May 15, 2018

Bill Nelson to vote for Donald Trump's CIA Director pick

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson announced Tuesday he will vote for Gina Haspel to lead the nation's foreign intelligence arm, joining a slew of Democrats who publicly said they would vote for President Donald Trump's pick. Haspel will likely be confirmed by the U.S. Senate later this week after about a half dozen Democrats who, like Nelson, are running for reelections in states won by Trump, said they would vote for her.

"Gina Haspel has dedicated her life to serving her country and the brave men and women who work at the CIA deserve a career professional, like her, to lead them," Nelson said in a statement. "Gina Haspel has publicly acknowledged that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program should not have been undertaken and has vowed to uphold our nation’s laws and values in leading the agency. She has earned the respect and backing of former intelligence chiefs from the Bush and Obama administrations. I will vote to support her nomination to be the next director of the CIA." 

Nelson's announcement comes after he met one-on-one with Haspel on Tuesday. The former deputy CIA director's nomination has come under scrutiny from some Republicans and Democrats over her connections to torture while she worked overseas during the George W. Bush administration.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Nelson's likely opponent in November, called on Nelson to divulge his stance on Haspel last week, and criticized Nelson for "slow walking" her nomination.  

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has publicly said he supports Haspel's nomination, though Republican Sens. John McCain and Rand Paul have said they will not vote for Haspel due to her past ties to torture. 

May 10, 2018

Report: Treasure Coast congressman under consideration to lead Veterans' Affairs

Brian mast

via @AP

The Associated Press reports Florida Rep. Brian Mast, R-Treasure Coast, is under consideration to lead the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Read their report below: 

President Donald Trump is considering an Army veteran who is a Republican member of Congress for the position of Veterans Affairs secretary, part of a lengthening search for a nominee following the abrupt firing of David Shulkin in March.

A White House official on Thursday said Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, who was elected to the House in 2016, was among the list of candidates for the job heading an agency of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.

The White House official would not say whether Mast is the leading candidate for the VA position. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Mast is the first member of Congress to open a lawmaker satellite office in a VA facility, setting up shop in the West Palm Beach VA to meet with veterans. He was wounded when serving in Afghanistan in 2010, which resulted in the amputation of both of his legs.

Trump is seeking a nominee to lead the VA after White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson withdrew his nomination for the post last month.

Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, a former Pentagon undersecretary for personnel and readiness, and Samuel Spagnolo, the president of the National Association of Veterans Affairs Physicians and Dentists, are also under consideration for the post.

VA officials have told some veterans groups they are preparing for the possibility that the agency won't have a permanent VA secretary in place for another three months, as Trump mulls over replacement candidates.

The VA faces problems demanding immediate attention, including a multi-billion dollar revamp of electronic medical records now in limbo that members of Congress fear will prove too costly and wasteful, and a budget shortfall in the coming weeks in its private-sector Veterans Choice program.

The House is slated to vote on a wide-ranging bill next week that would give veterans more freedom to see doctors outside the VA health system and fill the budget shortfall, a major step toward fulfilling Trump's promise to expand private care for veterans.

If Mast leaves his seat to run a Cabinet agency it could be a boon for Florida Democrats as the Treasure Coast district he represents is one of the state's competitive congressional districts. Mast broke with the majority of Republicans to announce his support for an assault weapons ban after the Parkland school shooting on Valentine's Day.

Trump won Mast's district by nine percentage points in 2016 but national Democrats plan to invest heavily in the district, which was recently represented by Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, before he left the seat to unsuccessfully challenge Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. There are two Republicans in addition to Mast who are seeking the GOP nomination, and Democrats Lauren Baer and Pam Keith are currently engaged in a competitive primary for the Democratic nomination. 

May 04, 2018

One year ago Carlos Curbelo tried to repeal Obamacare. Democrats aren't forgetting

6a00d83451b26169e201b8d2b4f7d0970c-800wi

@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

On the House floor one year ago, Democrats were jubilant in defeat.

Republicans had just passed a bill to repeal major portions of Obamacare without any Democratic support, and the minority party was convinced the vote would send them into the majority by January 2019.

"Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, hey, goodbye,” Democrats sang, repeating a juvenile political spectacle first used by Republicans in 1993 when Democrats passed a Bill Clinton-sponsored tax bill.

Despite the theatrics, the Republicans' political prognostications in 1993 were right. They gained 54 seats and control of Congress.

Now, Democrats are trying to use healthcare to engineer a similar wave, and Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's Miami-to-Key-West district is ground zero for their efforts. Curbelo won reelection in 2016 by 12 percentage points despite representing a Democratic-leaning district that voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 16 percentage points, and his seat is a top priority for Democrats as they seek to win 24 seats to gain control of the House after the November elections.

On the one year anniversary of the House vote to pass the American Health Care Act, known as the AHCA, Democrats are spending millions to remind voters in districts like Curbelo's that their representative voted to essentially repeal Obamacare, the sweeping healthcare law passed solely by Democrats in 2009. Democrats are so confident that Curbelo's healthcare record will be his political undoing that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi traveled to South Miami-Dade on Thursday to appear with his Democratic opponent and trash his record.

"Today we’re talking about the one-year anniversary of a very destructive bill that the congressman from this area, Mr. Curbelo, voted for to the detriment of people in this district,” Pelosi said, adding that Curbelo's support for the GOP tax bill that became law late last year further eroded affordable healthcare by removing penalties for the individual mandate. “What they couldn’t achieve in the president’s [healthcare] bill, they tried to do some of in the tax bill. So elections have consequences. Legislation affects peoples’ lives. We’re just trying to show the connection."

Curbelo welcomes the attention on healthcare, and says his position on Obamacare hasn't changed since he first ran for Congress in 2013.

"We need to keep the good in the law. That means protections for those with preexisting conditions, doesn’t discriminate against women, and allow young people to stay on their parent's plans until they are established and can purchase their own health insurance," Curbelo said. "And we need to replace the bad with something that works better. A year later I still get some complaints in my office about" Obamacare.

Read more here.

May 02, 2018

Republicans who want Mueller protected to run Fox News ad with RNC in Miami

Mueller
 
@alextdaugherty
 
A Republican group that wants special counsel Robert Mueller to finish his investigation into connections between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the Russian government unimpeded his hitting the airwaves in Miami on Thursday and Friday as the Republican Party gathers at Trump's golf resort in Doral. 
 
The group, Republicans for the Rule of Law, will air two spots on Fox News later this week as multiple prominent Republicans have called on Mueller to be fired. The first spot describes Mueller's pro-Republican record and the second features a speech by President Ronald Reagan. 
 
A bill to protect Mueller's investigation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with some Republican support, though it isn't likely to pass the Senate and House. Sen. Marco Rubio has also continued to support Mueller's investigation while other Florida Republicans like gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and Rep. Matt Gaetz have cast doubt on Mueller's investigation. 
 
The group backing the ad includes Bill Kristol, a former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and prominent Never Trump Republican.  
 
"Here’s what I’d say to the president: There’s no cause to fire anyone at Justice. Spend your time weakening America’s enemies abroad, not undermining the rule of law at home," Kristol told the Washington Post
 
Watch the ads below: 




April 30, 2018

Here's how much the Republican Party pays to meet at Trump's resort in Miami

Trump-business-1stld-writethru-02d5fac6-9be6-11e7-8ea1-ed975285475e (2)

@alextdaugherty

The Republican Party is coming to South Florida this week, and the GOP is spending its money at a familiar haunt: President Donald Trump's golf resort in Doral.

The Republican National Committee spent $234,000 on venue rental and catering at Trump National Doral Miami since the beginning of this year, where it will host its spring meeting from May 2 to May 5. Trump's U.S. businesses, which include resorts and hotels across the country that are frequently used for conferences and meetings, have received at least $15.1 million in revenue from political groups and federal agencies since 2015, according to a report released earlier this month.

The RNC spent $424,000 at Trump-owned properties during the first two months of 2018, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Trump Doral, a sprawling resort with four golf courses, was also used by the Trump campaign for fundraisers and press conferences during the 2016 presidential election.

An RNC spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

More here.

April 24, 2018

How one Republican held up the U.S. Senate over Cuba travel policy

Cuba Trump

@alextdaugherty

The U.S. Senate ground to a halt last week, and Cuba was the culprit.

After months in limbo, Donald Trump's pick to lead NASA finally appeared to have enough support for confirmation, and a vote was scheduled. Sen. Marco Rubio, who opposed Rep. Jim Bridenstine's nomination because he wanted a non-politician to run the nation's space program, switched his stance, giving Republicans enough votes to move forward with Bridenstine on a party-line vote.

But Jeff Flake had other ideas.

The Arizona Republican seized the GOP's one-vote advantage over the minority and initially cast a "no" vote on Bridenstine. Vice President Mike Pence was in Florida, unable to hustle to Capitol Hill to break a 49-49 tie. Republican leaders were forced to negotiate with Flake on the Senate floor to get him to change his vote.

Flake's reason for dithering? The longtime critic of U.S. trade and travel restrictions with Cuba wanted to talk to Mike Pompeo, Trump's nominee for secretary of state, about travel restrictions to Cuba, according to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.

"I want to talk to Pompeo on a number of issues, that's all I'll say," Flake said with a smile when asked if he sought to talk to the secretary of state nominee about Cuba travel restrictions in exchange for a "yes" vote on Bridenstine.

Flake, a frequent Trump critic, doesn't have much of an incentive to listen to party leaders who could help his reelection chances:. He's retiring after the 2018 elections.

That means he can continue to push Senate leaders on issues like Cuba, where the fault lines aren't drawn up neatly along party lines.

"My goal has always been the same, of closer ties, more travel, more commerce because I think that moves Cuba closer to democracy, so I'll use any leverage I can to try to bring that about," Flake said. "I'll try to keep the progress and the policies we've made particularly with Cuban entrepreneurs achieving some kind of independence from the government down there that we don't turn them back."

Read more here.

April 18, 2018

Curbelo to appear with Trump in Key West (updated)

Curbelo

@alextdaugherty 

Rep. Carlos Curbelo is headed to Key West with President Donald Trump tomorrow, but don't expect the duo to applaud the sunset at Mallory Square. 

The president will visit Naval Air Station Key West for a few hours on Thursday to receive a briefing from the Joint Interagency Task Force South, and Curbelo said Wednesday he'll join Trump on Air Force One for the quick visit.

"I’ll go ahead and break the news that I will be traveling with the President tomorrow, and will be arriving with him, and will be out at JIATF, and I am very grateful that he is taking the time to visit such a valuable asset for law enforcement, for our military, for our partners from other nations from the region," Curbelo said to U.S. 1 Radio News. "And I think for the Florida Keys it is wonderful that a president is visiting, taking the time to learn about a facility that is not only so critical for our national security, but obviously employs a lot of people in the Florida Keys." 

Curbelo doesn't have much of a relationship with Trump. He was the first Republican lawmaker to suggest Trump could be impeached and declined to vote for him in 2016. Since Trump assumed office Curbelo criticized some of his policy decisions like withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord and recently called on EPA secretary Scott Pruitt to resign amid mounting ethics issues. 

Trump was in Hialeah on Monday to tout the tax bill, a law Curbelo helped draft, but Curbelo wasn't there. He was traveling home from the Summit of the Americas in Peru. 

Curbelo is in the midst of a contentious reelection campaign against Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in a Democratic-leaning district, and appearing with Trump in public could be fodder for his opponent. The event on Thursday is an official White House event and not a campaign stop, though Trump riffed about his 2016 victory in Florida on Monday. 

UPDATE (4/19): Here's what Curbelo talked about with Trump, per his office. 

“I also appreciated the opportunity to travel with the President ‎and his team," Curbelo said in a statement. "I was able to stress to him the importance of finding a compromise on immigration that protects young immigrants brought to our country as children and also strengthens border security. We discussed FEMA's role in hurricane recovery, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, and as we were arriving at our destination I shared with the President that sea level rise is increasingly a concern in the Keys and throughout South Florida."

March 21, 2018

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

935374340

@alextdaugherty

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

US-NEWS-SCHOOLSAFETY-BILL-4-ABA

@alextdaugherty

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

US NEWS FLA-SCHOOLSHOOTING-OPENHOUSE 7 MI

@alextdaugherty

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.