December 12, 2017

Florida Dem accused of sexual harassment gets support from Congress

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@alextdaugherty

The phrase “I believe the women” has become a motto for lawmakers in the wake of career-ending sexual harassment allegations against Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken. But when sexual harassment allegations against South Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings from 2011 resurfaced last week, the reaction was different.

“I believe him,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Gardens Democrat.

Capitol Hill news outlet Roll Call reported on Friday that a woman who accused Hastings of unwanted touching and lewd remarks in 2011 received a $220,000 taxpayer-funded settlement, the largest amount reported since a wave of sexual harassment allegations began sweeping through Congress.

The 81-year-old Hastings denies the allegations and said he had no previous knowledge that taxpayer funds were paid out to Winsome Packer, a congressional staffer who worked for a commission that studies security and cooperation in Europe. Court documents show that he was removed from the sexual harassment lawsuit in 2012. Packer continued the lawsuit against the commission after Hastings was removed, and the payment was made in 2014, according to Roll Call.

“I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needlessly paid to Ms. Packer,” Hastings said in a statement. “At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made.”

Hastings, who lives in Miramar and represents majority African-American neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, has been a magnet for controversy throughout his four decades in public office, and he has survived every time.

Hastings was stripped of his federal judgeship in 1989 after he was impeached and convicted of bribery and perjury, but successfully ran for Congress in 1992. His longtime girlfriend who works at his district office in Florida received the $168,411 maximum congressional salary for years. And the 2011 sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Packer and funded by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch was rife with tabloid fodder and embarrassing anecdotes.

But Hastings has been reelected with ease every two years.

“If there is someone in the United States House of Representatives who can survive this, it’s Alcee Hastings,” said Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “My goodness, he’s been impeached by this body. Alcee Hastings, God bless him, he doesn’t care about...news cycles.”

Read more here.

December 11, 2017

Congress goes to the dogs (literally)

IMG_1936@alextdaugherty 

Under normal circumstances, no one wants to have the eyes of the House Oversight Committee on them. 

Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz pounded Hillary Clinton's email usage from the Oversight gavel during the 2016 campaign. Baseball player Rafael Palmeiro famously wagged his finger in front of the committee in 2005 and declared, "I never used steroids, period." (He later tested positive). 

But on Monday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had no problem with everyone in the Oversight Committee hearing room craning their necks to see the Miami Republican. 

She was there to pet dogs, and there were treats to distribute. 

"No one brought any treats?" Ros-Lehtinen asked incredulously, before producing a bag of her own and making many new four-legged friends in the process. 

Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, had their office dogs on display during a "Bipawtisan Howliday" gathering of Capitol Hill dogs on Monday. 

Curbelo's dog Riggins, a 2-year-old Welsh terrier owned by Curbelo communications director Joanna Rodriguez, donned a green elf outfit with a hat adorned with the slogan "Santa's lil' helper." 

Ros-Lehtinen's dog Mya, who showed up to the event sans holiday garb, shed ample amounts of fur. 

"She's a little old and a little cranky, just like me," Ros-Lehtinen said, referring to Mya as the "office boss." 

Most of the dogs brought by staffers were relatively well-behaved, though there was some growling and intimate sniffing. Ros-Lehtinen sat in the middle of it all, handing out treats and belting out various iterations of the phrase "That's a good dog!" 

But soon the bell for votes rang, causing Ros-Lehtinen and Mya to scamper back to the office, though they did run into more dogs on the way back.

Upon entering the office, Mya was released from her leash and darted into the abyss, while the senior member of Florida's congressional delegation went on the hunt for a lint roller.

Ros-Lehtinen's search was successful, and she showed up to votes on Monday evening no worse for wear. 

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December 08, 2017

Trump to Jewish Democrats: No Hanukkah party for you

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@alextdaugherty

It’s the holiday season in Washington, which means politicians, dignitaries and hangers-on try to elbow themselves into as many exclusive parties as possible.

And 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the hottest ticket of them all.

But Jewish Democratic lawmakers won’t be greeting President Donald Trump with a Chag Sameach at the annual White House Hanukkah Party on Thursday evening.

They insist their feelings aren’t hurt, but an invite would have been nice.

Trump did not invite Jewish members of Congress who are Democrats to the annual White House Hanukkah party, according to six congressional offices.

“I think its an unforced error on the president’s part and a missed opportunity,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston. “Why would you make partisan decisions about invitations that are entirely not partisan? Hanukkah is something that’s important to all Jews; the tradition is to invite the Jewish members of Congress. My feelings certainly aren’t hurt by not being invited but the few opportunities that we do have to come together certainly should include a celebration like Hanukkah.”

While Democrats didn’t get an invite, the two Jewish Republicans in Congress did.

The offices of New York Rep. Lee Zeldin and Tennessee Rep. David Kustoff confirmed they received invitations and will attend.

Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Jewish Republican, was invited to White House Hanukkah parties held by President Barack Obama, according to past press accounts. Cantor and Zeldin were the only Jewish House Republicans who served in Congress during Obama’s administration.

The President’s staff referred questions on the guest list to the First Lady’s office.

“I am not aware of the political affiliation of any of the guests, but I do know that this year was meant to be more personal than political,” said Stephanie Grisham, a spokesman for First Lady Melania Trump.

About 600 invitations were distributed, according to the White House. Grisham said that while the West Wing may release guest lists for meetings and working lunches or dinners, it’s the policy of the social office not to release the guest list for social or holiday events.

Wasserman Schultz, who entered Congress in 2005, said she was always invited to White House Hanukkah parties hosted by President George W. Bush and Obama.

Read more here.

December 06, 2017

For some South Florida Democrats in Congress, Trump is right on Jerusalem

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@alextdaugherty

South Florida Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch rarely agree with President Donald Trump, but the pair supported his decision on Wednesday to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital along with moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

“My longstanding view is that Jerusalem is and will remain the undivided capital of Israel, and it should remain a city accessible to people of all faiths,” Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said in a statement. “We must work toward a day where the entire world recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that can be achieved through final status negotiations. I remain as committed as ever to safeguarding Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, at peace with its neighbors, with Jerusalem as its undisputed capital.”

Deutch, D-Boca Raton, issued a joint statement supporting the move with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The two are the highest ranking members on the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee.

“There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection,” Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen said.

Deutch and Wasserman Schultz represent districts with large Jewish populations and are seen as supporters of Israel in Congress.

South Florida Republicans uniformly praised Trump’s decision on Wednesday, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.

“I commend President Trump for following U.S. law and recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel,” Rubio said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is an important step in the right direction. Unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be complete when the U.S. embassy is officially relocated there.”

But some of Trump’s top Cabinet officials reportedly opposed the decision, arguing that the move to recognize Jerusalem would needlessly inflame tensions between Israel and Palestinians and potentially put people in danger.

Read more here.

Frederica Wilson votes to move forward on impeaching Trump

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@alextdaugherty

Miami Gardens Rep. Frederica Wilson, who had endured days of criticism and false attacks from President Donald Trump and White House chief of staff John Kelly after she criticized the president's choice of words to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, was one of 58 House Democrats to buck leadership and vote for moving forward on a motion to impeach Trump on Wednesday.

The impeachment motion offered by Texas Democratic Rep. Al Green was expected to fail, though nearly a third of House Democrats voted in favor of Green's proposal despite House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and minority whip Steny Hoyer urging their members not to vote in favor of moving forward with it. 

Green defended Wilson during an October floor speech that morphed from a defense of Wilson into justification for moving forward on impeachment. 

"I rise today to defend the honorable Frederica Wilson," Green said. "I do so because in this country, we have allowed public discourse to be degraded to the extent that the president of the United States of America would call a member of congress – an honorable woman – wacky. This is not a wacky person, this is a person of honor and integrity and of intellect. There are those who say wait until the next election – I am not one of them. I believe that the remedy for this kind of behavior and the impact that it is having on society is impeachment." 

Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, who was impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate in 1989, also voted in favor of moving forward on impeachment.

December 05, 2017

Longtime Ros-Lehtinen foreign affairs staffer is leaving Capitol Hill

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

via @francoordonez @alextdaugherty

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's longtime staff director Eddy Acevedo is leaving.

Ros-Lehtinen, and several members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where Acevedo is subcommittee staff director and senior foreign policy advisor for Ros-Lehtinen, took to the House Floor Tuesday to deliver tributes to Acevedo who is leaving to join the United States Agency for International Development. Acevedo, who worked for Ros-Lehtinen for nearly a decade, will be the new Deputy Assistant Administrator and Chief Legislative Strategist in USAID’s Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs.

“He’s been my partner for all of these battles in favor of freedom and democracy and against autocratic regimes,” said Ros-Lehtinen said of Acevedo, before speaking in support of a Venezuela humanitarian aid bill.

“I want to say about the gentlewoman from Florida—there’s no member of this body who has done more to champion democracy and human rights in Venezuela than the gentlewoman from Florida, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen," said Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat and ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee. “I also want to thank her longtime Staff Director Eddy Acevedo, who is in his last week on Capitol Hill," Engel said. "Eddy has been such a positive force on Venezuela and the entire Latin American region in support of Ileana’s work. He has been a consistent collaborator with my staff, and his work here will be sorely missed." 

 

December 04, 2017

Ex-U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown gets 5 years in prison for fraud

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via Associated Press 

A federal judge in Florida has sentenced former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown to five years in prison, followed by three years of probation, for fraud and other charges related to a purported charity for poor students that she used as a personal slush fund.

The sentence was handed down in Jacksonville on Monday morning. The 71-year-old Brown will be allowed to turn herself in no earlier than Jan. 8.

The Democrat served a Florida district that included Jacksonville during her historic, nearly 25-year career.

She was convicted by a federal jury in May on 18 of the 22 charges against her, which included fraud, lying on her tax returns and on her congressional disclosures.

Progressive group targets Carlos Curbelo over tax bill

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@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is a champion of the tax overhaul plan that passed the Senate over the weekend, frequently appearing with House Speaker Paul Ryan and touting the bill in Spanish. 

But as the House and Senate confer on a compromise tax bill to send to President Donald Trump's desk, Curbelo is being targeted by a progressive group that's hitting vulnerable GOP incumbents who supported the tax plan. 

Not One Penny is blasting the tax bill and pressuring Curbelo as part of a seven-figure nationwide ad buy, the first time that the progressive group has launched a widespread campaign against incumbent Republicans. Curbelo represents the most Democratic-leaning congressional district in the country currently held by a Republican who is up for reelection in 2018.

The 30-second spot claims that the Curbelo-supported tax bill will raise taxes on 36 million middle class families. 

"Representative Curbelo continues to blindly support tax legislation that is nothing more than a giveaway to millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations," said Not One Penny spokesman Tim Hogan. "Republicans are looting the middle class in order to line the pocket of the wealthy and well-connected. As the focus once again turns to the House, Representative Curbelo should stand up for his constituents instead of his wealthy donors and vote against this harmful legislation."

 

December 01, 2017

Florida, Texas lawmakers threaten government shutdown over hurricane relief funding

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@alextdaugherty

It’s been 82 days since Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys, and lawmakers from Florida and Texas huddled together on Friday to gain leverage for their hurricane-stricken states as they seek billions in relief.

If congressional leaders don’t do enough to allay the concerns of lawmakers from Florida and Texas, the two states’ delegations will vote en masse against a disaster funding plan that could be attached to a spending plan known as a continuing resolution that keeps the government running.

“Unless substantial changes are made, we are not going to support the CR,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who co-authored a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signed by members from Florida and Texas on Friday. “We will use the clout of both of our delegations. Without significant changes this supplemental cannot be allowed to go through.”

Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, is opposed to the administration’s request and said the government could be shut down if Florida and Texas don’t get what they need.

“We do not have the adequate resources and this is going to be on the verge of a government shutdown if Texas and all the other victims of these hurricanes do not have a compromise where we can work together,” Jackson Lee said at a Homeland Security hearing on Thursday.

The letter opposing the White House’s disaster relief request was signed by 38 members from Texas and Florida as of Friday evening. The $44 billion disaster relief request, announced before Thanksgiving, upset Democrats and Republicans from Florida and Texas, who argue that much more needs to be done for disaster relief.

“Unless the disaster supplemental appropriations bill is significantly improved before it is brought to a vote on the House floor, we will be unable to support this legislation,” the letter reads.

While Republicans are stopping short of an explicit shutdown threat and express confidence that leadership will listen to them, the next disaster funding proposal could be tied to a proposal that funds the government for a period of time.

Congressional leaders must pass a bill that funds the government by Dec. 8 to avoid a shutdown. It is possible that congressional leaders could pass a short-term funding bill next week to keep the government open through the end of December or early January.

Read more here.

Lawmakers call on Trump to invoke "anti-Russia" law to punish Nicaraguan officials

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via @francoordonez

Cuban-American lawmakers are calling on President Donald Trump to consider punishing two top Nicaraguan officials for alleged human rights violations under a so-called “anti-Russia” law.

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is leading a bipartisan group of senators and representatives pressing Trump to consider imposing economic sanctions against the president of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council and a top Nicaraguan oil official connected to the Venezuela government, according to a letter obtained by McClatchy.

“We urge you to take immediate action to determine whether Nicaraguan nationals Roberto Jose Rivas Reyes and Francisco Lopez meet the criteria to be sanctioned in accordance with the law for human rights abuses, corruption, and illicit activity,” the lawmakers write in a joint letter.

The five Republican and five Democratic lawmakers are calling on Trump to investigate the officials under a law originally adopted to punish human rights abuses in Russia that has since been expanded globally.

They accuse Rivas Reyes, president of the Supreme Electoral Council, of overseeing fraudulent elections rigged to keep President Daniel Ortega Saavedra of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in power. And they accuse Lopez, vice president of Albanisa, a joint venture between the Venezuelan state owned-oil company, PDVSA, and its Nicaraguan counterpart, with corruption and profiting from improper loans.

Ten lawmakers signed the letter, including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J. as well as Reps. Paul Cook, R-Calif., Albio Sires, D-N.J. and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

Read more here.