June 15, 2017

Rubio: 'Tomorrow is going to be a good day for the Cuban people'

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Marco Rubio confirmed Thursday morning he will join President Donald Trump in Miami on Friday to unveil “strategic and targeted” changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“The goal of these polices is very simple: We want to power and we want to strengthen the Cuban people without strengthening the Cuban military, which controls a significant  percentage of their economy," Rubio said in a Facebook live chat from his Senate office.

“I’m very proud of what the president will be announcing tomorrow. It’s up to them to lay out the specifics, but suffice it to say that tomorrow is going to be a good day for the Cuban people, a better deal for the Cuban people, which is who new are trying to help by empowering them and doing so in a way that does not empower their oppressors.”

The change Rubio alludes to would seek to restrict business between private U.S. companies and Cuban companies controlled by the military, the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A., or GAESA.

Trump is also considering other changes, including possible limits on travel. He is scheduled to deliver remarks at Manuel Artime Theater in Miami at 1 p.m. He'll also be joined by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who like Rubio has criticized the ways in which President Barack Obama's opening relations with Cuba.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

June 14, 2017

Trump to nominate Florida’s Sharon Day as Costa Rica ambassador

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@alextdaugherty 

President Donald Trump will tap Sharon Day, a former Republican National Committee co-chairwoman from Fort Lauderdale, to be his ambassador to Costa Rica, a senior administration official told the Miami Herald.

Day, a longtime leader in Florida Republican circles, was slated to join the White House in an undetermined role after former RNC chairman Reince Priebus was named Trump’s chief of staff in December 2016.

During the 2016 Republican National Convention, Day was among the list of high-profile speakers in Cleveland. She was also a fixture at Florida campaign events for Trump, where she gave a fiery speech just before election day that ripped the media for portraying the GOP convention in Cleveland as one that preyed on fears of terrorism and offered no optimism.

Instead, she said, it was “filled with positive energy. We were united.” Day recounted Bill Clinton’s sex scandals and urged voters to “close that chapter of perversion.”

“Lock her up! Lock her up!” the crowd shouted.

“No,” Day pleaded. “Defeat her.”

Day will oversee diplomatic relations with the Central American country that historically has a close relationship with the United States and is one of South Florida’s largest trading partners.

Read more here. 

Florida Congressional Democrats join suit against Trump

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@learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Most Florida Democrats are among the nearly 200 members of Congress who have joined a lawsuit alleging President Donald Trump has improperly benefited from business dealings with foreign governments.

The suit, filed Wednesday morning, contends he is in violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution.

Organizers say it’s the most members of Congress to sue a sitting president.

Florida Democrats on board: Reps. Ted Deutch, Kathy Castor, Val Demings, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson.

It was not immediately clear why Sen. Bill Nelson, facing re-election in 2018, did not join. Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist are also not on a list distributed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office.

Trump faces two other similar suits, though this is the first by members of Congress. Blumenthal argued the group has standing. “The framers gave Congress a unique role, a unique right and responsibility,” he told reporters.

Republicans will be asked to join, he said.

June 13, 2017

Rubio corroborates details of Comey’s meeting with Trump during Sessions testimony

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@alextdaugherty 

A February meeting between President Donald Trump and ousted FBI Director James Comey has turned into an high-stakes he-said-he-said, and detractors of the president are itching for proof that President Trump tried to interfere in the investigation of ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

During a second highly publicized Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in a matter of days on Tuesday, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tried to pry specifics of that meeting from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Rubio got Sessions to confirm details of that meeting on Tuesday, although the attorney general and Trump ally was not in the room and therefore could not corroborate whether Trump or Comey is telling the truth about the details of the conversation.

“I want to go back to February 14 and close the loop on the details,” Rubio said. “Do you remember lingering? Do you remember feeling that you needed to stay?”

“I do recall being one of the last ones to leave,” Sessions said. “I don’t recall how that occurred.”

Comey said during his testimony last week that during the one-on-one encounter in February, Trump urged him to stop the investigation into ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Comey recalled Trump saying in the meeting. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Flynn was fired by Trump after he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Detractors of the president argue the Feb. 14 meeting, if it happened the way Comey testified, amounts to an obstruction of justice in the FBI’s Russia investigation and would be grounds to begin impeachment proceedings.

Read more here. 

The growth of fact-checking in the Trump era

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@asharock

Here's a quick test: Think about how Donald Trump announced he was running for president. Now, do the same for Hillary Clinton

I think most of you probably got one but not the other. We remember Trump and his wife Melania gliding down the Trump Tower escalator in June 2015. And we remember some of the things Trump said that day.

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you," Trump said. "They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people."

As for Clinton?

