March 29, 2016

Miami Beach state rep hosts fundraiser for congressional candidate


A gaggle of Miami Beach Democrats plan a fundraiser for Annette Taddeo, who is running to try to challenge Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo. The "special guest" at the event is state Rep. David Richardson.

Here's the invitation:

Continue reading "Miami Beach state rep hosts fundraiser for congressional candidate" »

March 28, 2016

President Barack Obama endorses Debbie Wasserman Schultz


President Barack Obama has endorsed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz who faces a rare primary challenge for her Broward/Miami-Dade congressional district.

It's no surprise that Obama endorsed his Democratic National Committee chair since 2011 -- but it shows that she is facing a challenge worth paying attention to from Nova Southeastern University professor Tim Canova.

Wasserman Schultz, who lives in Weston, was first elected to Congress in 2004 and since that time has not faced a primary challenge. She has easily beat GOP challengers by landslides in one of the most left-leaning districts in South Florida. Canova's campaign resembles the presidential candidate he supports: Bernie Sanders. Canova emphasizes issues such as campaign finance reform and income inequality and has attacked Wasserman Schultz's positions on issues such as opposing the medical marijuana ballot initiative in Florida in 2014.

Canova faces an uphill battle against Wasserman Schultz who has already raised about $1.1 million toward her re-election. Canova recently tweeted that he had received donations from more than 20,000 individuals but we won't know the total dollar amount until his first fundraising report is due April 15.

Canova has support from some progressives in the party, has been endorsed by the Communications Workers of America and National Nurses United and has drawn national media attention. Last week, the Florida Democratic Party agreed to give him access to the voter data file after initially refusing to provide it. The party has not shared that data with primary Congressional challengers in recent years but after Canova waged a campaign for it on social media and in person at a Broward Democratic dinner the party reversed its position -- but only for him.

From Wasserman Schultz's press release here is Obama's statement: 

"Debbie has been a strong, progressive leader in Congress and a hardworking, committed Chair of our national Party since I proudly nominated her to the role in 2011. She always stands up and fights for what is right for her district while passionately supporting middle class families. Throughout my time as President I have seen Debbie bring an unwavering commitment to her family, her constituents, and our shared goals of protecting seniors, supporting working families, and expanding economic opportunity for more people. I strongly endorse her reelection to Congress and look forward to her future service on behalf of the people of South Florida."

Wasserman Schultz has sided with Obama on most issues but she didn't embrace his trip to Cuba.

When asked before the Democratic debate in Miami last month about Obama's trip to Cuba she said she had no interest in visiting the island: "not until they make more human rights progress."


March 24, 2016

Progressives blast Florida Democratic Party on behalf of Wasserman Schultz's challenger



A dispute over access to voter data in a South Florida congressional race is highlighting a divide between the Florida Democratic Party and its progressive caucus.

For the second time this month, leaders of the progressive caucus are openly criticizing their party leaders, this time on behalf of Debbie Wasserman Schultz's primary opponent.

But the caucus' complaints were immediately rendered moot, though, because -- unbeknownst to them and independent of their grievances -- Florida Democratic Party leaders already agreed to make a special exception that addresses critics' concerns.

The controversy stems from a decision by party leaders earlier this month to deny Wasserman Schultz's challenger, Democrat Tim Canova, access to its voter database.

In an "open letter" sent Wednesday and provided to the Herald/Times, the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida asked Wasserman Schultz -- a Weston congresswoman and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee -- to intervene to ensure her challenger has a fair shot in the primary race.

Party voter files are a treasure trove of data and information that campaigns collect, curate and share between their state and national political parties, and they're especially valuable to political newcomers -- if they can get access to them.

It's been the policy of the Florida Democratic Party for the past six years to withhold access to candidates challenging incumbent Democratic members of Congress.

But the party has changed its mind this week -- in this single instance -- and will now give Canova access to the voter file "to avoid any appearance of favoritism," Scott Arceneaux, the state party's executive director, told the Herald/Times on Thursday.

