March 02, 2017

Get tougher on anti-Semitism, Florida reps tell Trump

via @learyreports

Two Florida members of Congress joined a call Thursday for President Trump to take decisive action to address rising anti-Semitism in the U.S., including bolstering resources in the Justice Department and evaluating online aggression.

“As the Co-Chairs of the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism in the U.S. House of Representatives, we thank you for beginning your address to Congress this week by standing against anti-Semitism and condemning the recent threats against Jewish institutions,” reads a letter from the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism that includes Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.

“We believe that your Administration should prepare and implement a comprehensive, inter-agency strategy for  detecting, investigating, prosecuting,  and  preventing  crimes motivated by anti-Jewish bias while deterring future attacks against Jewish sites.

As you know, since January 1, there have been an estimated 100 bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers (“JCCs”) and Jewish schools in five waves at 81 locations in 33 states. We have also seen significant desecration of Jewish cemetery sites in the St. Louis and Philadelphia regions and other incidents of vandalism and harassment of Jews. These threats are unacceptable in our country.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio says he wants more details from Sessions on Russia meetings

Trump Secretary of State Rubio (1)

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday he wants to speak directly to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ask about Sessions' two meetings last year with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., a revelation made late Wednesday by the Washington Post.

Sessions did not disclose the encounters during his subsequent Senate confirmation hearings and says he didn't meet with the Russians -- who are suspected of meddling with the presidential election -- over the campaign.

"I need to learn more beyond the media reports," Rubio told NPR's "Morning Edition."

Asked if Sessions might have to recuse himself from the Justice Department's investigation into Russia's election involvement -- or perhaps even resign -- Rubio called that talk premature but acknowledged that Sessions "potentially" might have to take those extraordinary steps.

"Let's take this one step at a time," said Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "But this is certainly a relevant story."


Photo credit: Steve Helber, Associated Press

March 01, 2017

What Florida politicians thought of Trump's speech to Congress


via @learyreports


Rep. Al Lawson

We heard a lot from President Trump tonight, but the numbers speak for themselves. Forty days after his inauguration, we still have yet to see President Trump and the Republican Congress lift a finger to create jobs or help hard-working Americans. Instead, we have a leader who is alienating Americans instead of bringing people together. Trump and his administration are in a hurry to repeal the Affordable Care Act even if it makes America sick again and leaves 30 million people without life-saving health insurance. That is unacceptable. Our country deserves better than a bunch of broken promises from our President. Now is the time for all of us in Congress to roll up our sleeves and figure out a way to work together in order to improve our economy, create more jobs, and do right by the people who sent us here to bring civility back to our government.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy

I am disappointed the President did not use this opportunity to offer a concrete plan to unify the country and Congress to grow the middle class, strengthen education, make health care more accessible and affordable, and safeguard our nation. However, I am optimistic there are opportunities for the President and Congress to work together.  I am especially pleased to hear that the President wants to make childcare accessible and affordable, ensure parents obtain family leave, invest in women’s health, and rebuild our infrastructure. Earlier this month, some of my congressional colleagues and I requested a meeting with the President to discuss ways to improve our nation’s aging infrastructure.  If the President is serious about this issue, he will find a willing partner in me and many of my fellow Members of Congress. I continue to be concerned about the President’s undisciplined approach to national security, which undermines rather than enhances our safety.  I also did not see a realistic plan to replace the Affordable Care Act—only a politically-motivated effort to eliminate health care coverage for millions of Americans and send our health care system into chaos. Right now, the American public is calling for unity, cooperation, and results.  I stand ready and willing to work with the White House and both parties in Congress to put good public policy above partisan politics on issues where we can find common ground.  I encourage the President to do the same.

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Fact-checking Trump's first speech to Congress

Trump Speechthree


President Donald Trump promised to deliver "a message of unity and strength" that came from deep in his heart in his first address to a joint session of Congress.

Guests watching from the balcony with wife, Melania Trump, included family members of three people reportedly killed by immigrants living in the United States illegally. Down below, dozens of Democratic congresswomen appeared in the crowd as a sea of white, having coordinated on their wardrobes to send a message about women’s rights.

As is often the case with such addresses, Trump’s Feb. 28 speech included a mix of lofty aspirations and nuts-and-bolts policy proposals.

"Dying industries will come roaring back to life," Trump told the assembled lawmakers, dignitaries and guests. "Heroic veterans will get the care they so desperately need. Our military will be given the resources its brave warriors so richly deserve. Crumbling infrastructure will be replaced with new roads, bridges, tunnels, airports and railways gleaming across our beautiful land. Our terrible drug epidemic will slow down and ultimately, stop. And our neglected inner cities will see a rebirth of hope, safety, and opportunity."

Beyond his soaring rhetoric were some exaggerations or misleading statements about the health of the Affordable Care Act, the cost of illegal immigration and the state of the economy. He also got a number of statistical claims correct, though he sometimes seemed to claim more credit than may be justified.

Here’s PolitiFact's rundown of the president’s remarks, along with notes on their overall accuracy and additional points of context.

Keep reading here.

February 28, 2017

Rubio says Social Security, Medicaid should be part of budget talks


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday that President Donald Trump's proposed defense spending increase doesn't go far enough but he expressed concern about cuts to other areas of the budget and said changes to Social Security and Medicare should be on the table.

"I don't expect you're going to hear that tonight," the Florida Republican said hours before Trump's speech to Congress, "but I think in the months to come as the reality sets in, we'll have to accept that."

Rubio has long called for changes to Social Security and Medicaid, but not for current recipients.

"I'm against anything that is bad for my mom," he told reporters. "I'm talking about me … our generation. It's either going to be bankrupt or it's going to work differently. What are we talking about in some cases? I'm going to have to retire at 68½ instead of at 68. These are not unreasonable requests to add some longevity and stability to these programs."

Rubio also discussed Obamacare and the Russian probe.

More here.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

February 27, 2017

Corcoran, Negron to discuss Obamacare, flood insurance with Rubio in D.C.

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other legislators are in Washington Monday and Tuesday for a series of meetings and social gatherings with Sen. Marco Rubio and others.

Though the parties are keeping details close — for reasons that aren’t clear — we have obtained an itinerary.


1-2 p.m. Working lunch flood insurance
2-5 p.m. Affordable Care Act and impact on Florida
5-6 p.m. Social Hour
6-8 p.m. - Dinner with Rubio and Rep. Vern Buchanan


9-11 a.m. Breakfast - water issues
11-1 p.m. Tax reform
1-3 p.m. Meetings with individual members of Congress

Rubio’s office said Friday that the meetings are “to make sure we are providing open lines of communication and be a resource as it relates to federal activity and how it impacts Florida as they head into legislative session.”

Here is a list of those invited:

Speaker Richard Corcoran
President Joe Negron
Rep. Jeanette Nunez
Rep. Jose Oliva
Rep. Jose Felix Diaz
Rep. Michael Bileca
Rep. Janet Cruz
Rep. Ray Rodrigues
Rep. Bobby DuBose
Rep. George Moraitis
Rep. Carlos Trujillo
Sen. Wilton Simpson
Sen. Anitere Flores
Sen. Bill Galvano
Sen. Jack Latvala
Sen. Oscar Braynon
Sen. Lauren Book

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times, with Jeremy Wallace

February 26, 2017

Rubio: I won't attend town halls full of 'liberal activists'


Don't expect to see U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio at a town hall anytime soon.

The Florida Republican said in an interview this weekend that the much-ballyhooed events organized last week by Indivisible Miami, a group that opposes President Donald Trump, aren't real forums to exchange ideas.

"They are not town halls anymore," Rubio told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 on Saturday. "And I wish they were, because I enjoy that process very much, going back to my time as [Florida] speaker of the House."

Indivisible Miami put together several "empty-chair" town halls for Rubio's constituents last week. The senator was never expected to show up. His office hasn't scheduled any town halls of his own, unlike some of his fellow GOP colleagues in the Senate. 

"These are real people. They are real liberal activists, and I respect their right to do it," Rubio said of the crowds who showed up to last week's events, estimating that "80-90 percent" were liberal activists. "But it is not a productive exercise. It's all designed to have news coverage at night."

Rubio also told "Facing South Florida" host Jim DeFede that it's too soon to call for a special prosecutor to investigate alleged Russian interference into the U.S. presidential election, including any potential ties to Trump's campaign, as Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California has suggested.

"We will gather facts. We will gather evidence," Rubio said of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "We will present that in a report to the Senate and ultimately to the American people and then I believe people will be able to opine about whether or not that is something worthy of the intervention of the Justice Department. And at that time we would opine. But I don't even know it will rise to that level. I'm not prepared to say that. It might and if it does we'll act and if it doesn't we won't."

February 24, 2017

Charlie Crist files for divorce

Charlie and carole crist 2
via @adamsmithtimes

After nine years of marriage, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist has filed for divorce.

“I think the world of Carole. She’s an amazing person. It just didn’t work out for us,” the former governor told the Tampa Bay Times. “I wish all the the best for her.”

Crist, 60, said the divorce should have no impact on his service. He and Carole, 47, own a Parkshore condo in downtown St. Petersburg, and details about whether he will continue to live there have yet to be worked out.

Crist met Carole, a glamorous fixture on the New York and Hamptons social circuit, in the fall of 2007 and became engaged in July 2008 when he was a Republican governor widely seen as a top contender to be John McCain’s running mate.

The Crists married in December 2008, and together they worked through a tumultuous period in Crist’s political career: An unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate as both a Republican and then independent in 2010 and then unsuccessful campaign for governor as a Democrat in 2014. In November, he was elected to the U.S. House, representing much of Pinellas County.

Mrs. Crist a top adviser to her husband throughout, and late last year went onto his campaign payroll as his political director.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Joe Burbank, MCT

Rubio gets empty-chair town hall treatment in South Miami

via @harrisalexc

The mayor of South Miami and the former mayor of Pinecrest hoisted a dark suit on a hanger into the air between them, and the crowd of nearly 300 people jeered and laughed.

Someone threw a wad of cash on the table, nearly hitting the paper name tag identifying the invisible man as Senator Marco Rubio. Philip Stoddard, of South Miami, stuffed the bills in a suit pocket and held a water bottle near the lapels.

A man from the overflow crowd outside shouted from the open doors: “It’s an empty chair. We deserve better than an empty chair.”

He, and hundreds of other activists, gathered in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami in Glenvar Heights Thursday night for a town hall meeting without their elected official.

Congress is in recess this week, so some representatives — including Florida Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Dennis Ross — use the break to hold town hall meetings. Rubio’s office said he was in Europe on senate business this week and wouldn’t be attending any, but activists found the senator twice on Thursday and posted videos of the confrontation online.

More here.

February 23, 2017

Rubio quietly returns from Europe and is confronted in Miami

Rubio Protest

The line from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's aides when they were asked this week why the Florida Republican wasn't planning any town hall meetings during the congressional recess was that he was away in Europe on Senate business.

But Rubio returned quietly Wednesday night -- and was promptly confronted Thursday morning by a protester who found the senator even though he hadn't publicly listed any appearances.

In a video posted on Facebook by Miami activist Tomas Kennedy, a protester chases Rubio down at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The video was first reported by the Miami New Times.

"Senator, I thought you were in Europe," an unidentified man says on the clip. "Are you going to host a town hall?"

"Good to see you, man," Rubio responded.

The New Times reported Rubio returned from Europe in time to teach his weekly politics class at Florida International University.

Indivisible Miami, an anti-Trump group, has planned an empty-chair town hall -- to be held with or without Rubio -- for Thursday night. Another one is scheduled for Saturday in Plantation. Activists held a similar event Wednesday night in Tampa, featuring a Rubio cardboard cutout. More than 500 people attended.

Rubio's office said the senator was at Jackson for a roundtable discussion on Florida's opioid crisis. The office did not advertise Rubio's appearance in advance, as it often does with local events so news reporters can attend. Aides later posted a recap of the event on Rubio's Senate website.

The senator's Europe trip was also shrouded in mystery. Rubio's office didn't say until Monday that he had made the trip to France and Germany; he'd been expected to depart for Europe on Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference but didn't due to extended Senate business. No day-to-day schedule or recaps of Rubio's trip have been made public, either.

Labor groups have been picketing Rubio's Doral office on a weekly basis over his support for President Trump's Cabinet picks. Protesters have also shown up at the offices of Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen this week, asking for town halls.

Republican lawmakers' town halls across the country have turned rowdy, but that hasn't stopped legislators -- including Florida Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Dennis Ross -- from holding them. 

Photo credit: Alan Diaz, Associated Press