WASHINGTON Turns out, Zika isn’t the only urgent problem that needs federal funds fast.
Florida lawmakers pushing to get $1.1 billion for Zika prevention and research into a rapidly evolving broader appropriations bill are competing with members of Congress from across the country who want their needs addressed.
On his second day in Washington to push for Zika funding, Gov. Rick Scott met with members of Congress from the state who briefed him on the rapidly evolving negotiations over federal spending.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s jousting with other panel members seeking vital funding for their districts and states.
Lawmakers from Louisiana want billions for flood relief. Congressmen from Michigan want millions to clean contaminated drinking water. Others are pushing for more money for veterans’ healthcare.
“Florida’s not the only state with urgent needs,” Diaz-Balart told reporters after he and other Florida lawmakers met with Scott.
The governor said that Florida can’t wait any longer to receive federal aid to help with treating the almost 800 people in the state infected with the virus and preventing it from spreading further.
“We need help, and we need help now,” Scott said.
Scott criticized Sen. Bill Nelson for joining other Democrats in having voted down earlier Zika bills because they contained extraneous provisions related to abortion, Planned Parenthood and the federal health insurance law.
Scott’s criticism drew a rebuke from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fellow Republican from Miami.
“We don’t need to be calling people out,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Sen. Nelson has been trying to help get Zika funding.”
Beyond the competition among different funding needs, there was disagreement on Capitol Hill over how much time the omnibus spending bill, called a Continuing Resolution, should cover going forward.
Appropriators sought a short-term measure that would keep the government operating into December. Some conservatives wanted it to be funded until March. President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress were pushing for a bill to cover the entire next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 and lasting through Sept. 30, 2017.
Video credit: Ken Cedeno, McClatchy
Sen. Marco Rubio criticized the Obama administration for again declining to issue a federal disaster declaration in response to toxic algae in Florida's waterways.
"Even though the end to this disaster is not in sight, the President is telling our state we are on our own," the Miami Republican said Thursday in a statement.
Barack Obama did not appear to be involved in the decision. In a brief letter earlier Thursday, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate rejected Gov. Rick Scott's appeal of his agency's earlier denial of extra money to help fight the algae blooms from Lake Okeechobee discharges intended to protect its aging dike.
"After a thorough review of all information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that supplemental federal assistance under the Stafford Act is not appropriate for this event," Fugate wrote to Scott. "Therefore, I must inform you that your appeal for an emergency declaration is denied."
The thick algae blooms look like guacamole and smell bad. The algae has fouled Treasure Coast waterways fed by Lake Okeechobee.
"The Administration has chosen yet again to turn a blind eye to the livelihoods of Floridians who are affected by this toxic algae," Rubio said.
For more on Rubio's response:
Photo credit: Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press
via Richard Danielson @Danielson_Times
With U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and state Sen. Jeremy Ring both saying they're thinking of running for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday that, yes, he's still considering a run, too. But don't look for any decisions from him until after November:
Q — Graham's announcement that she will not run for Congress but will explore a race for governor is seen as a sign she is in. You have been considered a likely candidate in the race. How far are you on you exploration and when would you decide?
"I can't imagine that I would make a decision prior to the presidential election. I think it really is unfair for Secretary (Hillary) Clinton and Patrick Murphy to have a governor's race interjected into this cycle. It's competition for money. It's competition for attention. It's competition that they don't need."
Q — How far along are you on the work that you need to do to make that decision?
"What I do every day is the best thing that I can do to position myself if I choose to go down that path. If I run, it will be based on a record of real accomplishments — having to make real decisions and doing what a CEO does. So the best thing I can do for that story is to continue to do my job every day. I think at the end of this period, Tampa's going to have a pretty compelling story to tell in the biggest media market in the state, where just in this (primary) alone, 22 percent of the vote came out of the Tampa Bay area. So I'm just focused on doing my job."
Q — Are you having conversations with people around the state about the idea of running for governor — party people, potential donors?
"I've said from day one that we were going to explore this, we were going to look, you know, test the message, test out how Tampa's renaissance is playing, test out the messenger. So yeah, I've had ongoing conversations with people all over the state."
Q — And how are those tests going?
"Tampa's got a great story, and I love telling Tampa's story, and to the extent that Tampa's story helps me, so be it, but I think what it does demonstrate is I've got a proven record. It's not hyperbole. It's not rhetoric. It's not, you know, resolutions in the congressional record. It's a real record, creating jobs and creating opportunities and getting this city out of the depths of the recession to where we're one of the hottest real estate markets in America, and that's a great story to tell."
Q —Any pushback from party people that you stayed on the sidelines during the last governor's race?
"No, not necessarily. Because I think they understand why: that my first priority is to be the mayor of Tampa, and I had to do what was in the best interest of being the mayor of Tampa and the city of Tampa. And that medical school I was not willing to put at risk. That was too important to us, too important to USF, and had I gotten involved in a partisan governor's race at the time that probably would not have happened."
Q — What do you think of Graham's announcement?
"It was expected. That was not any surprise to me or anybody else who's been following this."
Q —If she's in, does that play a role in your decision?
"No. None whatsoever."
Q — Why are you thinking about running for governor?
"I think the state needs a change. I think we need adult leadership in Tallahassee. I think the fact that one party has controlled the legislative process for 20 years has led to some really bad decisions. And I think if I can do at the state level what we've done here, I think we could change the state of Florida. And I think people are ready for a change. They're tired of the hyper-partisanship. They're tired of the dominance by one party. I think they're looking for a more pragmatic, more practical approach to governance. And I think the one place you can do that and have an impact on the state like we've done here is from the governor's office. But I do think voters are going to expect you to have a proven track record. They're going to want to see your body of work. They don't want just another politician running for just another office. They're going to look at the candidates in this race and they're going to say, 'What have you done with your life? In your last job what did you do?' And I think that Tampa's story's going to be pretty compelling."
State Sen. Jeremy Ring of Margate confirmed Thursday that he is calling potential funders and conducting his own exploratory campaign for a possible run for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.
"No door is closed for me. I am considering it, yes, and am in an exploratory phase. I can't imagine having a decision in 2016."
Ring, whose is retiring from the state Senate because of term limits this year, said he saw Gwen Graham's video announcing her interest in running today and considered it "extraordinarily misleading."
"If you were to do a 'pants on fire' thing, it would be an inferno,'' he said, referring to PolitiFact Florida's accuracy rating.
"The redistricting was done by the courts and it's not a conservative court. To blame the legislature, was someone disingenuous when you think all the court battles out there. The court pretty much did the Legislature's job but in the video, she blames the Legislature."
Ring said he interpreted Graham's video as a sign she is running, not just considering. "Everyone has a right to run, and to try to handicap races two years out is complete insanity."
Ring, who was on the team that built Yahoo, left the Internet start-up in 2001 and moved to Florida in 2001 to start a new company, Collegiate Images, with a friend. His net worth is $13.7 million.
He said that he will spend the next several months doing "what I need to do to be credible. I won't run if I'm not credible. I'm certainly exploring it but it is going to come down to after the presidential election if I think I can win.
"In 2016, it comes down to fundraising. I feel I have the best bio of anyone who could possibly run. I have the best message of anyone who could possibly run -- bring the innovation economy to Florida. Can I bring people to support me?"
Miami Herald reporters Amy Sherman and Kristen Clark contributed to this report.
Only five Republican lawmakers stood up to their party leader in voting against allowing House Speaker Paul Ryan to file an amicus brief opposing President Barack Obama's decision to withhold deportation for more than 5 million undocumented immigrants.
All three Cuban-American representatives from South Florida -- Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo -- were among the five Republicans who voted against a resolution that the House passed Thursday almost entirely along party lines.
The Supreme Court next month will hear a case brought by Texas, joined by Florida and 24 other states, arguing that Obama's bid to shield about 5.2 million illegal aliens from deportation imposes unaffordable health-care, education, law-enforcement and other costs on them.
Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who replaced Ohioan John Boehner as speaker in October, acknowledged that House intervention in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court was unprecedented, but he insisted it was necessary to prevent executive overreach by Obama.
With no Democrats voting for the bill, Ryan and other Republicans said Obama's executive orders dating to 2012 amount to the president legislating immigration reform without going through Congress.
"I recognize that this is a very extraordinary step," Ryan said on the House floor. "I feel it is very necessary, though. In fact, I believe this is vital."
In a joint statement Friday, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart said that although individual members of Congress have the right to file briefs supporting court cases, the House as a whole should not do so.
"All amicus briefs should carry the same weight, and beginning this pattern may signal to the Supreme Court that Congress is prioritizing certain cases over others," the two Miami Republicans said.
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a first-term Republican from Kendall, went further. He accused Republicans of playing politics with the important issue of immigration.
"For two long, both parties have preferred to score petty political points using the immigration issue rather than passing meaningful reform to secure the border, reform our visa system and find a fair solution for the undocumented," Curbelo said.
"The surest and most constitutionally solvent way to end the president's executive overreach is to pass meaningful immigration reform, not by employing empty tactics that ignore the root cause of the problem," he said.
The two other Republicans who voted against the House resolution were Reps. Richard Hanna of New York and Robert Dold of Illinois. Rep. Alex Mooney, a West Virginia Republican and one of five other Cuban-Americans in Congress, voted for the measure, which passed by a 234-186 margin.
Among Florida's 24 other U.S. House members, 22 voted along party lines, with Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel and Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan failing to vote.
Nine other Florida Democrats voted against the measure, among them Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the states, most recently the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.
With only eight justices on the Supreme Court since Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month, a 4-4 decision after the scheduled April 18 arguments would uphold the lower courts' rulings and overturn Obama's executive orders protecting millions of undocumented parents and their children from deportation.
Obama on Wednesday chose Merrick Garland, a former federal prosecutor and current judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to replace Scalia on the high court, but Senate Republican leaders are refusing to take a vote or even hold hearings on the nomination, saying Obama has only 10 months left in office.
Immigration has become perhaps the most divisive issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, ridiculed Republican lawmakers, many of whom he said have disingenuously tried to distance themselves from Trump's hardline stance on immigration.
"They keep saying, 'Well, Trump doesn't represent us, he doesn't (represent) our views, he doesn't represent our values,' and now they want to know where Trump gets all of his anti-immigrant, xenophobic views from," Gutierrez told reporters. "Try the House of Republicans."
In a speech Friday on the House floor, Gutierrez accused his Republican colleagues of "stoking anti-immigrant fears and mass-deportation fantasies."
"The vote is a political stunt disguised as a legal brief because the Republican majority sees a crass political opportunity to stand with the anti-immigration wing of their party," he said.
The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and 60 individual business leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, filed an amicus brief supporting Obama last week.
Before the vote Thursday, Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said "the Latino community is being used for political purposes."
Sanchez added: "We are being demonized, we are being marginalized, and we see a frightening level of hateful rhetoric and vile hate speech aimed at our community, and nobody is standing up within the Republican Party to say that this is unacceptable."
America's Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group, said the vote Thursday was the eighth "anti-immigration" vote taken by Republicans in the current session of Congress.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 223 other Democrats filed an amicus brief backing Obama earlier this month, but there was no vote on the brief and it represents them as individuals.
In still another amicus brief, almost 120 cities and counties across the United States on March 8 expressed support for Obama, among them Pembroke Pines, Tampa and Sunrise.
A controversial bonus plan that awards "highly effective" teachers based on their ACT/SAT scores faces a tough fight in the Florida Senate -- and that battle is bogging down a massive education bill that Sen. Don Gaetz wants to use as a vehicle to permanently extend the "Best & Brightest" bonuses.
Rank-and-file senators in both parties are, at least, reluctant or, at most, altogether opposed to the program. Echoing other critics, they argue it's not a fair way to reward teachers, since there's no proven correlation between teachers' high school test scores and their ability to be good teachers.
But Senate Republican leaders say they want to make a "good faith effort" to support "Best & Brightest" because it's a priority for House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, a Land O'Lakes Republican who's in line to become House Speaker in November.
"The process works best when we respect each chamber's priorities, as much as we respect our own," Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said this evening.
Gaetz's education bill (SB 524) that includes "Best & Brightest" -- among a dozen other policy proposals -- was scheduled to be heard on the Senate floor today, but dozens of amendments were added to it as late as this morning. Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, asked for his bill to be postponed so senators could digest the myriad proposed changes.
The bill could come back up again as early as Thursday as part of the Senate's "Special Order" calendar.
Among the proposed amendments to SB 524 are efforts by several senators to either strip the "Best & Brightest" bonuses entirely from the bill or, if that fails, significantly change the eligibility criteria, so that teachers could be awarded based on different benchmarks.
The governor plays cornhole at the Florida Capitol, lawmakers huddle for initial budget talks and controversial gun bills get a floor vote in the House. Here's what we're watching today:
* Proposed plans for the 2016-17 budget will go before the House's and Senate's full appropriations committees. Both chambers have scheduled daylong meetings to debate and revise their respective proposals, which were released Friday. (House Appropriations, 8 a.m., 212 Knott Building. Senate Appropriations, 9 a.m. 412 Knott Buiding)
* Gov. Rick Scott is elevating his efforts to persuade the Legislature to support his call for a $1 billion tax cut and $250 million in business incentives. In a rare move, he's hosting a rally at the Florida Capitol, starting at 11 a.m. It will feature "leaders from around the state" and a specialty cornhole set branded with Scott's slogan of "1st For Jobs."
* The House Finance and Tax Committee, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, plans to formally unveil its "bipartisan" tax cut package -- and "much anticipated" hashtag -- during a press conference after the committee's meeting, set for 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
* More than 100 employees of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa plan to visit with House and Senate members to help draw support for a $3 billion gaming compact, which the Seminole tribe and the governor signed but which the Legislature is hesitant to back.
* The House convenes for session at 3. After heated debate yesterday evening, the chamber is expected to pass two controversial gun bills and consider a slew of other legislation on the table.
Photo credit: Gov. Rick Scott's office
Gov. Rick Scott hasn't written off one of his famous predecessor's chances of becoming president.
Scott, in Washington to deliver an address on reforming hospital pricing practices at the American Enterprise Institute, put on his politics hat after the talk.
Scott, governor since 2011, said it's too soon to give up on former Gov. Jeb Bush despite his failure to gain traction in polls.
"I still think it's early," Scott told the Miami Herald. "I mean, we haven't even done the first primary yet."
Scott said that Bush "was a very successful governor" when he headed the state from 1999 to 2007, noting in particular his education reforms.
"We're at a 12-year high in our K-12 graduation rate," Scott said.
Adding that "Jeb is working hard," Scott said, "The person that works the hardest generally wins."
Despite praising Bush's record in Florida, Scott declined to endorse him. Neither is he endorsing -- yet -- fellow Floridian Marco Rubio, the first-term U.S. senator, nor any of the other Republican presidential hopefuls.
"Like a lot of voters in Florida, I'm watching the candidates," the governor said.
Four days before the Feb.1 Iowa caucuses, Bush tallied just 4 percent in a NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll of that state's Republican voters released Thursday. He was far behind businessman Donald Trump and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio of Florida, while also trailing neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
Bush is faring better in New Hampshire, which will hold its primary Feb. 9, according to a poll released Thursday by Suffolk University. Bush broke out of the single digits with 11 percent, putting him in a second-place tie with Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Rubio, with all four men well behind Trump's 27 percent standing.
In addition to Bush, Scott said he has personal relationships with Rubio, along with Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie through the Republican Governors Association.
Scott criticized the Republican National Committee for having scheduled just nine presidential debates this year.
"I wish the national party hadn't limited the number of debates and limited the locations," he said.
The RNC is weighing three additional possible Republican presidential debates.
The March 10 GOP debate will be at the University of Miami, nine days after Super Tuesday, when 14 states will hold Republican primaries or caucuses. Florida will hold its primary on March 15.
Scott declined to comment directly on Trump's decision to skip Thursday night's Fox News debate because of his ongoing feud with Megyn Kelly, one of its moderators.
"Every candidate's got to think about what's the best forum for them to get their message out, whether it's debates, whether it's town halls," Scott said.
From tax cuts and health care to gambling and guns, here are six key issues and themes to watch for as the 2016 Florida legislative session gets underway today.