March 21, 2018

Who’s going and who’s skipping? Where pols stand on Saturday’s March for Our Lives



On Saturday, young people around the world will participate in the March for Our Lives, urging lawmakers to find solutions that stop gun violence and mass shootings just over a month after the nation’s deadliest high school shooting in Broward County.

But South Florida’s Republican lawmakers in Congress either have no plans to attend, or won’t say what they’re doing on Saturday.

The March for Our Lives was organized by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students after a former classmate killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day. The students have also been coordinating with gun-control advocacy groups who generally do not support Republican officeholders. As of Wednesday, the organizers announced that 837 marches will take place around the world, including the main event in Washington, D.C.

Every Democratic officeholder from South Florida who responded to the Miami Herald has plans to participate, either in Washington or marches in South Florida.

Read more here.

March 13, 2018

A conservative Parkland student helps set the agenda in Washington



Kyle Kashuv was in a bind.

The 16-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student, who opposes gun control, had just finished a press conference with Sen. Marco Rubio and the family of a Parkland shooting victim on Capitol Hill, and his next engagement was coming up.

One problem: He needed someone to adjust his tie, which was left in a knot so he could slip the loop around his head.

“Can you help me with this?” Kashuv asked a reporter and a Senate aide as he fiddled with his phone. “We’ve got to call an Uber to the White House.”

Kashuv, the high school junior who vaulted to national prominence as a conservative counterweight to the vocal Parkland students who favor tighter gun-control legislation, is back in Washington for second week of high-profile meetings, and he’s setting the agenda in the nation’s capital.

Senators from both parties are rearranging their schedules to speak with him, television channels are clamoring to get him on air and he even brokered a Skype conversationbetween Rubio and YouTube video blogger Jake Paul. He has already met with President Donald Trump once, and plans to be at the White House before and during the March for Our Lives on March 24th.

“In the media [Trump] is portrayed as ignorant and unknowing and cold, but in real life he’s very smart and very quick and he’s very caring,” Kashuv said. “When I met with the president, first it shocked me that I met with the president but... he was just so nice. I think it’s amazing that in the busiest day of his entire administration with the steel tariffs and North Korea, he found the time, took everyone out of his office, and we sat there and talked for a while and that’s something that very rarely occurs.”

Kashuv and his 19-year-old right-hand man, Michael Gruen, who coordinated Kashuv’s meetings on Capitol Hill and the White House with help from former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, aren’t in Washington solely for the photo-ops. They want Rubio and others in Congress to pass a bill that provides funds for school safety and coordination between school districts and law enforcement.

Read more here.

February 26, 2018

GOP Congress returns after Parkland, under pressure to move on guns



When Congress left town after the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a gun control movement led by Broward County students hadn’t yet captured the nation’s attention.

But lawmakers are now back in Washington after a 10-day break, and they’re under pressure to do something from media-savvy students who have so far forced the Florida legislature to offer a $500 million school safety package and driven President Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio to change their stance on some gun policies.

But moving forward in a Republican-controlled Congress will be a tall order, and voting on any piece of legislation in the House of Representatives this week will be tougher since Republican leadership canceled votes on Wednesday and Thursday to honor the late Rev. Billy Graham, who will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda for two days.

Plus, House leaders argue that they’ve already passed legislation related to mental health funding, tweaking the reporting process by federal and state authorities to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and bump stocks.

“The House has acted and leaders believe it’s the Senate’s turn to act,” a senior Republican House aide said.

The measure that tweaks the background check system, which has wide support from Democrats and Republicans, and directs the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to review bump stocks was attached to a bill that also allows 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. Democrats generally oppose expanding concealed carry permits across state lines, so they mostly opposed the bill even though it contained something they liked.

The legislative maneuvering on any bill related to guns decreases the chances of something becoming law, and there isn’t any gun bill up for a vote in the House this week, according to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s calendar.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said there aren’t any plans now to fast-track gun-related bills in the upper chamber.

Read more here.

February 20, 2018

Some Florida Republicans begin push for stricter gun measures


@katieglueck @alextdaugherty

In what could signal the start of a shift in Republican politics, some GOP donors and officials in Florida are urging their political networks to consider some gun control measures and buck their party's longstanding refusal to even engage in the debate.

"I already have impressed upon people I talk to, the way the law is now is incorrect, it's wrong, it's a moral obligation to make certain changes to the law," said Ronald Krongold, a Miami-based board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, speaking with McClatchy several days after a gunman in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 people in a school shooting. The interview also came hours before President Donald Trump moved to ban "bump stocks," which make semi-automatic weapons shoot much more rapidly.

Krongold said he's not issuing ultimatums, but that “this issue could influence who I support and who I don’t."

Major GOP donor Al Hoffman Jr., also of Florida, went further over the weekend, indicating to top GOP officials there that he would not support candidates or organizations that didn't back a new assault weapons ban, The New York Times reported.

Those remarks come as the Florida legislature scrambles to respond to last week’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that resulted in the deaths of 14 students and three faculty members over the course of six minutes. While there appears to be little GOP appetite for banning high-powered assault weapons —on Tuesday, the Florida House voted down a measure to even consider a bill that would ban them — incoming Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, a Republican, is promoting a slate of other ideas. Those include a "gun violence restraining order" which could keep certain at-risk individuals from accessing firearms, as well as raising the age for purchasing and possessing semi-automatic firearms, and banning bump stocks. On the last measure, he has an ally in Trump, who announced Tuesday that he has asked the Justice Department to pursue regulations that would ban bump stocks.

Read more here.

February 14, 2018

‘I said a little prayer’— Florida lawmakers react to Broward school shooting

Bill Nelson


Democrats representing Broward County and South Florida seethed Wednesday over congressional inaction on firearms, hours after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland left 17 people dead. It was the second time in just over a year that Florida’s second-most populous county experienced a major mass shooting.

But while Democrats demanded action, Republicans generally avoided calling for legislative change, at least in the immediate aftermath.

“I said a little prayer, for all of them, then the next thought that popped into my head was, do we have to go through this again?” Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said. “Look how many of these mass shootings have occurred and we say enough is enough and then nothing is done. Here in the Senate we cannot even get Senator [Dianne] Feinstein’s bill that would prohibit people on the terrorist watch list from buying a gun.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat who represents Parkland in Washington, choked up during an interview as he waited for a flight home. He said he spoke at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School just a few weeks ago.

“I have a picture of an adorable six year old who was killed at Sandy Hook whose father gave me that picture so I can remember every day why were working so hard to try to reduce gun violence,” Deutch said. “Everyone cares about safe communities. I shouldn’t need a mass shooting in my district to give me legitimacy to talk about why we need to prevent more mass shootings but I guess that’s the sad reality.”

Florida state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Democrat who represents northern Broward County in Tallahassee, said “This country and its elected leaders collectively have failed our children.”

Read more here.

February 13, 2018

NOAA climate and hurricane research slashed in Trump budget



President Donald Trump wants to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency responsible for hurricane tracking and research. 

Trump's 2019 budget proposal was released Monday and it includes a 37 percent cut to NOAA climate research and a six percent cut to the National Weather Service compared to the 2017 budget that became law last year. 

Climate research funding would be cut from $158 million in 2017 to $98 million in 2019 while ocean, coastal and Great Lakes research would be cut from $192 million in 2017 to $93 million in 2019, according to a comparison by the Ocean Conservancy. 

“Today’s budget proposal from the Administration is certainly not reflective of the direction our federal government should take," Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said in a statement. "From significant reductions to agencies needed to protect our environment and combat the threats of climate change and sea level rise, to cuts to Community Block Grants that assist in disaster recovery, this budget abandons progress already made on many programs that enjoy bipartisan support." 

Trump's budget proposal isn't likely to become law and is mostly a signal of the administration's priorities. Congress has control of the government funding process and it's unlikely that a majority of members will support drastic spending cuts to multiple federal agencies, including NOAA. 

The largest proposed NOAA cuts occur in research while national environmental satellite, data and information services also receives a 25 percent cut, $2.2 billion to $1.6 billion, from 2017 to 2019. One area of the agency, the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, gets 1.9 percent funding increase under Trump's proposal. 

“President Trump proposes over $1 billion in cuts at NOAA, including a $273 million slash to grants and programs that support practical solutions to on-the-water challenges in states and local communities," Ocean Conservancy  Associate Director of Government Relations Addie Haughey said in a statement. "From coastal towns facing clear and dire needs for preparedness and repair after a devastating hurricane season, to fishermen whose livelihoods are threatened by changing fish stocks, this administration is turning a blind eye to our coastal economies. Despite pledging during the State of the Union to stand with victims of the 2017 storm season, President Trump’s proposal fails to honor his commitment to rebuild and prepare for future storms."

The 2018 hurricane season begins in June and federal agencies, including NOAA, are still completing disaster recovery efforts in Florida, Puerto Rico and Texas after three major hurricanes made landfall on U.S. soil in 2017. 

February 12, 2018

Miami wants rail permits. Trump: ‘We’ll get them for you so fast your head will spin.’


@doug_hanks @alextdaugherty 

President Donald Trump pledged environmental regulation wouldn’t hold up Miami-Dade’s quest for more rail projects, telling a county commissioner that federal permits will arrive “so fast your head will spin.”

The longtime owner of one of Miami-Dade’s largest resorts, Trump told Commission Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo that federal red tape won’t hold up local transit projects.

“We’re going to get you the federal permits, OK? And we’re going to get you the environmental and transportation permits,” Trump said to Bovo, a fellow Republican seated a few seats down from the president at a White House event Monday touting the administration’s new infrastructure plan. “We’ll get them for you so fast your head will spin. The question will be whether you can get the local permits. That’s up to you.”

The moment put Miami-Dade in the spotlight for the president’s unveiling of his infrastructure plan, with Bovo literally having a televised voice at the table as the White House tries to drum up support for its $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. The plan relies on federal money to attract state, local and private dollars to major projects.

Bovo cited Trump’s history in Miami — he owns the Trump National Doral golf resort and tried to take over the county’s Crandon Park golf course shortly before running for president — in making a pitch for Washington’s help.

“Mr. President, you would appreciate, knowing Miami-Dade the way you do, the gridlock we’re experiencing,” Bovo said.

The presidential statement also arrived at an interesting juncture in Miami-Dade’s latest effort to revive stalled plans to expand the 25-mile Metrorail system. Summoned to the White House was Bovo, a champion of expanding rail, and not Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who has warned that Miami-Dade can’t afford either the expense or the red-tape delays required to extend Metrorail farther into the suburbs.

Gimenez last year proposed a $534 million plan to create dedicated lanes and elevated stations for high-tech bus service connecting Metrorail to Florida City to the south and Miami Gardens to the north. He’s pitching the stations as convertible to rail if Miami-Dade later can afford to expand Metrorail.

Read more here.

February 09, 2018

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



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 18, 2018

Why the fate of Dreamers is fueling talk of a government shutdown in Washington

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The federal government will shut down on Friday at 11:59 p.m. if Congress fails to pass a short-term spending bill in the next 36 hours.

Because Republicans control the government, leaders like President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell must put together a spending bill that gains enough support to pass the House and Senate.

But some Democrats and Miami Republicans say they will vote against any spending bill if a solution for 800,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children — isn’t imminent. Friday is not the final deadline for passing a Dreamer fix, because the Obama-era executive action called DACA, which allows Dreamers to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation, expires in March. Congress has a few more weeks to come up with a deal, but lawmakers upset with the ongoing negotiations are using the Friday deadline as leverage to force action.

Sen. Marco Rubio is urging the House and Senate to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government open even if leaders can’t agree on a DACA solution by Friday night.

“You can’t shut down the government over DACA,” Rubio said earlier this week. “The deadline is in March, not Friday of this week. One of the implications of doing so is that the government will not be able to process the permits that people are applying for, so it’s almost counterproductive.”

If Senate Democrats uniformly oppose a short-term spending plan because it lacks a Dreamer solution, the government will shut down, because a spending bill requires 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, and Republicans control only 51 seats.

But Republicans in Congress have traditionally relied on Democrats to join them on votes to keep the government open — to make up for the Republicans who are concerned about the federal deficit and object to short-term spending bills that don’t cut the federal budget.

Here are some of the biggest questions that must be resolved to pass a spending bill. Keep in mind congressional leaders will typically make last-second deals to secure the votes of members who are wavering.

Read more here.

January 17, 2018

Rubio’s push for swift Russia sanctions is latest quiet break from Trump



Marco Rubio’s new bill that would swiftly punish Russia for any future election meddling is the latest evidence of a subtle split between the Florida Republican and certain elements of his party who parrot President Donald Trump’s argument that the investigations into Russian meddling amount to a partisan witch hunt.

Rubio recently worked with the liberal Washington, D.C., city council to rename the street in front of the Russian embassy after slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. He continues to assert confidence in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as other Republicans question Mueller’s motives. And his election-meddling bill, co-sponsored with Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, would give more power to Congress instead of the president when it comes to sanctioning Russia over election interference.

But Rubio’s supporters on Capitol Hill insist that the second-term senator isn’t changing his ideals, and his actions aren’t driven by animus towards the president. Instead, Trump’s attitude towards Russia and the investigations that have already resulted in the indictments of four former Trump campaign officials, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, are making anti-Russia hawks like Rubio more of an outlier within a Trumpian GOP.

“I think he’s true to his values and the values of our Republican Party,” Miami Republican congresswoman and Trump critic Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “It’s just now that instead of the Republican Party, it’s the Trump Party. But Marco is a true-blue Republican in the old-fashioned sense of the phrase. Who would think that being wary, suspicious of anti-Russian strongarm tactics would be deemed as outliers?”

For Rubio, the hard talk on Russian meddling goes back to the 2016 election, when he dropped out of the presidential race after losing to Trump in the Florida Republican primary. Rubio said last year that his former campaign staffers were targeted by unknown Russian IP addresses.

“In July 2016, shortly after I announced I’d seek re-election to the U.S. Senate, former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to the internal information of my presidential campaign were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia,” Rubio said at a Senate hearing. “That effort was unsuccessful. I do think it’s appropriate to divulge this to the committee, since a lot of this has taken a partisan tone.”

Read more here.