the theme I reiterated to constituents was the need for civility, the need to put people and ideas above petty politics. Campaigns might focus on personalities and personal attacks, but governing requires thoughtfulness and consensus-building. Those who govern must lead serious discussions of ideas for making our community and the country better places to live and raise a family. This is the only way we can hope to restore Americans’ trust and confidence in government and its institutions.

[...]

But we won’t be able to accomplish anything noteworthy unless all parties have a seat at the table to share their views and contribute. I encourage the new administration to be inclusive. It didn’t take me long to learn that without bipartisan cooperation little gets done in Washington. The best laws are often products of compromise and negotiation.

More here.

November 16, 2016

Sen. Nelson wants to try to block oil-drilling bill

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson is corralling opposition to a bill he says would incentivize oil drilling off the coast of Florida.

“I’m going to block it,” Nelson said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

“The senator from Louisiana is going to try to get his camel’s nose under the tent so that the camel will eventually, completely take over the tent on drilling off the coast of Florida.”

Nelson said legislation to be considered Thursday is a “head fake” because it excludes Florida. He said Sen. Bill Cassidy’s bill sets up a revenue sharing agreement between Gulf states and that Florida would regret not being involved over lost revenue.

Nelson, up for re-election in 2018, is confident he can get the 60 votes to block the bill. He plans a floor speech Wednesday afternoon.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times