February 20, 2018

Where South Floridians in Congress stand on gun legislation

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@alextdaugherty

The pressure is building in Washington.

Students are meeting with President Donald Trump, organizing protests outside the White House and planning a mass demonstration in March with the aim of getting Congress to do something to prevent another mass school shooting. after the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week.

In response, Trump has indicated he’s considering support of a narrowly tailored bill that would ensure federal and state authorities accurately report relevant criminal-history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and penalize federal agencies that fail to upload relevant records. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, also has the blessing of the National Rifle Association and Republicans from South Florida, though Murphy tweeted that “no one should pretend this bill alone is an adequate response to this epidemic.”

Trump also directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday to craft regulations to ban “bump stocks” and other devices that turn semi-automatic firearms into automatic weapons.

But where does South Florida’s congressional delegation stand on various federal bills that could limit access to guns and firearm accessories if passed into law?

Below is a list of relevant recent congressional legislation related to guns, and where South Florida’s two U.S. senators and eight U.S. representatives stand on such proposals, including campaign contributions from the NRA.

BILLS, RATINGS, CONTRIBUTIONS

▪ Assault weapons ban: Congress passed a ban on certain semi-automatic “assault style” firearms like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting in 1994, though the ban expired in 2004 and wasn’t renewed. A bill to reinstate the ban in 2013 after the Sandy Hook school shooting failed in the U.S. Senate.

▪ Raising the age to legally own semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 from 18 to 21. The 19-year old Parkland shooter suspect legally purchased an AR-15 rifle after he turned 18 old. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein plans to introduce legislation that would raise the age requirements.

▪ Bump stock ban: Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo introduced a bill after the Las Vegas shooting in October that would ban “bump stocks,” or legal modifications to semiautomatic weapons that allow them to fire like automatic weapons. So far, there haven’t been any votes on Curbelo’s bill.

▪ Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act: This bill would allow concealed carry permits obtained in one state to be valid in another state, essentially transforming concealed carry permits into transferable documents like driver’s licenses. The bill passed the House and awaits consideration in the U.S. Senate.

▪ Purchasing guns while on the terror watch list: Feinstein introduced legislation after the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016 that would prevent U.S. citizens under investigation for suspected terrorist activity from purchasing a gun, while Cornyn countered with legislation that would have installed a review period for people on the terror watch list wishing to purchase guns. Both measures failed in the U.S. Senate; the House didn’t vote on them.

Read more here.

February 09, 2018

How South Florida lawmakers voted on a budget deal without a DACA fix

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The federal government briefly shut down while you were sleeping, as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul held up a massive $300 billion budget bill that keeps the government running until March 23rd because it increased the federal deficit. House Democratic leaders also opposed the bill because Speaker Paul Ryan hasn't committed to an open debate on a solution for 690,000 DACA recipients who could be eligible for deportation as soon as March. 

The bill eventually passed the U.S. Senate at 1:30am by a 71-28 margin and the U.S. House at 5:30am by a 240-186 margin. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on Friday morning, reopening the federal government after it shut down at midnight. The massive budget bill included billions in disaster funding for Florida and Puerto Rico along with an increase in defense spending and budget caps. 

Here's how South Florida's members of Congress voted: 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R): Yes

Rubio praised the deal as a bipartisan compromise that gave Florida much-needed disaster relief. “While no one wants to have a hurricane and no one wants to have a natural disaster, I think this is a response that we should be happy about,” Rubio said on Wednesday. He did voice concerns over the deficit despite voting yes. 

"Throughout my time in the Senate, my support for increasing the debt limit has been consistently conditioned on meaningful spending reforms that address our long-term debt," Rubio said in a statement after the vote. "This budget deal does not do that. We must begin to seriously address the long-term drivers of our debt and get our fiscal house back in order. We cannot do that if we continue to govern through short term continuing resolutions that inefficiently spend taxpayer dollars and fail to provide the certainty required for effective planning."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D): Yes

Nelson spoke alongside Rubio on the Senate floor to praise the deal after it was announced. "Senator Rubio and I have been talking about all the things we have done together in trying to get this disaster aid package to finally come to the point at which we can say we are so thankful that we see a path forward,” Nelson said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R): Yes

Curbelo had voted against multiple spending bills because a DACA solution wasn't imminent. But hours before the vote on Thursday Curbelo switched his stance after Ryan said he would "bring a solution to the floor." 

In a statement released Thursday, Curbelo said Ryan "delivered his strongest commitment yet that legislation will be considered on the floor of the House" and that was enough to change his vote. 

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R): No 

Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring in 2018, was the only Republican in Congress to join Democrats and vote against the budget bill because it didn't include a DACA solution. 

