October 04, 2017

Deutch, fellow Democrats urge Trump to re-certify Iran deal

@PatriciaMazzei

More than 160 Democrats in Congress asked President Donald Trump in a letter Wednesday to re-certify the Obama-era Iran nuclear agreement.

The Democrats, led by Reps. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and David Price of North Carolina, sent the letter after the White House suggested it might withhold certification of Iran's compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a deal announced in 2015. It was negotiated by the U.S., China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the European Union and Iran in an effort to keep Iran from producing nuclear weapons.

The U.S. must re-certify Iran's compliance every three months, unless the president gives Congress credible evidence of noncompliance -- which the Trump administration has not done.

Iran's compliance must be re-certified every three months.

"If President Trump decertifies Iranian compliance without clear evidence of Iranian violations, it will jeopardize this united front against Iran," Deutch said in a statement. "The JCPOA is an imperfect agreement, but to address the problematic provisions including the sunset clauses, we will need stay in lockstep with our global partners."

Read the letter here.

October 03, 2017

U.S. to expel two-thirds of Cuban diplomats amid sonic attack probe

CUBA-EXPEL

via @francoordonez

The Trump administration will kick nearly two-thirds of Cuba’s embassy personnel out of the United States after months of mysterious attacks targeting American diplomats drove the White House to pull its own staff from Havana, according to multiple sources familiar with the plan.

According to three of the U.S. sources briefed on the plan, the State Department will announce the expulsion of Cuban diplomatic personnel as soon as Tuesday. A fourth described the expulsion as “reciprocity” for the American withdrawal from Havana.

A series of mysterious “sonic” attacks began months ago and has affected as many as 25 U.S. personnel. According to one source, U.S. intelligence operatives were the first known American personnel affected. The most recent incidents were reported within the last few weeks.

The United States still does not know the nature of the device or weapon being employed against its staff.

The State Department has not accused Cuba of being behind the incidents. But it has repeatedly warned that Havana is responsible for the safety of foreign diplomats on its soil under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations.
 
“Cuba is not upholding its commitments of the Vienna convention, of protecting diplomats,” said a U.S. source, familiar with the State Department plans.

The State Department’s plan follows days of pressure from some U.S. lawmakers to expel Cuban diplomatic personnel after the White House pulled Americans out of Havana and issued a travel warning.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has emerged as a key advisor to President Donald Trump on all Latin America issues, tweeted last week that the United States “should expel a Cuban diplomat for every U.S. diplomat evacuated due to acoustic attacks.”

“I spoke on Friday to the State Department and I told them that I am strongly advocating that the U.S. kick those 'diplomats,' who are nothing more than spies, out of the U.S.,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican. “State told me that it was reviewing this action, so I’m pleased as punch to hear that it may happen soon.”


Read more here.

October 02, 2017

Florida Republicans create distance with Trump on Puerto Rico

US NEWS LASVEGAS-SHOOTING 21 ABA

@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

While President Donald Trump spent the weekend attacking the mayor of San Juan and blasting negative coverage of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts, Florida state Rep. Bob Cortes was worried about his daughter in San Juan’s western suburbs.

Cortes’ daughter, Leslie, and her 2-year-old son, Jeremy, had their roof torn off during Hurricane Maria, and two feet of water rushed into their house in Dorado.

“I was terrified they were going to lose their lives,” Cortes said, as his voice trembled.

The second-term Republican lawmaker from Altamonte Springs spent days trying to reach family members in Puerto Rico and is asking anyone he can for help.

They might not be directly criticizing Trump. But Florida Republicans are taking a noticeably different tack from the leader of their party when it comes to Puerto Rico, an issue that affects some of them, like Cortes, personally — and many of them politically.
 
Instead of adopting the president’s finger-pointing rhetoric, the federal and state GOP lawmakers are highlighting the need for action in Puerto Rico. Some 1 million Puerto Ricans call Florida home.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio urged Trump to let the military lead logistical Hurricane Maria relief efforts. Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that Florida will open relief centers Tuesday for Puerto Ricans arriving in Miami and Orlando. He also asked schools to give in-state tuition to Puerto Rican students displaced by the hurricane.

How many might come is unknown. “A lot,” Scott guessed.

Rubio has said this isn’t the time to talk hurricane-relief politics, but a day before Trump was scheduled to land in San Juan, the senator acknowledged the initial response from the administration could have been swifter.

“In hindsight, we all wish we could get those three or four days back,” Rubio told reporters in Miami on Monday after they asked if Washington could have done more — and more quickly — to aid the island. “I want us to focus 100 percent on what we need to do to improve the recovery effort. And we have plenty of time in the future to sit there and point to the mistakes that were made.... But right now every minute we spend doing that sort of thing is a minute that isn’t being spent trying to improve reconstruction and deal with it.”

State lawmakers said that an influx of thousands of Puerto Ricans won’t go unnoticed.

“Florida’s the closest one to Puerto Rico, and it’s ground zero for relief efforts,” said Cortes, who represents a portion of Orange and Seminole Counties. “We’re going to be shipping most of the things they need to get back on their feet.”

Cortes said he expects at least 100,000 Puerto Ricans to relocate to Florida after the storm, and many of them will settle in greater Orlando. Puerto Ricans already tend to vote Democratic, potentially altering the political dynamics of America’s largest swing state ahead of the 2018 elections.

“It can be a game-changer politically,” said state Rep. Amy Mercado, a Puerto Rican Democrat from Orlando. “The speed of what’s occurring, that’s the million-dollar question. How fast, how much and how long?”

A 100,000-vote swing in favor of Democrats would have given Charlie Crist the governorship in 2014 over Scott and would have eaten up most of Trump’s margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But the math isn’t that simple. Not all Puerto Ricans will vote for Democrats, and many will choose not to vote at all. Cortes argued that Puerto Ricans coming directly from the island are more likely to vote Republican than second-or third-generation Puerto Ricans.

“Those that have been coming usually tend to be more ideologically with the Republican Party because they are leaving a place that had fiscal issues,” Cortes said, adding that both parties need to do a better job of reaching out to Puerto Ricans in Florida.

Read more here.

September 28, 2017

Rubio urges Trump to put Pentagon in charge of recovery in Puerto Rico

TRUMP - PUERTO RICO

@francoordonez @alextdaugherty 

As the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico spirals, Sen. Marco Rubio urged President Donald Trump to put the U.S. military in charge of recovery efforts on the island.

The Florida Republican said the government in Puerto Rico does not have the capacity — in money, staff or even communications resources — to lead such a massive effort as more than 3 million American citizens struggle amid rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Rubio, who has emerged in recent months as a key advisor to the president on Latin American issues, said the Defense Department is the only institution with the organizational capabilities and logistics skills needed to confront the devastation.

“This is what they do,” Rubio said Thursday. “They’re the best responders to natural disasters on the planet. And we need to employ them.”

Rubio, who clearly has the president’s ear, is leading a growing chorus of politicians who have become dissatisfied with the Trump administration’s response more than a week after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. Puerto Rico is now suffering food shortages and is at risk of disease outbreak, and both local and federal officials are pressuring the Trump administration to dramatically ramp up its efforts.
 
“I would like to see the fire and fury of this administration when it comes to a rescue effort,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.

Read more here.

September 27, 2017

Donald Trump is running out of time in Puerto Rico

Lamp

@alextdaugherty @francoordonez

Republicans and Democrats have a clear message for President Donald Trump: Puerto Rico is now a humanitarian crisis.

Large portions of the U.S. territory are without power and basic services one week after Hurricane Maria swept over the island as a Category Four hurricane. Politicians who have spent time on the ground in Puerto Rico since the storm, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez, are urging the Trump administration to take every action available to help more than 3 million U.S. citizens.

“Our conventional method to respond to a storm requires the federal government to kind of plug in with the existing emergency response... and work through them to distribute aid,” Rubio said. “That model probably won’t work as well, in fact I don’t think it will work on the situation in Puerto Rico.”

Rubio said it takes five days for supplies to reach Puerto Rico by barge from Miami and seven days from Jacksonville, making it tough to get much-needed medical supplies and aid there quickly. Puerto Rico is 1,000 miles from Miami, while countries like the Dominican Republic and Jamaica are closer.

Trump said the situation in Puerto Rico is serious and that there isn’t an easy solution.
“That place was just destroyed,” Trump said on Wednesday. “That's not a question of ‘Gee, let’s dry up the water. Lets do this or that.’ That is a really tough situation. I feel so badly for those people.”

But the Trump administration has not waived a U.S. law that would allow foreign vessels to assist in Puerto Rico’s relief effort. The Jones Act, a law that requires the delivery of goods between U.S. ports to done by U.S. owned and operated ships, was waved in Texas after Hurricane Harvey and in Florida after Hurricane Irma to allow for more efficient fuel delivery.

“That is critical, particularly for fuel,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said to CNN, adding that he expects the Trump administration to eventually waive the law. “One of the considerations right now is the priority of getting fuel, diesel, gasoline, all across the island. Right now we have enough fuel. We’re limited by the transportation logistics, but at some point, of course, getting fuel into the island is going to be critical so that we can have the major functions of telecoms, hospitals, water, to be running appropriately.”

Trump said he’s thinking about rescinding the Jones Act in Puerto Rico, but he will take into consideration the interests of the U.S. shipping industry.

“We're thinking about that, but we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry who don't want the Jones Act lifted,” Trump said. “And we have a lot of ships out there right now.”

The Department of Homeland Security, under pressure from lawmakers like Velázquez and Arizona Sen. John McCain to waive the act, said they are not “legally allowed to waive the Jones Act to make goods cheaper.”

DHS officials, who declined to speak on the record, said that the Jones Act is waived “in the interest of national defense” and that the Department of Defense usually makes the recommendation based on requests from U.S. shipping interests.

Velázquez, along with three other Puerto Rican members of Congress, submitted a request to waive the act on Monday. DHS officials said the request from Congress was “not normal” but that it was being evaluated. The officials declined to say when they would make a decision on the request, but said it is “unlikely” a decision would come on Wednesday.

Read more here.

September 26, 2017

Lawmakers warn Trump: Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands could become Katrina-like disaster

AP_17269090675075

@alextdaugherty 

The Trump administration’s response to the hurricanes that ravaged Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands could become a Hurricane Katrina-like political disaster if he does not respond to the storms’ aftermath more decisively, congressional lawmakers from both parties warned Tuesday.

“I'm concerned about human suffering and potential loss of life if aid doesn't reach the places it needs to reach quickly enough,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who spent Monday in San Juan with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. “I hope that we don't see Katrina-like images.”

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., one of five Puerto Ricans in Congress, warned Trump that “If you don’t take this crisis seriously, this is going to be your Katrina.”

 

President George W. Bush’s response to Katrina, which devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, was criticized as initially weak and insensitive.

Bush did a flyover in Air Force One to survey the damage rather than land, a move that he described in 2010 as a “huge mistake.”
When Bush did visit the area, he praised the much-maligned performance of then-FEMA Secretary Michael Brown.

“Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job,” Bush said as water and provisions were in short supply for New Orleans survivors of the storm.

Tuesday, lawmakers delivered the dire message to the White House following a Monday night tweet by Trump in which he spoke about the devastation in Puerto Rico but also mentioned the island’s debt crisis.

“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” the president wrote.

Read more here.

Democrats beg Trump to appoint a general in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

20MariaPuertoRico921_CPJ

@alextdaugherty

Donald Trump’s tweets usually invoke silence, sarcasm or support from lawmakers, but something very different happened on Tuesday.

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a New York Democrat and one of the longest-serving Puerto Ricans in Congress, nearly broke down in tears as she responded to Trump’s tweet that Puerto Rico was in “deep trouble” and burdened with debt after Hurricane Maria.

 

 

 

After 11 seconds of silence, during which Velázquez was consoled by Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York, she tore into the president’s first series of tweets on Puerto Rico that came after Trump spent days blasting the National Football League.

“I feel offended and insulted to see a type of tweet from the president blaming the people of Puerto Rico for a natural disaster and then the public debt,” Velázquez said. “We are better than that and I expect more from our president. Right now this is a matter of life and death.”

Democrats on Tuesday had a clear message for the Trump administration nearly one week after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands: Appoint a general and send in the troops.

“We’re looking for a more robust response,” said Democratic Caucus chairman Rep. Joe Crowley. “We need a general to be put in place. We know that (former Homeland Security) secretary (John) Kelly knows these islands like no one else. He understands the structure of them, he knows how to get equipment into them. But we need to see that overwhelming response.”

Crowley and other Democrats aren’t pleased with the White House’s response to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands so far, citing logistical snafus like a medical ship intended for Puerto Rico that is still docked in Norfolk, Virginia.

“Unfortunately, what we‘ve seen from the White House over the weekend has been a diversion, a distraction to nonsensical issues,” Crowley said.

Clarke cautioned that Hurricanes Maria and Irma could be Trump’s Hurricane Katrina, a reference to the 2005 storm that killed hundreds in Louisiana after the federal government botched relief efforts.

“I recognize and recall with horror what happened with Hurricane Katrina,” Clarke said. “This is Katrina times six and we have got to really make sure the U.S. government uses everything at its disposal to move into that region and begin to employ life-saving measures.”

The need for military intervention in the U.S. territories is particularly important according to Clarke because there were six major islands that were devastated by the two hurricanes, meaning an insufficient federal response will lead to six Katrina-like situations.

“That means that each island has been decimated,” Clarke said. “People speak of Puerto Rico and they speak of the main island but there are two other islands. Likewise, with the Virgin Islands you have St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.”

Read more here.

September 25, 2017

FEMA has money to spend in Puerto Rico, but Congress will need to act soon

IMG_30MariaPuertoRico922_2_1_FSCELVFE_L343825129 (1)

@alextdaugherty 

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico less than a week ago, but the Federal Emergency Management Administration has more relief funding available than it did after Hurricane Harvey.

After Harvey hit the Houston area, Congress passed a $15.25 billion hurricane relief bill when President Donald Trump struck a deal with Democrats. FEMA was only a few days away from running out of money.

Nearly half of the hurricane relief package that passed in early September, $7.4 billion, is going to FEMA, allowing it to stay afloat while it responds to the crisis in Puerto Rico and cleanup in Florida after Hurricane Irma. A FEMA spokesperson told the Miami Herald that the agency has just over $5 billion in uncommitted disaster relief money as of Monday morning.

That money won’t last long. Congress will likely need to pass additional funding bills to manage long-term recovery efforts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico before the end of the year.

“Our focus is still continuing to be on the life-saving efforts and the immediate disaster response efforts which are still currently under way,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
 
A Republican staffer with knowledge of the appropriations process said that federal funding for hurricane relief will be “fine until mid-October” and that Congress will likely vote on an additional funding bill in the next three weeks.

“Congress has done its job,” the staffer said.

But Congress only supplies the money. It’s up to local and federal agencies to effectively manage it after a hurricane.

On Monday, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson called on the U.S. military to provide more search-and-rescue teams to Puerto Rico. Nelson said last week it will cost much more than $15 billion to manage relief efforts in Florida and Puerto Rico.

 

The White House said Monday that it’s doing everything possible to manage the short-term response in Puerto Rico. Homeland security adviser Tom Bossert and FEMA administrator Brock Long arrived in Puerto Rico on Monday to assess the situation and will inform the White House about what is needed most.

But short-term efforts like search-and-rescue missions or restoring Puerto Rico’s power grid are different than long-term projects like hardening the power grid to ensure it can withstand a major hurricane. The FEMA money focuses on the short-term effort, but months from now Republicans and Democrats will inevitably debate the merits of long-term relief for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Texas has 38 votes in Congress and Florida has 29, and if they stick together the majority-Republican states can be an important voting bloc in a contentious negotiation.

In contrast, Puerto Rico has one non-voting delegate.

Read more here.

September 19, 2017

New York crowd gets glimpse of President Jeb(!)

Jeb

via @katieglueck

He was gracious and measured, stern but sober—and tough on Russia—as he addressed the greatest challenges facing the United States.

Standing in a hotel ballroom a few blocks from the spot where Donald Trump was threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea, Jeb Bush offered a glimpse of the presidency that could have been.

“At some point the president is going to have to go from this ad hoc diplomacy, or whatever the foreign policy is, to something that’s clear and coherent,” Bush, one of Trump’s vanquished 2016 opponents, told a hawkish hotel ballroom audience gathered Tuesday for the United Against Nuclear Iran conference. “Because at the end of the day, too much chaos, and being unreliable, creates real dangers.”

Bush, the former Florida governor, was once considered the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP presidential nomination. Instead, he was forced out well before the primary season was over, his efforts at a “joyful” campaign rooted in a muscular view of American leadership trampled by the nationalist Trump and his rowdy, populist-leaning campaign.

The sharp contrasts in tone and ideology that played out during that race—which have divided the Republican Party ever since—unfolded again Tuesday morning, within the span of two hours and less than a mile apart here in Manhattan.
As Trump mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “Rocket Man” who is “on a suicide mission for himself,” Bush opted for the traditional if overused term “rogue nation,” noting that Pyongyang needs “to be called out.”

As Trump glossed over threats from Russia to focus on other adversaries, Bush referred to Moscow as a “curse for President Trump”--remarks that come as Trump's White House grapples with probes into Russian influence in the 2016 election and possible ties to his campaign.

And as Trump leaned into his longtime campaign message of “America First,” Bush warned of dangers when the U.S. leaves “a void,” embracing the more internationalist view the Republican Party has recently represented, until now.

“Our vacillation, our pulling back…there was a big void and Russia took full advantage of it,” he said, when asked by MSNBC host and former George W. Bush communications director Nicolle Wallace whether America is doing enough to make Russia play a more constructive role in Iran.

 

Read more here.

 

Trump threatens Venezuela and puts Cuba on notice

United Nations General Assembly

via @francoordonez

President Donald Trump threatened “further action” against Venezuela on Tuesday and promised not to lift sanctions against Cuba until the government in Havana makes fundamental reforms.

“We cannot stand by and watch,” Trump told world leaders gathered at the United Nations.

In a speech that moved quickly from criticism of America’s adversaries to dire warnings of nuclear war, Trump turned his attention briefly to communism, singling out Venezuela and Cuba for, he said, delivering only “anguish and failure” to its people.

 

He called on world leaders to do more to help the people of Venezuela and not look the other way as their government destroys democratic institutions.

“I ask every country represented here today to be prepared to do more to address this very real crisis,” Trump said. “We call for the full restoration of democracy and political freedoms in Venezuela. The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.”
 
Trump was interrupted by a smattering of applause throughout the 40-minute speech. The clapping was loud and unified when he spoke of supporting the people of Venezuela, but was punctuated with pockets of silence when he blamed socialism.

The Trump administration has been ratcheting up the pressure on Caracas since Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro engineered a vote for a new constituent assembly that stripped democratically elected lawmakers of their power. Maduro has been the administration’s main target as he has led the once-mighty nation sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves as it has plummeted into a deepening economic crisis amid rising inflation. In recent months, anti-government demonstrations have broken out daily as desperate citizens take to the streets to protest the lack of even the most basic goods.

“This corrupt regime destroyed a prosperous nation by imposing a failed ideology that has produced poverty and misery everywhere it has been tried,” Trump said.

Venezuelan leaders immediately slammed the speech; Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza accused the United States of seeking "a change of regime by force."

Trump “pretends to rule the world, but does not even rule his own country,” Arreaza told reporters in New York after the speech.

Unsatisfied with the international response to Venezuela, the White House is using the United Nations General Assembly to build and strengthen an international coalition of support against Caracas. Trump’s speech was an expansion of concerns he raised Monday night during a dinner with Latin American Presidents Michel Temer of Brazil, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Juan Carlos Varela of Panama as well as Argentinian Vice President Gabriela Michetti.

He reminded them of their trade relationships, which he called a “critical foundation for advancing peace and prosperity” among neighbors.

“Was one of the wealthiest countries in the world for a long period of time,” Trump told the group on Monday. “The people are starving and the country is collapsing. You didn't think that was possible. Their democratic institutions are being destroyed....Our goal must be to help them and restore their democracy.”

The leaders of the four countries were among 12 Latin American nations who signed a joint declaration in Lima last month, condemning the “breakdown of democratic order” in Venezuela and said they would not recognize any action taken by its “illegitimate” new constituent assembly.

Read more here.