November 16, 2017

Hispanic caucus tells Cuban American he can't join the club — he’s too Republican

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@alextdaugherty

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, made up strictly of Democrats, rejected Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo’s bid to join its ranks Thursday, saying some members are concerned about his stance on immigration.

The caucus, currently made up of 30 members of Congress who are all Democrats, took a vote on Thursday morning after Curbelo appeared in front of the group to make his pitch.

“He made a presentation and it was a good presentation,” said caucus chairwoman Michelle Grisham Lujan, a New Mexico Democrat.

It didn’t work.

“It is truly shameful the Congressional Hispanic Caucus has decided to build a wall around the organization to exclude Hispanic-Americans who aren’t registered in the Democratic Party,” Curbelo said in a statement afterward. “This sends a powerful and harmful message of discrimination, bigotry, and division. Unbelievably, petty partisan interests have led the CHC to formally endorse the segregation of American Hispanics. It is a dark day on Capitol Hill. However, this only strengthens my commitment to working with my colleagues on both sides to urgently seek a solution for young immigrants in the DACA Program.”

Grisham Lujan said Curbelo’s voting record, which includes voting in favor of a proposal to repeal Obamacare, factored into the decision to deny his membership.

“We discussed several items, healthcare, the tax bill, relief for Puerto Rico,” Grisham Lujan said. “Many of those votes in this climate gave members who voted no, and maybe other members, pause over whether or not this was a good time for changing membership.”

Individual members declined to reveal their votes while leaving Thursdays’ meeting, though some members like Arizona Democratic Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Ruben Gallego had previously said they planned to vote against Curbelo’s inclusion.

“Once we've done that [the vote], he can possibly stop complaining that he hasn't been given an audience and start complaining about the result,” Grijalva said earlier this month.

Grisham Lujan implied that she voted in favor of Curbelo’s membership, which also hit a snag after it was reported that Curbelo had a heated meeting with Grisham Lujan over his inclusion.

“I will tell you that I have been a member who has been on the record being favorable to membership by both Senate and House Republicans, and I’ve been consistent in that effort,” Grisham Lujan said after the vote.


Read more here. 

Emily's List backs Barzee Flores in Democratic race to replace Ros-Lehtinen

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Democrat Mary Barzee Flores won the endorsement Thursday of Emily's List, which backs progressive, pro-abortion rights female candidates.

Barzee Flores, a former state judge, is one of two women seeking to replace Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring, in Florida's swing 27th congressional district.

"This open seat represents an opportunity for Floridians to send a message to Washington," Emily's List president Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. "Working families need a representative who will fight to protect basic women's health care services, defend against the rolling back of environmental protections, and push to reform our broken immigration system. Mary is ready for the job, and we look forward to supporting her every step of the way."

Last week, Barzee Flores joined a small group of vocal Democrats across the country calling for President Donald Trump's impeachment.

The only other woman running in the packed field of eight Democrats is Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez., who sent supporters a fundraising email Thursday blasting Emily's List.

"Well, the establishment has spoken. Emily’s List has decided who your Congressperson should be. Did they ask you?" Rosen Gonzalez wrote. "No. They told me their endorsement came at a price. They told me I'd have to hire their consultants at astronomical prices as the price for their endorsement. I said 'No.' They said I'd have to sit in a room and 'dial for dollars' all day, putting the arm on all the special interests as the price for their endorsement. I said 'No.' Selling my independence is too high a price to pay."

The fundraising leader so far is Matt Haggman, former program director for the Knight Foundation.

This post has been updated.

November 14, 2017

All South Floridians in the House voted against flood-insurance overhaul. Here’s why

Flood(4)

@alextdaugherty

The entire South Florida delegation in the House of Representatives voted Tuesday against a proposal to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program, as Congress seeks a long-term solution for the program saddled with billions in debt after Hurricane Irma.

Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo joined the majority of Democrats to vote against the proposal, which passed by a vote of 237-189, with 15 Democrats voted in favor.

