June 23, 2015

Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson back advancing Obama trade bill

via @learyreports

Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio helped a key trade bill clear a hurdle today, setting it up for final passage.

Both faced opposition.

Nelson was facing pressure from liberals and employee unions to oppose the deal for fear of hurting jobs and wages in the U.S.

Rubio was urged to oppose the deal from at least one tea party group in Florida. A message from the Martin 9/12 Committee urged members to call Rubio and say:

- You OPPOSE the Trade Promotion Authority, and do not believe President Obama can be trusted to negotiate anything that might affect immigration law.

- President Obama has already unilaterally usurped the power that belongs to Congress to change immigration laws, and Congress has NO business giving up more of its authority to him.

- Trade agreements have been used in the past to increase immigration and President Obama is currently negotiating several trade agreements that will encompass three-fourths of the world's economy!

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

June 17, 2015

Bill Nelson makes good on Stanley Cup push-up bet

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson, born Sept. 29, 1942, this afternoon dropped and did 46 pushups to make good on a bet over the Stanley Cup with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

He was supposed to do 23, the number of goals scored in the showdown between the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning. But Nelson, who underwent NASA training many years ago and went into space, bargained with Durbin so that he wouldn't have to make a special trip to Tampa for Cuban sandwiches, which were part of the bet.

"Are you up for it?" Durbin asked.

Removing his jacket, loosening his collar and tucking his gold tie into a blue buttondown, Nelson hit the carpet. Durbin counted them off as an amused -- and surprised -- press corps and gaggle of interns looked on.

"1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46."

"Hey!" Durbin shouted at the end. "Thank God that you lost and I didn't. They'd be taking me out of here on a stretcher."

Nelson is up for re-election in 2018, and if there was any doubt about his energy level, he just put that to rest.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

June 16, 2015

Jeb Bush supporters in Congress serve as TV surrogates

via @learyreports

As Jeb Bush played up his executive experience as governor on Monday, some of his backers in Congress amplified the argument on TV.

On Fox, U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami talked him up, while Rep. John Mica of Winter Park went on CNN. They were asked about Marco Rubioand all offered polite praise but, again, they said Bush has shown he can get things done.

"I love them both," Ros-Lehtinen said, adding that Rubio understood her decision. "Marco is a wonderful man and he's got a great future."



--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

June 11, 2015

Ex-Rep. Joe Garcia may have known about 'shadow' candidate, court record shows

via @jayhweaver

For nearly five years, former Miami Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia has denied that he knew his onetime campaign manager recruited a “shadow” tea party candidate to run in the 2010 congressional election against Garcia’s Republican nemesis, David Rivera.

But a federal court document disclosed Thursday suggests that Garcia’s former campaign manager, Jeffrey Garcia, communicated with him by email in February 2010 about his illicit campaign strategy.

“If I got a Tea Party candidate in the race, that will improve your odds,” Jeffrey Garcia emailed Joe Garcia, identified as “Candidate A” in the court record.

A week later, Jeffrey Garcia sent Joe Garcia another email entitled: “YOU WILL WIN IF,” followed by a bullet point stating, “Tea Party Candidate (will happen.)”

In April that year, Jeffrey Garcia wrote to the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, stating that “Plan Roli is still moving. I am seeking funding. I have till mid-week next week to execute.”

Joe Garcia, who lost his congressional seat last year, has long denied any involvement in his former campaign manager’s violation of federal election laws. He has not been charged in the FBI-led case brought against Jeffrey Garcia and Arrojo.

“Thank goodness that the emails were finally released,” Joe Garcia's defense attorney, David O. Markus, told the Miami Herald on Thursday. “A review of all of the emails proves that Joe had no knowledge of any illegal activity. As we have said from day 1, Joe has done nothing wrong.” 

More here.

June 05, 2015

Fight over oil drilling off Florida's coast back in Congress

via @CAdamsMcClatchy

WASHINGTON -- Two Florida members of the House of Representatives are joining one of the state’s senators to keep oil drilling far off shore, seeking to stave off efforts to bring the rigs closer to land.

Opposing legislation in the Senate designed to ease drilling restrictions opens the way for a debate over drilling amid worries about the quality of the Gulf of Mexico.

Reps. David Jolly, a Republican from Indian Shores, and Gwen Graham, a Democrat from the Panhandle, introduced legislation late Wednesday that would extend an existing ban on oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico through 2027.

The ban, now set to expire in 2022, extends 125 miles off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast, and as much as 235 miles in some areas.

“It is paramount that we take steps to continue protecting our pristine beaches, our fisheries, our marine sanctuaries and coastal communities from the impact of drilling in the eastern Gulf and devastating events like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010,” Jolly said in a statement. “An oil spill off the coast of Pinellas County would be disastrous to our quality of life and our local economy.”

More here.

June 03, 2015

Consumer advocates chide Florida congressional delegation over payday loans


An alliance of consumer advocates has fired back at Florida’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives over its support for the payday lending industry.

“We disagree strongly with any perception on your part . . . that Florida’s regulatory structure provides Florida consumers with a loan that protects them from economic harm,” the advocates wrote in a June 2 letter to Florida’s representatives.

More than twenty groups signed the letter including the United Way of Florida, the Florida Consumer Action Network, the Legal Aid Service of Broward County and Dade Legal Aid.

Payday loans are a form of high-interest credit usually taken out by low-income people who aren’t able to borrow from traditional banks. Many consumers access the loans online. Critics say the loans can be predatory.

In April, all but one member of Florida’s House delegation signed a letter to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau criticizing new, more restrictive rules that the agency had proposed for payday lenders. The legislators urged regulators to instead model their reforms on Florida’s payday lending laws, which they said protect consumers from borrowing too often or paying exorbitant fees.

But the consumer advocates said state laws are not strong enough to protect Floridians from falling into a never-ending “debt-trap,” in which they are compelled to take out a new loan to pay back the old one.

Floridians who use payday loans take out an average of about nine loans a year, according to research conducted by the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit that calls for stronger regulations on the payday industry. The average loan is $250 with an annual interest rate of 312 percent.


Panel of U.S. House Republicans bans funding for U.S. embassy in Havana


WASHINGTON — The White House may be moving quickly to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, but House Republicans are trying to put on the brakes as a key panel voted Wednesday to prohibit funding for a U.S. embassy in Havana.

The vote by the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department and foreign operations does not prevent the department from designating an embassy in Havana.

But it makes it more difficult.

The U.S. already has a building on Havana’s Malecon waterfront that was the embassy until President Dwight D. Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations in 1961.

It is now the home of the U.S. government’s outpost in the communist nation, the Cuban Interests Section. But the building is badly dilapidated, and the State Department told Congress last month that it needs $6.6 million to make improvements for it to function as an embassy.

Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives, among them several Cuban-Americans, fiercely oppose the White House rapprochement with Cuba that began last year and are behind the efforts to block the embassy and appointment of an ambassador.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., a member of the funding subcommittee, said that the provision not only prohibits funds for a U.S. embassy but also prohibits support for a Cuban embassy and Cuban consulates in the U.S.

Continue reading "Panel of U.S. House Republicans bans funding for U.S. embassy in Havana" »

June 01, 2015

Emily's List takes aim at Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo


Emily's List, the liberal group that helps fund progressive women in politics, has targeted Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo over his stances on abortion, the Affordable Care Act and the minimum wage.

The organization, which boasts 3 million members, has included the freshman Curbelo on its list of 15 House members to unseat in 2016, calling his short voting record as "anti-woman and anti-family." Curbelo faces a challenge so far from Democrat Annette Taddeo to represent a swing Westchester-to-Key West district. He's the only Florida member of Congress in Emily's List's sights.

"In less than five months into the 114th Congress, we have seen Congressman Curbelo put his personal interest ahead of his constituents by cosponsoring abortion bans, restricting women's access to health care, and not supporting minimum wage proposals that would benefit the most vulnerable women and families in Florida's 26th Congressional District," Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement.

The statement cited a single Curbelo vote -- restricting abortion after 20 weeks' gestation -- and two campaign comments last year (opposing increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and referring to Social Security and Medicare as a "Ponzi scheme") as reasons for trying to unseat him.

After voting in January for legislation tightening federal funding for abortions under Obamacare, Curbelo said in a statement that the policy was important to him.

"As a father and pro-life advocate, I strongly believe that life is a gift that must be cherished and protected," he said. "By prohibiting the use of federal funds to pay for abortion services, except in cases of rape, incest, or preserving the life of the mother, Congress has reaffirmed its commitment to advancing pro-life legislation and defending life."

His office made sure to note, however, that other sources of funding for abortions were unaffected.

May 20, 2015

Roll Call: Broward Democrat wants raise for members of Congress

From Roll Call (published Monday):

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings made the politically tone-deaf case for raising salaries for members of Congress Monday, pointing to the high cost of living in the District of Columbia.

“Members deserve to be paid, staff deserves to be paid and the cost of living here is causing serious problems for people who are not wealthy to serve in this institution,” the Florida Democrat said at a Rules Committee meeting, referring to the average member’s $174,000 annual salary. “We aren’t being paid properly,” he later added.

The committee was considering the fiscal 2016 Legislative Branch appropriations bill, which sets the spending levels for Congress and legislative branch agencies. The bill includes a freeze on member pay, continuing one that has been in place since 2010 — and last year drew the ire of then-Rep. James P. Moran.

More here.

May 19, 2015

WFTV: Alan Grayson's annulment falls apart, he calls estranged wife 'gold digger'

From WFTV in Orlando:

Congressman Alan Grayson and his estranged wife, Lolita, were back in court Monday after a tentative agreement fell apart. The last time the two were in court, both sides thought they were hours away from an agreement. Grayson signed the agreement but his wife did not. Grayson, who graduated from Harvard University in three years, got a law degree and Ph.D., and made millions suing defense contractors, isn’t happy. Lolita Grayson is accused of not getting a divorce from her first husband before marrying Grayson in 1990. "I'll sum it up for you. Gold diggers gotta dig. That's all I gotta say," Grayson said on Monday. "We had an agreement. She's trying to renege."

More here.