"This is a truly unique set of circumstances where we have an incumbent member of our delegation who's also our DNC chair," Arceneaux said.

Continue reading "Progressives blast Florida Democratic Party on behalf of Wasserman Schultz's challenger" »

March 23, 2016

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown under investigation by House Ethics Committee

via @learyreports

The House Ethics Committee today said it has opened an investigation into Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville.

A letter released Wednesday states that the investigation includes “allegations that she engaged in improper conduct relating to certain outside organizations, including allegations that  she may have conspired with other persons in connection with fraudulent activity, improperly solicited charitable donations, used campaign funds for personal purposes, used official resources for impermissible non-official purposes, failed to comply with tax laws and made false statements, and/or failed to make required disclosures, to the House of Representatives and Federal Election Commission."

Read the notice here.

Federal investigators issued a subpoena to Brown in January and earlier this month the head of an organization tied to Brown pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

March 21, 2016

Matt Gaetz launches bid for Congress, handing father's state Senate seat to George Gainer



State Rep. Matt Gaetz is forgoing his bid to replace his father in the Florida Senate and is, instead, now running for U.S. Congress.

Gaetz announced his congressional campaign this morning with a 30-second Facebook video and a rebranded, with the slogan: "Fight Washington, Restore America."

"It isn’t too late for America to get back on track," Gaetz says on his website. "We’ve taken some hits with Obamacare, the Iran deal, and illegal executive actions, but I know we can reverse those decisions and get real solutions. I will work hard to bring back the conservative principles this country was founded on, and I won’t stop working until it happens."

The Fort Walton Beach Republican is seeking Jeff Miller's seat to represent Florida's 1st Congressional District, which includes the western Panhandle. Miller isn't seeking re-election.

Gaetz registered his campaign with the Federal Election Commission on Sunday, so he can begin fundraising immediately.

I'm running...

#FightWashington #RestoreAmerica

Posted by Representative Matt Gaetz on Monday, March 21, 2016


Gaetz, a commercial litigator, has been a staunch conservative in the state House in the past six years. During the 2016 session, he was involved in some of the most contentious and high-profile issues the Legislature discussed, such as medical marijuana, tax cuts, fantasy sports, Uber regulations, and advocating for the open-carrying of handguns in Florida.

Gaetz had been in a hotly contested primary race against Bay County Commissioner George Broward Gainer to fill Don Gaetz's seat in the state Senate next year. Matt Gaetz and Gainer combined had raised over $1.6 million in that race. (Don Gaetz is term-limited.)

Matt Gaetz's departure from the Senate contest all-but hands the Republican-heavy seat to Gainer. In the 2012 presidential race, Mitt Romney took the district with 74 percent of the vote.

The congressional contest should be an easier battle for Gaetz, but he still might face stiff competition. As of Friday, current state Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, had also been weighing a run for Miller's seat.

"While I planned to continue serving in the Florida Legislature, the fights we must win to save this country are in Washington," Gaetz said in a statement announcing his campaign. "When Donald Trump is president, Northwest Florida’s voice in Congress must ring loud and clear for bold, conservative reform. Mine will."

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

March 18, 2016

South Florida Republicans break with GOP in deportation vote


Only five Republican lawmakers stood up to their party leader in voting against allowing House Speaker Paul Ryan to file an amicus brief opposing President Barack Obama's decision to withhold deportation for more than 5 million undocumented immigrants.

All three Cuban-American representatives from South Florida -- Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo -- were among the five Republicans who voted against a resolution that the House passed Thursday almost entirely along party lines.

The Supreme Court next month will hear a case brought by Texas, joined by Florida and 24 other states, arguing that Obama's bid to shield about 5.2 million illegal aliens from deportation imposes unaffordable health-care, education, law-enforcement and other costs on them.

Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who replaced Ohioan John Boehner as speaker in October, acknowledged that House intervention in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court was unprecedented, but he insisted it was necessary to prevent executive overreach by Obama.

