October 11, 2017

Wasserman Schultz clashes with Rick Scott over hurricane debris removal

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz argued Wednesday that Gov. Rick Scott is slowing Hurricane Irma debris cleanup by forcing certain municipalities to follow debris removal contracts negotiated before the storm.

The longtime congresswoman from Broward County and the governor engaged in a testy exchange over hurricane debris removal during a meeting between the governor and the entire Florida congressional delegation on Wednesday.

“Debris has become an emergency situation, a public health hazard, rot is setting in,” Wasserman Schulz said. “If we start getting another hurricane all this debris will become projectiles.”

Wasserman Schultz said that the debris removal companies are able to get more money from municipalities who didn’t pre-negotiate a contract because the demand for debris removal is so high around the state. Therefore, certain communities are prioritized for debris removal over others because they can pay more.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburses municipalities for the bulk of hurricane debris removal, while the state picks up about 10 percent of the cost.
Scott countered that his biggest priority is making sure that debris removal companies aren’t price-gouging certain municipalities, and that allowing certain towns and cities to be reimbursed for a higher debris removal rate will ultimately hurt taxpayers.

“I’m going to stand to try to make sure that we watch out for taxpayer money,” Scott said. “They have contracts, comply with the contracts. I’m not going to allow people to take advantage of our state.”

Scott said the state is doing “everything we can” to expedite debris removal, citing the National Guard’s presence in the Florida Keys.

Wasserman Schultz continued to press Scott in a public forum with most of the state’s congressional delegation and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam looking on. She said that Scott did not return seven emails and several calls from her over the past week regarding debris cleanup.

“I have tried to reach you and I have gotten no response from you,” Wasserman Schultz said.

“If you contacted me, I don’t have any evidence that you contacted me,” Scott replied.

The meeting’s moderator, Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, who was physically seated between Scott and Wasserman Schutlz, eventually stopped the exchange as Wasserman Schultz continued to criticize Scott.

“Let’s talk about that a little later,” Buchanan said.

Read more here.

October 10, 2017

Ros-Lehtinen dishes to Cosmo about climate change, Trump and mansplaining in Congress


Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sat down for an early exit interview with "Cosmopolitan" magazine, sharing lessons from her extensive congressional career before she retires in 2018.

It's worth reading the entire piece, which highlights the areas in which Ros-Lehtinen has notably differed with the GOP: climate change ("People who argue that it isn't changing, that the sea levels are the same, are just delusional"), same-sex marriage ("If more members of our party listened to their hearts and acted on that, I think that we would be better off") and President Donald Trump ("I'm not the president of his fan club").

Of particular note is Ros-Lehtinen's nod to her trailblazing on Capitol Hill: She was the first Hispanic woman -- and first Cuban American -- elected to the House, and that made her all-too-familiar with "mansplaining," she told Cosmo:

When I first got to Congress many years ago, there weren't that many female members of Congress. And now there's so many more of us, and I think the male members have understood the changing nature of society. They’re more cognizant that maybe what they're thinking and their points of view are not the Magna Carta.

There came a time in my public service career where I really had the gumption to express my point of view and I felt like, OK, don't tell me about this issue of human rights. I really do know a lot about it and we can share opinions, but there's certain facts that you need to know. That only comes once you master a subject, and you feel like, OK, I trust my instincts and I trust my knowledge, and boy, I'm not gonna let anybody mansplain to me. I'm gonna dig right in and I'm gonna get my point of view across. Having that sense of self is really a confidence builder. Hoo-boy, you just feel it in your bones. More and more I think men are seeing, Oh boy, this person knows what she's talking about. And they're a little more cautious than they used to be.

Curbelo, Moulton file bill to ban 'bump stocks' like ones used in Las Vegas shooting


Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and Connecticut Democrat Seth Moulton filed legislation Tuesday to ban the manufacture, sale and use of "bump stock" devices that turn semiautomatic weapons essentially into outlawed machine guns.

The bipartisan effort to draft the bill began last week after the Las Vegas shooting, where the shooter, Stephen Paddock, killed 58 people using, at least in some cases, weapons outfitted with bump stocks. Under the bill, violating the ban would be a felony offense with increased penalties for offenders.

"For the first time in decades, there is growing bipartisan consensus for sensible gun policy, a polarizing issue that has deeply divided Republicans and Democrats," Curbelo said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "This common-sense legislation will ban devices that blatantly circumvent already existing law without restricting Second Amendment rights. I'm proud to join Rep. Moulton to lead our colleagues in this important first step to address gun violence in our country and show that Congress is capable of working constructively in a bipartisan way to make Americans safer."

The legislation has 20 original cosponsors -- 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Additional members of Congress can only sign on if a lawmaker from the opposing party also inks their name to the bill. Among them is Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

A couple of Republican senators have reached out to Curbelo's office asking about possibly introducing a companion in the Senate, a Curbelo staffer told the Herald.

October 07, 2017

California's Kamala Harris to fundraise in Florida for Bill Nelson

From Christopher Cadelago of our sister paper The Sacramento Bee:

Sen. Kamala Harris will travel next month to another key presidential battleground to raise money for a Democratic colleague.

The California senator will be in Florida as a special guest of Sen. Bill Nelson for a Nov. 3 lunch reception, according to an invitation obtained by The Sacramento Bee.

The event in Jacksonville is part of a multistop fundraising swing though the state, with plans to appear alongside Nelson in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

More here.

Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

The Jones Act waiver was supposed to help Puerto Rico. So where are the ships?



When the Trump administration waived the Jones Act in Puerto Rico for 10 days on Sept. 28, it was hailed as an important step for the U.S. territory’s recovery from Hurricane Maria.

But the president’s waiver, which expires on Sunday, has made little difference in the flow of aid to Puerto Rico so far.

None of the 12 known ships that are operating under the waiver — which allows foreign ships to transport goods from U.S. ports to Puerto Rico — have arrived or unloaded cargo in San Juan, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Three of the 12 ships also appear to be headed to foreign ports, a Homeland Security spokesman said.

The shipping information is voluntarily provided to Homeland Security by shipping carriers, so there could be additional ships operating under the waiver without Homeland Security’s knowledge. Under the waiver, ships must be loaded by Sunday and then have an additional 10 days to deliver their cargo to Puerto Rico, so the total number of ships operating under the waiver could increase by October 8.
It typically takes five days to deliver goods by boat to Puerto Rico from Miami and seven days from Jacksonville. Jacksonville’s port is the main hub for transporting U.S. goods to Puerto Rico.

The 1920 Jones Act requires ships transporting goods within the country to be built, owned and operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

When the Trump administration initially decided to not waive the Jones Act in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Sept. 20, the backlash was fierce. Critics accused the businessman-turned-president of rallying behind the interests of the U.S. shipping industry instead of putting the needs of Puerto Rico first.

“Puerto Rico is broke and the federal government already controls the purse strings through the financial control board or Junta that was imposed by Congress,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, D-Ill. “In their hour of need, Washington can help by suspending the Jones Act and suspending cost-sharing obligations.”

Trump himself fueled criticism when he said, “we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry who don't want the Jones Act lifted.”

The president eventually changed course and granted the 10-day waiver when Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló requested it.

But during a congressional hearing on Oct. 3, representatives from Tote Maritime and Crowley, two of the biggest U.S. shipping companies tasked with delivering goods to Puerto Rico, told the House Transportation Committee that they hadn’t heard from any foreign shipping companies wanting to do business under the Jones Act waiver.

“Our companies operate two of the three terminals in the port of San Juan that would be contacted in order to unload vessels that would be under the waiver,” said Tote CEO Anthony Chiarello. “We have not received a call requesting the need to unload the ships.”

Read more here. 

October 06, 2017

Curbelo challenger: Banning 'bump stocks' not enough


Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell gets choked up talking about last Sunday's mass shooting in Las Vegas because it reminds her of her father, Guido Mucarsel, who was killed by a gunman in her native Ecuador when she was 24.

"It never goes away," she said Friday of the sadness that will follow the families of the 58 Vegas victims.

On Thursday, in the wake of the Vegas massacre, Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo plans to file legislation to ban devices that make semiautomatic weapons fire like deadlier automatic weapons. Mucarsel-Powell, who has filed to challenge Curbelo in 2018, agreed with the policy but criticized it as falling far short of what Congress should have already done to prevent shootings.

"It's playing politics with people's lives," she said. "Of course, it's an obvious first step, but I think Congress has failed to act when they've had the opportunity."

Two years ago, she noted, Curbelo voted against legislation expanding background checks. He has an 86 percent rating from the National Rifle Association.

"In our district, there are gun shows where people can walk in and buy a gun without a background check," Mucarsel-Powell said. "Political courage is not really doing something when it's convenient but when it's necessary."

Curbelo has been getting national press for his bipartisan legislation plan, appearing Friday morning on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel to discuss the bill, filed Thursday with Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat.

On CNN's "New Day," host Chris Cuomo asked Curbelo about doing more than prohibiting "bump stocks" that help rifles fire more rounds more quickly. Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock also bought some 30 weapons and stockpiled ammunition.

"That's a fair point," Curbelo told Cuomo, noting that last year he filed, but failed to pass, legislation to prohibit people under FBI investigation for suspected terrorism ties from buying guns. "And I think a lot of people are going to call for more, Chris, but I don't want to diminish what we're doing. For decades, compromise between Republicans and Democrats on this issue has been elusive. This might be a small but a very important step."


October 05, 2017

Carlos Curbelo plans to introduce bump stock ban in Congress



Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, plans to introduce legislation with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., on Friday that would ban the use of bump stocks. Bump stocks are a device that uses a gun's recoil to push the trigger back into the shooters trigger finger, effectively allowing a semi-automatic weapon to function like an automatic weapon. 

A gunman who killed 58 people in Las Vegas used the device while firing on an outdoor concert from a high-rise hotel room.
"I think this prohibition, this ban on bump stocks should be codified," Curbelo told NBC's Chuck Todd on Thursday, arguing that Congress should pass legislation banning the device instead of leaving the decision to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. "There is definitely a lot of momentum here." 
Curbelo said the legislation will be introduced "Noah's Ark" style, meaning that any potential cosponsor must join the bill with a member from the other party. He also said that the ATF would carry out the law and determine how to get rid of existing bump stocks in private hands if the law passes. 
"We want to send a strong message and the bottom line is that these devices turn legal weapons into illegal weapons," Curbelo said. "We would be closing a loophole." 
A host of other Florida Republican lawmakers said Thursday they support a bump stock ban. 

Support grows among Florida Republicans for 'bump stock' ban


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Several Republican members of Congress support a ban on the kind of device the Las Vegas gunman used to greatly increase the rate of firing, a sign of possible movement on gun restrictions.

It’s a given that Democrats support legislation to ban “bump-stocks,” and many will argue that it’s only a small step. But the GOP as a whole has long resisted any new gun regulations until now.

So far, Republican Reps. Carlos CurbeloIleana Ros-LehtinenGus Bilirakis and Vern Buchanan have said they would support a ban.

"I believe it's time Congress seriously consider the legality of bump stocks," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told the Miami Herald, who is joining three other lawmakers asking the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau to "reevaluate the Obama administration's 2010 approval of bump stocks," Diaz-Balart's office said.

Since 1998, Diaz-Balart has gotten more money in direct campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association than anyone else in Florida, according to an analysis from the Washington Post.

The Tampa Bay Times asked all Florida Republican House members as well as Sen. Marco Rubio and will update this space if they respond.

--with Alex Daugherty

Photo credit: John Locher, Associated Press


Emily's List formally backs Curbelo challenger


Emily's List, which promotes the candidacies of progressive women in politics, is formally getting behind Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell's bid against Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

The group announced its endorsement Thursday for the 2018 race in Florida's swing 26th district, which extends from Westchester to Key West.

It did not come as a surprise: Mucarsel-Powell met with Emily's List leaders in Washington before launching her candidacy in August. The group's early backing signals that Democrats probably don't expect another significant female candidate to get in the race.

"Too much is on the line to stay home next November, like protecting women's health care and passing permanent DACA legislation," Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program phased out by President Donald Trump. "Debbie is just the type of fighter Florida's working families deserve representing their interests in Washington."

Schriock called Curbelo an "extreme Republican who supports Donald Trump's dangerous agenda." Curbelo, it should be noted, has broken with Trump on a number of issues -- and filed legislation to protected DACA beneficiaries.

October 04, 2017

Congressional Hispanic Caucus slow-walks membership request from Republican Curbelo

via @lesleyclark

WASHINGTON -- In a Capitol riven by partisan divisions, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican, says he thought it might help matters to work across the aisle with his Democratic Hispanic colleagues.

In February, he met with the chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and asked about joining. Eight months later, he's still waiting for an invitation.

"I just don't understand what's so difficult," Curbelo said Wednesday. "They have to decide if this is the Congressional Hispanic Caucus or if it’s the Congressional Hispanic country club for liberals."

It’s a work in progress, insists caucus chair Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat from New Mexico, who joked that his request is “moving far faster than anything that ever happens in Congress.” She called it a “good approach” to start with allowing Curbelo to sit on the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a non-profit affiliated organization, before expanding the caucus.

“It’s not true that it’s not happening and it’s also not accurate to say that it’s a done deal,” Lujan Grisham said of allowing Curbelo to join. “The caucus really has to have a discussion because we talk about legislative strategy that can sometimes be partisan.” 

She called it a “difficult path,” but said conversations are ongoing with the caucus members.

The caucus at one time included members from both parties, but several Republicans from Florida walked out over differences on Cuba policy and formed their own group. That rift still resonates, though it happened before her tenure, Lujan Grisham said, adding that she fears the group could again get bogged down by partisan squabbling.

More here.

Photo credit: REX/Shutterstock via Associated Press