January 26, 2018

Out front or out of sight, Rubio takes Miami heat for immigration work

Marco Rubio 3

@newsbysmiley @alextdaugherty

Maybe Marco Rubio can’t win on immigration.

Five years ago, as a first-term U.S. senator, the Miami Republican helped carry a doomed immigration overhaul bill and suffered politically as a result. Now, in 2018, he’s kept a low profile amid a fever-pitch debate over immigration — and it’s beginning to rankle some of his former political allies in Miami.

Rubio is taking heat on the home front for not being out front as Congress works to pass new immigration legislation in time to avoid another government shutdown next month. Business groups and immigration activists such as billionaire Coral Gables healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez are calling the Cuban-American senator out for doing too little to support one of the largest immigrant communities in the country.

Fernandez, despite being a former GOP donor, supported Rubio’s Democratic opponent in 2016. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday blasted his one-time mentee for lacking the political courage to on a risky issue.

“God forbid you actually took on something that was controversial and paid a political price,” Bush told USA Today. “That’s the attitude in D.C. right now. Certainly Sen. Rubio is no different in that regard. Marco is a talented guy and he understands this issue really well, and maybe behind the scenes he’s working hard. But at some point, his leadership would be really helpful.”

Rubio’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Local leaders, including Miami Dade College President Eduardo Pardon, say they have been contacting Rubio’s office to talk about immigration. Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Julio Fuentes said Rubio’s office told him the senator “is not the right person to be that champion” on immigration after his efforts failed in 2013.

“Sen. Rubio is so important because of what he represents: His father came here to this country [from Cuba] in the pursuit of the American Dream. This is something that should be near and dear to his heart,” said Felice Gorordo, a board member of the bipartisan Immigration Partnership and Coalition (IMPAC) Fund that Fernandez established last year to help pay for the defense of undocumented immigrants. “And yet we see him absent in this debate.”

Rubio has remained in the background as other members of South Florida’s delegation, particularly Republican Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario-Diaz Balart, have been vocal leaders for immigration legislation. In Diaz-Balart’s case, he said he chose to be criticized for staying silent about Trump’s reported “shithole” comments about nations where citizens have temporary protected status in the U.S. in order to preserve his ability to talk immigration.

Rubio’s low profile on the topic comes as a group of senators try to craft an immigration bill that could win some Democratic support in the Senate while remaining conservative enough to win support from the House of Representatives and President Donald Trump. And lately, Rubio has opened up a little about his strategy, telling the Miami Herald Thursday that legislation crafted by a small group of senators in secret has little chance of producing a bill that will pass a conservative, Republican-controlled Congress.

“I just don't think that you can produce an immigration bill that five, 10, 12 people behind closed doors drafts and then brings to the floor and basically says our job is to pass this bill and fight off everybody’s amendments,” Rubio said. “I don’t think that will work. In fact, I think that would implode in the current environment and with the current realities.”

Read more here.

January 25, 2018

How a citizenship question on the 2020 Census could diminish Miami’s political clout

008 Downtown Miami Skyline

@alextdaugherty

The Department of Justice wants the U.S. Census Bureau to ask people about their citizenship status on the 2020 census, and the additional questioning could lead to an undercount in immigrant-heavy Miami.

Undercounting the number of people living in Florida’s most populous county could affect how billions of federal dollars are distributed and diminish the state’s clout in the nation’s capital. The Census Bureau will choose whether or not to include the citizenship status question by March 31, when it finalizes the 2020 questionnaire.

“The purpose of the census is simple: collecting appropriate data on the people that reside in our communities so that we can distribute federal resources for the needs of the population,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “Any question, including one regarding citizenship, that could in any way discourage an accurate count, must be omitted. The census is not a means to do an immigration head count. It is a means to help all of our constituents with their needs regardless of their immigration status.”

The Justice Department argued that including the citizenship status question would help it enforce the Voting Rights Act, according to a letter from the DOJ to the Census Bureau obtained by ProPublica.

The census, conducted every 10 years, is used to determine how many people are living in a given area, and the federal government attempts to count everyone regardless of their citizenship status, including undocumented immigrants. If more people are counted in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, home to approximately 450,000 undocumented immigrants, there’s a better chance that more federal dollars for infrastructure projects or programs will come South Florida’s way.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he hasn’t decided whether it’s a good idea for the census to ask about citizenship status.

“I want to understand both arguments on it more clearly before I reach a firm opinion on it,” Rubio said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said he’s concerned some people could be dissuaded from answering the census if the citizenship question is asked.

“Unless I am provided with compelling statistics and facts as to why it is necessary, I would oppose its inclusion,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

And there’s also the looming reallocation of congressional seats due to population changes that occurs every 10 years after the census, called redistricting.

Read more here.

January 22, 2018

Miami Republican says Senate-brokered promises for Dreamers 'aren't good enough'

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a rebuke to her own party and a significant amount of Democrats on Monday, voting against a short-term spending bill agreed to by Senate leaders because it didn't include a legislative remedy for Dreamers, a group of nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants who could face deportation in March in Congress fails to act. 

“I’ve heard these promises once and again that we will find a permanent legislative remedy for Dreamers but a promise ain’t good enough any longer so that is why I voted no on the CR (Continuing Resolution)," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

The congresswoman also mirrored the arguments of Democrats who voted against the bill, saying that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise to debate and vote on a solution for Dreamers, which will likely face opposition from conservative Republicans, isn't the same as concocting a deal. 

"We have been duped and strung around enough so Dreamers can’t rely on broken promises any longer," Ros-Lehtinen said. "I will vote to approve a budget once we fulfill our pledge to these young people who know no other home but the U.S.”

Her comments were similar to New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, one of 16 Senate Democrats to vote against the deal, which funds the government through Feb. 8. 

"Nothing in this legislation gives me any confidence that in three weeks Congress won’t end up exactly where we are today," Menendez said to CNN. 

Ros-Lehtinen's No vote differed from the majority of Senate Democrats, where moderates like Florida Sen. Bill Nelson praised McConnell's commitment to debate and vote as enough of a concession to reopen the government after it shut down on Friday night. 

"Now we have a path forward in which we can work a bipartisan solution that will take care of the Dreamers,” Nelson said. “I think the American people are going to be cheering that this occurred.”

While only 16 of 47 Senate Democrats voted against the bill, the majority of House Democrats did vote against the bill. Five other House Republicans also voted against the bill with Ros-Lehtinen because they typically disapprove of spending bills without spending cuts attached. 

Ros-Lehtinen is not running for reelection in 2018, though she represents the most Democratic-leaning district in the country currently held by a Republican. She is a frequent critic of President Donald Trump and has signed on to multiple legislative solutions for Dreamers before an Obama-era executive order rescinded by Trump expires. 

January 18, 2018

Where Miami lawmakers stand on a spending bill without an immigration compromise

Frederica Wilson 2

@alextdaugherty

The federal government will shut down at 11:59 p.m. Friday unless the House and Senate pass a short-term spending bill.

The two U.S. senators from Florida and the five U.S. representatives from Miami-Dade County are divided on the spending bill, which faces opposition from conservative House Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.

Keep in mind that the calculus can change quickly if an immigration compromise to protect Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — is imminent.

