February 05, 2015

Alcee Hastings calls Texas 'crazy.' Jon Stewart weighs in.

@PatriciaMazzei

"We're run by children," comedian Jon Stewart concluded Wednesday night when he gave The Daily Show treatment to a now-infamous exchange starring U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Miramar Democrat.

In case you weren't glued to C-SPAN's Monday night coverage of the House Rules Committee, the fireworks started when Texas Republican Rep. Michael Burgess said President Obama's administration "hid the ball" on the Affordable Care Act. The debate was over states like Texas and Florida choosing not to create their own insurance exchanges under Obamacare.

"Had the administration worked with the governors! Had the governors worked with the administration, we might not be in this position," Hastings responded. "I don't know about in your state, which I think is a crazy state to begin with -– and I mean that just as I said it."

("You're from Florida and you're calling Texas crazy?" Stewart said.)

Hastings was interrupted by the committee chairwoman's gavel. Burgess was insulted.

"The gentleman made a very defamatory statement about my state, and I will not stand here and listen to it," he said.

"Well, fine. Then you don't have to listen," Hastings fired back. "You can leave if you choose. I told you what I think about Texas. I wouldn't live there for all the tea in China. And that's how I feel."

He continued. But then Burgess got the floor back.

Burgess: "I'm used to attacks, invective being tossed my way. That's part and parcel of the territory. But there is no reason at all to impugn the people, the governor, of a state of this country, and I will await the gentleman's apology."

Hastings: "You will wait until hell freezes over for me to say anything in an apology. I would apologize to you if I was directing my comments to you..."

By Tuesday, all 25 members of Texas' congressional delegation had demanded an apology, and issued this statement, according to the Houston Chronicle: "Don't mess with Texas."

The relevant portion in the video below starts at about 4:35.

Rubio asks Obama to enforce Venezuela sanctions

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio wants President Obama to take full advantage of a new law that mandates the U.S. to freeze assets and restrict visas of people involved in human-rights violations in Venezuela.

Rubio, who may run for president, has highlighted his foreign-policy credentials at every turn, including earlier this week when he chaired the first congressional hearing on Obama's new policy thaw towards Cuba.

Obama signed the Venezuela law on Dec. 18. But Rubio says the administration hasn't fully implemented it, and the Florida Republican wants more action by Feb. 12, which marks one year since violent protests roiled the South American country.

"As the situation spirals out of control and there is a greater divide between the Venezuelan people's aspirations for democratic order and economic prosperity and [Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro’s government's determination to cling to power by whatever means necessary, the provisions in the Venezuelan Defense of Human Rights and Democracy Act give you powerful means to ensure persons involved in human rights violations in Venezuela pay a heavy price for their actions," Rubio wrote Thursday in a letter to Obama.

"While I support the decision by the Department of State to deny U.S. visas to an additional but undetermined number of human rights violators in Venezuela, I am deeply concerned about the lack of progress in imposing the more powerful financial sanctions mandated by this law."

January 30, 2015

The Hill: Debbie Wasserman Schultz cast House vote on Mario Diaz-Balart's behalf

@PatriciaMazzei

Voting for another member of Congress is technically a no-no.

But that's what Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat and the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, did this week for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, according to The Hill.

Diaz-Balart was wrapping up an interview with a reporter when Wasserman Schultz walked by.

“Deb, are you going in?” he asked before handing her his voting card. “Can you…” he said, trailing off as he handed her the card.

Wasserman Schultz, whose day job at the DNC means she's usually acting as the party's attack dog against Republicans, tilted her head quizzically and half-shrugged.

"Yeah, the opposite, the opposite," Diaz-Balart said with a laugh, asking her to vote as him in the opposite way as she was voting during a roll-call vote. 

Wasserman Schultz headed onto the House floor.

“He handed off his voting card to me, yes,” she told The Hill upon her return a minute later.

Members of Congress are collegial -- even across party lines -- and that's been especially true among Wasserman Schultz (in spite of her partisan role) and Cuban-American Republicans. When Democrats lined up to challenge Diaz-Balart, his brother Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2008, Wasserman Schultz took heat for sitting the races out, in deference to her colleagues.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, told The Hill he would "take care of that matter."

January 29, 2015

Carlos Curbelo backs immigration reform but could support House immigration lawsuit against Obama

@PatriciaMazzei

House Speaker John Boehner's move toward suing President Obama over his executive immigration action could put Miami Republican members of Congress in a tough spot. They generally support the policies pushed by the president but oppose how he went about them. So would they back a House lawsuit?

Maybe, freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.

Freshman Republican Carlos Curbelo of Florida, one of a handful of supporters of comprehensive immigration reform in the Republican caucus, told The Daily Beast that while he would have to see the lawsuit, that "if it's very specific in seeking to hold the Obama Administration for violating the Constitution, I could support it." In his opinion, it needed to be "a question of the Constitution not of the policy goals advanced through the actions." But, while Curbelo noted the lawsuit was not "unimportant," he was more concerned about "an ultimate solution…a series of bills that will address all of our immigration challenges."

However, Curbelo had strongly favored a lawsuit during his campaign last year. When a Spanish-language radio host asked in August if Obama should be impeached over his immigration action, Curbelo suggested suing instead.

"What they should do is sue him, as they have done in other cases, with Obamacare," Curbelo told a WAQI-AM (710) Radio Mambí host known as Lourdes D'Kendall. "If the president exceeds himself, exceeds his authority, they should take him to the Supreme Court. And I'm very sure -- I trust -- that the court won't let us down and will rule in favor of the Constitution. We cannot let this country be ruled by decree. 

"That would even be my position if it were a Republican president pushing a policy I agreed with," Curbelo continued. "We need to honor the Constitution and this country's institutions."

Listen to audio of that campaign interview here, in Spanish, after the two-minute mark.

Carlos Curbelo creates leadership PAC to benefit pro-immigration reform Republicans

@PatriciaMazzei

As a Republican representing Democrat-rich South Florida, Carlos Curbelo has no trouble supporting comprehensive immigration reform in Congress.

But that's a far more difficult position for some of his colleagues who fear conservative primary challengers to take.

So Curbelo has opened a new political action committee to raise money for those Republicans who might need some financial support for taking a moderate immigration tack. The committee, registered Jan. 14 with the Federal Election Commission, has been christened "What a Country!" (Yes, the initials come out to WAC PAC.)

"What a Country recognizes that the United States is the land of opportunity, where anyone who comes here and works hard and plays by the rules can get ahead," Curbelo told the Miami Herald. "It will support candidates who understand the importance of overhauling our nation's immigration laws to secure our borders, promote legal immigration and reward those who contribute to our economy."

He declined to name names, but Curbelo said potential beneficiaries could be Republicans who, like him, "voted against punishing people who were brought to this country as children and who are de facto Americans."

He was referring to a House vote earlier this month to end President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which granted legal status to immigrants who had been brought into the country illegally as children.

Curbelo was one of 26 Republicans to vote against the legislative amendment, along with Miami Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen gets assignments in new intelligence committee role

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was so visible in Miami as chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that it's easy to forget she no longer chairs the panel, as a result of House GOP term limits.

But the Miami Republican still has prime committee assignments. She remains the chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa. And on Wednesday, she received new subcommittee assignments in the powerful House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Ros-Lehtinen was appointed to subcommittees on the Department of Defense Intelligence and Overhead Architecture, and the NSA and Cybersecurity.

January 27, 2015

Freshman Miami congressman assigned to aviation, maritime transportation subcommittees

@PatriciaMazzei

Members of the new 114th Congress already know which committees they'll be serving on. But still up in the air, at least for some panels, was who would sit on which subcommittee they'll sit to consider legislation.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Miami's only freshman congressman, said Tuesday that he's been assigned to three Transportation & Infrastructure subcommittees of particular importance to South Florida: Aviation; Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management; and Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, where he was appointed vice-chairman.

"Our airports and seaports drive South Florida's economy and are of major significance to the country," Curbelo said in a statement. "These important subcommittee assignments will afford me the opportunity to work in a bipartisan manner to increase our area's economic potential by expanding our transportation and infrastructure capacity. This will mean more opportunities and a higher quality of life for Florida families."

In the Education and the Workforce committee, Curbelo has been assigned to two subcommittees: Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education; and Higher Education and Workforce Training.

January 21, 2015

Miami-Dade commission asks Congress to revise Cuban Adjustment Act

@PatriciaMazzei

The most unusual of votes about U.S.-Cuba policy took place Wednesday -- not in Washington or Havana, but in Miami.

After a wrought discussion, the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously agreed to ask Congress to revise the Cuban Adjustment Act, a 1966 federal law that allows Cubans, unlike any other foreigners, to apply for U.S. residency one year and one day after arriving.

As a local government, the commission has no foreign-policy authority. But as a legislative body in the home of the country's largest Cuban community, the vote represents a symbolic acknowledgment -- even from longtime hardliners -- that at least portions of U.S.-Cuba policy needs a fresh look.

"This is a good thing that has been misused in some cases, but it doesn't mean we have to throw it away," Commissioner Javier Souto, a Cuban-born Republican, said of the CAA. "We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater."

Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, the Republican son of Cuban immigrants who became U.S. residents thanks to the law, had proposed asking Congress to repeal it altogether -- a bold request that drew attention among Cuban exiles already on edge about President Obama's move to normalize relations with the island's communist regime.

Continue reading "Miami-Dade commission asks Congress to revise Cuban Adjustment Act" »

January 20, 2015

In Spanish, GOP rebuttal to State of the Union mentions Cuba -- but not in English

@PatriciaMazzei

Newly elected Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo was given the (generally thankless) task Tuesday of delivering the Republican Party's Spanish-language rebuttal to President Obama's State of the Union address. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst responded in English.

The two freshmen's remarks were mostly the same. They differed, as expected, on matters of biography: Ernst spoke about having a single pair of shoes growing up in Iowa winters, Curbelo said he grew up "in Miami, one of the country's most diverse cities."

But they also diverged on a more substantive matter: Curbelo mentioned Cuba, criticizing "unearned concessions" by the Obama administration to "cruel dictatorships" in Cuba and Iran. Ernst made a separate mention of Iran -- and didn't utter Cuba once.

Curbelo is Cuban-American, so it was not surprising that he would go after Obama on the subject. Obama himself devoted a paragraph of his speech to establishing closer ties with the island, and asked Congress explicitly to lift the trade embargo against Cuba.

What's perhaps more noteworthy is that Ernst said nothing on the subject, highlighting the rift within the GOP about whether rapprochement with Raúl Castro's communist regime is a good idea. Several Republicans -- Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio -- made a statement against Obama's actions by inviting Cuban dissidents and their families to the U.S. Capitol for the president's speech. But other Republicans, including from agricultural states in the heartland, have been much more open to normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations if it will benefit American business interests.

Ernst stayed out of it.

Another difference between the two speeches: Curbelo, an immigration-reform proponent, mentioned "modernizing legal immigration." Ernst didn't bring up immigration at all.

Curbelo also offered "condolences" to France in the wake of the terrorist attack there this month.

The differences are particularly noteworthy because the House GOP said when it announced its rebuttal speakers that Curbelo would offer a translation of Ernst's remarks. Curbelo said Tuesday afternoon that there would be differences, and Republicans changed their tune after Mother Jones reported earlier Tuesday that Ernst's positions -- particularly in support of English as the country's official language -- seemed in conflict with a Spanish-language rebuttal.

January 15, 2015

Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo will deliver Spanish-language GOP response to State of the Union

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo has been tapped by the Republican Party to deliver the Spanish-language response to President Obama's State of the Union address later this month.

The speech will be a translated version of the remarks new Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa will make in English, House Republicans said in a news release.

"Carlos Curbelo is a fresh voice with a positive vision for a future of opportunity and prosperity," Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. "He is exactly what Washington needs, and the person Americans should hear from in this time of challenge and opportunity for our country."

Curbelo, who defeated Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia in November, called the gig "a true privilege."

"As part of America's New Congress, I am excited to work with my colleagues to advance good solutions that will empower American families to achieve a better quality of life," Curbelo's statement said. "We must work together towards policies that will lead to a healthy economy that offers greater opportunity for all Americans –- especially those who feel left behind. And we should insist on a strong foreign policy that recognizes the need for American leadership in an increasingly dangerous world."