November 15, 2017

Tis the season: Trump set to return to Mar-a-Lago for Thanksgiving

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From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is set to spend Thanksgiving in Palm Beach, Florida, continuing a family tradition he maintained before moving to the White House.

A Federal Aviation Administration notice advises that Trump will be in the area that hosts several of his private clubs Nov. 21-26. Trump has frequented the area for decades, owning the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach and a golf course a mile away in West Palm Beach. A White House official didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the president’s travel plans.

Earlier this year, Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago. As president, Trump has spent all or part of more than 75 days at properties he owns in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey.

Photo credit: Charles Trainor Jr., Miami Herald staff

November 09, 2017

U.S. sanctions 10 more Venezuelan government leaders, citing irregular election

Venezuela Economic Crisis
@PatriciaMazzei @FrancoOrdonez

Denouncing last month’s regional Venezuelan elections as irregular, the Trump administration imposed new individual sanctions Thursday against 10 Venezuelans it accused of undermining democracy, censoring the news media and engaging in the corrupt administration of government-run food programs.

The Treasury Department froze U.S. assets, banned U.S. travel and prohibited Americans from doing business with top allies of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, including his chief of staff, two sitting ministers and one of the all-powerful Constituent Assembly’s vice presidents.

“As the Venezuelan government continues to disregard the will of its people, our message remains clear: the United States will not stand aside while the Maduro regime continues to destroy democratic order and prosperity in Venezuela,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement obtained by the Miami Herald ahead of its planned release.

The Constituent Assembly swore in the winners of an Oct. 15 election the Treasury Department said was “marked by numerous irregularities that strongly suggest fraud” that helped Maduro’s ruling socialist party win a majority of governorships. The government ignored opposition calls for an independent audit of the results.

Thursday’s penalties brings to 40 the total number of Venezuelans sanctioned by the U.S. for undermining the South American country’s democracy — including Maduro himself, whom Mnuchin has labeled a “dictator.” All four pro-Maduro members of Venezuela’s five-member National Electoral Council are now on the list.

More here.

Photo credit: Ariana Cubillos, Associated Press

November 08, 2017

Rubio: ‘Bureaucrats’ softened Trump Cuba policy

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@PatriciaMazzei

The night before the White House planned to announce new regulations restricting U.S. business and travel in Cuba, the biggest champions of President Donald Trump’s tighter policy — Miami’s Republican lawmakers in Congress — were in the dark.

Federal agencies writing the rules had gotten input from some of the legislators and their aides over the past five months, ever since Trump unveiled his new Cuba approach to much fanfare in East Little Havana. But Trump’s administration, wary of past leaks, kept close hold of the final product. News reporters knew a Wednesday morning announcement on the regulations was imminent before the members of Congress had even been briefed.

Once informed, the Miami politicians were dissatisfied.

Instead of offering unconditional applause, as they did when Trump signed his policy directive, Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen gave lukewarm statements lamenting that “bureaucrats” resisted giving muscular backing to the president.

“The regulatory changes announced today by Treasury and Commerce begin to implement President Trump’s June 2017 policy for enforcing U.S. sanctions laws against the Castro regime,” Rubio said in a statement. “Unfortunately, however, bureaucrats in the State Department who oppose the President’s Cuba policy refused to fully implement it when they omitted from the Cuba Restricted List several entities and sub-entities that are controlled by or act on behalf of the Cuban military, intelligence or security services.” 

Rubio weighed in nearly five hours after the regulations were published — a clear indication of displeasure from a senator known for his quick, detailed reactions to matters of Latin America policy he cares deeply about. He used his statement to criticize the State Department for failing to include two major tourism brands from the U.S. list of 180 Cuban entities banned from doing business with Americans.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Democratic congressional candidate calls for impeaching Trump

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami congressional candidate Mary Barzee Flores called for President Donald Trump’s impeachment Wednesday, joining a small but vocal group of national Democrats openly advocating for Trump’s removal from office.

In an op-ed published in the Miami Herald, Barzee Flores cited at least six reasons for Congress to impeach the president, including firing former FBI Director James Comey and hiring Michael Flynn — who has since been fired — as national security adviser despite having ties to Russia.

“As a former judge, I don’t make that statement lightly,” Barzee Flores wrote about urging impeachment, “but I have come to believe such steps, sadly, are necessary to restore trust, respect, and dignity to the American presidency.”

Whether to support Trump’s impeachment has become a dividing line among Democrats, with some arguing that it’s too early to contemplate such a drastic move — and that doing so would only galvanize Republicans ahead of the 2018 midterms. Democrats notched key victories in off-year election contests around the country Tuesday without relying on an impeachment message.

More here.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Barzee Flores campaign

Here's what Trump's Cuba crackdown will look like

Cuba Trump
@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres @HeraldMimi

The days of Americans legally staying at Ernest Hemingway’s Old Havana haunt, the Hotel Ambos Mundos, or making purchases at Havana’s only luxury shopping arcade, will be over under new regulations the Trump administration issued Wednesday as part of a crackdown on U.S. business and travel to Cuba.

Americans will be banned from doing business with 180 entities tied to the Cuban military, including hotels, stores, marinas, tourist agencies, industries and even two rum rum makers owned bythe government. U.S. companies will be barred from investing in a sprawling economic development zone in Mariel that Cuba envisions as crucial to its commercial future.

The long-awaited rules will take effect Thursday. The regulations, intended to cut off cash to Cuban leader Raúl Castro’s government and tighten U.S. travel to the communist island, stem from a directive President Donald Trump signed in Miami in June that outlined his new policy. Trump has distanced himself from former President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba, criticizing him for getting a “one-sided” deal.

The Treasury, Commerce and State departments, together with the National Security Council, worked for months on the regulations, which took longer than some members of Congress and U.S.-Cuba policy experts expected. Sanctions against other countries, most notably North Korea, took priority for the administration, which continues to be understaffed in State and other agencies.

The White House also had to deal with the ongoing mystery over a sonic attack against U.S. diplomats in Havana. While Washington has not accused the Cuban government of causing the attacks, it holds Havana responsible for not protecting Americans diplomats while on Cuban soil and has reduced its embassy staff by 60 percent.

The delay in issuing the regulations allowed U.S. companies like Caterpillar, the heavy-equipment giant, to finalize business deals with Cuba that will be unaffected by the new restrictions. The Caterpillar agreement, which allows the company’s Puerto Rican distributor to set up a warehouse and distribution operation at the Mariel Special Economic Development Zone, was announced just last week.

More here.

Photo credit: Ramon Espinosa, Associated Press

Payday lenders, with major business before Trump, to hold conference at Trump Doral

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@alextdaugherty 

National charities and industry associations are ditching Trump properties like Mar-a-Lago for annual galas and conferences, but at least one association with business before the White House is set to visit Trump National Doral for its annual conference.

The Community Financial Services Association of America, an interest group that represents the payday loan industry, is hosting its four-day annual conference in April 2018 at Donald Trump’s 90-hole golf resort 12 miles west of downtown Miami.

Payday loans are a form of high-interest credit usually taken out by low-income people who aren’t able to borrow from traditional banks. Many consumers access the loans online, and critics say the loans can be predatory.

Last month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency responsible for consumer protection in the financial sector, finalized a rule that requires payday lenders to determine up front whether people can afford to pay their loans, a decision that was criticized by the Community Financial Services Association of America.

“The CFPB’s misguided rule will only serve to cut off their access to vital credit when they need it the most,” association CEO Dennis Shaul in a statement in October. “The rule is not only misguided, it’s hideously complex for loans of a few hundred dollars.”

The CFPB, established by Congress in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, has long been a target of Republicans, who charge that the agency creates burdensome regulations for industry groups. The CFPB was first proposed by liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which further rankles Republicans.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is a co-sponsor of a bill proposed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would eliminate the CFPB.

Diane Standaert, executive vice president for the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit that advocates for stronger regulations on the payday loan industry, said that President Donald Trump and Congress could nullify the new CFPB rule and help the payday loan industry by passing a bill that overturns the rule before the rule goes into full effect about two years from now.

“Payday loans are debt traps by design with interest rates averaging 300 percent,” Standaert said. “These small loans cause big problems for low-income people all across the country.”

Read more here.

November 07, 2017

Rubio to Trump: Press China on Venezuela

@PatriciaMazzei

Ahead of President Donald Trump's Asia trip, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio asked Trump to challenge the Chinese government on human rights -- including on its support of the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

"Even though the regime of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro has lost international legitimacy and engaged in a crackdown against pro-democracy activists that has claimed over 130 lives, China, along with Russia, continues to provide the regime with financial support," Rubio wrote Trump. "We therefore urge you to press the Chinese government to stop giving economic lifelines to the failing Maduro regime."

The Oct. 31 letter, which also raised several other issues in addition to Venezuela, was signed by Rubio and Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican. The two lawmakers co-chair the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, an independent U.S. government agency that monitors human rights and rule of law matters in China.

"You have sought to build a strong personal relationship with President Xi [Jinping] — in part, to increase cooperation to counter North Korean nuclear proliferation — but we encourage you also to develop a long-term strategy for challenging the Chinese government to abide by its international commitments, adhere to universal standards, and embrace the rule of law," they wrote. "Such a strategy is critical to advancing American geopolitical, security, economic, and human rights interests, and will further the Chinese people's desire for peace, freedom, and justice."

