April 21, 2017

Inside Nelson's first fundraising report: Big names but mostly Florida cash

via @learyreports

There are donations from Elizabeth Warren, Al Gore and Steven Spielberg, but Floridians powered Sen. Bill Nelson’s first fundraising quarter. Nearly 80 percent of his individual contributions came from within the state, a review shows.

Nelson raised more than $2 million for the first three months of the year, a showing that dispels any talk he would not seek a fourth term in 2018. Nelson, 74, has $3.6 million in the bank.

He raised about $1.3 million from individuals, of which 78 percent came from within Florida. The rest of Nelson’s haul came from PACs, including $10,000 from Sen. Warren’s committee.

“Is this why Nelson votes with Warren 92% of the time?” asked the NRSC, which will again seek to cast the Florida Democrat as too liberal for the state, a strategy that has floundered before. “Nearly identical voting records and now $10k from Warren makes it pretty clear that Nelson isn’t the moderate he pretends to be.”

Nelson also got $5,000 from the Moderate Democrats PAC.

Several members of Congress contributed to Nelson, either through their PACs or individually. Charlie Crist personally gave $1,000; Val Demings gave $500. Ted Deutch used his PAC to send Nelson $2,000. Former Rep. Gwen Graham did the same.

Spielberg kicked in $2,700 while his wife, Kate Capshaw, contributed $5,400. Jeffey Katzenberg of Dreamworks also maxed out with $5,400.

There are special interests galore, from Boeing to Wawa. U.S. Sugar, long a benefactor of Nelson. FEC records show five executives contributed a combined $10,500.

Nelson’s report also reveals the outline of his campaign team. On his payroll are familiar names: Pete Mitchell, Dan McLaughlin, who is listed as a “research consultant.”

Diamond Strategies, a St. Petersburg firm run by Christina Diamond, whose husband, Ben, serves in the Legislature, took in $26,000 for fundraising work. Kevin Cate’s shop took in nearly $19,000 for digital advertising.

Nelson spent $12,500 for polling from Ohio-based EMC Research.

— Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times, with Eli Murray

April 13, 2017

Florida lawmakers ask feds to keep listing manatee as endangered

via @learyreports

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota is leading a push to reverse a federal decision to downgrade protections for manatees.

“This decision was disappointing and potentially very harmful to the survival of the iconic Florida animal,” reads a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “Based on widespread opposition from the public and scientists, we urge you to overturn this decision and restore manatees to endangered status.”

The letter said, “during the public comment period for the downlisting rule, nearly 87,000 comments opposed the rule with only 72 comments in support. We would also note that the scientists invited by the Fish and Wildlife Service to formally review the downlisting plan opposed weakening manatee protections.”

Letter signers included Reps. Kathy Castor, Daniel Webster, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson, Val Demings, Darren Soto, Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist.

Read the letter below.

Dear Secretary Zinke,

We urge you to reconsider and reverse the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision last week to downgrade protections for the Florida manatee.

This decision was disappointing and potentially very harmful to the survival of the iconic Florida animal.

Despite the agency’s assertion that a downlisting from endangered to threatened would not affect federal protections for the manatee, the move could cause a broader reassessment of critical state and local protections for the animals.

In fact, just days after this rule proposal was announced, the Brevard County commissioners approved a resolution requesting that the Florida Legislature review slow-speed zones currently in place for boats and called for a reconsideration of the state’s Manatee Sanctuary Act, which established protections for manatees and their habitats in several counties, including Sarasota and Manatee.

As you may know, the manatee at one time was on the brink of extinction. We cannot support any action that could lead to such conditions again.

Manatees face a variety of threats to their existence, including watercraft collisions, habitat loss and red tide. Additionally, the warm water springs manatees depend on during the winter months are disappearing. We also would note that manatee deaths are on the rise, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

During the public comment period for the downlisting rule, nearly 87,000 comments opposed the rule with only 72 comments in support. We would also note that the scientists invited by the Fish and Wildlife Service to formally review the downlisting plan opposed weakening manatee protections.

Based on widespread opposition from the public and scientists, we urge you to overturn this decision and restore manatees to endangered status.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Associated Press

April 12, 2017

Curbelo says he raised $610K in first quarter



Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo has yet to draw a single opponent ahead of his 2018 reelection. And he's stepped up his fundraising to try to keep it that way -- or at least to make potential contenders think twice about taking him on.

The congressman's team told the Miami Herald that Curbelo collected more than $610,000 in the first quarter of 2017, bringing his cash on hand to more than $600,000 to kick off his second term in office.

That's not much less than the $645,000 Currbelo raised the first quarter of 2015, after he had just been elected to Congress for the first time. He knew then he'd almost certainly face a difficult reelection campaign in 2016, given that Democrats do better in presidential years.

"This is a strong start for the campaign and shows that again Carlos will have the resources to share his record of putting South Florida and the country above the petty partisanship that is regrettably so prevalent in Congress," said Chris Miles, Curbelo's 2016 campaign manager.

Democrats consider the 26th district a top target, given that Hillary Clinton won there by 16 percentage points. But in the same election, Curbelo comfortably held on to his seat with a 12-point margin over challenger Joe Garcia.

Last cycle, Curbelo amassed $3.8 million, compared to Garcia's $1.4 million. In 2014, when Garcia was the incumbent and Curbelo the challenger, Curbelo raked in $2.4 million, compared to Garcia's $3.8 million.

Photo credit: Carl Juste, Miami Herald staff

April 11, 2017

Nelson asks United Airlines CEO for explanation after passenger's forcible removal



U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and other lawmakers sent a letter Tuesday to United Airlines Chief Executive Oscar Muñoz asking him to explain to the Senate what happened Tuesday when a passenger was forcibly removed from a flight from Chicago.

Video from the incident went viral. It took Muñoz several attempts to apologize for what happened. 

"The images and emerging account of this incident are very disturbing," the letter begins.

Nelson and three other senators -- Republicans John Thune of South Dakota and Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington -- asked Muñoz a series of questions, including why the airline didn't figure out earlier that it needed to seat its four employees on the flight. Thune chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Nelson is the ranking member.

"It's unconscionable that United Airlines chose this alternative to drag a passenger off the airplane," Nelson said in a separate statement. "Why in the world did they not just raise the amount of money offered to get passengers to give up a seat?"

The senators have requested answers by April 20.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

Pro-Obamacare group says it's airing TV ads against Curbelo


A political group that wants to keep the Affordable Care Act said it's airing television ads against seven Republican members of Congress -- including Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo -- while they're in their home districts for the next two weeks. 

Save My Care, a pro-Obamacare organization funded by labor and other liberal groups, said Monday it is spending seven figures on the campaign, which tells viewers to call their lawmakers and urge them to "stop trying to repeal our health care."

Besides Curbelo, the other targets are Reps. Mike Coffman of Colorado, Darrell Issa of California, Tom MacArthur of New Jersey, Brian Mast of Florida, Martha McSally of Arizona and David Valadao of California.



April 07, 2017

Curbelo may be the most endangered Republican in Congress, report suggests

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Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo better get used to that political target on his back.

The sophomore congressman might be the single most vulnerable Republican in the country going into the 2018 election, according to a new analysis of partisanship in congressional districts.

The Cook Political Report, which has been publishing its Partisan Voting Index since 1997, found that Curbelo represents the most Democratic of districts held by Republican members of Congress.

Florida’s 26th district, which extends from Westchester to Key West, performed an average of 6 percentage points more Democratic than the nation did as a whole between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, Cook Report editor David Wasserman found in his report, released Friday.

“In the modern era, it takes considerable personal appeal to win a House election in a district that fundamentally favors the opposite party,” Wasserman wrote. “There are several members on both sides who have successfully run ‘against the grain.’ However, these members are also likeliest to be among the top targets for the opposite party in 2018 and beyond.”

No. 3 on the list of the 10 Republicans in the most Democratic districts is Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose 27th district — a stretch of coastal southeastern Miami-Dade County — performed on average 5 points more Democratic at the presidential level than the rest of the country.

More here.

Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Florida politicians react to U.S. strikes in Syria

Trump US Syria

President Donald Trump authorized missile strikes against Syria on Thursday evening, when he was beginning a two-day summit at his Palm Beach estate of Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"My fellow Americans," Trump said in brief remarks late Thursday. 

"On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror."

Trump said he ordered a "targeted military strike" on a Syrian airfield "from where the chemical attack was launched."

"It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons," he said.

Here's what Florida politicians had to say:

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio

I salute the bravery and skill of the men and women of our Armed Forces who conducted this mission. Tonight's strike against the Assad regime’s Shayrat Air Base will hopefully diminish his capacity to commit atrocities against innocent civilians. By acting decisively against the very facility from which Assad launched his murderous chemical weapons attack, President Trump has made it clear to Assad and those who empower him that the days of committing war crimes with impunity are over. What must follow is a real and comprehensive strategy to ensure that Assad is no longer a threat to his people and to U.S. security, and that Russia no longer has free reign to support his regime.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson

I support the administration’s strike on the air base that launched the chemical attack. I hope this teaches President Assad not to use chemical weapons again.

Continue reading "Florida politicians react to U.S. strikes in Syria" »

April 06, 2017

Florida voters support Medicaid expansion, survey finds


via @dchangmiami

As the White House and House Republicans continue to discuss plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, a new survey of more than 7,000 registered voters in eight states, including Florida, finds growing public support for the health law’s Medicaid expansion option.

In four states that didn’t expand Medicaid — Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia — more than six in 10 voters said they’d like their states to provide the extra coverage, according to the study conducted by the University of Marylandbetween November and January. Voters in the states that had expanded Medicaid — California, Maryland, New York and Ohio — also said they favored the measure.

In Florida, 67 percent of all voters surveyed favored Medicaid expansion compared to 64 percent nationally.

Keep reading here.

March 29, 2017

Curbelo on health care: 'We should continue working on this'

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The Republican effort to overhaul the nation's healthcare system isn't over yet, at least not for Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Curbelo told constituents Wednesday he's committed to replacing the Affordable Care Act, even after the American Health Care Act, House Republicans' proposed alternative, was unceremoniously withdrawn from consideration last week due to insufficient GOP support.

"I believe we should continue working on this -- if not this year, next year -- and figure out a way to empower consumers," Curbelo said on a telephone "town hall" meeting organized by the AARP for seniors in his 26th congressional district. The congressman hasn't held any in-person town halls.

The call wasn't solely on health care. But coming days after the AHCA's failure, a majority of listeners' questions inevitably focused on what would happen to the system in place known as Obamacare. The AARP had opposed the legislation.

One caller, Alonzo from Miami, called the AHCA a "horrible bill" and asked Curbelo why he supported it. Curbelo noted he backed it on the Ways and Means Committee but later had concerns.

"I had not made a final decision on the bill," he said -- in part because he knew he probably wouldn't have to. "I had known for some days that there wasn't sufficient support here in the House...so I doubted that there would be a vote."

Some callers helped Curbelo make his points about the existing ACA being too costly for some people -- especially in the Florida Keys, where the federal insurance marketplace only offers a single provider.

"This is the first year that I have not been able to afford healthcare," said Sally, an X-ray technician from Summerland Key who said she chose to pay her mortgage instead. "What do I pick: health care or my house?"

Another caller, Julia from Miami, questioned seeking to overturn the ACA entirely.

"Why don't you take the time and the effort to fix the Affordable Care Act, instead of throwing away all the effort and time that has gone into getting it done?" she asked. "Isn't it much better to just change it?"

Curbelo responded that a lot of conservative Republicans opposed the replacement bill because they argued the GOP was doing just that -- trying to pass "Obamacare 2.0," or "Obamacare lite."

"For a lot of people, this was a political effort: It was about a law named after a president," Curbelo conceded. "I took a much more sober approach to it."

For now, however, he acknowledged that nothing would be undone.

"That effort is kind of on pause," he said, "and we'll just have to see if there's the political will to get it going again."

Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press

Miami Republicans divided over internet privacy rules

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Two Miami Republicans, Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, voted this week to lift restrictions on internet providers from tracking and sharing personal data without consent, joining a Republican majority that sent the legislation to President Donald Trump's desk.

Diaz-Balart's office said he supported the bill because it "eliminates confusing regulations" that allow both the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to regulate the internet. The FCC rules that would be repealed by the law apply only to major providers like Verizon but not to giant websites like Google.

"This evens the playing field for the entire internet," Diaz-Balart spokeswoman Katrina Valdés said in a statement. "At the end of the day, the bill doesn't strip consumer privacy, but rather, strengthens the power of the one agency that had already been enforcing it."

Curbelo made a similar argument.

"The FCC has been trying to expand its rulemaking authority and grow our government and regulations in a way that inhibits the free market competition," he said in a statement. "This joint resolution does not modify or reduce existing privacy regulations, and does not put consumers at any increased risk."

But the third local Republican lawmaker, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, disagrees. Ros-Lehtinen was absent from Tuesday's vote because she had to go out of town to be with her daughter, the congresswoman's office said Wednesday. But if Ros-Lehtinen had been in Washington, she said she would have broken with Diaz-Balart and Curbelo.

"I would have voted no on the bill because of the potential for individuals' private information to be shared," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Miami Herald after a reporter inquired about her absence. "Many treat their online searches and activity as a part of their private lives and to have that information exposed for no or little other purpose than targeted advertising or data mining betrays the public's trust." 

All House Democrats voted against. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which plans to target Curbelo in the 2018 election, accused him of putting "corporate interests over the private, personal interests of Florida."

When the Senate passed the measure last week, Floridians Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio split their votes along party lines. Rubio, a Republican, voted in favor, while Nelson, a Democrat, voted against.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald