March 27, 2017

Democrat files 'Mar-a-Lago Act' to push Trump toward transparency


03272017_122008_lago_8colvia @learyreports

WASHINGTON — With President Trump scheduled to return to Florida next week, his sixth visit since taking office, Democrats are keeping up pressure on him to disclose any conflicts.

A newly-introduced bill called the Mar-a-Lago Act would force the White House to provide visitor logs for Trump’s Palm Beach estate.

“It's simple: the American people have a right to know who has access to the president and who has leverage over this administration," Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. said. "Many Americans are rightly worried about whether the wealthy and well-connected are being given special treatment and undue influence in the Trump White House. President Trump has assembled a cabinet filled with millionaires and billionaires, he's pursuing an agenda of massive tax cuts for the rich, and the initiation fees at Mar-A-Lago - where people are getting uncommon access to the president and his top advisers - have just doubled to $200,000.

“By refusing to release the White House visitor logs, President Trump is only validating the rampant concerns about who may be pulling the levers in his administration. The president should end his administration's disturbing pattern of stonewalling information and immediately reinstate the previous administration's policy of publishing White House visitor logs. And given President Trump's unprecedented decision to regularly conduct official business at his private business properties, the Trump administration has an obligation to make public the visitor lists at places like Mar-A-Lago and Trump Tower."

The Mar-A-Lago Act — formally “Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act — has little chance of making it through Congress, but is another sign of the unique dynamics brought by President Trump.

Trump is expected to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago next week.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Associated Press

Nelson makes up his mind: He'll vote 'no' on Gorsuch

Senate Supreme Court
@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson announced Monday that he will vote against Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. 

"Deciding whether to confirm a president's nominee for the highest court in the land is a responsibility I take very seriously," Nelson said in a statement. "Over the past few weeks, I have met with Judge Gorsuch, listened to the Judiciary Committee's hearings and reviewed his record with an open mind. I have real concerns with his thinking on protecting the right to vote and allowing unlimited money in political campaigns. In addition, the judge has consistently sided with corporations over employees, as in the case of a freezing truck driver who, contrary to common sense, Judge Gorsuch would have allowed to be fired for abandoning his disabled rig during extreme weather conditions.

Nelson also made clear he would join Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who last week urged his colleagues to filibuster Gorsuch's nomination.

"I will vote no on the motion to invoke cloture and, if that succeeds, I will vote no on his confirmation," Nelson said.

Nelson faces reelection in 2018 and is a top target of national Republicans, who have been pressuring him to back Gorsuch. In 2006, they noted, Nelson voted against Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito but did not join the filibuster against him.

"In the past, Nelson thought nominees deserved an up or down vote," the National Republican Senatorial Committee said in a statement. "Remember, in 2006, Nelson voted for cloture to end the filibuster on Judge Alito’s nomination. The same year, Nelson joined his Senate colleagues to confirm Judge Gorsuch to the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in a unanimous vote. Clearly Nelson has been in Washington way too long and is forgetting he represents Florida, not Washington liberals."

Object preview

Shortly after revealing his decision, Nelson emailed supporters asking them to pitch into his campaign.

 

Photo credit: Susan Walsh, Associated Press

March 26, 2017

Jeb Bush: Trump should 'stop saying things that aren't true'

GOP 2016 Bush(24) (1)
@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush has a little unsolicited advice for President Donald Trump, his former primary rival.

"He should stop saying things that aren't true, that are distractions from the task at hand," Bush told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 in an interview that aired Sunday on "Facing South Florida."

In his first in-depth local interview since dropping out of the presidential race more than a year ago, Bush offered a mixed assessment of Trump's first 60 or so days in office. He praised several of Trump's Cabinet secretaries, including Betsy DeVos for education, John Kelly for homeland security and Rex Tillerson for state.

"The president made some really good appointments," Bush said. "He's acted decisively on some areas I think are important, particularly on the regulatory side."

But Bush said Trump "hasn't shifted to being president in the way that people are used to, and I think that's the problem."

"He's a distraction in and of himself," Bush said. "He's got a lot of work to do, and some of these things -- the wiretapping and all of this stuff -- is a complete distraction that makes it harder to accomplish the things I know he wants to do."

Asked host Jim DeFede: Does that diminish the office of the president? "A little bit," said Bush, who said he hasn't spoken to Trump since the inauguration.

Reflecting on his failed presidential campaign, Bush said he didn't regret running but acknowledged his personality and style didn't work for the electorate.

"Reasoning, in this environment where people are angry, is hard, and I wasn't capable of giving them a sense that there is a better path," he said. "They wanted to have their anger remediated -- more than a five-point plan.... President Trump's great skill was to understand that."

Bush also said he learned "something unusual": "People customize their news to validate what they believe, and it makes them increasingly less tolerant of other people's views that rely on another set of facts," he said. "That is dangerous for our democracy."

He said his top concern for the country is restoring "some sense of what it is to be an American citizen again, and have it be a unifying theme."

While Bush wouldn't rule out another political run -- "I don't rule out anything" -- he sounded content to be a private citizen again in Coral Gables.

"I sleep at night at home more often than not, and I've got my life organized pretty nicely," he said. "My church, my gym, my golf course. My office is less than a mile from my home, and it's two stop signs away. You can't beat that, man."

Bush also shied away from handicapping the big 2018 Florida governor and U.S. Senate races, though he noted that Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has "never been knocked off as a candidate for Senate."

"You gotta assume that incumbents have a certain advantage, if they've won two or three times," Bush said. "But on the other hand,t he person who's likely to run against him is also an incumbent -- so that'll be a good race for sure."

He was referring -- without mentioning him -- to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Photo credit: Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

March 24, 2017

HUD Secretary Ben Carson to visit Broward while housing activists decry slated HUD cuts

BenCarsonRNCnighttwoAP

@amysherman1

President Donald Trump's housing chief comes to Broward today to promote a future affordable housing development while Trump has proposed slashing $6 billion from housing programs.

Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of U.S. Housing and Urban Development, will speak at the Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Pompano Beach. The church is located near a future 77-home Habitat for Humanity development, the largest Habitat project ever in Broward.

Trump's budget proposal calls for getting rid of decades-long housing programs, including Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership Program. Those cuts would be "devastating" to low- and moderate-income families in Broward, said the county's housing chief Ralph Stone.

"The Broward metro area is one of the least affordable housing markets in the nation," Stone told the Herald in a statement. "Only one in five moderate and below income families can afford to buy the median priced home. Also Broward is one of the worst markets for affordable and avaiabjr rental units. There is a defiency of over 70,000 low income rental units." 

The national Habitat for Humanity program sent the Miami Herald a statement criticizing the proposed cut:

"Federal housing programs currently reach about 1 in 4 income eligible households. With the proposed budget, many fewer would receive assistance, leading to even more families to choose paying housing costs over purchasing food, health care, and meeting other basic needs. ... Eliminating or reducing funding for these housing programs would exacerbate local housing shortages and increase the burden of housing costs on families in need of housing stability." 

South Florida lags behind other major metro areas in wages, making affordable housing out of reach to many residents.

See Carson's Truth-O-Meter record from PolitiFact.

 

Roger Stone: 'Don't confuse me with the character I sometimes play'

Stone for glenn
via @glenngarvin

Roger Stone, the legendarily hardball Republican operative who for years has lustily embraced such media epithets as the dapper don of dirty deeds and the undisputed master of the black arts of electioneering, now finds himself on the receiving end of what he calls a political dirty trick –– allegations that he helped mastermind Russian leaks of hacked Democratic Party emails –– and he’s not liking it much.

“You just wake up one day and a bunch of congressmen are kicking your balls across the field,” Stone said reflectively. “Based on nothing more than a Hillary Clinton campaign meme.... I understand. It’s politics. It’s the democratic process. All I want is the same open forum to respond.”

A steady drumbeat of accusations against Stone that had been building for months –– since a Jan. 19 story in The New York Times identified him as one of three associates of President Donald Trump under FBI investigation for links between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia –– reached a crescendo this week, when Stone’s name was mentioned 19 times during a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee.

None of the references to Stone were flattering. And most ran along the lines of an attack by Rep. Denny Heck, D-Washington, who included Stone among a “rogues’ gallery” of Trump operatives “who fall somewhere on that spectrum from mere naivete ... to unwitting Russian dupes, to willing blindness, to active coordination.”

Since then, the Senate Intelligence Committee has warned Stone not to destroy any written records that could pertain to the investigation. And it’s scarcely been possible to turn on a TV set without hearing calls for Stone to be politically tarred and feathered, or at least subpoenaed.

The latter would be fine with Stone, who would love a nationally televised forum to counterattack accusations that he labels acts of fact-free political vengeance by enemies he helped whip in the election. The only thing he’s guilty of, he says, is “political showmanship.”

“Don’t confuse me with the character I sometimes play, Roger Stone,” he said. “Millions of people buy my books and watch me on [right-wing radio and streaming-video show] Info Wars. They like my style, and yeah, there’s a certain element of over-the-top to my style. But in today’s rapid-cycle media universe, if you don’t have some political flamboyance, you’re nowhere, you’re left behind.”

More here.

Photo credit: Carl Juste, Miami Herald staff

March 22, 2017

White House angles for Diaz-Balart's vote on health care

FAZ22 ForunSeguridad News rk
@PatriciaMazzei

In a story Wednesday about the White House leaning on House Republicans to back the GOP healthcare bill, The New York Times reported that Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart used the hot political moment to reiterate that President Donald Trump promised to undo the Obama administration's Cuba policy.

For other House members, the health bill has been an opportunity to deal. As part of the discussions, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, made it clear to White House officials that he wanted assurances that the president would hold to his pledge to consider reversing President Barack Obama’s opening with Cuba, the White House official said. Mr. Diaz-Balart backed the measure in the Budget Committee last week, although the official said there had been no explicit discussion of trading his vote for a promise on Cuba.

(An earlier version of the story incorrectly said Trump had pledged to Diaz-Balart he'd reverse the Obama policy in return for his vote.)

Diaz-Balart has made no secret that he's brought up Cuba every time he's had a chance to speak to top White House personnel. He was particularly friendly during the transition with Vice President Mike Pence. But a source told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that the Trump administration has yet to make any assurances or commitments on Cuba.

Diaz-Balart's spokeswoman, Katrina Valdés, said in an email Wednesday to the Herald and the Tampa Bay Times that, on health care, the congressman "is still reviewing the recent changes to the bill and continues to negotiate with House Leadership about multiple aspects of the bill, including how the legislation handles older, low income constituents."

A vote is planned for Thursday.


--with Alex Leary

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

Acosta fields questions on Epstein sex case at Senate hearing

Trump Labor Secretary(2)
@PatriciaMazzei

Alex Acosta, President Donald' Trump's labor secretary nominee, got questions Wednesday at his Senate confirmation hearing about the sordid underage sex-ring case involving Palm Beach billionaire Jeffrey Epstein.

As U.S. attorney in Miami, Acosta -- now dean of Florida International University's law school -- signed off on a plea agreement that attorneys for Epstein's victims called a "sweetheart" deal.

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democratic member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee, asked Acosta if he approved the deal despite opposition from prosecutors in his office.

Acosta called his office's involvement unusual, given that Epstein was charged by state prosecutors following a grand jury's recommendation.

"We deemed it necessary to become involved, and we early on had discussions within the office," Epstein said. "We decided...that Mr. Epstein should plead guilty to two years, register as a sexual offender and concede liability so the victims could get restitution. If that were done, the federal interest would be satisfied and we would defer to the state."

Acosta's office drafted a 53-page indictment that was never used. Declining to discuss specifics of the case, Acosta called it "pretty typical" to write up an indictment that "often does not consider the strength of the underlying case."

"'These are all the places we can go,'" Acosta said, describing a draft indictment. "Yet at the end of the day, based on the evidence, professionals within the prosecutor's office decide that a plea that guarantees that someone goes to jail, that guarantees that someone register generally, and that guarantees other outcomes, is a good thing."

Kaine asked again: Did his staff agree with cutting the deal?

"It was a broadly held decision, yes," Acosta said.

Acosta was introduced Wednesday by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, both Cuban-American Republicans like Acosta. If confirmed, Acosta would be the only Hispanic on Trump's Cabinet.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, asked Acosta about his time heading the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division -- particularly his foray into an Ohio voting-rights case days before the 2004 presidential election. Acosta sent an unsolicited letter to a judge siding with Republicans who challenged the eligibility of thousands of African-American voters.

"I want to ask you if you regret the decision to send that letter in 2004," Murray asked.

Acosta argued the letter was misinterpreted: "We were not taking a position on what was being done in Ohio specifically," he said. Murray called his response "a very legal answer" and pressed him again.

"As an attorney to the Department of Justice, sometimes you have to do things that are unpopular but are legally correct," Acosta said. "The letter is legally correct. I wish the letter was not interpreted the way it's interpreted."

"As secretary of labor, I want to know if you will bow to political pressure -- which I have seen, under this Trump administration, a tremendous amount of political pressure," Murray said.

"I have prosecuted UBS, the international bank, and as a result of that prosecution, they changed Swiss law," Acosta said. "I've prosecuted major drug cartels for 200,000 kilos -- the heads of the Cali cartel -- for 200,000 kilos of cocaine. I have been in public service the better part of my professional career, and I've seen pressure, and I don't for a second believe that senior officials would or should bow to inappropriate pressure."

"We work for the president. He is our boss," Acosta added. But, citing the confirmation hearing of former Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, he concluded: "We all will ultimately follow his direction -- unless we feel we can't. And if we can't, we resign." 

Photo credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press 

March 21, 2017

Trump signs NASA bill in Oval Office, with Nelson at his side

03212017_113232_nasa_8col
via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Some issues transcend partisan politics, so it was not surprising to see Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson next to President Donald Trump this morning for the signing of the NASA Authorization Act. (Republican Sen. Marco Rubio was there too, to the right of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and cut off in the photo.)

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Screen capture via @NASASpaceflight

 

March 20, 2017

That time Rubio asked, 'Can this country afford to have a president under investigation by the FBI?'

via @learyreports

Days before the presidential election, Marco Rubio asked a crowd in Punta Gorda, "Can this country afford to have a president under investigation by the FBI?"

"No," the audience shouted.

That comment, captured by the liberal opposition research group American Bridge, was directed at Hillary Clinton. But it has a new meaning Monday as the FBI confirmed it has an ongoing investigation into Russian involvement in the election and possible ties to the Trump associates, which would include Roger Stone.

We have asked for Rubio's reaction to today's House Intelligence Committee hearing and will update if he responds.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Congressman to FBI chief: 'Do you know who Roger Stone is?'

Trump Russia
via @learyreports

“Do you know who Roger Stone is?”

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, asked that question Monday morning of FBI director James Comey during a hearing into Russian meddling in the election, putting a spotlight on the Florida operative Stone.

Stone has long been allied with Donald Trump and in 2011, helped set up a speech before a tea party group in Boca Raton in which Trump tried out the themes he ran on in 2016. This month, Stone acknowledged he had contact with Guccifer 2.0, an online persona considered a front for Russian intelligence operatives. But he disputes collusion.

Stone, who lives in South Florida, has flirted with running for office in Florida but mainly seems to relish his role as a provocateur and former Nixon operative with a tattoo of the former president on his back. He’s written books attacking Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

His new book is about the Trump campaign. Last week, Stone claimed he was on his way to a book signing in Orlando when he was the victim of a hit-and-run driver in Pompano Beach.

At the Intelligence Committee hearing, Comey acknowledged an investigation into Russian interference in the election and ties to the Trump campaign. Comey also said there is no evidence to support Trump’s tweets, sent from Mar-a-Lago on a recent Saturday morning, that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

Rep. Tom Rooney of Okeechobee used his early time at the hearing to question intelligence leaks, in line with other Republicans.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Mary Altaffer, Associated Press