With no Democrats voting for the bill, Ryan and other Republicans said Obama's executive orders dating to 2012 amount to the president legislating immigration reform without going through Congress.

"I recognize that this is a very extraordinary step," Ryan said on the House floor. "I feel it is very necessary, though. In fact, I believe this is vital."

In a joint statement Friday, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart said that although individual members of Congress have the right to file briefs supporting court cases, the House as a whole should not do so.

"All amicus briefs should carry the same weight, and beginning this pattern may signal to the Supreme Court that Congress is prioritizing certain cases over others," the two Miami Republicans said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a first-term Republican from Kendall, went further. He accused Republicans of playing politics with the important issue of immigration.

"For two long, both parties have preferred to score petty political points using the immigration issue rather than passing meaningful reform to secure the border, reform our visa system and find a fair solution for the undocumented," Curbelo said.

"The surest and most constitutionally solvent way to end the president's executive overreach is to pass meaningful immigration reform, not by employing empty tactics that ignore the root cause of the problem," he said.

The two other Republicans who voted against the House resolution were Reps. Richard Hanna of New York and Robert Dold of Illinois. Rep. Alex Mooney, a West Virginia Republican and one of five other Cuban-Americans in Congress, voted for the measure, which passed by a 234-186 margin.

Among Florida's 24 other U.S. House members, 22 voted along party lines, with Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel and Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan failing to vote.

Nine other Florida Democrats voted against the measure, among them Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the states, most recently the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.

With only eight justices on the Supreme Court since Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month, a 4-4 decision after the scheduled April 18 arguments would uphold the lower courts' rulings and overturn Obama's executive orders protecting millions of undocumented parents and their children from deportation.

Obama on Wednesday chose Merrick Garland, a former federal prosecutor and current judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to replace Scalia on the high court, but Senate Republican leaders are refusing to take a vote or even hold hearings on the nomination, saying Obama has only 10 months left in office.

Immigration has become perhaps the most divisive issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, ridiculed Republican lawmakers, many of whom he said have disingenuously tried to distance themselves from Trump's hardline stance on immigration.

"They keep saying, 'Well, Trump doesn't represent us, he doesn't (represent) our views, he doesn't represent our values,' and now they want to know where Trump gets all of his anti-immigrant, xenophobic views from," Gutierrez told reporters. "Try the House of Republicans."

In a speech Friday on the House floor, Gutierrez accused his Republican colleagues of "stoking anti-immigrant fears and mass-deportation fantasies."

"The vote is a political stunt disguised as a legal brief because the Republican majority sees a crass political opportunity to stand with the anti-immigration wing of their party," he said.  

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and 60 individual business leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, filed an amicus brief supporting Obama last week.

Before the vote Thursday, Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said "the Latino community is being used for political purposes."

Sanchez added: "We are being demonized, we are being marginalized, and we see a frightening level of hateful rhetoric and vile hate speech aimed at our community, and nobody is standing up within the Republican Party to say that this is unacceptable."

America's Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group, said the vote Thursday was the eighth "anti-immigration" vote taken by Republicans in the current session of Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 223 other Democrats filed an amicus brief backing Obama earlier this month, but there was no vote on the brief and it represents them as individuals.

In still another amicus brief, almost 120 cities and counties across the United States on March 8 expressed support for Obama, among them Pembroke Pines, Tampa and Sunrise.


U.S. Senate moves Zika legislation

via @learyreports

The U.S. Senate passed legislation Thursday night to address the Zika virus, which continues to pop up in Florida.

The legislation "would add the Zika virus to the Food and Drug Administration’s Tropical Disease Priority Review Voucher Program," according to a release from Sen. Bill Nelson's office. "When a company develops an FDA-approved treatment for one of the diseases on the priority list, it receives a voucher to fast-track the approval process for another drug of its choice.  Adding the Zika virus to FDA’s priority list creates an incentive for drug makers to accelerate their search for a cure."

Four new cases of the virus were reported in Florida on Thursday. The bill was introduced by Sen. Al Franken and Nelson is among a handful of co-sponsors. It was approved by unanimous consent.

“We need to figure out a way to stop the spread of this virus sooner rather than later,” Nelson said. “This bill creates an incentive for drug makers to develop a vaccine as quickly as possible.”

There is a similar bill in the House.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

March 17, 2016

March 09, 2016

Debbie Wasserman Schultz bashes Marco Rubio before Democratic debate

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz defended Democratic turnout and bashed the GOP presidential field shortly before the debate started between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Miami.

The Democratic National Committee chair from Broward County said that so far Republican turnout has been about 55 percent compared to 45 percent for the Democrats in Florida. The state’s primary is March 15 but voting by mail and at early voting sites started in February.

The higher GOP turnout isn’t a surprise since the Republican primary has had more candidates, she said.

“Ours hasn’t been a freak show,” she said, shortly before the debate at Miami Dade College.

Wasserman Schultz called out U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio who has been trailing Donald Trump in the polls.

“Marco Rubio should be doing so much better here...,” she said.

Asked about President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Cuba this month, Wasserman Schultz said she will not join Obama on the trip and has no desire to visit the island.

“Not until they make more human rights progress,” she said.

In Florida, the Democratic Party sees an opening with the Cuban-American vote which seen for years as a reliable GOP voting bloc but Obama made some headway with them in 2012.

The Democratic Party will try to appeal to Cuban-American voters with messages about jobs, education and health care, she said.

“Four and a half million Hispanics in this country have gotten health care that didn’t have it before,” she said.

At some point after the Miami debate, representatives for the DNC and the campaigns are expected to reach an agreement on the date and locations of the next debates. One debate is expected to be held in April and one in California in May.

UPDATED Miami congressman snubbed from White House meeting on Cuba


U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo wanted in on the White House's upcoming Miami meeting with Cuban-American community leaders. 

No such luck.

Curbelo says he asked to attend Friday's get-together with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. But he was told the meeting will be "private."

"This White House works very hard at excluding Cuban-American representatives -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- from any meetings or discussions having to do with U.S.-Cuba policy," Curbelo said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "I've worked with the Administration on higher education reform, climate change, immigration, and other issues. However, on Cuba they shut out anyone who doesn't fully agree with them -- even those who represent our country's Cuban-American community. It doesn't make sense, and quite frankly, it seems petty."

Pete Boogaard, assistant press secretary for the National Security Council, said Rhodes and other senior administration officials have met "directly with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle."

"We will continue to make outreach to Congress a focus of our engagement, but during the limited time Mr. Rhodes has in Miami, he will meet with human rights and civil society advocates, faith leaders, young emerging leaders, and representatives from the private sector."

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, the Democrat who lost to Curbelo in 2014 and hopes to challenge him again later this year, issued a campaign statement deriding Curbelo's complaint as "priceless."

"The person who has opposed every single one of this administration's initiatives on Cuba -- from family travel to remittances to normalization of migratory policy -- now wants a photo op. The Obama administration has been in contact with Cubans both on the island and in Miami, as well as with leaders of the civic, business, art and political communities. If there is someone who is out of touch with the people in Cuba and, in particular, South Florida, it is Mr. Curbelo."

Curbelo was snubbed by the White House last year: It denied him an Air Force One seat to a President Barack Obama town hall on immigration at Florida International University, in Curbelo's congressional district. The White House later made nice with Curbelo, and he got to fly with the president a few months later on a trip to the Florida Everglades.

Miami Dade College announced Wednesday that, as part of his visit, Rhodes will attend a town meeting with young Cuban Americans at downtown Miami's Wolfson Campus. The event is co-sponsored by Roots of Hope, a nonprofit network of Cuban-American college students and professionals. Rhodes will hold a news conference afterward.

UPDATE: Rhodes telephoned Curbelo on Wednesday night, according to the congressman. They spoke for about half an hour and had a "very productive conversation."

This post has been updated.