June 21, 2017

Miami-Dade schools hires lobbyist — at $108,000 a year — to take concerns to Congress, Trump

White house

@KyraGurney

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Miami-Dade school district is hiring a lobbying firm to represent its interests in Washington, D.C.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the School Board approved a three-year contract — at $108,000 a year — with Ballard Partners, a Florida lobbying firm, to advocate for the district’s interests before Congress and several federal agencies.

“We’ve always had a very active presence at the federal level, but in light of the new players in the administration we felt it was prudent to seek assistance in being able to have additional access,” said Iraida Mendez-Cartaya, who oversees the school district’s office of intergovernmental affairs. The district hopes to “nurture good working relationships with the federal administration to continue to be able to provide a quality education to the students in Miami-Dade.”

The School Board’s decision comes amid growing concern nationwide about proposed cuts to federal education funding.

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 calls for $9.2 billion in cuts to the Department of Education, including slashing funds for teacher training and after-school programs.

The proposed budget cuts would “severely reduce” the amount of federal education funding Miami-Dade receives and are among the district’s top concerns, said Mendez-Cartaya.

Read more here

Frederica Wilson joins lawsuit against Donald Trump

Congresswoman Wilson me_2

@alextdaugherty 

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, announced Tuesday that she's joined a growing list of liberal lawmakers on a federal lawsuit against President Donald Trump accusing the president of violating the Foreign Emoluments Clause. The clause prohibits Trump from accepting foreign payments without congressional approval. 

“The Emoluments Clause is a vital protection against foreign governments’ corrupting influence," Wilson said. “President Trump is not the first wealthy individual to serve as our nation’s commander in chief, but he is the first to refuse to disclose his financial information. The American public deserves a president who places serving their interests above his own financial enrichment.  President Trump’s refusal to disclose or seek Congress’s authorization for his sprawling foreign financial interests is a brazen violation of the Constitution, and endangers our democracy.  I will use every tool I have to hold him accountable to the Constitution and to the American people.”

Wilson is one of about 200 Democratic politicians who signed on to the lawsuit first drafted by attorneys general from Washington D.C. and Maryland in early June. 

The clause says "[N]o Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them [i.e., the United States], shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State." 

 

June 19, 2017

Trump DC hotel, Mar-A-Lago bank millions in new income for president’s business empire

Trump (2)

@KevinGHall @anitakumar01 @benbweider

The Trump-branded hotel blocks from the White House has quickly generated almost $20 million of income for the Trump Organization while Mar-A-Lago, the private club used as a “Southern White House,” has seen profits climb nearly 25 percent — figures that are sure to fuel ethics advocates’ charges that Donald Trump is profiting off the presidency.

Trump’s 98-page financial disclosure was released unexpectedly late Friday by the Office of Government Ethics, almost a year before required and with no initial comment or explanation from the White House.

Details about the Trump International Hotel in the revamped Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House are likely to become part of a growing debate over the constitutional ban on president’s receiving gifts and payments while in office — something known as the emoluments clause. It requires Congress to approve any payment or gift from a foreign entity a president decides to keep.

Trump faces three lawsuits already over that ban, with groups such as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, and more than 200 members of Congress suing over the constitutional ban. They point to conferences held at the Washington hotel to promote U.S.-Turkey relations, the planned celebration there of Kuwaiti National Day and numerous private gatherings in the ballroom and other facilities.

In Friday’s financial disclosure report, which reflects business during the 2016 calendar year, the Trump Old Post Office LLC cited hotel-related revenue in reporting income of $19.6 million. The hotel has been open just a few months, and in his 2016 financial-disclosure report Trump had simply offered a range between $100,000 and $1 million. 

“It certainly raises the question whether the income is coming from people wanting to get the president’s attention,” said Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for CREW. “We can presume it’s because he’s president … the question is where is that money coming from?”

Trump’s golf courses also show large amounts of reported income — which presumably does not reflect offsetting expenses. His course in Jupiter, Fla., reported $20.1 million income while his Bedminster, N.J., course generated income of $19.7 million. His Charlotte, N.C., course reported income of $15 million. The Trump National Golf Club in the District of Colombia reported income of $17.5 and income on the prized Trump National Doral golf course in Miami of $115.8 million actually reflected a decline from $131.9 million in the 2016 report.


Read more here. 

June 18, 2017

Rubio says Trump will not fire prosecutors conducting Russia investigations

Colombia rubio(2)

@alextdaugherty 

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said on Sunday that he doesn't think President Donald Trump will fire deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein or special counsel Robert Mueller, the two men charged with leading investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. 

Rubio was asked by CNN anchor Jake Tapper on the Sunday morning show "State of the Union" about Trump's recent tweets calling the investigation a "witch-hunt." 

"Some of your Senate colleagues, as you know, are concerned that President Trump is preparing to fire Mueller or Mueller and Rosenstein. How would you react if he did?" Tapper asked. 

"Well, first of all, that's not going to happen," Rubio said. "I don't believe it's going to happen. The best thing that could happen for the president and the country is a full and credible investigation. I really, truly believe that. If we want to put all this behind us, let's find out what happened, let's put it out there, and let's not undermine the credibility of the investigation." 

Rubio said he's confident that Trump's surprising decision to dismiss FBI Director James Comey has not impeded the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation, and that he is confident Mueller will conduct a thorough and fair investigation. 

Tapper also asked Rubio about the revamped Cuba policy which undos limits travel options for American citizens and bans U.S. business transactions with Cuban military apparatus, specifically highlighting the differences between Trump's desire for closer relations with China and Saudi Arabia while blasting the Cuban government as a violator of human rights. 

Rubio countered that Cuba's human rights record is particularly important to U.S. interests because it's a close neighbor. 

"I would say it's in our national security interests to have human rights and democracy in our region, because the absence of those two things leads to migratory pressure and instability," Rubio said. "Whether it's Haiti or Cuba or Mexico or Central America, so much of the migratory pressure on the United States is created by instability in the Western Hemisphere. And so there is a national security interest in our region in creating stability and democracy." 

Rubio spent Sunday morning on a host of shows, including NBC's Meet the Press, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox News, Telemundo and CBS' Miami affiliate. 

Full interview here: 

 

 

June 17, 2017

Lovefest forum for Democratic gubernatorial candidates features one foe: Trump

0368 Florida governor forum
@PatriciaMazzei

Unwilling to attack each other this early in the 2018 campaign for Florida governor, the three Democrats running so far chose different opponent Saturday: President Donald Trump.

“The biggest challenge we have facing the United States is without question Donald Trump,” said former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee. “And quite honestly, he’s the biggest challenge facing the world as well.”

“I agree 100 percent with her responses,” Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said.

They had been asked about the biggest problems confronting the world, the nation and the state. Orlando entrepreneur Chris King offered the first answer, blaming the Republican president and Congress for trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, pulling out of the Paris climate agreement and cracking down on U.S.-Cuba relations.

“Trump’s taking us backwards again,” King said. “There’s a common theme.” 

The first forum among the Democratic rivals since all three declared their candidacies offered few areas of disagreement. That was by design: “This is not a debate,” said the moderator, former state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald of Sarasota. “These questions are sort of general.”

Instead, each candidate tried to win over activists involved in Leadership Blue, the Florida Democratic Party’s largest annual fundraiser held at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood. The forum was put on by the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, a fact not lost on the candidates, who attempted to cement their progressive bona fides.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

June 16, 2017

Trump defies congressional Republicans who want closer relations with Cuba

Trump Cuba

@alextdaugherty 

Congressional Republicans from outside South Florida opposed President Donald Trump’s revamped Cuba policy announcement on Friday, as lawmakers from states with agricultural and trade interests on the island fretted about the economic implications of a ban on U.S. business with the Cuban military apparatus.

“Any policy change that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interests of the United States or the Cuban people,” said Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a proponent of ending the Cuban embargo.

Flake introduced legislation earlier this year that would eliminate travel restrictions to Cuba for American citizens, and he garnered 54 other co-sponsors, including Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, for his bill. Flake implored Senate leadership to put his legislation on the floor for a vote.

“The bill has 55 total cosponsors and I am convinced it would pass the Senate with upwards of 70 votes,” Flake said in a statement.

But President Trump ignored the wishes of the majority of the Senate to fulfill a campaign pledge for conservative Cubans in South Florida: As part of the policy change, travel to Cuba for American citizens will face increased scrutiny.

“We will enforce the ban on tourism, we will enforce the embargo and we will take concrete steps to insure investments flow directly to the people,” Trump said in Miami on Friday.

As the president doled out heaps of praise for Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the two South Florida Republicans who played an integral role in shaping the revamped Cuba policy, other congressional Republicans began to voice their displeasure.

“I have a bill that would allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba, one of my compatriots has a bill that would allow agricultural exports,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., a proponent of ending the trade embargo. “These are all Republican measures these are all Republican bills. We tried the same approach for 50 years and it didn’t work.”

Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran, who represents a state with a large agricultural sector, said the newly announced changes will hurt U.S. businesses seeking to expand abroad.

“Cuba is a natural market for our nation’s farmers and ranchers, and when we don’t sell to Cuba, another country does,” Moran said.

Read more here. 

June 15, 2017

Ros-Lehtinen backs Trump Cuba policy but won't attend Miami announcement

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen backs President Donald Trump new Cuba policy, but she won't be around for Trump's big announcement Friday.

Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring next year, has been critical of Trump. But the White House invited her to attend Trump's policy event in Miami's Manuel Artime Theater. Ros-Lehtinen, however, said she has family plans that will keep her in Washington.

"I fully support President Trump's announcement on his new Cuba policy and I commend my legislative brothers, Senator Marco Rubio and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, for playing an instrumental role in crafting this initiative which curtails cooperation with the Castro regime's military monopoly GAESA," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "However, I will not be able to travel on Air Force One nor be at the event in Miami due to family commitments in Washington, DC."

Rubio and Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, will join Trump, along with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Vice President Mike Pence, who was in town Thursday for a conference at Florida International University, might also attend. 

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is out of town, but the county will have the representation of Chairman Esteban "Steve" Bovo and Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, Joe Martinez and Javier Souto

 
 

Pence to travel to Central and South America

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@PatriciaMazzei

Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday in Miami that he will travel to Central and South America in August, visiting four countries in a five-day tour.

Pence will stop in Cartagena and Bogota, Colombia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile, and Panama City, Panama, from Aug. 13-18.

The vice president revealed his plans at the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America held at Florida International University.

"The people of the United States have a special place in our hearts for the nations and people of Central America, especially in the Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador," Pence said in a statement.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Inside Rubio and Diaz-Balart's Oval Office push to crack down on Cuba

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@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart sat in the Oval Office last month, surrounded by two Cabinet secretaries, the national security adviser and an array of top White House staff, and asked President Donald Trump to put his power behind their plans for Cuba.

The Miami Republican lawmakers had been pressing Trump for months to unwind former President Barack Obama’s policies, bringing up Cuba at every opportunity: Diaz-Balart when he and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen met in private with their former House colleague, Vice President Mike Pence, in February; Rubio when he and his wife joined the president and first lady for an intimate dinner two days later, and again when the senator flew aboard Air Force One to Florida in March.

The administration had been waiting for deputies across Cabinet agencies to review existing Cuba regulations. By the May 3 Oval Office meeting, their recommendation was in: Keep Obama’s push to normalize U.S. relations with the regime of Cuban leader Raúl Castro.

That’s not what Trump wanted. As a candidate, he’d promised change to South Florida’s Cuban-American hardliners, including Bay of Pigs veterans who endorsed him, a gesture that stuck with Trump and that he repeatedly mentioned as president.

“The president said, ‘Look, I want to do this,’” Rubio said.

More here.

Photo credit: Rainier Ehrhardt, Associated Press

Here's Trump's new Cuba policy, taking a harder line than Obama

US NEWS USCUBA-TRUMP 1 MI

@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres

In an overhaul of one of his predecessor’s signature legacies, President Donald Trump will redraw U.S. policy toward Cuba on Friday, tightening travel restrictions for Americans that had been loosened under President Barack Obama and banning U.S. business transactions with Cuba’s vast military conglomerate.

Trump’s changes, shared Thursday with the Miami Herald, are intended to sharply curtail cash flow to the Cuban government and pressure its communist leaders to let the island’s fledgling private sector grow. Diplomatic relations reestablished by Obama, including reopened embassies in Washington and Havana, will remain. Travel and money sent by Cuban Americans will be unaffected.

Trump is expected to announce the presidential policy directive Friday, surrounded by Cuban-American supporters at Miami’s Manuel Artime Theater, a venue named after one of the late leaders of the Brigade 2506 Bay of Pigs veterans whose group offered Trump their endorsement last October after he promised exiles a “better deal.” 

In his remarks, Trump plans to cite human-rights violations in Cuba as justification for the new U.S. approach. Dissidents say government repression has increased.

While not a full reversal of Obama’s historic Cuba rapprochement, Trump’s recast U.S. policy hews closer to the hard line espoused by Cuban-American Republicans who derided Obama’s 2014 policy as a capitulation. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was instrumental in drafting Trump’s changes, with help from Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. Other Cuban-American lawmakers started getting briefed on the policy Thursday.

“If we’re going to have more economic engagement with Cuba, it will be with the Cuban people,” Rubio told the Miami Herald.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff