March 11, 2015

Marco Rubio, John Kerry spar over Iran

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had a pointed exchange Wednesday with Secretary of State John Kerry in a Senate hearing that was supposed to be about U.S. military action against ISIS but instead turned into a discussion about ongoing nuclear talks with Iran, which have become a political lightning rod in the early 2016 presidential campaign.

Rubio, like other likely Republican candidates, has taken a hard line on the negotiations. He was one of 47 GOP senators to sign an "open letter" to Iran warning that any potential deal struck by the Obama administration might not be supported by the GOP-controlled Congress. The letter caused a political firestorm and diplomatic uproar. Senate historians have found little precedent for such a move. 

But Rubio used his support of the letter as a fundraising opportunity.

That was after Wednesday's hearing, in which Rubio's first question to Kerry was this: 

"I believe that much of our strategy with regards to ISIS is being driven by a desire not to upset Iran so that they don't walk away from the negotiating table on the deal that you're working on," he said. "Tell me why I'm wrong."

"Because the facts completely contradict that," said Kerry, before adding that he couldn't elaborate because details about the talks should remain secret.

The back-and-forth continued for about five minutes, with Rubio later saying Sunni countries in the Middle East that are U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia, are worried about the potential Iran deal.

"Is it not right that they feel that we've kept them in the dark about our negotiations with Iran and that in essence the way we've proceeded with our negotiations with Iran have impacted our trust level with these critical allies in this coalition?" the Florida Republican said. "Is that not accurate?"

"Senator, that actually is flat wrong also," Kerry responded. "Flat wrong." 

In the video below, posted on YouTube by Rubio's office, the exchange begins around the 1:20 mark.

 

March 10, 2015

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson at odds over GOP senators' letter to Iran

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was one of 47 Republican senators who signed an "open letter" to Iran on Monday warning that any nuclear-power deal reached with the Obama administration wouldn't last.

The U.S. government is still negotiating with Tehran over a potential agreement. he three top potential GOP presidential contenders in the Senate -- Rubio and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky -- all signed the letter, which critics decried the one-page letter as improper, partisan interference by the Senate.

Among them was Rubio's Florida counterpart, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who said on the Senate floor Tuesday that the letter was an effort to "try to cut the legs off from underneath the president and his administration in trying to reach an agreement to avert a nuclear bomb."

Here's the video of Nelson's speech:

 

March 09, 2015

In trial, Florida congressman to argue estranged wife committed bigamy

From the Associated Press:

An outspoken liberal congressman from Florida will argue in court Monday that his 24-year marriage should be annulled because his estranged wife committed bigamy, the opening salvo in an acrimonious divorce case a judge likened to an episode of the TV series "House of Cards."

Rep. Alan Grayson says his wife, Lolita, was still married to Robert Carson when she and the multimillionaire congressman married in 1990 in Virginia. Grayson, a Democrat and highly successful trial lawyer, said the marriage to Carson wasn't dissolved until 1994 in Broward County, Florida.

But Lolita Grayson says she divorced Carson in Guam in 1981, and she disputes that she was divorced in Broward County. She also said she isn't the "Lolita B. Carson" cited in a dissolution of marriage final judgment that Alan Grayson, 56, says is proof that she was still married to Carson when they wed. Neither side has found Carson.

More here.

March 06, 2015

CNN: Bob Menendez faces federal corruption charges

From CNN:

The Justice Department is preparing to bring criminal corruption charges against New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat, alleging he used his Senate office to push the business interests of a Democratic donor and friend in exchange for gifts.

[...]

The government's case centers on Menendez's relationship with Salomon Melgen, a Florida ophthalmologist who the senator has called a friend and political supporter. Melgen and his family have been generous donors to the senator and various committees the senator is associated with.

More here.

March 03, 2015

Marco Rubio to unveil tax-reform plan written with Utah senator

via @CAdamsMcClatchy

Sen. Marco Rubio is teaming up with another conservative senator to release a tax overhaul bill that would reduce the number of tax brackets for individuals and drop corporate tax rates, all in an attempt to boost economic growth.

While details of the proposal by Rubio, R-Fla., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, won’t be released until Wednesday morning, information on the proposal has trickled out over recent days.

Rubio and Lee outlined the general principles in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last September, writing that “the current tax code taxes too much, taxes unfairly and conspires with our outmoded welfare system to trap poor families in poverty, rather than facilitate their climb into the middle class. Our reforms seek to simplify the structure and lower rates.”

The proposal has a slim chance of becoming law, experts say, as Democrats would be likely to block tax-law changes in the Republican-controlled Senate.

More here.

February 25, 2015

Obama, immigration and the politics of snagging a seat on Air Force One

@PatriciaMazzei

After the November election, where Democrats lost badly to Republicans across the country, the Obama administration said it would make an effort to reach out to more members of the GOP in Congress. Part of that outreach was supposed to include bringing them along for rides on Air Force One.

Yet that's not what Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo found this week when he asked the White House if he could hitch a ride on the presidential airplane to Miami for a town hall-style immigration meeting to be held in his swing district. Invited only two days before the event, and unwilling to take an early-morning commercial flight that would make him miss House votes, Curbelo was denied a seat on the plane and didn't attend. (In the end, House votes didn't begin until the early afternoon.)

"In this case, we were unable to accommodate the congressman's request, but we typically try to do so when we can," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Miami. When asked if there was no space for Curbelo, as the congressman said he was told, Earnest said he wasn't "exactly sure."

"When the president travels outside of Washington, it's not uncommon at all for us to invite a member of Congress from the congressional district where the president is appearing," Earnest said. "And we do that, whether or not it's a Democrat or a Republican who's participating -- or who represents that district in Congress." 

Miami's two other Republicans in Congress didn't attend, either, though all support an immigration overhaul.

Continue reading "Obama, immigration and the politics of snagging a seat on Air Force One" »

February 24, 2015

Florida lawmakers weigh in on VA secretary’s false special forces claim

@CAdamsMcClatchy

The Florida lawmakers who lead the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee weighed in Tuesday on the nation’s top veterans’ official for his statement inflating his military service.

The Republican who chairs the committee, Jeff Miller of the Pensacola area, said he was “disappointed” in the claim by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald that he served in the special forces.

The top Democrat on the committee, Corrine Brown, whose district runs from Orlando to Jacksonville, said, “I am confident that his statement was not intended to mislead.”

The two top veterans committee officials were responding to a statement by McDonald, who took over the scandal-ridden VA last year, that he had served in the special forces, among the most elite and prestigious military units.

McDonald’s comment to a man in Los Angeles was captured by CBS News for a story on the VA’s efforts to eradicate veteran homelessness. “Special forces? What years? I was in special forces!” McDonald said. The comment was originally flagged by The Huffington Post.

McDonald, a former chief executive of Procter & Gamble, is an Army veteran and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was not, however, a member of special forces units, which he has since acknowledged.

He has apologized for his comment and was scheduled to speak with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Miller, the Republican veterans committee chair, said in a statement: “I’m disappointed in Secretary McDonald’s comments. After a rough couple of weeks that also included inflated claims of accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs, I hope Secretary McDonald will redouble his efforts to ensure his statements – and those of all VA officials – are completely accurate.”

Brown, the Democrat, said: “The secretary gave an appropriate apology following his misstatement, which demonstrates his commitment to accountability. I am confident that his statement was not intended to mislead… Clearly, Secretary McDonald’s military service and dedication to our nation should not be ignored.”

February 12, 2015

Alcee Hastings' Pants on Fire claim about shooting bears

Crazy ol’ Texas, a Democratic congressman from Florida said and reaffirmed last week, initially noting the Republican-led Lone Star state left it to the federal government to set up its online marketplace for residents to shop for health insurance in keeping with the Obamacare law.

How crazy? There’s a Texas law, said Rep. Alcee Hastings, who represents a South Florida district, restricting the number of dildos a person may buy; Mostly False, PolitiFact Florida found.

In an interview with CNN, Hastings also let loose that there's a Texas law "that you can't shoot bears out of the second floor of a window." We spotted  the bear comment in CNN’s Feb. 5, 2015, news story; it came from the network’s telephone interview of Hastings.

Whoa (or whatever it is Floridians holler when they’re riding their gators). Turn to PolitiFact Texas for the rest of this fact-check.

February 11, 2015

Both Florida senators back Obama war authorization against ISIS

@PatriciaMazzei

President Obama formally asked Congress Wednesday to authorize the use of military force against the Islamic State, a group also known as ISIS or ISIL. Though U.S. airstrikes have gone after the group since last summer, congressional approval would bolster the administration's legal war authority.

Both Florida senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, support Obama's request. 

"Any group barbaric enough to behead and burn innocent people and bring about the death of a humanitarian worker deserves to be crushed," Nelson said in a statement Wednesday morning, referring to the recently confirmed death of Kayla Mueller of Arizona.

Nelson is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who last year filed legislation that would have authorized airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. He noted Wednesday that Obama's request has some similarities to Nelson's proposal. Obama didn't rule out ground troops, though he said they would be used in "limited circumstances." His request would expire in three years.

Rubio said on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon that he would back even broader authorization, without limiting the president's time frame or tactics, which the senator said would be unwise given changing ground conditions. Rubio has burnished his foreign-policy credentials in the Senate, a likely campaign plank for him if he ends up running for president.

"There is a simple authorization Obama should ask for. One sentence: We authorize the president to defeat ISIL. Period," Rubio said. More than once, he noted authorization would also extend to the next president.

Rubio called it "good news" that Obama had asked Congress for approval, though he said it was belated. "I wish we had taken this group on earlier," he said.

Republicans, Democrats already jostling over FL-26

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami's perennial swing congressional district is in the sights of both political parties, 21 months before U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo -- who was elected for the first time three months ago -- faces reelection.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has included Florida's 26th district, which extends from Westchester to Key West, on its list of "One-Term Wonders" (so is Tampa-area Republican Rep. David Jolly). The party has created a website listing 15 GOP freshmen, including Curbelo, Democrats intend to target next year, when a presidential electorate tends to bring more liberal-leaning voters to the polls. Curbelo hasn't drawn an opponent yet.

But that has mattered little to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which last month jumped at the chance to poke Annette Taddeo, the former Florida lieutenant governor candidate who was spotted meeting with DCCC recruiters in Washington D.C. "Back to the Future IV," the party called it.

Taddeo told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that she's still in "very serious conversations" with the DCCC.

"Haven't made a decision yet," she said. "I can tell you I'm not running for [Miami-Dade County] mayor."

Taddeo said she will be back in D.C. next week for a Democratic National Committee event.