Some of you, I'd guess, might remember her first major campaign rally, also in June 2015, also in New York. But that wasn't the announcement that she was running for president. That came a few months earlier, in a two-minute, 15-second video.

I bring this up (thanks for playing, by the way) because it's a perfect anecdote of how life for fact-checkers has changed in the era of Trump. Unlike Trump, Clinton carefully scripted and timed her announcement. Just like a typical politician we've seen hundreds of times. And it was free of statements that could be fact-checked. Trump, on the other hand, spoke for 40 minutes, and at least some of what he said wasn't from any script. Fact-checkers at PolitiFact analyzed five claims Trump made during that first speech. Those ratings? False, Pants on Fire, False, Mostly False and False.

So yes, fact-checking Trump is different on some levels. We must be quicker and more decisive, we have to be smarter about what facts we choose to pursue, and we have to be prepared for intense criticism. Trump, in a speech before the election, referred to fact-checkers as "scum."

Keep reading from Aaron Sharockman of PolitiFact.

Rex Tillerson doesn't get into Cuba policy review specifics during Senate hearing

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@alextdaugherty 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not get into specifics when asked about President Donald Trump's Cuba announcement set for Friday in Miami as senators from both parties questioned Tillerson during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday.

"Can you give us some of the general contours you see shaping up relative to what that policy is going to be?" asked committee chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and Trump ally. 

"The general approach...is to allow as much of this continued commercial and engagement activity go to on as possible," Tillerson said. "We do see the sunny side as I describe it, we do see the benefits of that and to the Cuban people. But on the other hand, we think we have achieved very little in terms of changing the behavior of the regime in Cuba and the treatment of its people. Our concern is that they may be the biggest beneficiaries of all of this which promotes the continuance of that regime." 

Tillerson said that pressure on the Cuban government to implement democratic reforms "has been, in our view, largely removed now" after former President Barack Obama strengthened relations between the United States and Cuba in 2016. 

"I was down there not long ago and America has always felt that if it could do more business with folks it would pave the way for democracy," Corker said. "I do hope we end up with a policy that will cause the Cuban people themselves to reach their aspirations." 

New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, a supporter of Obama's efforts, rattled off a host of business ventures now possible in Cuba after Obama's changes, including the introduction of Airbnb into the Cuban economy. 

"Do you agree we should continue these efforts or do you believe we should return to the failed policies of the Cold War?" Udall asked. 

"Well, what you have described is the sunny side of the relationship and it's all positive and it's great," Tillerson said. "There is the dark side though and that is Cuba has failed to improve it's own human rights record. What we have to achieve in approaching Cuba is if were going to sustain the sunny side of this relationship Cuba must begin to address the human rights challenges. Within the sunny side of the relationship there are troubling elements to us that bring the relationship into conflict with existing statute obligations. Are we inadvertently or directly providing financial support to the regime? Our view is, we are." 

Tillerson also said he supports efforts to improve internet access in Cuba, but hedged that the focus of the policy review is making sure the Cuban government does not financially benefit from increased U.S. involvement on the island. 

In late May, 55 senators from both parties signed on to a bill that would fully eliminate travel restrictions to the island. 

Cuban-American lawmakers Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart — who favor the elimination of what they see as concessions to the Cuban government — have been involved in the Cuba review in recent months. 

Friday's announcement will reportedly take place at the Manuel Artime Theater, a former church that is symbolic for Cuban exiles. 

June 12, 2017

Trump has not yet read final Cuba policy proposal

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via @ngameztorres

President Donald Trump is scheduled to announce a revised policy on relations with Cuba on Friday in Miami, but a White House spokeswoman told el Nuevo Herald that Trump had not yet seen the final recommendations following a lengthy review and has not made a decision.

“The president has not seen the final proposal and has not approved it. He is a very independent president in his way of thinking and it would not be the first time he throws something back to be reviewed,” White House spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré said.

She did say that the Manuel Artime Theater in Little Havana is one of the places the White House has been looking at for events to be held in the city.

The Miami Herald reported Monday that the theater canceled an event on Friday from the Miami Royal Ballet apparently to make way for a White House event.

Among the changes that would be considered by the Trump administration are measures to limit business ventures between U.S. companies and Cuban entities controlled by the military, in particular, those belonging to the conglomerate known as GAESA, the economic arm of the Revolutionary Armed Forces that controls nearly 60 percent of the Cuban economy. 

“The United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is expected to publish a list of Cuban entities controlled by the” Cuban military, said John Kavulich, president of U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Companies could be added to an OFAC blacklist to ban financial transactions involving these companies, he added.

Aguirre Ferré said a proposal to prohibit business with GAESA, “is one of the many possibilities discussed. It is being considered as one of the many options.

“But almost everything is being looked at.”

--NORA GAMEZ TORRES

Photo credit: Getty Images

Miami venue apparently set for Trump Cuba announcement

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@PatriciaMazzei

President Donald Trump plans to present his new Cuba policy Friday in Miami's Manuel Artime Theater, the Miami Herald has learned.

The White House apparently picked the venue over the Bay of Pigs museum in Little Havana, which is probably too small to accommodate all of the logistics of a traveling president. The Freedom Tower downtown is unavailable because it is undergoing renovations until November.

On Monday, theater managers notified at least one group -- a ballet school -- that it would have to move its scheduled rehearsal Thursday to accommodate an "emergency meeting" Friday. The Miami Royal Ballet then informed parents the city told them "there will be a White House event at the theater."

The White House has yet to release Trump's schedule. Without confirming the Miami event, a spokeswoman said the Artime theater was one of several locations under consideration.

The Artime theater, a former church, is symbolic for Cuban exiles. Manuel Artime was an exile leader with Brigade 2506, the Bay of Pigs veterans' group that endorsed Trump last October. The community theater frequently houses grassroots events that cannot afford grander venues.

--with David Smiley and Nora Gámez Torres

June 09, 2017

Trump's coming to Miami next Friday to announce Cuba policy

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President Donald Trump will travel to Miami next Friday to announce his administration’s changes to U.S.-Cuba policy, a source with knowledge of the president’s plans told the Miami Herald.

The location for the event is still in the works. But scheduling the trip indicates the Cuba policy, which has been undergoing drafts for several weeks, will be imminently finalized. And deciding to unveil the policy in Miami suggests it will please the hardline Cuban exiles whose support Trump considered significant to winning Florida, and the presidency.

Vice President Mike Pence is also expected to attend. He will already be in town for a Central America conference to be held next Thursday and Friday at Florida International University. Three Cabinet secretaries — Rex Tillerson of State, John Kelly of Homeland Security and Steven Mnuchin of Treasury — will take part in the conference, but it’s not clear that they’ll take part in the Cuba policy event.

Several local venues have symbolism for Cuban Americans, including the Bay of Pigs Museum in Little Havana and the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami.

A mid-June Trump visit has been rumored since Memorial Day, when word of the Cuba policy rewrite began trickling from alarmed backers of former President Barack Obama’s reengagement approach toward the communist island. Trump is preparing to tighten at least some of Obama’s changes, including restricting business with the Cuban military and U.S. travel that resembles tourism.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

GOP lawmakers from outside Florida urge Trump to keep Obama Cuba policy

@ngameztorres @PatriciaMazzei

Seven Republican members of Congress who favor closer U.S. ties to Cuba sent President Donald Trump a letter Thursday urging him to reconsider revising the reengagement policy set by former President Barack Obama. A Trump policy is expected soon.

The congressmen -- none of them from Florida -- argued the U.S. has a national security interest in maintaining a foothold in Cuba. They represents districts that in some cases see serious agricultural, industrial or commercial opportunities in Cuba.

"For instance, Russia is already strengthening its ties with Cuba, supporting infrastructure investment and resuming oil shipments for the first time this century," they wrote. "China is also expanding its footprint in Cuba as well. China is now Cuba's largest trading partner and heavily invested in providing telecommunications services, among other investments, on the island."

"Reversing course would incentivize Cuba to once again become dependent on countries like Russia and China," they continued. "Allowing this to happen could have disastrous results for the security of the United States. Alternatively, we can counter the growing threat of foreign influence in our region by engaging with our island neighbor."

Signing the letter were Reps. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, Rick Crawford of Arkansas, Ted Poe of Texas, Darin LaHood of Illinois, Roger Marshall of Kansas, James Comer of Kentucky and Jack Bergman of Michigan.

Read the congressmen's letter here. 

On Thursday, three Republican senators with similar views also National Security Adviser Henry McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laying out their own case for sticking to the Obama policy.

Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Enzi of Wyoming and John Boozman of Arkansas wrote that increasing U.S. travel and business ties to Cuba helped improve the lives of Cubans and expand the island's private sector. Like the congressmen, they argued the Obama policy benefited American interests -- and undoing them would be detrimental.

"To conclude, there are those who suggest that any changes in U.S.-Cuba policy are concessions that must be met by some definitive action by the Cubans," the senators wrote, without naming Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and others who have made that argument. "Instead, we view recent reforms to U.S.-Cuba policy as providing critical strategic advances that have already benefited everyday Cubans and provided direct benefits to Americans by enhancing U.S. national security and boosting the U.S. economy. We strongly urge you to weigh carefully any rollback of policies that would endanger these benefits."

Read the senators' letter here.

This post has been updated.