Trump is scheduled to arrive in Beijing on Wednesday.

November 06, 2017

Trump administration to end TPS for Nicaraguans. No decision on Haitians, Salvadorans

For TPS

@francoordonez @jacquiecharles @brendamedinar @alextdaugherty 

The Trump administration will end a temporary program that allows some Nicaraguans to live and work in the United States, while leaving the door open to canceling the same program for more than 200,000 Haitians and Salvadorans in the coming weeks.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday night that about 2,000 Nicaraguans who have Temporary Protected Status must leave or seek another form of legal residency, though those affected will be able to stay until January 5, 2019.

The status had been granted to some Nicaraguans who had fled their homeland after the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

“Based on all available information, the country conditions in Nicaragua now exceed Hurricane Mitch,” said a senior administration official.

The 1998 hurricane killed more than 2,000 people in Nicaragua and caused over $1 billion in damage.

But the bigger impact will come when the administration makes a final decision on Salvadorans and Haitians’ status. Haitians status is set to expire in January 2018, affecting about 50,000 people, most of them in Florida, while Sanvadorans’ status expires in March 2018, affecting nearly 200,000 people.

Homeland Security officials also announced that Honduras will get a six-month TPS extension, until July 2018, after the program was set to expire in January. Just under 60,000 Hondurans have received TPS.

Local advocate Francisco Portillo, president of the Honduran group Francisco Morazán, said immigration organizations will keep fighting to win legalization for Honduran TPS holders.

“We are sad by the news but feel fortunate that we got six months to keep lobbying in Washington,” Portillo said. “Let’s see if we can get Congress to legalize these people who have been in the country for decades, are homeowners and business owners and whose kids were born here.”

A bill proposed last week by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo and co-sponsored by other members of South Florida’s congressional delegation would grant TPS recipients from Honduras, Haiti, El Salvador and Nicaragua a path to permanent residency. Only Congress can provide a permanent solution for individuals enrolled in TPS.

Read more here.

Former DNC chairwoman blasts Wasserman Schultz’s leadership in new book

Debbie Wasserman Schultz 3

 

@alextdaugherty 

Donna Brazile isn’t a fan of tropical pink-painted walls, apparently.

The former Democratic National Committee chairwoman has spent the past five days tearing into Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s DNC leadership and organizational skills ahead of the release of her new book, “Hacks,” on Tuesday, one year after Donald Trump’s victory.

Brazile blasted the Weston Democrat’s choice to paint the walls of her DNC office tropical pink and a host of perks associated with the leadership role, like a Chevrolet Tahoe fully staffed with a personal entourage — including an assistant known as a “body woman” — according to an advance copy of Brazile’s book obtained by the Washington Post.

According to Brazile, the DNC was dependent on Hillary Clinton’s campaign cash for survival and Wasserman Schultz was more than willing to let the Clinton campaign pay most of the DNC’s debt in exchange for a measure of control within the party organization, which is supposed to remain an impartial umbrella organization for all Democratic presidential candidates.

Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont who campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination, repeatedly charged that the DNC under Wasserman Schultz was “rigged” in favor of Clinton.

“Debbie was not a good manager,” Brazile said in a book excerpt published by Politico. “She hadn’t been very interested in controlling the party —she let Clinton’s headquarters in Brooklyn do as it desired so she didn’t have to inform the party officers how bad the situation was.”

Wasserman Schultz declined to address the specific criticisms levied by Brazile in an emailed statement.

“It was a tremendous honor to be asked by President Obama to serve as chair of the DNC,” Wasserman Schultz said. “I am proud of the work our team did to support Democrats up and down the ballot in the 2016 election and to re-elect the President in 2012. With Donald Trump in the White House, Democrats must stay focused on enacting a progressive agenda to protect our citizens, our values and our democracy and remain united towards our goal of electing Democratic congressional majorities in 2018.”

Read more here.

November 03, 2017

Rep. Matt Gaetz says Robert Mueller should recuse himself

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via @learyreports

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz on Friday filed a resolution calling for the resignation of Robert Mueller, whose investigation into Russian meddling in the election escalated dramatically this week.

It accuses Mueller of having a conflict of interest because he headed the FBI when the Obama administration approved a deal that allows a Russian company to mine uranium in the U.S.

President Donald Trump and conservatives have sought to draw ties to Hillary Clinton and have demanded investigations. Fact checkers, however, have largely discounted the assertions.

"Evidence has emerged that the FBI withheld information from Congress and from the American people about Russian corruption of American uranium companies," said Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. "A confidential U.S. witness, working in the Russian nuclear industry, revealed that Russia had deeply compromised an American uranium trucking firm through bribery and financial kickbacks.

Read more here.