“I will vote NO, as I have pledged to do so in the past," Ros-Lehtinen said in an email on Thursday. 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R): Yes

Diaz-Balart, an ally of leadership, has consistently voted in favor of short-term spending bills in recent months. 

"This bipartisan legislation continues government operations and funds programs that are critical to Americans across the nation. It also invests in our military during a time where we must provide our troops with the proper resources to defend our country, help our allies, and stand up to our adversaries," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "I represent parts of Florida that are still rebuilding from Hurricane Irma, and the $89.3 billion supplemental will go a long way in helping these communities recover from storm damage."

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D): No

Wilson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus that opposed the deal and one of the more liberal members of Congress, voted no. 

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D): No 

Wasserman Schultz was a firm no hours before the vote as some Democrats wavered on whether or not to follow leader Nancy Pelosi and vote no or vote to keep the government open without a DACA solution. 

Rep. Ted Deutch (D): Yes

In a statement, Deutch said he voted for the budget bill to keep the government open "finally beyond just weeks." The bill keeps the government running until March 23rd. 

"Tonight, I voted for a compromise budget deal because it will allow us to keep the government running, finally beyond just weeks," Deutch said. "This bill helps the millions of Americans in Florida and Puerto Rico, Texas, California and the Virgin Islands whose lives were turned upside down by natural disasters. It provides a potential lifeline to families struggling with opioid addiction."

He also added that Congress must focus on passing the DREAM Act to help DACA recipients. President Donald Trump has indicated he does not support the DREAM Act. 

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D): No

Hastings is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus that opposed the deal and is one of the more liberal members of Congress. 

January 08, 2018

Wasserman Schultz, Deutch introduce bill to expand airport security after Fort Lauderdale shooting

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@alextdaugherty

Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch announced Monday they will co-sponsor a bill that expands airport security programs administered by the Transportation Security Administration in the wake of a 2017 shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport that left five people dead. 

Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, and Deutch, D-Boca Raton, will introduce the Airport ALERT Act which would require the 28 airports included in the TSA's highest security level to install a "unified operations center" to oversee security operations throughout the entire airport. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Miami International Airport are among the 28 airports nationwide included in the TSA's highest security level. MIA is already constructing such an operations center, according to a press release from Wasserman Schultz. 

"One year ago, our community became the latest to experience a mass shooting we never thought would happen here," Wasserman Schultz said on Twitter. "After conducting a thorough review, I’m proud to introduce this bill to help ensure the safety of travelers at all of our nation’s major airports." 

"Let's learn from last year's tragedy at  Deutch tweeted. "I'm proud to cosponsor the ALERT Act, which will enhance airport operations to be better prepared for future situations."

Miami Republicans oppose Trump decision to end TPS for Salvadorans

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@alextdaugherty

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it will end Temporary Protected Status for about 200,000 Salvadorans in September 2019, and the three Miami Republicans in Congress voiced opposition to the Trump administration's decision. Monday's move comes after the Trump administration decided to end TPS for Haitians and Nicaraguans last year. TPS allows foreign nationals from countries affected by disaster and unrest to live and work in the United States for a period of time. 

"I am in strong disagreement with the Administration’s decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadoran nationals who reside in the United States," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. "These innocent people fled their home country after a disastrous earthquake, and while living conditions may have slightly improved, El Salvador now faces a significant problem with drug trafficking, gangs, and crime. Since 2001, these people have established themselves in the United States, making countless contributions to our society and our local communities. As I did with the decisions to end TPS for Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Honduran nationals who reside in the United States, I strongly urge the Administration to reconsider this decision."

"Today’s decision about Salvadoran TPS – and previous decisions about Honduran and Nicaraguan TPS – are disappointing," said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. "Many years of short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty, not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for employers and neighbors who have welcomed them to our communities." 

"It is unconscionable that @POTUS would terminate the much needed  status of more than 200,000 people from  who have been here for years, working legally + sending remittances to their families," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said on Twitter. 

The three Miami Republicans, who all represent districts with large Latino populations, are signed on to a bill that would provide a path to permanent residency and American citizenship for immigrants currently living in the U.S. under TPS from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicarauga and Honduras.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is also in favor of extending TPS for Haiti, and all of the Democrats representing South Florida including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson and Sen. Bill Nelson are opposed to the Department of Homeland Security's decision. 

December 13, 2017

What Florida is saying about Doug Jones’ defeat of Roy Moore in Alabama

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via @learyreports 

Florida is reacting to Doug Jones’ victory over Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama. Here is what leaders are saying on Twitter:

December 08, 2017

Trump to Jewish Democrats: No Hanukkah party for you

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@alextdaugherty

It’s the holiday season in Washington, which means politicians, dignitaries and hangers-on try to elbow themselves into as many exclusive parties as possible.

