July 20, 2018

At Democratic debate for Ros-Lehtinen seat, it was ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘It’s Complicated’

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via _@jacobsweet

At some debates, it’s hard to tell one candidate from another. This was one of them.

“We all have similar platforms, but we approach problems differently,” said Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, one of the five Democratic candidates who debated each other Thursday night in the race for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, a seat now held by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican who is retiring.

While some expected frequent attacks to be levied against frontrunner Donna Shalala, the former University of Miami president, attacks among the candidates were infrequent throughout the night.

The most substantial challenges throughout the evening came from state Rep. David Richardson, who represents Miami Beach and Little Havana. His critiques were leveled at Shalala.

At one point during a series of questions about immigration, he said Shalala had contributed to the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” Policy, a 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act, while she was U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton. Michael Putney, the moderator for the debate, said Shalala had not contributed to the policy.

Hours later, Richardson challenged Shalala to submit her financial disclosure statements — forms the public can use to evaluate potential conflicts of interest. Richardson noted that she has delayed sending the two documents two times. He emphasized that she may take an extra extension of 30 days to turn in the forms, the latest time that she would be allowed to turn them in.

Shalala fought back, saying Richardson had also taken two extensions in sending in the documents, which he acknowledged to be true.

Of the five candidates, only three had significant visible representation at the debate: Shalala, Richardson and Matt Haggman, a former reporter for the Miami Herald and most recently, the Knight Foundation program director for Miami. Of the five candidates, only those three left campaign materials on the church pews. Rosen Gonzalez. a Miami Beach commissioner, and Michael A. Hepburn, a former University of Miami academic adviser, had fewer visible pockets of support.

Read more here.

July 19, 2018

Unions get involved in Democratic primary for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

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@alextdaugherty

David Richardson is getting a boost from the National Education Association, the first major national union to endorse in the competitive Democratic primary for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat. The United Teachers of Dade and Florida Education Association are also behind Richardson's candidacy as he runs to the left of former University of Miami president Donna Shalala

"Throughout his six years in the State Legislature, Representative Richardson has championed traditional public schools, working to ensure our students have the resources they need to succeed," FEA president Joanne McCall said. "He has steadfastly supported teachers, education staff professionals, and protected our pensions along with those of other public employees. David has been an unwavering friend of public school staff and our efforts to unionize and collectively bargain under Florida's harsh Right-to-Work Laws. Especially after the Janus decision, we need a fighter like David representing us in Congress, and the FEA was proud to recommend him and support his NEA endorsement."

Richardson, a state representative, is running in a five-way primary for a Miami-based congressional seat that national Democrats see as a prime pickup opportunity in November. Richardson, Shalala and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman have all raised over $1 million in the Democratic primary, more than double the money of the top Republican running for the seat.

July 17, 2018

Republicans say Rubio’s bill is the way for Congress to deter Russian meddling

Mueller

@alextdaugherty

Conservatives are lining up behind Marco Rubio’s plan to automatically sanction Russia for any future election meddling a day after President Donald Trump’s meeting in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin drew widespread derision from the entire political spectrum. 

Trump supporters like Fox News host Laura Ingraham, moderates like Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Senate leaders like Mitch McConnell have all expressed support for Rubio’s bill, signaling that Congress could pass substantive legislation that would swiftly punish Moscow if U.S. intelligence determines that the Kremlin tries to meddle in future U.S. elections. 

“There are some possibilities, Senator Rubio, for example, has got a bill that targets the 2018 election cycle we’re right in now which is, as I understand it, is potential penalties if the Russians do it again,” McConnell, who controls the U.S. Senate, said on Tuesday. “So yeah, there’s a possibility that we may well take up legislation related to this.” 

The push by conservatives for a bill that was introduced in January by Rubio and Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland comes a day after Trump and Putin met privately for two hours and the president said he believes Putin instead of U.S. intelligence over the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The joint press conference sparked widespread outrage and condemnation from Democrats and Republicans, though Trump tried to walk back his comments on Tuesday by saying he misspoke. 

Rubio and Van Hollen’s bill, called the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, is the first bill since the 2016 presidential election that sets specific punishments for the Russian government and other countries that interfere in U.S. political campaigns.

“Congress has already taken various steps when it comes to Russia and its interference in 2016, this will just be one moving forward that hopefully would deter future attacks, which I believe is the real threat here ultimately,” Rubio said on Tuesday. “It’s not what happened, but what could happen in the future. Hopefully we’ll get to a critical mass and momentum that we can get going on it and get it passed.”

Rubio’s bill, if passed, codifies specific penalties for the Russians that must implemented within 10 days if the Director of National Intelligence determines that interference took place.

The penalties include “sanctions on major sectors of the Russian economy, including finance, energy, defense, and metals and mining” and blacklisting every senior Russian political figure or oligarch identified in the Russian sanctions bill that became law in 2017 over the initial objections of Trump after a supermajority in Congress approved it.

The bill lays out specific acts by foreign governments that constitute election interference. Foreign governments are forbidden from purchasing advertisements to influence elections, using social and traditional media to spread “significant amounts” of false information, hacking election or campaign infrastructure such as voter registration databases and campaign emails, and blocking access to elections infrastructure such as websites that provide information on polling locations.

Read more here

Donna Shalala, Maria Elvira Salazar lead the money race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

With six weeks remaining until the August 28 primary, two women are leading their respective parties in fundraising in the race to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Latina elected to Congress. 

Democrat Donna Shalala and Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, who both have leads over the competition according to multiple polls, also have the most money left to spend in their competitive primaries. Shalala ended the latest fundraising quarter, which spanned from April 1 to June 30, with $1.1 million left to spend while Salazar has $578,000 in the bank. 

Two other Democrats, former state Rep. David Richardson and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman also have more than $700,000 to spend as they try to upset Shalala. The reports which were finalized on Monday are the final fundraising totals released before the primary. 

Democrats are hopeful they will flip Ros-Lehtinen's district, which voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by over 19 percentage points in 2016, and the five Democrats running have a substantial advantage in combined cash raised over the nine Republicans still in the race. 

Salazar, a broadcast journalist, and Shalala, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services and president of the University of Miami, both entered the race after the other top contenders in their parties. Richardson leads the combined field in small dollar donations while Shalala has a small lead in total money raised over Richardson and Haggman. 

Republicans are hopeful that their nominee will remain competitive in a district that is majority Latino. The top Republican contenders are all Latino while all five Democrats in the race are not. 

The fundraising totals for Ros-Lehtinen's open seat have a different pattern than the two other GOP-held seats in Miami-Dade.

Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, who are both seeking reelection, have maintained a fundraising advantage over their top Democratic challengers though both Debbie Mucarsel-Powell and Mary Barzee Flores are raising significant amounts of money.

Mucarsel-Powell has $1.2 million to spend while Curbelo has $2.6 million, one of the highest totals for a House Republican nationwide. Barzee Flores has $642,000 on hand while Diaz-Balart has $1.6 million. 

July 16, 2018

Florida lawmakers blast Trump for not calling out Putin

Donald trump 2

via @learyreports

Florida lawmakers on Monday blasted President Trump over taking Vladimir Putin's word that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election, a conclusion that stands in dramatic contrast to widely held views among the intelligence community and on Capitol Hill.

"I don't see any reason why" Russia would do that, Trump said in Helsinki.

"What the president said today is not accurate," Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said during an Atlantic Council event.

Florida Democrats were the first to react and in sharper terms.

"The president's refusal to acknowledge that Putin interfered in our elections should alarm us all," Sen. Bill Nelson tweeted. "Putin is a threat to our democracy and our upcoming election, that's a fact. The president's unwillingness to stand up to him and defend our nation is unacceptable and embarrassing."

"Today @RealDonaldTrump became an illegitimate president when he showed the world that his loyalty lies more with than the people of the United States," Miami Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson tweeted. 

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio did not directly criticize Trump but did say "Foreign policy must be based on reality, not hyperbole or wishful thinking."

Rubio was more specific during an Atlantic Council event.

"What the president said today is not accurate," the Florida Republican said, adding that "all I can speculate" is that Trump was trying to be nice to Putin to establish a better working relationship.

"The flaw is that Vladimir Putin is not interested in a better working relationship," Rubio said.

Miami Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen directly criticized Trump. 

"The President's comments in Helsinki were deeply alarming," Curbelo said in a statement. "Russia's meddling in the 2016 election is fact – and the recent indictment from Director Mueller and the evidence it outlines proves that. It is unacceptable that an American President not only stood there and said nothing while Vladmir Putin spewed fiction at that press conference, but also questioned the hard work and findings of American intelligence and law enforcement investigators. The U.S. relationship with Russia has deteriorated to its current state because of Russia's criminal interference in our elections, lack of respect for human rights, and invasive and militant actions against its neighbors and our allies around the world. Blaming it on anything else, is unacceptable."

"No, @POTUS. Mueller investigation on election manipulation by is not 'a disaster for our country,'" Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. "It is law enforcement doing work our country needs it to do. What has 'kept us apart' is failure to condemn Russia, lack of any sign that you’ll stop it from happening again." 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart avoided directly criticizing Trump in his statement. 

"As our own intelligence experts and the House Intelligence Committee have asserted, Russia interfered in the United States' 2016 election just as it meddles in the elections of its neighbors," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "Throughout the world, Russia is often on the opposite side of U.S. interests in crucial areas such as Ukraine, Syria, and Iran. Under Putin's charge, Russia has become increasingly undemocratic, expelling pro-democracy NGOs from its territory, suppressing independent media, ignoring human rights, and manifesting a perilous environment for journalists. We must remember that Russia is not an ally of the United States, and that those responsible for attacks on our democratic institutions must be held accountable."

July 05, 2018

Trump sanctions top Nicaraguan officials for attacks on demonstrators

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@francoordonez

The Trump administration slapped sanctions Thursday on three top Nicaraguan officials - including an in-law of President Daniel Ortega — accusing them of human rights abuses, corruption and ordering attacks on peaceful protesters.

The sanctions come as Washington turns up the heat on Nicaragua, where more than 200 people have died in two months of anti-government protests.

"The United States will not stand by idly in the face of the abuses taking place in Nicaragua," a senior administration official said. "Rather we will expose and hold accountable those responsible for the Nicaraguan government’s ongoing violence and intimidation campaign against its people."

The U.S. Treasury Department is targeting three top officials for human rights abuses under the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the executive branch to impose visa bans and targeted sanctions on individuals anywhere in the world responsible for committing human rights violations or engaging in corrupt activity.

The officials include Francisco Lopez, head of the private company ALBANISA, a joint venture between the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, PDVSA, and its Nicaraguan counterpart. They targeted Francisco Diaz, who leads the National Police and, critics charge, orchestrated the repression and killing of Nicaraguans. Diaz's daughter is married to Ortega's son.

They also targeted Fidel Antonio Moreno Briones, who the Trump administration said has directed attacks against demonstrators for years and is seen as the main link between the municipal government and the Sandinista National Liberation Front.

The sanctions means that that the targeted people don't have access to any property they have within U.S. Also, U.S. businesses or American individuals are prohibited from engaging in transactions with the sanctioned individuals.

"Under Francisco Javier Diaz Madriz’s command, Nicaragua's National Police has engaged in serious human rights abuse against the people of Nicaragua," Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman said. "Fidel Antonio Moreno Briones has directed acts of violence committed by the Sandinista Youth and pro-government armed groups which have been implicated in numerous human rights abuses related to the ongoing protests against the Nicaraguan government. Jose Francisco Lopez Centeno is the vice president of ALBANISA, the president of Petronic, and the treasurer of the ruling FSLN party and has been accused of leveraging his position to his and his family’s benefit by using companies they own to win government contracts."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fl., quickly welcomed the sanctions against the Ortega regime.

