March 09, 2016

Debbie Wasserman Schultz bashes Marco Rubio before Democratic debate

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz defended Democratic turnout and bashed the GOP presidential field shortly before the debate started between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Miami.

The Democratic National Committee chair from Broward County said that so far Republican turnout has been about 55 percent compared to 45 percent for the Democrats in Florida. The state’s primary is March 15 but voting by mail and at early voting sites started in February.

The higher GOP turnout isn’t a surprise since the Republican primary has had more candidates, she said.

“Ours hasn’t been a freak show,” she said, shortly before the debate at Miami Dade College.

Wasserman Schultz called out U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio who has been trailing Donald Trump in the polls.

“Marco Rubio should be doing so much better here...,” she said.

Asked about President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Cuba this month, Wasserman Schultz said she will not join Obama on the trip and has no desire to visit the island.

“Not until they make more human rights progress,” she said.

In Florida, the Democratic Party sees an opening with the Cuban-American vote which seen for years as a reliable GOP voting bloc but Obama made some headway with them in 2012.

The Democratic Party will try to appeal to Cuban-American voters with messages about jobs, education and health care, she said.

“Four and a half million Hispanics in this country have gotten health care that didn’t have it before,” she said.

At some point after the Miami debate, representatives for the DNC and the campaigns are expected to reach an agreement on the date and locations of the next debates. One debate is expected to be held in April and one in California in May.

UPDATED Miami congressman snubbed from White House meeting on Cuba


U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo wanted in on the White House's upcoming Miami meeting with Cuban-American community leaders. 

No such luck.

Curbelo says he asked to attend Friday's get-together with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. But he was told the meeting will be "private."

"This White House works very hard at excluding Cuban-American representatives -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- from any meetings or discussions having to do with U.S.-Cuba policy," Curbelo said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "I've worked with the Administration on higher education reform, climate change, immigration, and other issues. However, on Cuba they shut out anyone who doesn't fully agree with them -- even those who represent our country's Cuban-American community. It doesn't make sense, and quite frankly, it seems petty."

Pete Boogaard, assistant press secretary for the National Security Council, said Rhodes and other senior administration officials have met "directly with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle."

"We will continue to make outreach to Congress a focus of our engagement, but during the limited time Mr. Rhodes has in Miami, he will meet with human rights and civil society advocates, faith leaders, young emerging leaders, and representatives from the private sector."

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, the Democrat who lost to Curbelo in 2014 and hopes to challenge him again later this year, issued a campaign statement deriding Curbelo's complaint as "priceless."

"The person who has opposed every single one of this administration's initiatives on Cuba -- from family travel to remittances to normalization of migratory policy -- now wants a photo op. The Obama administration has been in contact with Cubans both on the island and in Miami, as well as with leaders of the civic, business, art and political communities. If there is someone who is out of touch with the people in Cuba and, in particular, South Florida, it is Mr. Curbelo."

Curbelo was snubbed by the White House last year: It denied him an Air Force One seat to a President Barack Obama town hall on immigration at Florida International University, in Curbelo's congressional district. The White House later made nice with Curbelo, and he got to fly with the president a few months later on a trip to the Florida Everglades.

Miami Dade College announced Wednesday that, as part of his visit, Rhodes will attend a town meeting with young Cuban Americans at downtown Miami's Wolfson Campus. The event is co-sponsored by Roots of Hope, a nonprofit network of Cuban-American college students and professionals. Rhodes will hold a news conference afterward.

UPDATE: Rhodes telephoned Curbelo on Wednesday night, according to the congressman. They spoke for about half an hour and had a "very productive conversation."

This post has been updated.

March 08, 2016

Coconut Grove fundraiser planned for Miami Republican congressman


In a sign that the 2016 election campaign is in full swing outside of the presidential race, friends of U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo plan a fundraiser for the Republican this week in Miami.

The reception will be held Thursday night at the Coconut Grove home of attorney Roy Altman. Also co-hosting the event are Jorge Arrizurieta, Luis Gazitua, Jorge Ortega, Mike Valdes-Fauli and Raul G. Valdes-Fauli.

The suggested contribution is $2,700 per person.

Curbelo, a freshman, is running in a more Democratic-leaning district than he did two years ago. It stretches from Westchester to Key West. Two well-known candidates, Joe Garcia and Annette Taddeo, are running on the Democratic side.

March 07, 2016

Miami GOP congresswoman takes reelection campaign to South Beach


U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's reelection campaign is getting the South Beach treatment.

The Miami Republican plans a fundraising dinner Sunday at Smith & Wollensky, the swanky steakhouse at South Pointe Park. She will be joined by her two fellow local members of Congress -- Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart -- and Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and John Mica of Winter Park.

The suggested contribution? $1,000 a head.

February 29, 2016

A Miami congressional candidate and the evolution of U.S.-Cuba policy


How the politics of Cuba have changed in Miami in recent years.

When Democrat Annette Taddeo first ran for Congress in 2008, she supported keeping the U.S. trade embargo. Now, eight years later, she's running for Congress again, in favor of lifting the embargo and asking voters to sign a petition backing President Barack Obama's visit later this month to Cuba.

She sent supporters an email urging their signature after incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said he was "disappointed" to learn of Obama's trip and asked his own supporters to sign a petition opposing the visit. Republicans may instead counter that she's been a Cuba flip-flopper.

So, for Taddeo, what changed?

"In 2008, I was very much against lifting the embargo, as I think almost everybody was," Taddeo acknowledged in an interview with the Miami Herald.

Five years later, in 2013, she got a call from people trying to arrange meetings on Capitol Hill for Yoani Sánchez, the Cuban blogger who was visiting Washington D.C. Taddeo says she put some together for Sánchez and several U.S. senators, and attended herself.

"She certainly opened up my mind," Taddeo said, crediting Sánchez, who opposes with embargo, with making her rethink her position. "We can go back to just being isolationist, but what I learned was this just hurts the Cuban people."

Continue reading "A Miami congressional candidate and the evolution of U.S.-Cuba policy" »

A year later, Marco Rubio holds up Miami nominee for federal bench

via @jayhweaver

It's no wonder U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio recommended seasoned Miami lawyer Mary Barzee Flores to fill an opening on the busy federal judiciary in South Florida more than a year ago.

She worked her way through the University of Miami and its law school, spent more than two decades as an assistant federal public defender and state circuit court judge, then joined a top commercial law firm before applying for a coveted federal judgeship.

“What a spectacular judge,” said Miami lawyer Edward Blumberg, a former president of the Florida Bar Association, recalling his experience trying a complex medical malpractice case in front of her. “She's one of the best judges I've seen statewide.”

Rubio thought so, too. But since Barzee Flores' nomination by President Barack Obama a year ago, the Miami Republican now running for his party's presidential nomination has held up her confirmation by not allowing the Senate Judiciary Committee to move forward with it.

Rubio, who had recommended Barzee Flores along with his Florida colleague, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, has not submitted a so-called blue slip that would set the wheels in motion for her confirmation — a decision seemingly in lockstep with the GOP-led Senate’s strategy to “slow-walk” the Democratic president’s judicial nominees since early last year. Only 16 federal district and appellate judges have been confirmed since last year by the Senate, including four nominated after Barzee Flores. The president nominated her on Feb. 26, 2015, and Nelson, a Democrat, returned his blue slip for her confirmation immediately.

More here.

February 25, 2016

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson: Apple should work with FBI to unlock terrorist's iPhone

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson on Thursday added his voice to those calling for Apple to unlock an iPhone belonging to one of the San Bernardino attackers.

"I certainly understand the risk to Americans’ privacy as expressed by Apple and other technology companies, and I don't want to run the risk of letting the trail go so cold on this terrorist attack and potentially other cases, that the trail could go so cold that we lose it because this is winding itself through months and years in the courts. In other words, we need to know what was behind this attack, a terrorist attack that everybody recognizes was terrorist. We need to know in order to get to the bottom of it and root it out and see if there is other terrorists inside the country that are planning to do the same thing, to protect our people and our national security.

"So there's got to be a way that the FBI can get the information it needs from the terrorist's iPhone in a manner that continues to protect American smartphone users," Nelson said.

Sen. Marco Rubio has tried to put a foot on both sides of the debate. “I don’t have a magic solution for it today,” the Republican presidential candidate said during a CNN town hall last week. “If you create a backdoor, there is a very reasonable possibility that a criminal gang could figure out what the backdoor is.” But he added, “On the flip-side of it, there might be valuable information on that phone from the San Bernardino killers that could lead us to preventing future crimes or future attacks.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

February 19, 2016

Marco Rubio missed 60 percent of Foreign Relations committee hearings

via @learyreports

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Jeb Bush tried to slow down Marco Rubio this week in South Carolina by attacking Rubio's claim that Bush has "zero" foreign policy experience.

"Wow, coming from a guy whose office has a hard time actually saying what his accomplishments are," Bush said, adding that the senator's approach is "going to hearings to listen to smart people talk about things rather than actually leading."

Bush used a variation of that line several times this week, which revives questions about Rubio's attendance at Senate Foreign Relations Committee meetings and his overall absenteeism in Washington.

A new, sweeping review of all committees Rubio has sat on since taking office in 2011 paints a bleak picture of participation in the day-to-day responsibilities of the job.

Rubio is on the Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Commerce and Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. The Florida Republican has missed 68 percent of hearings, or 407 of 598 for which records were available.

His skipped 80 percent of Commerce hearings and 85 percent of those held by Small Business, records show.

He has missed 60 percent of Foreign Relations hearings since joining the Senate despite making his committee experience a centerpiece of his qualifications for president.

Continue reading "Marco Rubio missed 60 percent of Foreign Relations committee hearings" »

February 18, 2016

Poll of Miami congressional district shows narrow support for President Obama's Cuba policy


In December, on the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's diplomatic opening toward Cuba, a Miami Democratic consultant commissioned a local poll to, among other things, gauge the policy's popularity.

The survey, of a newly redrawn Miami congressional district represented by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, showed narrow support -- 47-43 percent -- for a hypothetical congressional candidate who favored normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations and lifting the trade embargo, according to results shared with the Miami Herald by consultant Christian Ulvert.

Democrats were far more likely to back the policy change (68 percent) than Republicans (30 percent) and voters without party affiliation (44 percent). That nearly a third of Republicans would be OK with ending the embargo is particularly noteworthy in South Florida, the heart of the hard-line Cuban exile community, where reactions were divided Thursday to the White House's announcement that Obama plans to travel to the island next month.

The poll was conducted by SEA Polling & Strategic Design between Dec.17-21. It surveyed 400 likely voters, with a slightly Republican-leaning sample, and has an error margin of 4.9 percent.

"The poll I commissioned in late December shows how voters in CD-27 continue to embrace the leadership President Obama has shown to bring meaningful and democratic change to the Cuban people through normalizing relations with the island," Ulvert said in a statement. "CD-27 voters appreciate that the failed policies over the last 50 years have not resulted in a free and democratic Cuba, so voters see great opportunity in President Obama being a voice for a new democracy in Cuba and through deep coordination with Cuban-American civic and elected leaders in South Florida, we can achieve that dream for Cuba."

The same poll showed that Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American who stridently opposes any rapprochement with the Castro regime, remains highly popular in her district, even now that it's filled with more Democrats. Her favorability rating was 61-27 percent, with 6 percent of respondents holding a mixed view of the congresswoman and 6 percent saying they didn't know. So even if a majority of voters disagree with her on Cuba, it appears very unlikely that the longtime incumbent would draw any serious opposition.


February 17, 2016

Joe Garcia's internal poll shows him leading Annette Taddeo

An internal poll done by Joe Garcia's Congressional campaign shows him leading Democratic rival Annette Taddeo 34-24.

The poll was done by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm Jan. 15-18 of 441 Democratic voters in the district which spans parts of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

"The poll is a reflection of the support Joe has received since entering the race," said Juan Penalosa, an advisor for the Garcia campaign. "Joe is leading by large margins across the board, including a 15 point lead among women."  

Taddeo's campaign manager Shaun Daniels said: "Whether on election day in 2014 or in his own polling, Joe Garcia just can’t seem to get to 50%. This poll is great news for the Taddeo Campaign. It is not surprising that a former incumbent holds a slight lead.”

We'll note that internal polls come with a large grain of salt -- particularly when they are done about seven months before the primary. But due to redistricting, District 26 leans more left than in the past and this could be the hottest Congressional primary contest in South Florida.

This poll previously reported by Politico.