And 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is the hottest ticket of them all.

But Jewish Democratic lawmakers won’t be greeting President Donald Trump with a Chag Sameach at the annual White House Hanukkah Party on Thursday evening.

They insist their feelings aren’t hurt, but an invite would have been nice.

Trump did not invite Jewish members of Congress who are Democrats to the annual White House Hanukkah party, according to six congressional offices.

“I think its an unforced error on the president’s part and a missed opportunity,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston. “Why would you make partisan decisions about invitations that are entirely not partisan? Hanukkah is something that’s important to all Jews; the tradition is to invite the Jewish members of Congress. My feelings certainly aren’t hurt by not being invited but the few opportunities that we do have to come together certainly should include a celebration like Hanukkah.”

While Democrats didn’t get an invite, the two Jewish Republicans in Congress did.

The offices of New York Rep. Lee Zeldin and Tennessee Rep. David Kustoff confirmed they received invitations and will attend.

Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Jewish Republican, was invited to White House Hanukkah parties held by President Barack Obama, according to past press accounts. Cantor and Zeldin were the only Jewish House Republicans who served in Congress during Obama’s administration.

The President’s staff referred questions on the guest list to the First Lady’s office.

“I am not aware of the political affiliation of any of the guests, but I do know that this year was meant to be more personal than political,” said Stephanie Grisham, a spokesman for First Lady Melania Trump.

About 600 invitations were distributed, according to the White House. Grisham said that while the West Wing may release guest lists for meetings and working lunches or dinners, it’s the policy of the social office not to release the guest list for social or holiday events.

Wasserman Schultz, who entered Congress in 2005, said she was always invited to White House Hanukkah parties hosted by President George W. Bush and Obama.

Read more here.

December 06, 2017

For some South Florida Democrats in Congress, Trump is right on Jerusalem

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@alextdaugherty

South Florida Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch rarely agree with President Donald Trump, but the pair supported his decision on Wednesday to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital along with moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

“My longstanding view is that Jerusalem is and will remain the undivided capital of Israel, and it should remain a city accessible to people of all faiths,” Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said in a statement. “We must work toward a day where the entire world recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that can be achieved through final status negotiations. I remain as committed as ever to safeguarding Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, at peace with its neighbors, with Jerusalem as its undisputed capital.”

Deutch, D-Boca Raton, issued a joint statement supporting the move with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The two are the highest ranking members on the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee.

“There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection,” Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen said.

Deutch and Wasserman Schultz represent districts with large Jewish populations and are seen as supporters of Israel in Congress.

South Florida Republicans uniformly praised Trump’s decision on Wednesday, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.

“I commend President Trump for following U.S. law and recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel,” Rubio said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is an important step in the right direction. Unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be complete when the U.S. embassy is officially relocated there.”

But some of Trump’s top Cabinet officials reportedly opposed the decision, arguing that the move to recognize Jerusalem would needlessly inflame tensions between Israel and Palestinians and potentially put people in danger.

Read more here.

December 01, 2017

Florida, Texas lawmakers threaten government shutdown over hurricane relief funding

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It’s been 82 days since Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys, and lawmakers from Florida and Texas huddled together on Friday to gain leverage for their hurricane-stricken states as they seek billions in relief.

If congressional leaders don’t do enough to allay the concerns of lawmakers from Florida and Texas, the two states’ delegations will vote en masse against a disaster funding plan that could be attached to a spending plan known as a continuing resolution that keeps the government running.

“Unless substantial changes are made, we are not going to support the CR,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who co-authored a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signed by members from Florida and Texas on Friday. “We will use the clout of both of our delegations. Without significant changes this supplemental cannot be allowed to go through.”

Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, is opposed to the administration’s request and said the government could be shut down if Florida and Texas don’t get what they need.

“We do not have the adequate resources and this is going to be on the verge of a government shutdown if Texas and all the other victims of these hurricanes do not have a compromise where we can work together,” Jackson Lee said at a Homeland Security hearing on Thursday.

The letter opposing the White House’s disaster relief request was signed by 38 members from Texas and Florida as of Friday evening. The $44 billion disaster relief request, announced before Thanksgiving, upset Democrats and Republicans from Florida and Texas, who argue that much more needs to be done for disaster relief.

“Unless the disaster supplemental appropriations bill is significantly improved before it is brought to a vote on the House floor, we will be unable to support this legislation,” the letter reads.

While Republicans are stopping short of an explicit shutdown threat and express confidence that leadership will listen to them, the next disaster funding proposal could be tied to a proposal that funds the government for a period of time.

Congressional leaders must pass a bill that funds the government by Dec. 8 to avoid a shutdown. It is possible that congressional leaders could pass a short-term funding bill next week to keep the government open through the end of December or early January.

Read more here.

November 17, 2017

Florida lawmakers incensed that Trump disaster plan doesn't include citrus relief (Updated)

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Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam came to Washington with a simple message: include disaster relief funding for Florida citrus industry. The state's congressional delegation and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio also made a similar pitch to the Trump administration. 

Fast forward to Friday, and Florida lawmakers are angry that the Trump administration did not include a $2.5 billion for the state's citrus industry in a $44 billion disaster relief request for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. 

"Floridians have been kicked to the curb in this proposed disaster supplemental, which lacks relief for Florida’s citrus growers who suffered immensely from this storm," said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. "The Florida delegation specifically requested this relief because there isn’t a citrus grove that wasn’t affected, with some experiencing 100 percent losses – worse than anything the industry has experienced in over 20 years. I cannot—I will not—support a proposal that leaves behind over 60,000 Florida jobs. I urge my colleagues in the Florida delegation to oppose it as well. I believe we have a duty to fight to ensure our citrus growers get the relief they need." 

Ross, a senior deputy majority whip, plans to rally fellow members to vote against any disaster relief package that does not include the citrus money. He requested federal help from U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue days after Hurricane Irma made landfall in September. 

It is possible for GOP leadership to revamp the Trump administration's disaster relief proposal before Congress votes on the plan, which will likely occur when Congress returns from a Thanksgiving break. 

Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, also pushed for citrus relief funding. 

"Do we want to say that orange juice is produced and made in America? Without the inclusion of funds to address citrus crop losses; that is at risk," Rooney said. "The threat to the domestic industry is real: oranges imported to Florida, primarily from Brazil and Mexico, are already projected to surpass what is grown in Florida this season. This storm has jeopardized an iconic Florida crop and way of life. Washington must act and provide relief so that generations of family citrus growers can continue to produce, employ, and put Florida-grown orange juice on America’s breakfast tables." 

Nelson also criticized the $44 billion disaster funding request in more general terms, noting that Puerto Rico asked for $94 billion in disaster relief earlier this week while Texas asked for $61 billion after Hurricane Harvey. 

"This request by the administration doesn’t come close to providing what is needed," Nelson said in a statement. "People are hurting and they desperately need our help, yet this request has no money to provide housing for evacuees and barely any money for Florida’s citrus growers. That’s unacceptable. Congress needs to pass a more robust disaster bill that actually provides the funding needed to help people recover."

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, also opposed the package and said she will use her spot on the House committee that determines federal spending to push for changes. 

“This Trump administration request is an insult," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. "It ignores evacuee housing, and demands matching funds that will hinder Puerto Rico’s ability to tap CDBG relief. It also falls way short of what of Florida’s citrus growers need. As an Appropriator, I will work across the aisle in Congress for a recovery package that actually takes seriously the tremendous need we have after this ravenous storm season.”

November 16, 2017

Brazile tells Miami crowd why she torched her own party in tell-all book

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz spent too much money, took too little responsibility and made fundraising deals that were unethical even if they were legal during her troubled reign over the Democratic National Committee, Wasserman Schultz’s successor, Donna Brazile, said Wednesday.

Brazile, speaking to reporters before taking the stage at the Miami Book Fair International, said a deal Wasserman Schultz signed that gave Hillary Clinton’s campaign almost total control over DNC spending while Clinton was still locked in a battle with Bernie Sanders for the party’s presidential nomination was “a cancer” and “I think Debbie has to take ownership of that.”

And, she added, the DNC took two years to take countermeasures to Russian hacking of its computers, and “Debbie has got to take responsibility for that.”

Brazile’s charges echoed — but in more explicit terms, and more importantly, in the Weston congresswoman’s backyard — those she has already made against Wasserman Schultz in her new book, “Hacks,” which she was promoting at the Book Fair Wednesday night.

Wasserman Schultz’s five-year tenure at the DNC ended disastrously when she resigned after being booed off the stage at last year’s Democratic party convention following the disclosure of hacked emails that seemed to suggest that Wasserman Schultz and her staff had been throwing the party machinery behind Clinton during her campaign against Sanders in party primaries.

The extraordinary public takedown of one former DNC chairwoman by another — Brazile held the position before Wasserman Schultz was appointed and assumed it again after she was dumped — has badly damaged a party already in disarray over the startling loss of a presidential election that seemed a dead solid lock.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald