December 02, 2015

New chief of staff for Miami's Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


Arthur "Art" Estopiñan, the longtime chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is retiring, prompting several moves in her congressional offices.

Estopiñan, who has worked for Ros-Lehtinen for more than a quarter century, will act as senior adviser to the Miami Republican effective Jan. 1, the congresswoman said in a statement.

Estopiñan's deputy, Maytee Sanz, who has worked for Ros-Lehtinen for 25 years, will become the new chief of staff in charge of all of the congresswoman's offices. Legislative Director Joshua Salpeter will run Ros-Lehtinen's D.C. office and also advise on legislation. Both are South Florida natives.

In a statement, Estopiñan noted his son's health as a reason for leaving for the more lucrative private sector.

"While this is a challenge, it is one I am looking forward to," he said. "It will allow me to enter a new phase of life where I can provide for my family, particularly raising a severely disabled child who has a rare genetic muscular disease."

Ros-Lehtinen thanked Estopiñan and called the two staffers she promoted "consummate professionals."

"Art's hard work and dedication to South Florida are well known by our community leaders and his contributions to mentoring and guiding staff and interns have earned him much respect throughout his years on the Hill," she said. "Art's grace in the face of adversity has inspired us all and his leadership in our office will be missed."

Florida Supreme Court approves congressional map drawn by challengers


With just over four years left before another redistricting cycle begins, the Florida Supreme Court gave final approval to Florida’s congressional map Wednesday, rejecting the Legislature’s arguments for the fourth time and selecting boundaries drawn by a the challengers in time for the 2016 election.

“Our opinion today—the eighth concerning legislative or congressional apportionment during this decade since the adoption of the landmark Fair Districts Amendment—should bring much needed finality to litigation concerning this state’s congressional redistricting that has now spanned nearly four years in state courts,’’ the court wrote in a 5-2 decision.

The ruling validated the map drawn by a coalition led by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and several Democrat-leaning individuals, and approved by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis after the Florida Legislature tried and failed to agree to a map in a special redistricting session.

Although the boundaries are now officially set for the 2016 elections, the map is expected to be challenged by at least two members of Congress in federal court. U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, have already threatened a lawsuit for restricting the ability of their constituents to elect minorities to office.

House and Senate redistricting leaders, who have spent more than $11 million in taxpayer money unsuccessfully defending their congressional and state Senate maps, said they disagreed with the ruling but were not surprised by it.

"The court has taken a process that was already difficult and through their significant overreach and lack of judicial restraint made it much worse,'' said Rep. Jose Oliva, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee. He said the challengers and the court exhibited "blatant partisanship" and he looks forward to a federal challenge over allegations that the map violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

David King, lead attorney for the challengers, called the ruling “the culmination” of years of effort and “millions of dollars” spent by the plaintiffs.

"We simply followed the constitution. We drew a map that followed the constitution, and now the Supreme Court has verified that,'' King told reporters. He said the plaintiffs are seeking to recover their attorneys fees under a law that allows the state to pay the legal costs borne by a private party that wins a verdict benefiting the entire state.

“If there’s ever been a case where the government should pay for litigation which has resulted in great benefit to the citizens of Florida, it would be this case," he said.

Continue reading "Florida Supreme Court approves congressional map drawn by challengers " »

December 01, 2015

Does Jeb Bush want to raise social security retirement age to 70 as Annette Taddeo says?

Congressional hopeful Annette Taddeo warned Florida seniors preparing for a Thanksgiving feast that a Jeb Bush presidency could starve their plans for retirement.

Taddeo, the former chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, attempted to link Bush’s plan for Social Security to her Republican opponent, Carlos Curbelo of Miami, in a fundraising email PolitiFact Florida received Nov. 24, 2015 (click here to read the letter).

"Have you seen presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s plan for Social Security? It’s disastrous for seniors and raises the retirement age to 70," the email read. "But Bush is the candidate Annette’s opponent, Congressman Carlos Curbelo, thinks should be leading our country. Not that that’s a surprise after Curbelo called Social Security a ‘Ponzi scheme’ and voted for Speaker Ryan’s devastating budget. South Florida needs someone who will fight for Social Security — not work to end it."

Curbelo did call Social Security a Ponzi scheme in his first bid for Congress. That is not an accurate description of the program, so we rated Curbelo's statement False.

For this fact-check, we wanted to know if Bush really released a Social Security plan for seniors that raises the retirement age to 70. (We won’t weigh in on whether it’s "disastrous.")

We found that Bush's plan doesn't suggest a specific age, and he also doesn't think the eligibility age should change for current seniors. 

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

November 30, 2015

Bill Nelson's longtime spokesman to retire

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson's longtime spokesman, Dan McLaughlin, will retire at the end of the year.

Nelson announced the news to staff today.

Dan McLaughlin, our Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director, is retiring at year's end after more than 21 years of outstanding public service, the last 15 of which were in the U.S. Senate.  He has decided to pursue opportunities in the private sector, including his passion for oil painting and Florida art. Dan has been my confidant and friend all these years, and is recognized in both journalism and communications as one of the best.

He is succeeded by Ryan Brown who, as Director of Communications, is hitting the ground running.

McLaughlin was a formidable reporter for the Tampa Tribunebefore entering politics. He was not shy about telling reporters where he thought a story was to be found -- or if he thought a story was bull. His art has become an increasing focus.

McLaughlin's decision follows recent news that Nelson's chief of staff, Pete Mitchell, is retiring -- but not before laying the groundwork for Nelson's 2018 re-election campaign.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

November 29, 2015

Congressman pens Miami Herald op-ed calling for crackdown on Cuban Adjustment Act abuse

From a Miami Herald op-ed written by U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican (and Cuban American):

In 1965, one year before signing the Cuban Adjustment Act into law, President Lyndon Johnson said, “I declare this afternoon to the people of Cuba that those who seek refuge here in America will find it. The dedication of America to our traditions as an asylum for the oppressed is going to be upheld.”

Clearly, the spirit of the Act was to assist Cubans who had to flee their homeland and could not return for fear of persecution.

However, unlike other immigrants seeking political asylum, Cubans can return home without jeopardizing their status. In no other instance are refugees or asylees allowed to return to the country they claim is persecuting them without fundamental political change in that country occurring first, or before becoming U.S. citizens.

This is an obvious inconsistency in the law, as several South Florida newspapers have repeatedly pointed out. Ignoring this flaw is detrimental to efforts to reform and preserve the law for those who truly fear for their safety and security in Cuba. Moreover, those who wrongfully take advantage of this law are abusing our country’s generosity and creating gross inequities in our immigration system. Economic immigrants from many other countries in our hemisphere who waited in line to come to the United States do not understand why Cubans, who openly admit they have come for economic opportunities, enjoy these privileges.

More here.

November 20, 2015

Politico: The congressional page who took down Mark Foley

From Politico Magazine:

In the middle of October I was sitting on my couch in Washington and heard a familiar name come up on CNN: Dennis Hastert. “Prosecutors have charged Hastert with lying to the FBI about $3.5 million he agreed to pay to… a former student to keep quiet about allegations of sexual abuse dating back to Hastert's time as a high school teacher.” On October 28, after striking a deal with prosecutors, the former speaker of the House pleaded guilty.

This was nine years after the FBI had barged into my parents’ house, more than a decade after the unsettling things I’d seen on Capitol Hill. It was the final thud of a decline that had reshaped Congress—and in which I’d played a pivotal role that almost nobody except those FBI agents knew.

Hastert’s speakership had ended in both defeat and scandal. He resigned the office in November 2006, after Democrats retook the House. He didn’t have much choice in the matter. That fall, a story exploded that likely cost Republicans their House and Senate majority: Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley, it was revealed, had repeatedly made sexual advances to several congressional pages. Hastert, the speaker at the time, had allegedly been told by House colleagues about Foley’s history of messaging teens, and did nothing.

I was a congressional page in 2001 and 2002. During that year, Foley sent sexual instant messages to at least three of my classmates. The messages weren’t flirtatious—though some started that way—but out and out lewd. Two of those recipients continued to receive them well after their time in the page program had elapsed, extending into our college years. Many of us who were pages at the time knew that the conversations had taken place. Some of us even shared copies of the message logs among ourselves. But how the conversations went public, and who gave them to reporters and started the avalanche that ended Foley’s career and dealt a blow to the Republican congressional majority, has never come out.

It was me.

More here.

November 19, 2015

Miami congressman presses Obama on Cuban migrant surge


A surge of Cuban migrants, many of them trying to trek to the U.S. through Central America and Mexico, has prompted U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo to send President Barack Obama a letter asking him to take up the matter.

The Miami Republican wrote the president Thursday, requesting details on the White House's plans -- if there are any -- to manage the Cuban influx and coordinate with Mexican and Central American authorities.

"It is now clear that many Cubans are responding to the idea of a normal relationship between their oppressors and the United States with fear and desperation, leading many of them to risk their safety and their lives to escape the prison that is Castro's Cuba. I am concerned about what that means for my community in South Florida," wrote Curbelo, who is Cuban-American and represents a district that extends from Westchester to Key West. 

In an effort to stop Cuban migrants from as far south as Ecuador from heading north, Nicaragua shut down its border with Costa Rica on Sunday, leaving a couple thousand Cubans stranded. More than 45,000 Cubans arrived at U.S. checkpoints along the Mexican border in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The U.S. Coast Guard has also reported an increase in Cuban rafters intercepted at sea compared to 2014.

Read Curbelo's letter: here.

2 Florida Democrats vote for Syrian refugee crackdown

via @learyreports

Ignoring a veto threat from the president, the House today easily approved a bill calling for a halt to accepting Syrian refugees until more stringent safeguards are in place.

The vote on the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015 was 289-137. Two Florida Democrats joined Republicans: Gwen Graham and Patrick Murphy. (All told, 47 Democrats voted for the legislation.) Graham and Murphy have long taken votes that protect them from criticism from the right, and Graham is facing a tough re-election while Murphy seeks the U.S. Senate. Murphy's rival Alan Grayson issued a statement blasting the vote as "cowering in fear of widows and orphans."

All Florida Republicans voted for the bill.

Continue reading "2 Florida Democrats vote for Syrian refugee crackdown" »

November 18, 2015

Marco Rubio attends one Paris terror briefing but skips another to fundraise

via @learyreports

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went behind closed doors for a briefing titled, “The Aftermath of Paris: America’s Role.” But Sen. Marco Rubio was not there. The Florida Republican is on his way to California for fundraising.

The absence illustrates how Rubio is not just missing floor votes but also key hearings on national security and foreign policy -- issues he has presented as chief credentials of his presidential campaign. He's also skipping a Paris briefing this afternoon for all senators. His office said he attended an Intelligence Committee meeting on Paris held Tuesday.

In recent months Rubio has missed a slew of Foreign Relations hearings and classified briefings, records show, aiding his critics.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio attends one Paris terror briefing but skips another to fundraise" »

Miami congressman, a former school board member, will help rewrite No Child Left Behind law


U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo will have a seat at the table to work out the final details of the overhauled No Child Left Behind education law, a massive, controversial piece of legislation that has taken years for lawmakers to reform.

House Speaker Paul Ryan appointed Curbelo, a Miami Republican and former Miami-Dade School Board member, to the conference committee on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as the legislation is formally known. The committee of House and Senate members will try to agree on the wording of the law. Both chambers have passed different versions.

"Building a better education system for every child in America is one of my great passions. I began this work five years ago as a member of the Miami-Dade County School Board and have been able to continue it on the Committee on Education and the Workforce here in Congress," Curbelo said in a statement.

"This reauthorization of the ESEA puts children at the center of America's education system, reduces burdensome regulations on school districts and teachers, and promotes school choice. On the conference committee, I will fight for a strong but fair accountability system and to protect the interests of English language learners and the teachers and districts who serve these students -- a major priority for our schools in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties."

Earlier in the legislative process, Curbelo passed an amendment giving students learning English more time to achieve proficiency in reading and math.