“It doesn’t make the changes that I need to satisfy... a big percentage of my district,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Miami Beach and coastal areas of central Miami-Dade County. “We have a lot of homes that are highly valued and it’s going to incur a lot of cost. It’s got to be fair for everybody. To have a home that you can’t find anybody to insure, that doesn’t do anyone any good.”

South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch also voted against the bill.

The National Flood Insurance Program is set to run out of money by Dec. 8, and if Congress lets the program lapse, thousands of real estate transactions and construction projects in flood-prone areas could be affected. Florida has 35 percent of the nation’s 5 million policies covered by the federal program — three times as many as the second-ranked state, Texas, which has 593,000 policies.

The flood insurance funding bill was the product of an agreement between House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. Hensarling has fought for years to privatize portions of the flood insurance program in an effort to make it fiscally solvent. Lawmakers from coastal areas, like Scalise, have cautioned that reforms could result in higher premiums and hurt investment.

Read more here.

Puerto Rico requests $94 billion from Congress for hurricane recovery

Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria

@alextdaugherty

Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló unveiled a $94.3 billion disaster relief request to Congress on Monday, a massive sum that he said will help the U.S. territory adequately recover from Hurricane Maria.

Rosselló also promised that the island’s recovery effort will be the “most transparent” in U.S. history as the governor faces criticism over awarding a now-canceled $300 million contract to a small Montana-based power company to rebuild the nation’s electric grid. Over half of Puerto Rico is still without power 54 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall.

The largest chunk of Rosselló’s request, $31 billion, goes to housing assistance with $17.7 billion to rebuild the island’s power grid and $14.9 billion for health care.

“This is a critical step forward in the rebuilding of Puerto Rico where we’re not only looking to rebuild as was before but we want to make it much stronger and much more resilient and make Puerto Rico a model for the rest of the Caribbean,” Rosselló said.

The $94 billion request will likely be pared down by Congress and the Trump administration, as fiscally conservative Republicans will likely oppose such a massive long-term aid package as they did after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The package is over $30 billion more than a $61 billion relief request from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott after Hurricane Harvey flooded parts of metro Houston and East Texas.

Read more here.

November 13, 2017

Curbelo hands in formal request to join Congressional Hispanic Caucus (Updated)

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@alextdaugherty

Rep. Carlos Curbelo submitted his formal request to join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Monday, the latest development in the Miami Republican's months-long quest to join the group that is currently made up of all Democrats. 

Curbelo sent a letter to CHC chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., on Monday after the caucus asked him to do so 10 days ago.

"I respect that we will sometimes have a difference of opinions on legislative strategies and goals – that is inevitable when working in the world’s greatest deliberative institution," Curbelo said in the letter. "I am very hopeful that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will send a strong message to the country that it welcomes all Hispanics and that it rejects the petty politics of exclusion and discrimination." 

A major hangup for some CHC members over Curbelo's potential inclusion is that he has not cosponsored a version of the Dream Act, though Curbelo has said he will vote in favor of any proposal to help undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children if such a bill makes it to the House floor. 

Curbelo asked to join the caucus early this year but his candidacy was delayed for months. The CHC used to include Republican members but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago over differences on Cuba policy and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. 

The Congressional Black Caucus is overwhelmingly represented by Democrats, though Utah Republican Rep. Mia Love is a member. Curbelo has said that if he is invited to join, he will not participate in CHC meetings where Democrats discuss partisan political strategy and only participate in meetings that are policy-oriented. 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he hopes the caucus lets Curbelo in. 

"Carlos is a quality legislator who is always seeking opportunities to reach across the aisle and find common ground on issues like immigration and education," McCarthy said in a statement. "I truly hope the Caucus doesn't send the American people the message that Hispanic Republicans and Independents are not welcome." 

“I feel like when people gather in St. Peter’s Square awaiting the smoke to emerge from the Sistine Chapel,” Curbelo said in October, joking as he likened his acceptance to the group to the top-secret selection of a new pope.

Lesley Clark contributed. This post was updated to include a comment from McCarthy. 

Florida Republican urges Trump to support Paris Climate Accord

Vernmug

@alextdaugherty 

For years, Miami Republicans were often isolated from the rest of their GOP counterparts in Florida on climate change issues. 

A 2018 election environment that appears to favor Democrats could change that approach. 

Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced Monday that he wants President Donald Trump to reconsider his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord after Syria joined the pact, leaving the U.S. as the only country who hasn't signed on. Buchanan also urged Trump to stay in the accord in May, though Trump announced that the U.S. would pull out in June. 

"Climate change is a serious threat, especially for a state like Florida that has two coastlines vulnerable to rising waters," Buchanan said. "There is a reason why 196 nations across the globe support this voluntary and non-binding agreement."

Since Trump made his decision to leave the accord, Hurricane Irma swept through the state and Buchanan drew a serious Democratic challenger who once came within 750 votes of winning a state House seat. Siesta Key attorney David Shapiro said Buchanan's stance on the Paris Climate agreement was "too little too late," indicating that climate change will be a major campaign issue in Buchanan's low-lying Gulf Coast district that includes Sarasota and Bradenton. 

Democrats also scored major victories in local elections across the country last week, including the St. Petersburg mayor's race in Florida where incumbent Rick Kriseman held off Republican Rick Baker despite trailing in most polls. Last week's results have put Republicans on edge ahead of a 2018 cycle where the House of Representatives could be up for grabs.

Buchanan's district voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 11 percentage points in 2016 though the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a Washington-based organization that seeks to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives, has put Buchanan's district on the organization's target list for the 2018 elections. The DCCC is now targeting 6 Florida seats, including all three Miami-based seats that are held by Republicans.

Buchanan has over $2 million on hand to defend his seat, according to Federal Election Commission records

A new bill would allow all TPS recipients to apply for permanent residency

For TPS

@alextdaugherty

As the Trump administration weighs whether or not to end the Temporary Protected Status for thousands of Haitians and Salvadorans, three members of Congress are preparing legislation that would allow every TPS recipient to apply for permanent residency.

The bill, dubbed the ASPIRE Act, would let every person covered by TPS before Jan. 1, 2017, apply for permanent residency by proving before a judge that they would face extreme hardship if forced to return home.

“The Temporary Protected Status program was created with bipartisan support to protect human life,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., who plans to introduce the legislation with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal. “It advances American interests and values and we must work in a bipartisan manner to do the right thing and protect hardworking immigrants from being sent back to countries where their physical well being could be cast into doubt.”

The bill also creates a new form of “protected status” for TPS recipients who have been in the the U.S. for at least five years. Instead of waiting for renewal or revocation of their status every 18 months, current TPS recipients would be able to stay in the U.S. for a renewable six-year period, though they would not be eligible for permanent residency if they cannot prove extreme hardship.

Clarke’s proposal is more expansive than a bill sponsored by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo that would provide a path to permanent residency for TPS recipients from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras who arrived in the U.S. before Jan. 13, 2011. Ros-Lehtinen and Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart have signed on to Curbelo’s bill.

The ASPIRE Act would also correct what Clarke’s office calls an “error” in existing law that requires TPS recipients who arrived in the U.S. illegally to leave the U.S. and reenter to adjust their status. Instead, a TPS designation would be enough of a reason to apply for permanent residency without having to leave the country.

Read more here.

November 09, 2017

Curbelo gets his Ivanka Trump meeting

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@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo had a Capitol Hill sitdown with Ivanka Trump on Thursday, as the president's daughter has become a fixture in Congress while the House and Senate debate a proposal to overhaul the nation's tax code. 

Curbelo, who did not support Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election, is a member of the House tax writing committee responsible for drafting the details of a tax proposal. 

