October 04, 2017

Curbelo backs banning 'bump stocks' after Las Vegas massacre

Las Vegas Shooting
@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo said Wednesday he would back a ban on "bump stocks," the devices the Las Vegas gunman used to get some of his semiautomatic weapons to fire as even more deadly automatic weapons.

"I definitely think we need to revisit the issue of gun safety," Curbelo told Miami's NPR affiliate, WLRN. "A question that I have started asking around here is, 'Why are these bump stocks legal?'"

Curbelo is one of several Republican lawmakers who have signaled since Sunday night's massacre that they would be open to some sort of gun-control legislation. Gunman Stephen Paddock killed 58 people attending a country music festival, shooting them from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Casino Resort.

Visiting Las Vegas on Wednesday, President Donald Trump called Paddock, whose motive is still unknown, "a very sick man, demented."

"People aren't suppose to have automatic weapons under the law," Curbelo said, adding that bump stocks present "a blatant circumvention of the law." "I believe this presents an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to finally come together to build consensus around common-sense gun policies."

Last year, Curbelo filed a version of so-called no-fly, no-buy legislation to keep guns out of the hands of people banned from flying, but it went nowhere. Las Vegas has renewed gun conversations on Capitol Hill, at least privately, according to the sophomore congressman.

"Right now the best candidate for a common denominator is to focus on these bump stock devices which are so deadly and so potent," Curbelo said.

On Wednesday, Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson sponsored legislation with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein banning bump stocks -- a proposal that faces long odds in the GOP-controlled Senate.

"I'm a hunter and have owned guns my whole life," Nelson said in a statement. "But these automatic weapons are not for hunting, they are for killing. And this commonsense bill would, at the very least, make it harder for someone to convert a semi-automatic rifle into what is essentially a fully-automatic machine gun."

Photo credit: Chris Carlos, Associated Press

Deutch, fellow Democrats urge Trump to re-certify Iran deal

@PatriciaMazzei

More than 160 Democrats in Congress asked President Donald Trump in a letter Wednesday to re-certify the Obama-era Iran nuclear agreement.

The Democrats, led by Reps. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and David Price of North Carolina, sent the letter after the White House suggested it might withhold certification of Iran's compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a deal announced in 2015. It was negotiated by the U.S., China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the European Union and Iran in an effort to keep Iran from producing nuclear weapons.

The U.S. must re-certify Iran's compliance every three months, unless the president gives Congress credible evidence of noncompliance -- which the Trump administration has not done.

Iran's compliance must be re-certified every three months.

"If President Trump decertifies Iranian compliance without clear evidence of Iranian violations, it will jeopardize this united front against Iran," Deutch said in a statement. "The JCPOA is an imperfect agreement, but to address the problematic provisions including the sunset clauses, we will need stay in lockstep with our global partners."

Read the letter here.

October 03, 2017

Diaz-Balart, Wasserman Schultz ask White House to request more hurricane funding

Irma debris 03 Ekm

@alextdaugherty 

South Florida Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, are asking Office of Budget and Management Director Mick Mulvaney to request more money for hurricane relief.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration spends millions every day for hurricane recovery after Harvey, Irma and Maria, and a group of lawmakers from Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico are warning the government could run out of money soon. Mulvaney runs the Cabinet agency tasked with overseeing President Donald Trump's budget. 

“While federal agencies, including FEMA and HUD, continue to assess the damage and the costs of restoration, we are increasingly concerned [current] funds could be expended more quickly than expected,” Diaz-Balart and Wasserman Schultz wrote to Mulvaney. “We are concerned the agencies responsible for the recovery could run out of funds in the near term and be forced to await Congressional action to continue their vital work. This could greatly slow their efforts as well as have a significant long-term impact on the recovery.” 

Diaz-Balart and Wasserman Schultz led the letter, which was also signed by Miami-area Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Frederica Wilson along with 34 other members of Congress. 

"As representatives of those districts that have been severely affected by the recent natural disasters, we urge the Office of Management and Budget to send Congress a request for additional supplemental appropriations, that includes funding for, but is not limited to, FEMA, SBA (Small Business Administration), and CDBG-DR (Community Development Block Grant), as soon as possible to address the urgent needs of our constituents," the letter said. 

Congress passed a $15.25 billion hurricane relief package in September after Hurricane Harvey and the funds can be used for relief in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. FEMA has enough money to function through mid-October, according to multiple members of Congress, giving lawmakers about two weeks to pass an additional funding bill. 

House passes bill limiting loans to Nicaragua sponsored by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty 

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that limits U.S. loans to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's government until the longtime president implements democratic reforms in the Central American country. 

"Our bill is aimed at leveraging America’s influence and conditioning our vote at any of the international financial institutions for Nicaragua until the leadership in that country takes significant steps to restore democratic order," said Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on the House floor. "These conditions are similar to what this Congress has already passed for the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador." 

Ros-Lehtinen is the sponsor of the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act along with New Jersey Democratic Rep. Albio Sires. Their bill passed the House by a voice vote, meaning there was not significant opposition to the proposal. The bill passed out of the House Foreign Relations Committee in July. 

Ros-Lehtinen and Sires introduced and passed similar legislation last year, but the Senate did not act on it. 

Texas Democratic Rep. Vicente González was the only member who opposed Ros-Lehtinen's bill during floor debate. 

"Enacting this bill could have serious consequences in the region," González said. "My district was ground zero for the last immigration surge and I would like to prevent this from happening again. How can we in good conscious support a measure that would publish the poorest country in Central America?" 

Ros-Lehtinen and Sires argued that their bill would only target loans that enrich Ortega and the Nicaraguan government. U.S loans that promote humanitarian assistance will still be allowed. 

Ros-Lehtinen also said her bill would punish Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who relies on Ortega as an ally.

"If Venezuela’s Maduro is using Nicaragua in order to evade U.S. sanctions, we need to take a closer look at these ties, and hold people accountable," Ros-Lehtinen said. "And that is what this bill does Mr. Speaker – it holds the Nicaraguan government accountable just like we have done with other countries in Central America, so that it can truly help the people." 

 

Miami politicians received donations from the National Rifle Association in 2016

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty 

Three of the four Republicans who represent Miami-Dade County in Washington received at least $2,000 from the National Rifle Association during the 2016 campaign, according to campaign finance records from the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Sen. Marco Rubio, who was in the midst of a reelection campaign against former Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, received $9,900 during the 2016 campaign. That total was the largest amount the NRA gave to any Florida lawmaker in Congress. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who won an expensive reelection bid against former Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, received $2,500 while Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart received $2,000.

Diaz-Balart is also the single largest recipient of NRA cash among Floridians in Congress since 1998, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. Diaz-Balart has received $26,450, according to the Post. 

The National Rifle Association is facing pressure from Democrats and anti-gun activists in the wake of a mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 people dead and over 500 people injured after a lone gunman fired on an outdoor concert from a high-rise hotel.

An NRA-backed bill that would make it easier to obtain gun silencers is facing fresh opposition after law enforcement officers in Las Vegas said that tracking the sounds of the shooting allowed them to find the gunman faster. None of the Miami lawmakers are cosponsors on that bill. 

Critics of the nation's largest gun lobby argue that the NRA blocks sensible measures in Congress that would reduce the chances of a mass shooting. In the 2016 cycle, the NRA contributed $839,215 to federal candidates nationwide and the Post reports that the NRA gave over $3.5 million to members of Congress since 1998. 

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Representatives for Rubio, Curbelo and Diaz-Balart's campaigns did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

October 02, 2017

Bloomberg-backed immigration group rallies Florida support for GOP version of Dream Act

@PatriciaMazzei

A pro-immigration reform created by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and media mogul Rupert Murdoch is rallying Florida support for Republican legislation to grant citizenship to young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children.

New American Economy won endorsements for the "Succeed Act" from state Sen. René García of Hialeah and several business groups, including the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The legislation, billed as a conservative Dream Act, was introduced in Congress last week by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina. It is a companion to a House bill dubbed the "Recognize America's Children Act" filed earlier this year Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo. They are intended to help beneficiaries of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, that protected them from deportation and is being phased out by the Trump administration.

"Dreamers represent the best and brightest of the American dream," García said in a statement. "I'm encouraged to see Congress recognize the need to address the future of DACA recipients this year, and I hope to work together with Congressman Curbelo and the Florida Congressional delegation to produce a meaningful economic solution."

Also supporting the Succeed and RAC acts were Julio Fuentes, president and chief executive of the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Carlos Carrillo, executive director of Associated General Contractors of South Florida; Ed Moore, president of Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida; and Peter A. Wish, commissioner of the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority.

Coral Gables healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez, whose own fund offers legal aid to immigrants facing deportation, also signed on later Monday.

"Congress has a dynamic opportunity in front of them to reverse the uncertainty following the decision to end DACA, and create a movement that truly celebrates the spirit of immigrants to move our economic potential forward," he said in a statement.

New American Economy estimates more than 46,000 Floridians are eligible for DACA.

This post has been updated.

September 28, 2017

Lawmakers urge Trump to let U.S. companies assist in Cuba's hurricane recovery (updated)

Cuba Hurricane Irma

@alextdaugherty 

A group of lawmakers who want more trade with Cuba are urging President Donald Trump to suspend an Obama-era restriction on what types of relief and reconstruction supplies can be sent to the island from the United States after Hurricane Irma made landfall on Cuba's north coast as a Category Five storm. 

On Thursday, 65 lawmakers, including 60 Democrats and five Republicans, signed a letter to Trump asking him to let U.S. businesses send construction supplies to Cuba without approval from the Treasury and Commerce Departments. 

"Historical grievances should be put aside during a humanitarian crisis like this, the people of Cuba need urgent support to rebuild," the letter said. "Fortunately, there is a simple change you can make that would provide necessary support to the Cuban people while at the same time helping U.S. businesses: remove restrictions on the ability of U.S. companies to export needed relief and reconstruction supplies to the Cuban government and its people." 

The plan only applies to private U.S. companies that want to provide construction materials and other forms of relief to the Cuban government and citizens. It does not ask the U.S. government to provide taxpayer funds for Cuba's recovery from Irma. 

Current regulations allow pre-approved sales of construction materials to private entities in Cuba serving privately-owned buildings. Public structures in Cuba, including schools and hospitals, are not eligible for U.S. materials to rebuild after a storm. 

"At the end of the day America is a very big economy, we’re capable of selling building supply products to Cuba and working on aid packages in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico at the same time," said James Williams, head of Engage Cuba, a group that lobbies for closer Cuba ties. "It would be different if we were saying pull money out of one pocket and put it into another." 

The Cuban government hasn't reached out to U.S. officials asking for relief after Hurricane Irma. Southcom Commander Adm. Kurt Tidd said in a briefing last week at that Cuban officials did not ask U.S. military personnel in Guantanamo Bay for help after the storm. 

“The Cubans do not ask for assistance there typically," Kenneth Merten, deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs at the State Department, said last week. "I’m hard pressed to remember if the Cubans have ever asked us for assistance after a hurricane or some kind of natural disaster." 

The letter was led by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., one of the more liberal members of Congress. But conservatives who want to end the embargo like Reps. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Ted Poe of Texas also signed the letter. 

"At this difficult time for the Cuban people, denying them the ability to purchase high-quality, American-made construction, medical and other crucial supplies is cruel and counterproductive," the letter said. "This change would not be controversial." 

Hurricane Irma killed at least 10 people in Cuba and caused billions in damage along the island's north coast.

Update 7:41pm Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the longest-serving Cuban-American in Congress, sharply criticized the letter in a statement to the Miami Herald.

"In the aftermath of previous hurricanes that have ripped through Cuba, the Castro regime has responded to the suffering of the people in a feckless and callous manner, as demonstrated by its refusal to accept assistance that comes from the U.S.," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Because they are blinded by ideology, some Members foolishly believe that US regulations are responsible for the destruction of Cuba's infrastructure and are hampering the island's recovery. The regime cares little about the citizens before, during and after hurricanes but it does care deeply about spreading its lies about our warm and generous nation."

Update 11:20pm Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who helped draft Trump's tougher Cuba policy earlier this year, is also against the proposal. 

"When the United States generously offered humanitarian aid in the wake of hurricanes Ike and Gustav, the Castro regime flatly rejected that offer," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "Instead, it cynically attempted to leverage the devastation to demand financing that would bolster its coffers. I wholeheartedly support humanitarian and pro-democracy assistance to the Cuban people.   But as the regime has demonstrated for more than half a century, business deals with the regime only benefit the regime."

September 27, 2017

José Javier Rodríguez endorsed by Congressional Hispanic Caucus

007 Amendment 4 DS

@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, one of seven Democrats seeking to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was recently endorsed by the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a potential source of campaign cash in a crowded primary field. 

Rodriguez is one of three Democrats nationwide to get CHC's endorsement for the 2018 election cycle. CHC's political arm, chaired by California Rep. Tony Cardenas, has also endorsed a Senate candidate in Nevada and a House candidate in Texas.

During the 2016 cycle, the group raised just over $6 million and between January and March of this year the group raised more than $2 million.

"José Javier has proven he can win tough races," Cardenas said in a fundraising email that will go out to Rodriguez supporters tomorrow. "We need him in Congress to expand access to health care and stand up to Donald Trump in support of a fairer and more inclusive America." 

Six others are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell is also mulling a run.

Bob Menendez says White House blocked a planned trip to Puerto Rico with Marco Rubio

Menendez_Trial_The_Evidence_81383

@alextdaugherty 

A New Jersey Democrat is not happy that the Trump administration is reportedly barring lawmaker travel to Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Maria. 

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that at least 10 lawmakers were hoping to go to Puerto Rico aboard military aircraft over the weekend on a trip organized by Sen. Bob Menendez, but they were stopped by the White House and Pentagon. The administration officials said lawmaker travel at this time would impede relief efforts, according to the Post. 

After the Post piece was published, Menendez said on Twitter that he was planning to travel with Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of only a handful of lawmakers who have visited Puerto Rico since the storm hit. 

"Over a dozen members of Congress say they’d join Marco Rubio & I to head to Puerto Rico to assess disaster response," Menendez tweeted. "Restricting us doesn’t serve millions in NJ & across U.S. waiting to get a hold of their families. These are Americans who need our help. We will not back down!" 

After visiting Puerto Rico and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Monday, Rubio met with Vice President Mike Pence and other top FEMA officials on Tuesday to relay his concerns about the humanitarian situation throughout the territory.  

“I'm concerned about human suffering and potential loss of life if aid doesn't reach the places it needs to reach quickly enough,” Rubio said. “I hope that we don't see Katrina-like images.”

President Donald Trump announced plans to visit Puerto Rico next Tuesday, and he said that was the earliest possible day he could visit without hampering relief efforts. The Post reported that lawmakers have been barred from traveling on military planes to Puerto Rico since Monday evening. 

Menendez's office confirmed that the New Jersey senator was working with Republicans to organize a trip. 

"I can confirm that Senator Menendez is the lead member organizing a bipartisan CODEL to Puerto Rico with several members," Menendez spokesman Juan Pachon said in an email. "Our office is now trying to figure out alternatives to make this happen as the situation on the island is extremely dire." 

Rubio acknowledged the logistical constraints of travel to the island in a Facebook video on Wednesday. 

“I tried to get there Friday last week and it wasn’t possible for a lot of reasons," Rubio said. "I want people to understand, when you think about some of these trips, you have an airport, and the airport can only take X number of flights a day, and so if I get on an airplane and fly in there, that’s one less flight that can land with food or medicine or personnel, and so we didn’t want to be in the way.”

Planes can only land once every 15 minutes in San Juan according to Rubio, and the lack of flights is an obstacle for getting aid into the territory. Rubio's office sent four staffers to the island on Wednesday to assist with recovery efforts.

Menendez and Rubio are the leading members of the Senate subcommittee that oversees Western Hemisphere affairs. Menendez is currently on trial for corruption in New Jersey. 

One lawmaker, Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, plans to travel to Puerto Rico this weekend. But he is traveling on a commercial flight and not a military plane, according to the Post. 

"I hope to return to Puerto Rico here in the next couple days if possible with some of my colleagues to begin what we can do to kind of break down barriers and help deliver aid,” Rubio said. 

September 26, 2017

Democrats beg Trump to appoint a general in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

20MariaPuertoRico921_CPJ

@alextdaugherty

Donald Trump’s tweets usually invoke silence, sarcasm or support from lawmakers, but something very different happened on Tuesday.

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a New York Democrat and one of the longest-serving Puerto Ricans in Congress, nearly broke down in tears as she responded to Trump’s tweet that Puerto Rico was in “deep trouble” and burdened with debt after Hurricane Maria.

 

 

 

After 11 seconds of silence, during which Velázquez was consoled by Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York, she tore into the president’s first series of tweets on Puerto Rico that came after Trump spent days blasting the National Football League.

“I feel offended and insulted to see a type of tweet from the president blaming the people of Puerto Rico for a natural disaster and then the public debt,” Velázquez said. “We are better than that and I expect more from our president. Right now this is a matter of life and death.”

Democrats on Tuesday had a clear message for the Trump administration nearly one week after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands: Appoint a general and send in the troops.

“We’re looking for a more robust response,” said Democratic Caucus chairman Rep. Joe Crowley. “We need a general to be put in place. We know that (former Homeland Security) secretary (John) Kelly knows these islands like no one else. He understands the structure of them, he knows how to get equipment into them. But we need to see that overwhelming response.”

Crowley and other Democrats aren’t pleased with the White House’s response to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands so far, citing logistical snafus like a medical ship intended for Puerto Rico that is still docked in Norfolk, Virginia.

“Unfortunately, what we‘ve seen from the White House over the weekend has been a diversion, a distraction to nonsensical issues,” Crowley said.

Clarke cautioned that Hurricanes Maria and Irma could be Trump’s Hurricane Katrina, a reference to the 2005 storm that killed hundreds in Louisiana after the federal government botched relief efforts.

“I recognize and recall with horror what happened with Hurricane Katrina,” Clarke said. “This is Katrina times six and we have got to really make sure the U.S. government uses everything at its disposal to move into that region and begin to employ life-saving measures.”

The need for military intervention in the U.S. territories is particularly important according to Clarke because there were six major islands that were devastated by the two hurricanes, meaning an insufficient federal response will lead to six Katrina-like situations.

“That means that each island has been decimated,” Clarke said. “People speak of Puerto Rico and they speak of the main island but there are two other islands. Likewise, with the Virgin Islands you have St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.”

Read more here.