September 19, 2017

New York crowd gets glimpse of President Jeb(!)


via @katieglueck

He was gracious and measured, stern but sober—and tough on Russia—as he addressed the greatest challenges facing the United States.

Standing in a hotel ballroom a few blocks from the spot where Donald Trump was threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea, Jeb Bush offered a glimpse of the presidency that could have been.

“At some point the president is going to have to go from this ad hoc diplomacy, or whatever the foreign policy is, to something that’s clear and coherent,” Bush, one of Trump’s vanquished 2016 opponents, told a hawkish hotel ballroom audience gathered Tuesday for the United Against Nuclear Iran conference. “Because at the end of the day, too much chaos, and being unreliable, creates real dangers.”

Bush, the former Florida governor, was once considered the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination. Instead, he was forced out well before the primary season was over, his efforts at a “joyful” campaign rooted in a muscular view of American leadership trampled by the nationalist Trump and his rowdy, populist-leaning campaign.

The sharp contrasts in tone and ideology that played out during that race—which have divided the Republican Party ever since—unfolded again Tuesday morning, within the span of two hours and less than a mile apart here in Manhattan.
As Trump mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “Rocket Man” who is “on a suicide mission for himself,” Bush opted for the traditional if overused term “rogue nation,” noting that Pyongyang needs “to be called out.”

As Trump glossed over threats from Russia to focus on other adversaries, Bush referred to Moscow as a “curse for President Trump”--remarks that come as Trump's White House grapples with probes into Russian influence in the 2016 election and possible ties to his campaign.

And as Trump leaned into his longtime campaign message of “America First,” Bush warned of dangers when the U.S. leaves “a void,” embracing the more internationalist view the Republican Party has recently represented, until now.

“Our vacillation, our pulling back…there was a big void and Russia took full advantage of it,” he said, when asked by MSNBC host and former George W. Bush communications director Nicolle Wallace whether America is doing enough to make Russia play a more constructive role in Iran.


Read more here.


Trump threatens Venezuela and puts Cuba on notice

United Nations General Assembly

via @francoordonez

President Donald Trump threatened “further action” against Venezuela on Tuesday and promised not to lift sanctions against Cuba until the government in Havana makes fundamental reforms.

“We cannot stand by and watch,” Trump told world leaders gathered at the United Nations.

In a speech that moved quickly from criticism of America’s adversaries to dire warnings of nuclear war, Trump turned his attention briefly to communism, singling out Venezuela and Cuba for, he said, delivering only “anguish and failure” to its people.


He called on world leaders to do more to help the people of Venezuela and not look the other way as their government destroys democratic institutions.

“I ask every country represented here today to be prepared to do more to address this very real crisis,” Trump said. “We call for the full restoration of democracy and political freedoms in Venezuela. The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”
Trump was interrupted by a smattering of applause throughout the 40-minute speech. The clapping was loud and unified when he spoke of supporting the people of Venezuela, but was punctuated with pockets of silence when he blamed socialism.

The Trump administration has been ratcheting up the pressure on Caracas since Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro engineered a vote for a new constituent assembly that stripped democratically elected lawmakers of their power. Maduro has been the administration’s main target as he has led the once-mighty nation sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves as it has plummeted into a deepening economic crisis amid rising inflation. In recent months, anti-government demonstrations have broken out daily as desperate citizens take to the streets to protest the lack of even the most basic goods.

“This corrupt regime destroyed a prosperous nation by imposing a failed ideology that has produced poverty and misery everywhere it has been tried,” Trump said.

Venezuelan leaders immediately slammed the speech; Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza accused the United States of seeking "a change of regime by force."

Trump “pretends to rule the world, but does not even rule his own country,” Arreaza told reporters in New York after the speech.

Unsatisfied with the international response to Venezuela, the White House is using the United Nations General Assembly to build and strengthen an international coalition of support against Caracas. Trump’s speech was an expansion of concerns he raised Monday night during a dinner with Latin American Presidents Michel Temer of Brazil, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Juan Carlos Varela of Panama as well as Argentinian Vice President Gabriela Michetti.

He reminded them of their trade relationships, which he called a “critical foundation for advancing peace and prosperity” among neighbors.

“Was one of the wealthiest countries in the world for a long period of time,” Trump told the group on Monday. “The people are starving and the country is collapsing. You didn't think that was possible. Their democratic institutions are being destroyed....Our goal must be to help them and restore their democracy.”

The leaders of the four countries were among 12 Latin American nations who signed a joint declaration in Lima last month, condemning the “breakdown of democratic order” in Venezuela and said they would not recognize any action taken by its “illegitimate” new constituent assembly.

Read more here.

September 18, 2017

Bill Nelson criticizes Rick Scott over nursing home deaths



Sen. Bill Nelson decried the lax regulatory standards for backup generators in Florida nursing homes after the deaths of eight elderly people at a Broward County facility during a speech on the Senate floor on Monday, and his criticism included a jab at his likely 2018 senate opponent: Gov. Rick Scott

"Eight people died in a nursing home right across the street from a major hospital in Hollywood, Florida," Nelson said. "Eight frail, elderly (people) from ages 70 to 99. Eight needless deaths." 

Nelson said that "all the phone calls that had been made that were not answered both to the government as well as to the power company as reported" will "come out in the criminal investigation." 

He was referencing a report by CBS Miami that an official from the nursing home called a cellphone provided by Scott 36 hours before the first death. The nursing home also called Florida Power and Light, though the utility did not immediately restore power to the building. 

"We don’t know all the facts, it will come out in the criminal investigation, but it is inexcusable that eight frail elderly people would die," Nelson said.

Hurricane Irma was already turning into a political spectacle for Nelson and Scott, as President Donald Trump encouraged Scott to run against Nelson while viewing storm damage in the Naples area on Thursday.

"I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate," Trump said. Scott wasn't present during Trump's remarks. 

Nelson did not mention Scott by name during his floor speech, where he also jabbed his likely opponent over a reluctance to attribute powerful hurricanes like Irma to climate change. 

“Clearly the environment changes all the time, and whether that’s cycles we’re going through or whether that’s man-made, I couldn’t tell you which one it is,” Scott said last week. “But I can tell you this: We ought to solve problems.”

Nelson disagreed with Scott, who generally avoids using the term climate change. 

"Hurricane Irma is just another reminder that we are going to confront huge natural occurrences and maybe just maybe people will relate that there is something to the fact that the earth is getting hotter," Nelson said, adding that warmer oceans allow hurricanes to gain strength. 

Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio were absent for votes in Washington last week after Irma. 

September 15, 2017

Trump: 'I never even knew a Category 5 existed'

Trump (21)

Hours after visiting neighborhoods torn by Hurricane Irma on Thursday, President Donald Trump said he was unaware how strong storms could get.

“I never even knew a Category 5 existed,” he said Thursday night at the White House Historical Association reception.

The president sounded awed by the one-two punch of hurricanes Harvey and Irma landing over the past three weeks in Texas and Florida.

“Some of you are from Texas and some of you are from Florida,” he said. “And you both got hit. In Texas you got hit with the largest amount of water anybody has ever seen. I guess the largest ever recorded. And in Florida you got hit with the strongest winds ever recorded. It actually hit the Keys with a — it was a Category 5. I never even knew a Category 5 existed. And they suffered greatly.”

Trump continued to praise government responders who have had to deal with two disasters at once.

More here.

Photo credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

September 14, 2017

'We've had bigger storms than this,' Trump says on Irma and climate change

Trump (19)

A visit Thursday to parts of Southwest Florida flooded and windswept by Hurricane Irma — his third trip in less than three weeks to a storm disaster zone — did nothing to rid President Donald Trump of his climate-change skepticism.

“We’ve had bigger storms than this,” Trump said aboard Air Force One after departing Fort Myers. “We did have two horrific storms, epic storms. But if you go back into the ’30s and ’40s, and you go back to the ’teens, you’ll see storms that were very similar and even bigger.”

In fact, the most powerful storm on record to ever hit Florida was in 1935. And, as Floridians can attest, the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, when eight storms landed in the state, were busier than 2017 has been so far.

However, some scientists have found that the effects of global warming — namely warmer oceans and hotter air — can intensify hurricane formation and result in higher rainfall, though just how much those factors might affect the storms remains uncertain. Higher sea levels can contribute to more devastating storm surge.

That Irma followed Hurricane Harvey, while hurricanes Katia and Jose circled in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Atlantic Ocean, only renewed public-policy debates over whether combating climate change might prevent massive, dangerous storms. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, like Trump a Republican who generally avoids even the term “climate change,” told reporters after surveying storm damage in the Keys on Wednesday, “we clearly have things we have to improve” regarding the environment, acknowledging flooding and beach renourishment concerns.

“Clearly the environment changes all the time, and whether that’s cycles we’re going through or whether that’s man-made, I couldn’t tell you which one it is,” he said. “But I can tell you this: We ought to solve problems.”

More here.

Photo credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Miami Republican demands straight answer from Trump on Dreamers

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


Donald Trump was striking a deal over dinner with Democrats on Wednesday night to save Dreamers from deportation. By Thursday morning, his aides were playing catch up and insisting nothing changed in his position on immigration or border security.

Now, as confusion reigns over Trump’s true intentions for dealing with 800,000 people affected by a now-canceled Obama-era order that allowed them to live and work in the United States, one senior Republican lawmaker wants the White House to come clean.

“It is unfortunate that the President continues to play coy with young people who benefit our American society instead of being serious and straightforward about an important policy that will impact the lives of nearly 800,000 DREAMers,” said Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a statement provided to Miami Herald.

Ros-Lehtinen, the most senior Republican from Florida and a co-sponsor of a bill called the Dream Act that gives these young people a path to citizenship, was unable to be in Washington for congressional business this week, as her district continues to recover from Hurricane Irma.

“We hear reports that he is working on a deal that would help DREAMers, but he flatly denies such a deal,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Instead of changing with the prevailing wind, the President must be clear about his intentions. If he is interested in protecting DREAMers, he must cut out the rhetoric of trying to please all sides and, instead, put forth clear guidance on what legislative language he is willing to accept or reject on protecting Dreamers.”
As Trump looks increasingly willing to buck his far-right base to score some legislative victories — first on the nation’s borrowing limit and now on border security and the immigration policy known as DACA — three Miami-based Republicans find themselves in a new and potentially influential role as center-right lawmakers able to form a coalition with Democrats. Including Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo have something to gain from Trump’s dealmaking with Democrats.
Read more here.

Trump to visit Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands to view Irma recovery



Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Thursday that President Donald Trump will visit Puerto Rico along with the U.S. Virgin Islands to view Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the territories first hand.

Details of Trump’s trip are forthcoming, Rosselló said.

The governor also said that Puerto Rico will host about 3,000 victims of Irma from the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean countries that suffered a direct hit from what was then a e Category 5 storm.

“We have been working to ensure that other U.S. citizens in the Virgin Islands and elsewhere can have safe passage, have shelter in Puerto Rico and restart their rebuilding process,” Rosselló said.
Over 500,000 people lost power in Puerto Rico, which avoided a direct hit from Hurricane Irma after the storm tracked just north of the island. But hurricane force winds in some places reached 100 miles per hour, causing a crumbling power grid to falter, and officials warned it could take months to fully restore power in parts of the island. 

Rosselló said Thursday that power has been restored to more than 90 percent of Puerto Rico after 75 percent of the island lost power when Irma passed just north of San Juan on Sept. 6. He’s been in regular communication with the White House over the past week and said that White House officials have pledged to support Puerto Rico’s needs. Puerto Rico sustained an estimated $1 billion in damage from Irma, up from an initial estimate of $600 million.

That damage will play a role when Congress discusses an Irma relief package, which will cost billions of dollars after Irma moved through the Keys and along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“We will start making the proper arrangements so that we can mitigate future impacts,” Rosselló said, adding that he has talked with Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan and other leaders in Congress about Puerto Rico’s needs. “Some of these infrastructures were designed for 155mph winds, they don’t do that anymore so we really need to make sure that whatever efforts and whatever funding we’re getting we can to mitigate in the future.”

Rosselló was in Washington on Thursday with Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and a host of other current and former senior officials from the territory. Their message, in addition to making sure that Puerto Rico gets enough federal help after Irma, is that Congress must act to ensure that the territory’s health care system remains solvent and that the territory must be included if Congress passes an overhaul of the nation’s tax system.

Read more here.

September 13, 2017

Democrats plot their Haiti strategy as TPS deadline looms

0073 HAITI TPS RALLY 051317


A half dozen Democratic lawmakers met with Haiti’s ambassador in an intimate dinner on Tuesday night to craft a new strategy aimed at convincing the White House to extend a temporary program set to expire in January 2018 that allows thousands of Haitians to work and live in the U.S.

Over rum punch and pikliz, the Democrats said it’s time to tie what’s known as TPS for Haiti to recent activism over DACA, an executive order signed by Barack Obama that gave protections to undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as minors.

“We have to create the atmosphere where the man in the Oval Office says ‘I’m considering it,’” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said at the dinner.

Creating the atmosphere won’t come from signing letters or talking with administration officials about humanitarian concerns in Haiti. Instead, Democrats argue that repeatedly bringing up TPS during every DACA protest and getting business leaders to realize the disruption to labor markets if 58,000 Haitians are required to leave will increase public pressure on Trump to grant the TPS extension.

“If all the Haitian workers at Fort Lauderdale International Airport left tomorrow, they would have the messiest bathrooms of any airport, even messier than LaGuardia,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla.
Hastings and Jackson Lee said that widespread outrage from Democrats—and business leaders—over President Donald Trump’s decision to end DACA last week created a massive amount of public pressure. Trump indicated over Twitter after the decision to end DACA was announced that he would “revisit” DACA if Congress is unable to draft and pass a legislative fix that would keep those young people from being deported.
The TPS program is administered by the Homeland Security Department and allows foreign nationals already in the United States from 10 countries to stay in the United States for a designated period of time. TPS was granted to Haiti in 2011 after a massive 2010 earthquake.

When Haiti’s TPS was up for renewal in May, Democrats asked then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to show “compassion.”

Kelly ultimately decided to extend Haiti’s status, but only for six months instead of the usual 18. He also said Haitians “need to start thinking about returning.”

“It’s all or nothing at this point given the time frame, the consequences, if nothing happens between now and November,” ambassador Paul Altidor said. “We’re trying to ensure that as many people from Capitol Hill, from either side of the aisle, are involved in this, and we’ve seen that from members of the Florida delegation.”

One Florida Republican, Rep. Brian Mast, was scheduled to attend Tuesday’s dinner but was unable, due to Hurricane Irma. His office confirmed to Miami Herald that he is in favor of extending Haiti’s TPS status by 18 months.

Mast joins Miami Republicans Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, who all signed a letter in March urging Kelly to extend Haiti’s TPS status.

Tuesday’s dinner was organized by Altidor and Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., a longtime proponent of extending Haiti’s TPS status.

“We’re going to go to whomever we need to make the case,” Clarke said, adding that bringing TPS into the larger DACA debate will help combat the spread of misinformation, such as false reports that Canada was offering free residency to Haitians in the United States.

Read more here.

Oil sanctions against Venezuela less likely after Harvey and Irma, sources say


via @FrancoOrdonez

The White House has now tabled, at least temporarily, any discussion of oil sanctions against Venezuela, due in part to worries that cutting fuel supplies would only hurt Americans struggling after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, according to two sources familiar with the planning.

“The White House is eager to tighten the noose on Maduro, but not at the expense of American motorists,” said a former National Security Council official familiar with the planning.

According to a senior administration official, Trump’s team wants see how the last round of sanctions affects Caracas. And before moving on oil sanctions, that official said Washington also would need to determine how such a punishment would hurt the U.S. oil industry and gasoline consumers, still reeling from Harvey and Irma.“We’re tracking it of course,” said the senior administration official of the hurricanes’ effect on oil supplies. “What we’ll have to watch is how the refineries in the region respond to any damage and destruction. What that does as far as oil prices for the United States.”

The United States escalated its pressure on Venezuela last month with the toughest set of penalties since President Nicolás Maduro engineered a vote for a new constituent assembly that stripped democratically elected lawmakers of their power.

The last set of sanctions blocked Venezuela’s ability to borrow money from American creditors. They also banned its state oil company’s U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, from sending dividends back to Venezuela.

The Trump administration has promised to continue ratcheting up the pressure on Caracas until the Venezuelan government restores some democratic institutions. Aides have provided President Donald Trump with an “escalatory road map” that outlines options, including more individual sanctions and measures meant to strangle Venezuela’s economy. These are seen inside the administration as maneuvers that can be taken one-by-one until Washington sees evidence that Maduro is complying with demands from neighbors in the hemisphere.

“We’re not content where things are in Venezuela,” the senior administration official said. “Our policy objective here is to restore democracy. We’ve made that clear.”

But Trump, so far, has stopped short of applying the so-called “nuclear option” – oil sanctions – that could starve the oil-dependent Caracas government of desperately needed cash during a spiraling economic and humanitarian crisis.

That is partly because White House officials simply want to give the latest round of sanctions time to hurt Maduro. They are watching particularly closely whether Venezuela can meet a looming deadline to pay off some $4 billion in debt, a sum that Caracas does not have in liquid assets.

“There is no reason to act right now,” said one economic consultant familiar with White House plans.

Harvey and Irma — and their impact on the U.S. oil industry and gas prices facing consumers — served mostly to reinforce the feeling inside the administration that now is not the time to apply oil sanctions.

Read more here.

Miami native Mercedes Schlapp named White House senior communications advisor



Mercedes Schlapp, a Cuban-American Miami native and conservative commentator and columnist, was named senior White House communications advisor on Tuesday, as longtime Donald Trump aide Hope Hicks was promoted to the position of White House communications director. 

Schlapp, a longtime Washington resident, is the daughter of a Cuban political prisoner and wife of American Conservative Union leader Matt Schlapp. She also appeared regularly on Fox News and penned a column in the Washington Times. 

"Honored to serve Donald Trump and the nation," Schlapp said on Twitter. 

Schlapp joins a White House communications staff that was in flux after the departures of press secretary Sean Spicer, chief of staff Reince Priebus and communications director Anthony Scaramucci, though Tuesday's announcement appears to continue a shift within the White House under new chief of staff and former Southcom commander Gen. John Kelly to a staff filled with people who have experience in Washington. 

Before working as a media commentator, Schlapp worked in the George W. Bush administration.