"Great to have Ivanka Trump in the Capitol today to discuss the pro-family Tax Reform being considered by the Ways and Means GOP Committee," Curbelo tweeted.

Trump met with Sen. Marco Rubio on multiple occasions to discuss an expansion of the child tax credit to at least $2,000 in recent months, though Rubio isn't happy that the initial House proposal only expands the current $1,000 credit to $1,600.

The House tax plan, dubbed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, can pass with a simple majority of Republicans in the House and Senate. 

More than a dozen Republicans demand a legislative solution for Dreamers

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@alextdaugherty

In a show of force to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican leadership, more than a dozen Republicans from around the country are demanding a legislative solution by the end of 2017 for 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.

There is less than four months left for Congress to find a solution for the young immigrants known as Dreamers before President Donald Trump will cancel an Obama-era executive order known as DACA that allowed Dreamers to be protected from deportation.

The 13 Republicans who gathered on Thursday want to vote on a bill now.

“The reality is that these young people with DACA status are already being harmed today,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., noting that over 22,000 DACA recipients missed an October deadline to renew their status and could be fired from their jobs immediately. “Everyday that Congress fails to act, every time that Congress kicks this can down the road, people, real people, are hurt.”

The group, which included conservative Texas Rep. Joe Barton along with moderate Miami Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, wasn’t the typical cast of characters at an immigration news conference on Capitol Hill.

While Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo are well-versed on immigration issues and delivered their talking points in English and Spanish, other members at the news conference on Capitol Hill tripped up when reciting details about DACA recipients. Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Costello referred to DACA recipients as “those who were born here” before being corrected by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

The pro-Dreamer Republicans also included those who are trying to hold on to their seats in the face of well-funded Democratic challengers ahead of the 2018 elections. Issa ranks as the most vulnerable House incumbent in a recent analysis by Roll Call, while New York Rep. John Faso, who also spoke at the press conference, ranks third on Roll Call’s list.

But the Miami Republicans will need every possible Republican on board, even if their support is driven by political calculations, to convince Ryan to put a bill on the floor. Certain conservative Republican members are poised to vote against any proposal that expands immigration protections, but multiple Republicans at the press conference said that a legislative solution for Dreamers would easily garner over 300 votes in the 435 member House of Representatives.


Read more here.

November 08, 2017

Rubio: ‘Bureaucrats’ softened Trump Cuba policy

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@PatriciaMazzei

The night before the White House planned to announce new regulations restricting U.S. business and travel in Cuba, the biggest champions of President Donald Trump’s tighter policy — Miami’s Republican lawmakers in Congress — were in the dark.

Federal agencies writing the rules had gotten input from some of the legislators and their aides over the past five months, ever since Trump unveiled his new Cuba approach to much fanfare in East Little Havana. But Trump’s administration, wary of past leaks, kept close hold of the final product. News reporters knew a Wednesday morning announcement on the regulations was imminent before the members of Congress had even been briefed.

Once informed, the Miami politicians were dissatisfied.

Instead of offering unconditional applause, as they did when Trump signed his policy directive, Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen gave lukewarm statements lamenting that “bureaucrats” resisted giving muscular backing to the president.

“The regulatory changes announced today by Treasury and Commerce begin to implement President Trump’s June 2017 policy for enforcing U.S. sanctions laws against the Castro regime,” Rubio said in a statement. “Unfortunately, however, bureaucrats in the State Department who oppose the President’s Cuba policy refused to fully implement it when they omitted from the Cuba Restricted List several entities and sub-entities that are controlled by or act on behalf of the Cuban military, intelligence or security services.” 

Rubio weighed in nearly five hours after the regulations were published — a clear indication of displeasure from a senator known for his quick, detailed reactions to matters of Latin America policy he cares deeply about. He used his statement to criticize the State Department for failing to include two major tourism brands from the U.S. list of 180 Cuban entities banned from doing business with Americans.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff