January 12, 2016

Congress passes Bill Nelson bill on e-cigarettes

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson's bill requiring child-proof caps on liquid nicotine bottles is headed to President Obama's desk.

“A few drops of this stuff can cause a child to become extremely ill,” the Democrat said in a release. “Requiring child-proof caps on these bottles is just common sense."

The House passed the Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act of 2015 on Monday; the Senate had earlier.

From a Nelson release:

Liquid nicotine is sold in concentrated form for use in e-cigarettes, and is often packaged in easy-to-open, brightly-colored vials with appealing flavors such as Yummy Gummy, Cotton Candy and Tutti Frutti. Just a single teaspoon of highly-concentrated liquid nicotine could kill a small child, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers

The AAPCC also found that calls to poison control centers related to liquid nicotine exposure have spiked in recent years, climbing from just one call per month in September 2010 to 318 calls per month in March 2015.  Many of these calls involved children five years old or younger.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

January 11, 2016

Joe Garcia spotted in D.C., but not because he's running for Congress (at least, not yet)

@PatriciaMazzei

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia fuels speculation that he wants to run for his old Miami-based seat every time he visits Washington D.C. -- as he did Monday.

Garcia was spotted at a Capitol Hill bar near the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee offices, where he was meeting with former staffers and friends. But he says he wasn't in town to meet party leaders about launching a candidacy.

Instead, Garcia was a panelist at a National Press Club talk led by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. The discussion was about the impact of the recently signed Paris climate deal on electric utilities. Garcia is a former chairman of the Florida Public Service Commission.

Garcia has said he's thinking of running again for Florida's 26th district, a seat now held by Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Here's a selfie Garcia took at the Bullfeathers bar. He sent it to the Miami Herald with permission to post.

IMG_3247

This post has been updated.

Son of Hillary Clinton donor to run for Congress in Miami

@PatriciaMazzei

Andrew Korge, the son of Hillary Clinton campaign donor Chris Korge, will run for Congress, setting up a Democratic primary against Annette Taddeo to see who will challenge Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida's preeminent swing district.

"I intend to file at some point in the future," Korge said, without giving a date. "I'm running for office because we need new leaders who have a 21st-century vision."

Korge had planned to run for Florida Senate. But a court-approved map appointing new district borders left the political novice without a clear way into office. His impending announcement was first reported by Politico Pro.

Taddeo, the former Miami-Dade County Democratic Party chairwoman who ran as Charlie Crist's running mate for governor in 2014, jumped in the race early. She had the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which hoped to avoid a contentious primary to instead focus on unseating the freshman Curbelo.

"Annette came to this country fleeing violence, not speaking English, and was denied admission to college," her campaign manager Shaun Daniels told the Miami Herald in a statement. "She taught herself English, put herself through school working minimum wage jobs. She abandoned her career plans to help her parents rebuild their home after Hurricane Andrew, and then built one of the best small businesses in Florida from scratch, while raising a daughter. Thousands of South Floridians share those experiences and they are all inspirational. Annette's story is America's story."

Taddeo has lost three races -- she previously ran for Congress and the Miami-Dade County Commission -- and Korge may not be her only opponent. Former Rep. Joe Garcia, who held the seat for one term before being ousted by Curbelo, is also considering a candidacy. The No. 2 House Democrat, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, was recently recorded at a Taddeo fundraiser urging Korge and Garcia not to run.

Curbelo's 26th district, which extends from Westchester to Key West, was already a pickup target for Democrats before another court-approved redistricting map turned the district more Democratic.

January 08, 2016

Missing U.S. missile found in Cuba infuriates Marco Rubio, Miami Republicans

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio chided the White House on Friday for failing to inform members of Congress about a missing U.S. Hellfire missile in Cuba's possession.

The Wall Street Journal published the bombshell story late Thursday, prompting Rubio to write the State Department asking what it knew about the missile.

"The fact that the administration, including you, have apparently tried to withhold this information from the congressional debate and public discussion over U.S.-Cuba policy is disgraceful," Rubio wrote to Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Jacobson starred in the Cuba negotiations, and Rubio has been blamed for stalling her nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

"While your bureau is not the primary entity within the State Department handling these issues, you oversee U.S. policy toward Cuba and interactions with Cuban officials," Rubio wrote. "Thus, the fact that members of Congress are reading about Cuba's possession of a U.S. missile in the newspaper rather than from you or other State Department officials is astounding and inexcusable."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about Rubio's letter at a news briefing Friday afternoon. He made a jab at Rubio's missing Senate votes, saying he guessed Rubio "gets most of his information about what's happening in Congress int he newspaper, based on his attendance record."

Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos tweeted that Earnest was being "petty."

Pressed on whether the missile was discussed in talks before the U.S.-Cuba normalization policy was announced, Earnest said he couldn't shed much light, given that the missile's disappearance is under investigation by the state and defense departments.

Separately, four Cuban-American members of Congress, including three Miami Republicans, issued a joint statement calling it "unconscionable" for the U.S. to have pursued normalization talks in spite of the missing missile.

"The Cuban regime rebuffed the President's effort to secure the return of the Hellfire missile even as the negotiations were ongoing, and yet the regime still got everything it could have wanted," wrote Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, and Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat. "It is no wonder that the Castro brothers feel ever more emboldened to continue on with the repression of the Cuban people, with intimidation and unlawful arrests at an alarmingly high rate."

--with Lesley Clark

Cuban Americans in Congress back law to curtail benefits

@PatriciaMazzei

Six Cuban-American members of Congress have signed on to legislation to end automatic federal benefits for newly arrived Cubans.

The office of Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, announced the support Friday, a day after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio revealed he would file a bill in the Senate similar to the one Curbelo filed in the House last month.

Co-sponsoring Curbelo's proposal are Miami Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, West Virginia Republican Alex Mooney and New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires. The only fellow Cuban Americans not listed are New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who could only sign on once Rubio files his bill. (Cruz is a Rubio rival in the presidential race.)

"Together, we can protect those fleeing the Castro dictatorship while ensuring that America's generosity is not being exploited and abused," Curbelo said in a statement.

Three other House members from Florida are also listed: Republican Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach (who is running for U.S. Senate), and Democrats Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. Other co-sponsors so far are Reps. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania; Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.

January 07, 2016

Miami Republicans in Congress again ask White House for Cuban refugees plan

@PatriciaMazzei

Three Miami Republican members of Congress sent their third letter Thursday to President Barack Obama urging the White House to draft a plan to accommodate the influx of Cuban refugees to South Florida.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Cuban Americans, blame Obama's rapprochement with Cuba for the increase in migrants from the island arriving in the U.S. -- and want him to help local governments absorb the new arrivals.

The House members have written to Obama twice before. Some 8,000 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica are now enroute to the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal policy stipulates that Cubans who reach American soil can remain in the country. After 366 days, they can apply for U.S. residency.

"Since our previous letters, we have been in contact with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, and Doral Mayor Luigi Boria about their concerns regarding the growing strain on local governments and services in South Florida," the trio wrote Thursday. "Through its Homeless program, the City of Miami has been able to place Cuban migrants into shelters. However, these centers are now at full capacity and can no longer receive any of the 8,000 new refugees expected to arrive in the coming weeks. We have also been informed that Catholic Charities, Church World Services, and the International Rescue Committee do not have the funds necessary to assist these new refugees because they are already overwhelmed by the surge of Cuban nationals that have recently arrived in the United States."

Read the full letter: here.

UPDATED Miami GOP congressman: Obama's gun plan stirs political trouble, but some of his ideas are good

@PatriciaMazzei

The outraged comments came fast from many Republican members of Congress this week after President Barack Obama announced executive actions on gun control. So it stood out Thursday when a Miami Republican congressman took a different tone.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo condemned Obama for acting on his own, without lawmakers, saying using presidential authority "has further politicized what should be a non-partisan issue." But Curbelo then agreed with some of Obama's proposals, saying they "should be considered on their merits." 

"At the heart of this debate over the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution is the need to reduce crime in our neighborhoods," Curbelo said in a statement. "I agree that we need more FBI agents to process background checks for people trying to buy firearms, and this latest action will allow for 230 additional examiners to review applications in a timely manner."

Curbelo also backed Obama's plan for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to require all firearm sellers to obtain a license and conduct background checks for customers.

"Whether it be at a gun show, a small shop, or over the internet, it is critical that we ensure those purchasing firearms are legally permitted to do so," Curbelo said. He also called on congressional leaders to push legislation to invest in mental-health treatment.

"By using executive authority to take these actions, the President has further politicized what should be a non-partisan issue," he said. "However we in Congress must act deliberately, with input from Members representing both urban neighborhoods and the sprawling countryside, to strike a balance between protecting Constitutional rights and keeping our communities safe."

Curbelo, a freshman and a moderate, represents a swing Westchester-to-Key West district that got more Democratic under a court-approved map that redrew political lines in Florida. He's already drawn a Democratic challenger, Annette Taddeo, with others in her party also considering candidacies.

Curbelo's office says he proposed one mental-health law, in September, that would put the issue on a postal stamp to raise awareness and fund neurological research. He's also co-sponsored five other bills.

UPDATE: Taddeo lambasted Curbelo for his statement, saying the congressman's words ring hollow when the GOP-controlled Congress has failed to take up any gun-control legislation.

The president "wouldn't be having to do this if the Republicans in Congress would do something," she said. "To say that this is political is just outrageous. I mean, say that to the people who have lost loved ones. Say that to the parents of Sandy Hook."

"Maybe it's political for Curbelo, since the NRA sent $67,000-plus for him to get elected," Taddeo added. "He loves to talk out of one side of his mouth in the district, but then goes to Washington and votes for a leadership that continues to do nothing. It's two-faced."

Hello, 2016.

January 04, 2016

In secret recording, No. 2 House Democrat calls on 2 potential candidates to sit out Florida race

@PatriciaMazzei

The No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives told political donors he doesn't want two potential South Florida candidates to run for Congress because they would compete with the only person who has filed to run so far.

Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who backs Annette Taddeo to challenge Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, headlined a fundraiser Saturday at Taddeo's home. He appears to have been secretly recorded. The audio was obtained by America Rising, a conservative super PAC.

In his remarks, Hoyer made reference to former Rep. Joe Garcia and Andrew Korge, son of Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge. Both Garcia and the younger Korge have been mulling their own candidacies.

"I want you to tell Chris," Hoyer begins in the recording, apparently referring to Andrew Korge, "and I want you to tell Joe, 'Look, this is not about personalities. This is about our best opportunity. Annette Taddeo, I tell you, is our best opportunity to win a seat in South Florida... That's why I told you I contributed. Joe Garcia is my friend; I'm not down here against Joe Garcia. But I will tell you, I don't want him to run, because I want to maximize our opportunity."

America Rising posted the audio online, along with an introduction. "While Democratic leaders are struggling to recruit viable candidates across the country, they still find time to push their heavy-handed agenda in local politics," the super PAC wrote. "The Democratic voters in Florida’s 26th District deserve the opportunity to support the candidate who suits them best, not the Washington establishment."

In a statement to the Herald, Korge took a swipe at establishment Democrats -- and Taddeo.

"Leave it to the Washington insiders to think that backing someone who has lost all three of her races is a winning strategy," he said.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Garcia said Democrats "all want the same thing:someone who represents the interests of South Florida. Carlos has voted for Republicans and for Washington. Steny Hoyer, Annette Taddeo, Chris Korge and Andrew Korge are all good friends of mine, but this election shouldn't be decided by the leaders in Washington."

Garcia said he still hasn't made up his mind about the race: "I'm thinking, but I'm not deciding anything. There is no question that I loved representing the people of South Florida."

December 30, 2015

Facebook post accuses Ted Yoho of wanting to strip blacks of voting rights

A viral image on Facebook falsely accused U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., of saying black Americans should only have three-fifths of a vote.

A curious reader pointed us to the image, which reads: "This guy is Republican Florida Representative Ted Yoho who said this week that African Americans should only be given three-fifths of a vote. He is an elected member of Congress and he actually said that… OUT LOUD. You stay classy Florida."

We looked into it and found that there’s no evidence whatsoever that the Republican congressman said that. It appears that the meme’s creator was duped by a satirical website.

We learned the image was from a Facebook user in California named Mark Kusler, who based it on a story on Politicalo.com. The website posts some real news, but it also posts satirical stories with exaggerated content. The site includes a "Show Facts" button that allow readers to highlight which parts of their stories are true and which are not.

But the viral image — which has been shared more than 3,000 times — does not say any part of its message is untrue. So what’s the real story?

Turn to Joshua Gillin's fact-check from PolitiFact Florida.

December 28, 2015

Congressional map shake-up: 'We're closer to fairness'

In the aftermath of another redistricting shakeup, Florida's congressional delegation is in flux as a court-approved map threatens to whittle away at the 17-member Republican majority while Democrats gain strength.

December’s ruling by the Florida Supreme Court approved a map drawn by a coalition of voting groups — and it is having a ripple effect from Miami to Tallahassee.

At least five of the 27 members of Congress are edged out of their current districts. Four incumbents – U.S. Reps. Richard Nugent, R-Spring Hill, David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, Ron DeSantis, R-Port Orange, and Patrick Murphy, D-West Palm Beach — are not running for reelection. U.S. Reps. Dan Webster, R-Orlando, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, are considering moving to new territory.

U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, is now forced to run in a district with a majority of Republicans or consider another race.

In Miami, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 230,000 voters, U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen now have districts filled with many more Democrats.

And, across the state, incumbents find themselves representing communities that have never voted for them — prompting challengers, who otherwise may have waited on the sidelines for incumbents to retire, to consider running now.

"We’re closer to fairness,’’ said Michael McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida and an expert on redistricting.

“You’re probably looking at Democrats getting 12 and Republicans 15 in 2016, rather than 10 and 17,” he predicted. The incremental shift will continue when Ros-Lehtinen, a popular Republican incumbent, retires. “That seat is likely to swing to the Democrat and then you’re looking at a 14-13 split in the delegation. That’s pretty fair.”

More here.