July 30, 2017

Matt Haggman, who may run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat, to make "special announcement" on Tuesday


@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

Matt Haggman looks more like a congressional candidate with each passing day. 

When Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced that she would not run for reelection in 2018, Haggman told the Miami Herald in April a run for her seat is "something I've been actively thinking about for a while now."  

Two weeks ago, Haggman quit his post as the Knight Foundation's program director in Miami, telling a reporter to "stay tuned" about his future plans.

And now Haggman is hosting an event on Tuesday evening dubbed "Building a Better Miami" where he promises a "special announcement," according to an invitation obtained by the Miami Herald. 

Haggman, a Democrat and former Miami Herald reporter, declined to comment. 

If Haggman jumps in the race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat he will become the sixth Democrat aiming for the Miami-based seat that Democrats argue is likely to flip after Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement in April. 

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, attorney Mary Barzee Flores, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person are all running in the Democratic primary. Miami Commissioner Ken Russell formed an exploratory committee as he considers a run. 

Three Republicans are also in the race, former Miami-Dade mayoral candidate and school board member Raquel Regalado, County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and Maria Peiro

Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in Ros-Lehtinen's district, the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican. 



July 28, 2017

Members of Congress to Tillerson: Don't unilaterally ban Venezuelan oil imports


A group of nine House Democrats cautioned Friday against banning Venezuelan oil imports, a drastic sanction the Trump administration has considered imposing if the South American nation carries out an election Sunday for a national constituent assembly.

In a letter, the lawmakers asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has been largely absent from the Venezuela issue, to work with other countries in the region to pursue negotiations between Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his opponents. Otherwise, they wrote, the U.S. risks triggering an"armed internal conflict [that] would undoubtedly provoke an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and would also likely lead to major disruptions in oil production."

"We would point out that U.S. unilateral sanctions in effect since 2015 and have done nothing to improve the political situation in the country," the lawmakers wrote Tillerson. "Instead, they were successfully exploited by the government to stoke nationalist resentment against U.S. 'imperialism,' undermining U.S. credibility as an impartial arbiter among Venezuelans."

 The letter was signed by Democratic Reps. John Conyers, Jr. of Michigan, Ro Khanna of California, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut, Ruben Gallego of Arizona, James P. McGovern of Massachusetts, Barbara Lee of California, Henry C. 'Hank' Johnson, Jr. of Georgia, and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri.

This week, the U.S. sanctioned 13 Venezuelans tied to Maduro's government. An oil-sector sanction would represent a far more serious punishment. Friday's letter was drafted, circulated and sent within one day, in response to Wednesday's sanctions. 

In pushing for negotiations, the lawmakers mentioned the past role of Pope Francis in trying to broker a Venezuelan peace. But the Vatican has stayed out of recent developments, after its initial talks went nowhere. 

The lawmakers nevertheless urged further talks.

"These negotiations should seek to address both the political crisis, with the objective of achieving a democratic, electoral solution within Venezuela’s constitutional framework, as well as the country’s economic crisis, for which foreign governments and multilateral institutions can be invited to contribute expertise and resources," the lawmakers wrote. "Talks must take into account legitimate concerns of retribution against both supporters and opponents of the government, and guarantee fundamental legal protections of both sides in the event of any political transition."  

Legislators had no kind words for Maduro, who has no apparent friends left in Washington. The letter noted that falling oil prices, corruption and "some of the worst economic mismanagement in the world" have led to widespread Venezuelan food and medicine shortages that have prompted the current political and social crisis. More than 100 people have died in nearly four months of street protests.

Still, they said, an oil-import ban is not the answer. 

At least one high-ranking Republican, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, has also warned against an oil-import ban. The White House has said it is considering all options on Venezuela; an oil ban has the support of Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. But a range of sanctions are possible, including financial restrictions aimed at limiting Venezuela's access to credit.

The opposition controls the democratically elected National Assembly, whose power would be wiped out by the new national constituent assembly to be elected Sunday.

Read the letter here.

Venezuela doesn’t have any friends left in Washington



Marco Rubio and Nancy Pelosi rarely see eye to eye.

But both the liberal Democratic leader from San Francisco and the conservative Republican from Miami agree on one thing:

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is a brutal dictator.

“The President of Venezuela, to me, looks like he’s a thug and we just can’t let them exploit poor people in the country... with a message that looks like he’s their champion,” Pelosi said.

Ahead of a vote Sunday that could dramatically change Venezuela’s constitution in favor of Maduro, the tough talk from Pelosi and other liberal Democrats now mirrors the rhetoric of Miami Republicans who have long opposed Caracas.

As a result, any sympathy towards Maduro in Washington, even among liberal Democrats who once praised the leadership of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, has vanished.

Members of Congress who maintained a dialogue with Caracas during Chavez’s administration no longer speak to Maduro.

The leadership of the Washington-based Organization of American States is demanding free and fair elections.

And the White House declared the U.S. “will take strong and swift economic actions” if the Maduro regime goes ahead with the vote Sunday.

For pro-Venezuela politicians and diplomats in Washington, Chavez’s commitment to the country’s 1999 constitution was a redeeming characteristic for a leader who trafficked in anti-U.S. rhetoric during his 14 years in power.

“I’ve known Chavez and Maduro. Anytime we met, [Chavez] would always go into his pocket and bring out the constitution of Venezuela,” said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat and the only sitting member of Congress who attended Chavez’s funeral in 2013. “Unfortunately, what Maduro is doing is tearing up the constitution.”

Meeks maintained regular contact with Caracas even as Chavez accused the U.S. of orchestrating a failed 2002 coup and referred to former President George W. Bush as “the devil” in 2006.

But Maduro’s decision to annul the Venezuelan legislature in March, and widespread protests that have led to the deaths of more than 100 people, are too much to reconcile.

“He doesn’t seem to me to be same guy that I knew when he was the leader of the Parliament back when I first met him with Hugo Chavez or the individual I spoke with briefly after he became president,” Meeks said.

The congressman added that his conversation with Maduro in 2013 was about “getting diplomatic relationships going again.”

But something changed between 2013 and 2015, when Maduro arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and began suspending democratic norms.

“It seems to me at some point, I don’t know what happened, that he was not interested in having further dialogue, he’s not the same guy,” Meeks said. “Something has to happen to change what has been going on for years now. The lines have been crossed and there’s no attempt at trying to have reconciliation.”

That wasn’t the case years ago, when Chavez enjoyed amicable relations with U.S. officials appointed by President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.

“The name of the game was to engage,” said John Maisto, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela from 1997 to 2000.

Maisto said despite Chavez’s antagonistic rhetoric toward business interests and the United States, he was deeply committed to Article 350 of the Venezuelan constitution, which states “the Venezuelan people will not recognize any regime, legislation or authority that runs counter to democratic values, principles and guarantees, or undermines human rights.”

Protesters, including a man who attacked government buildings with a helicopter in June, have said Maduro is disregarding Article 350.

“The current regime is blatantly violating the constitution by not having local elections, by not having referenda... by trampling separation of powers and the non-recognition of the legislature,” Maisto said. “They are crossing a red line.”

Read more here.

Rubio says he intends to keep campaign promises on Obamacare

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Marco Rubio says he remains committed to overturning Obamacare following the collapse of the latest attempt.

"In both 2010 and 2016, I ran on the promise of repealing and replacing ObamaCare, and I intend to keep that promise," Rubio told the Tampa Bay times in a statement. "The insurance markets are crumbling - the average premiums have more than doubled and earlier this year yet another rate increase has been proposed for 2018. If we do not to act, things will only get worse because a failing ObamaCare will remain in place.

"Many people, across Florida and the country, expect their elected leaders to keep their commitments and do the work they were sent to Washington to do. While last evening's vote was disappointing, I remain committed to passing a health care bill that leaves Floridians better off than they are under the disastrous Obamacare."

We have asked Sen. Bill Nelson for a statement.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

July 27, 2017

White House wants "thorough investigation" into fired IT staffer who worked for Wasserman Schultz



The White House press secretary called for a "thorough investigation" into a fired information technology staffer who worked for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

During the press briefing July 27th, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if President Donald Trump was aware of the case and if he was satisfied with the pace of the investigation.

"I haven't had a conversation with him specifically about that but I do think it is something we should fully look into and there should be a thorough investigation," she said.

On Thursday morning, Trump retweeted a story by Town Hall headlined "ABC, NBC, and CBS pretty much bury IT Scandal engulfing Debbie Wasserman Schultz's office."

Imran Awan worked for many Democratic House members since 2004. But while other members fired him in February when news surfaced that he was under investigation, Wasserman Schultz waited to fire him until Tuesday. Awan was arrested for bank fraud while at Dulles International Airport enroute to Pakistan.

While news reports have stated, based on unnamed sources, that Awan is under investigation for theft of data and equipment, the bank fraud charge is based on misrepresentations to a Congressional credit union about a home loan.

Awan has entered a plea of not guilty and awaits a preliminary hearing Aug 21. 


Emily's List to target Curbelo, Mast and DeSantis in Florida


Emily's List, which promotes women in politics who support abortion rights, will announce Thursday it is setting its sights on three Florida Republican congressmen seeking reelection in 2018: Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, Brian Mast of Hutchinson Island and Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach.

All three lawmakers will be listed in Emily's List "On Notice" group of 50 national Republicans the organization says "have amassed appallingly anti-woman, anti-family records."

Chief among Emily's List concerns: the legislators' support to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

"Curbelo voted for the Republican health care bill that would kick 23 million Americans -- including thousands of Floridians -- off their insurance," Emily's List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement. "He has repeatedly voted to defund Planned Parenthood and to undermine equal pay protections for women."

Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who lost a state Senate race last year, is expected to soon challenge Curbelo, likely with Emily's List backing.

Emily's List also targeted Curbelo ahead of the 2016 election, which he won handily, defeating Democrat Joe Garcia by 12 percentage points even though President Donald Trump lost the district by 16 points.

July 26, 2017

U.S. to sanction 13 more Venezuelans ahead of showdown vote

Venezuela+Crisis (1)


The Trump administration plans to sanction 13 Venezuelans tied to the government of President Nicolás Maduro on Wednesday, four days before the South American nation plans to hold a vote that the U.S. says will turn Maduro’s rule into a dictatorship.

The U.S. will freeze assets and ban travel visas for the 13 individuals, who are high-ranking current or former leaders of the government, military and state oil producer, in an attempt to continue punishing Maduro loyalists for undemocratic actions. The White House, which has yet to announce the sanctions, is expected to brief key members of Congress about the decision Wednesday.

Eight of the names will coincide with a list of 10 Venezuelans that U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J., sent President Donald Trump on Tuesday suggesting possible sanction targets.

The five new names are: Elías Jaua, who served vice president from 2010-12 and as foreign affairs minister from 2013-14; Néstor Reverol, minister for interior relations and justice; Alejandro Fleming, who served as vice-minister for North America and Europe from 2015-16; Sergio Rivero Marcano, commander general of the Bolivarian National Guard; and Franklin García Duque, director of the Bolivarian National Police.

The other eight Venezuelans to be sanctioned are: Tibisay Lucena, president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council; Carlos Erick Malpica Flores, national treasurer; Iris Varela, minister of Venezuela’s correctional system; Tarek William Saab, ombudsman; Jesús Suárez Chourio, commander of the Bolivarian Army; Carlos Alfredo Pérez Ampueda, director of the Bolivarian National Police; Simón Zerpa, vice president of finance of state oil producer PDVSA; and Rocco Albisini, president of the national center for foreign trade, known as CENCOEX.

More here.

Photo credit: Fernando Llano, Associated Press

Barzee Flores jumps into Miami race for Ros-Lehtinen's congressional seat

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The teeming Democratic race to replace U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is about to get more crowded: Mary Barzee Flores, a well-regarded local attorney and former circuit court judge, plans to launch her candidacy Wednesday for Florida’s congressional district.

Barzee Flores would become the sixth Democrat vying for the Democratic-leaning seat. Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, said in April she wouldn’t seek reelection after 28 years in the U.S. House of Representatives. The district stretches down the southeast coast of Miami-Dade County, from North Bay Village to Cutler Bay; Hillary Clinton won it by 20 percentage points.

“I’ve always been interested in politics as a spectator sport, and as a spectator, it’s been national politics that have interested me,” Barzee Flores told the Miami Herald in an exclusive interview Tuesday, adding that she’s contemplated a candidacy for six to eight years. “And after this last election, I have come to believe that I have to do it — not just want to.”

She intends to run on a platform of keeping and improving the Affordable Care Act, fighting climate change, promoting public education, and advocating for military veterans. Her father served in World War II and her mother as a nurse in Korea.

Barzee Flores, 54, is a lifetime district resident who worked as an assistant federal public defender for 14 years before serving eight years as an elected judge on Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit. She’s been in private practice with the Miami law firm of Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff and Sitterson since 2011. 

Two years ago, Barzee Flores seemed destined for the federal bench, after then-President Barack Obama called her “highly qualified” and nominated her for a judgeship in February 2015. But Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who had allowed Barzee Flores’ name to be forwarded to Obama, ultimately blocked her nomination to the lifetime appointment, a move her backers from both sides of the political aisle viewed as partisan.

More here.

Photo courtesy Barzee Flores campaign

July 25, 2017

Rubio, Menendez to Trump: Sanction 10 more high-ranking Venezuelans

Marco Rubio 3

U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday to sanction 10 more high-ranking individuals in the Venezuelan government, ahead of a Sunday election in the South American nation that Trump warned last week would be met with “strong and swift economic actions.”

“However, even before that vote, the current situation in Venezuela justifies sanctions on numerous individuals responsible for supporting the Maduro regime,” wrote Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat.

The most prominent name on the list suggested by the two Cuban-American senators is Tibisay Lucena Ramírez, the president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council.

The other nine names are: Carlos Erick Malpica Flores, national treasurer; Jesús Suárez Chourio, commander of the Bolivarian Army; Carlos Alfredo Pérez Ampueda, director of the Bolivarian National Police; Maria Iris Varela, minister of Venezuela’s correctional system; Tarek William Saab, ombudsman; Simón Alejandro Zerpa Delgado, vice president of finance of state-oil company PDVSA; Carlos Alberto Osorio Zambrano, head of the strategic region of integral defense; Rodolfo Clemente Marco Torres, brigadier general; and Rocco Albisini, president of the national center for foreign trade, known as CENCOEX.

This developing story will be updated here.

Photo credit: Aaron P. Bernstein, Getty Images

Raquel Regalado officially announces run to replace Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Regalado Congress


Raquel Regalado is officially joining the race to replace longtime Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring from Congress next year. 

The former Miami-Dade school board member and candidate for county mayor in 2016 filed her paperwork to compete in the Republican primary against county commissioner Bruno Barreiro on Tuesday morning. Nancy Watkins, a top Florida GOP political accountant based in Tampa, will serve as campaign treasurer. 

Regalado highlighted Miami's affordable housing woes in her announcement video. 

"I'm running for Congress because we cannot afford to live in South Florida, because before we get to any other issue we need better paying jobs" Regalado said. "We can't afford to buy a home. We can't afford to live here. We can't afford to raise our children here. We're at a critical point, we need educated, reasonable, articulate and thoughtful people in Congress."

The 43-year-old daughter of Miami mayor Tomás Regalado can now start fundraising after Barreiro raised $176,000 in the most recent fundraising quarter. Maria Peiro, who unsuccessfully ran against Ros-Lehtinen in the 2016 Republican primary also announced her intentions to run, but has not filed yet. 

Regalado is a self-described moderate Republican seeking election in a Miami-based district that Hillary Clinton won by nearly 20 percentage points over Donald Trump, making it the most Democratic district in the country currently held by a Republican. Ros-Lehtinen's retirement opens up a seat that national Democrats see as a prime pickup opportunity in 2018.

Regalado has a history of bucking the GOP. In 2010, she campaigned for Democrat Alex Sink for governor over Republican Rick Scott before unsuccessfully challenging Miami-Dade mayor Carlos Gimenez, a fellow Republican, for his seat in 2016. She also did not endorse Trump or Clinton in the 2016 election.

A slew of Democrats have announced or are weighing bids for Ros-Lehtinen's seat. 

Correction: A previous version of this most misidentified Regalado's age. She is 43, not 42.