Here’s where the Miami-Dade delegation stands on the short-term spending bill as of Thursday afternoon:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R): Rubio said on Monday “you can’t shut the government down over DACA,” and is likely to support a short-term spending bill. He voted in favor of a short-term spending bill in December.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D): Nelson is undecided, and is waiting to see how the House votes before deciding his vote. The Florida Democrat is facing pressure from immigration activists to vote against a short-term spending bill. He voted in favor of a short-term spending bill in December.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R): Curbelo will vote no unless a DACA solution is imminent. He voted against the short-term spending bill in December due to DACA.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R): Ros-Lehtinen will vote no unless a DACA solution is imminent. She also voted against the December spending bill due to DACA.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R): Diaz-Balart will vote in favor of the bill. “Shutting down the government, which among other things puts the lives of our troops in danger, would be detrimental and must be avoided,” Diaz-Balart said.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D): Wilson voted against the December spending bill along with the majority of House Democrats. She’s pledged not to support any immigration compromise that includes funding for a border wall. “I do not plan to vote for the continuing resolution unless it includes measures to protect Dreamers and TPS holders; critical funding for CHIP and community health centers; and additional disaster recovery funding for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas, Florida, and states impacted by wildfires.”

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D): Wasserman Schultz opposes the short-term spending bill due to concerns over DACA and funding for community health centers. “We remain mired in this unbreakable habit” of passing short-term spending bills, she said Thursday.
 

Why the fate of Dreamers is fueling talk of a government shutdown in Washington

102Daca06 NEW PPP

@alextdaugherty

The federal government will shut down on Friday at 11:59 p.m. if Congress fails to pass a short-term spending bill in the next 36 hours.

Because Republicans control the government, leaders like President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must put together a spending bill that gains enough support to pass the House and Senate.

But some Democrats and Miami Republicans say they will vote against any spending bill if a solution for 800,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — isn’t imminent. Friday is not the final deadline for passing a Dreamer fix, because the Obama-era executive action called DACA, which allows Dreamers to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation, expires in March. Congress has a few more weeks to come up with a deal, but lawmakers upset with the ongoing negotiations are using the Friday deadline as leverage to force action.

Sen. Marco Rubio is urging the House and Senate to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government open even if leaders can’t agree on a DACA solution by Friday night.

“You can’t shut down the government over DACA,” Rubio said earlier this week. “The deadline is in March, not Friday of this week. One of the implications of doing so is that the government will not be able to process the permits that people are applying for, so it’s almost counterproductive.”

If Senate Democrats uniformly oppose a short-term spending plan because it lacks a Dreamer solution, the government will shut down, because a spending bill requires 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, and Republicans control only 51 seats.

But Republicans in Congress have traditionally relied on Democrats to join them on votes to keep the government open — to make up for the Republicans who are concerned about the federal deficit and object to short-term spending bills that don’t cut the federal budget.

Here are some of the biggest questions that must be resolved to pass a spending bill. Keep in mind congressional leaders will typically make last-second deals to secure the votes of members who are wavering.

Read more here.

January 10, 2018

Puerto Rico leaders create a 'shadow delegation' in Washington and demand statehood

Governor Ricardo Roselló0183 JAI

@alextdaugherty

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and a host of current and former officeholders are using newfound attention after the U.S. territory suffered a direct hit by Hurricane Maria to push for their biggest political priority: statehood. 

Rosselló and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González are using a 2017 plebiscite where a small portion of the electorate voted overwhelmingly for statehood as justification for Washington to listen. The pair appeared with a group of current and former political leaders in Puerto Rico who will act as four symbolic "shadow" U.S. Representatives and two shadow U.S. Senators. The group will meet with members of Congress and their staffs to demand statehood. 

"If we were an island of 3.5 million Irishmen, we would have been a state long ago," said Carlos Romero Barceló, a shadow U.S. Senator who served as governor of Puerto Rico from 1977 to 1985.

Baseball Hall of Famer Iván "Pudge" Rodríguez is also serving as a shadow U.S. Representative, but was absent on Wednesday due to a scheduling conflict.

The effort by Rosselló and the New Progressive Party leadership is mostly symbolic but it does have precedent. Tennessee sent a shadow congressional delegation to Washington to demand recognition as a state and succeeded in 1796. Alaska carried out a similar plan in the 1950s. 

Puerto Rico's ongoing debt crisis, significant hurricane damage and complicated tax status are all barriers to statehood, and statehood doesn't appear to be a top priority for either party in Congress, though both Republicans and Democrats have signaled support for statehood in the past. 

"It is our moral imperative to demand Congress recognize 3.4 million disenfranchised Americans," Rosselló said. "It is time to end Puerto Ricans' second-class citizenship, and statehood is the only guarantee for that to happen." 

Rosselló has said he will put political pressure on those "who turned their back" on Puerto Rico during the hurricane recovery process and discussions on the tax bill, and thousands of Puerto Ricans have settled in Florida since Hurricane Maria struck the island. 

January 02, 2018

Republicans can’t generate buzz for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, and some say it’s unwinnable

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

The GOP’s inability to find top-shelf candidates to run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s U.S. House seat has some Republicans ready to write off the race and shift money and attention to more winnable contests.

The seat that encompasses Little Havana, most of downtown Miami and Miami Beach is now considered unwinnable by some Republicans in Congress and fundraisers who could infuse millions into a competitive congressional race, according to interviews with high-ranking GOP officials and potential donors. Others are slightly more hopeful but caution that a Republican path to victory is narrow, especially in an environment where President Donald Trump’s approval ratings remain low and Republicans brace for a potential Democratic wave in 2018.

Keeping Ros-Lehtinen’s seat was always going to be a challenge for Republicans after the longtime Miami congresswoman announced her retirement in May. Republicans couldn’t draw top-tier recruits, such as Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera; one announced candidate made national news for claiming to have boarded a spaceship with aliens; fundraising has lagged; and one of the top GOP candidates recently left the race.

“The seat is now going to go to the Democrats,” said Raquel Regalado, a former Miami-Dade school board member and candidate for Miami-Dade mayor who recently announced she was dropping out of the Republican race to replace Ros-Lehtinen. “I think I was the only moderate who could have fought that fight for a bunch of different reasons. I don’t think you’re going to see a large GOP financial investment. They’re looking for a moderate candidate, but I don’t think they’re going to find one.”

One Republican member of Congress rolled his eyes and sighed when asked about the GOP’s chances in the district. Five Republicans, including members of Congress, staffers and fundraisers who said the seat is not winnable, requested anonymity to discuss their own party candidly.

Ros-Lehtinen, a political veteran who knows the Miami scene well, is doing her part to keep the seat in Republican hands.

“They have to spend in my district. I don’t want national groups to think it’s not winnable,” she said. “They’ve got to be all in. I will beat down their doors if they take my district and write it off.”

Ros-Lehtinen is talking to any Republican who might be willing to step up. She personally met with Spanish-language TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar at a Cuban restaurant in South Miami in an effort to drum up more competition in the primary.

“The district is totally winnable for the right candidate,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “She could be the right candidate.”

But Salazar, like many other names bandied about in Miami Republican circles, demurred when asked if she’ll run.

“I am a news reporter, not a news maker,” Salazar said in an email. “It’s an honor that over the years both parties have approached me to consider running for office. My plans are to continue being a TV journalist — until God and the audience give me that opportunity.”

Read more here.

December 15, 2017

Democratic Senator calls out Republicans, including Carlos Curbelo, for supporting tax bill with Arctic drilling

Carlos Curbelo 3 (1)

@alextdaugherty 

Last week, a group of 12 House Republicans, including Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, signed a letter encouraging Republican leadership to pass a tax overhaul without a provision that would allow oil drilling in parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

But the provision was included in the Senate's tax bill, and is likely to stay when House and Senate negotiators finalize the bill on Friday. 

On Thursday, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee called out the 12 Republicans for engaging in "pure posturing." 

"It is now clear that the letter from twelve House Republicans opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was pure posturing," Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell said. "If these Republicans want to stop their party from turning the refuge into an oilfield, they should vote no. Lip service won't protect the Arctic." 

Six of the 12 Republicans who signed the letter, including Curbelo, voted in favor of the initial tax bill before Thanksgiving.

Curbelo hasn't indicated that he will vote against the tax bill even though he opposes expanding oil drilling in Alaska's North Slope. He is also the co-founder of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, a group of Democratic and Republican lawmakers who are concerned about the impacts of climate change. 

"I don’t think there’s any one provision that would motivate me to deny tax relief for all of my constituents," Curbelo said this week.

Curbelo has been a vocal advocate for the tax overhaul, frequently appearing with Speaker Paul Ryan and touting the bill in Spanish. 

December 12, 2017

Puerto Rican officials lobby Congress against ‘devastating’ GOP tax measure

005 Maria Unemployment DS

@KyraGurney

Puerto Rico is still drowning from Hurricane Maria but it’s already facing its next crisis — a U.S. tax reform bill that island officials fear will devastate the economy.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Lt. Gov. Luis Rivera Marín will make a final plea on Wednesday to Republican officials, asking them to exempt the U.S. territory from a 20 percent excise tax on goods that American companies import from their overseas subsidiaries.

The measure in the GOP tax bill is designed to stop American companies from avoiding taxes by shifting profits overseas. But it would also apply to Puerto Rico because the island is treated as both a foreign and domestic entity under the U.S. tax code.

It’s a hit that Puerto Rico’s elected officials say the island’s economy cannot take.

“If the U.S. Congress ignores our situation and gives us this mortal blow to our economy, the immediate and direct effect will be Puerto Ricans boarding airplanes,” Rivera Marín told the Miami Herald.

Puerto Rico already was struggling through a deep recession before hurricanes Irma and Maria hit in September. The island’s unemployment rate hovered around 10 percent and the country was $72 billion in debt. Since the storms, thousands of Puerto Ricans have lost their jobs as businesses remain without power and unable to reopen.

Rivera Marín warned that the tax could wipe out the island’s manufacturing sector and a third of the government’s tax revenue, sending thousands more families fleeing to Florida and New York.

Read more here. Photo by @dsantiagophoto

Curbelo calls on Congress to find a Dreamer solution this week

Curbelo (1)

@alextdaugherty 

Congress has less than three days to find a solution for Dreamers in order for it to become law by the end of the year, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said on Tuesday. 

But Curbelo is hopeful that Democrats and Republicans can find a compromise for the 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents who face uncertainly after President Donald Trump said he will cancel an Obama-era executive order known as DACA that allowed Dreamers to be protected from deportation.

"We had very good meetings last night, three meetings," Curbelo said. "For the first time a lot of the like-minded Republicans and Democrats who want to get to yes got together. We're getting closer to filing a compromise, which has been my frustration. There's an obvious compromise out there, DACA fix and border security, but no one has proffered that compromise." 

If both parties can find a compromise, then a spending bill that funds the government known as a continuing resolution is the likely legislative vehicle that can include a solution for Dreamers. It is expected that a continuing resolution will get a vote sometime next week before a December 22nd deadline. 

"If they (leadership) want to give us a standalone vote, that's fine, it'll pass. I know it will," Curbelo said. "The most obvious vehicle is whatever continuing resolution is with a budget cap with new bipartisan numbers. We're getting closer and a lot of people have put aside partisan differences we've had in recent weeks to focus on trying to have something next week to take a run at this before the end of the year."

If congressional leaders fail to find a compromise in an end of the year spending bill, Curbelo said he will vote against the legislation that keeps the government running. Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she will do the same. 

"I'm not going to back down from that commitment," Curbelo said. "If I get maybe a time-certain commitment from leadership that there will be a vote, maybe I would think about saying 'Okay, that's good enough.' But I doubt I would get that clarity." 

Curbelo said that if the year-end spending bill doesn't include a Dreamer solution, the next opportunity will likely be in January when Congress takes up another spending bill. 

Congress has just under three months to find a solution for Dreamers before the DACA order officially ends on March 5.