"Time is running out for Ortega to address the current crisis by holding early, free & fair elections," Rubio tweeted.

"As so many Nicaraguans exercise their rights to free speech and assembly, the violence in Nicaragua continues unabated with almost 300 people killed at the hands of the Ortega regime," said Ros-Lehtinen, who has introduced a resolution urging the Trump administration to impose more sanctions. "Though the State Department has rightfully imposed visa restrictions to some of Ortega's puppets, this resolution empowers the administration to go further to identify and sanction those who have engaged in acts of oppression in accordance with our laws."

Read more here.

July 04, 2018

Latest GOP poll in Ros-Lehtinen's district shows potential for three-way race

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@alextdaugherty

A third poll conducted in recent weeks in the GOP primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen shows television journalist Maria Elvira Salazar with a double-digit lead but the potential for Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro and songwriter Angie Chirino, the daughter of Cuban pop sensation Willy Chirino, to make the primary competitive if they run to Salazar's right on guns. 

The poll conducted on behalf of Chirino's campaign on behalf of Big Data Polling shows Salazar with a 10 percentage point lead over Barreiro, with Chirino close behind Barreiro in third. Salazar took 26.5 percent support among 531 likely GOP primary voters in a poll conducted from June 22 to 25. Barreiro received 16.8 percent while Chirino received 13.3 percent support in the poll, which was conducted in English and Spanish with a four percent margin of error. 

“While Salazar is clearly ahead, she is not in the clear,” Big Data Director Rich Baris said. “We know from this latest and prior surveys that the Chirino name is recognizable and draws a certain level of support from the Cuban community.”

Interestingly, the poll asked GOP voters about Salazar's comments to Univision in March where she said, "I do not see the need for civilians to buy semiautomatic weapons." Just over one-third of voters (37.2%) said the comment made them “more likely” to support Salazar, while a 36.6% of voters said it would make them “less likely” to vote for Salazar.

“This gives us a good idea of the percentage of voters who have truly made up their mind to support Salazar and which voters can still be persuaded. The campaign now needs to focus on making their case to those soft voters," Baris said. “Start to peel away some of that soft support, and we would essentially have a three-way race.”

Salazar is clearly the front-runner just under two months from Election Day, though none of the candidates in the race so far have a major advantage over one another when it comes to name ID in Ros-Lehtinen's district. Ros-Lehtinen said she will not explicitly endorse anyone in the primary, which would be a major advantage in a district where the moderate Republican remains popular despite the district voting for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by 19 percentage points in 2016. Democrats see Ros-Lehtinen's district as a prime pickup opportunity in 2018. 

July 03, 2018

Internal Bruno Barreiro poll shows him down 14 points to Maria Elvira Salazar

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@alextdaugherty

Former Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro faces an uphill climb in the Republican primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, according to internal polling by his campaign. 

A poll conducted by Magellan Strategies on behalf of Barreiro shows him trailing Miami broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar by 14 percentage points. Salazar, who raised the most money in the field in recent months, received the support of 24 percent of likely GOP primary voters while Barreiro received 10 percent. No other Republican running received more than 1 percent support, and 64 percent of voters are undecided. 

Barreiro's poll unsurprisingly has him in a better position than an internal poll recently conducted by Salazar that shows her up 22 percentage points over Barreiro, though he trails by double digits in both. Salazar is also more well-known among voters than Barreiro, though a majority of voters either haven't heard of either or do not have a strong positive or negative opinion about either of them.  

The poll, which was conducted via interviews with 401 likely voters from June 11-12, has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points. 

Magellan's poll also asked GOP voters about the most important issues that need to be addressed by President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress. Reducing the cost of healthcare ranked as the most important issue in a district with thousands of Obamacare recipients while addressing illegal immigration, an issue that the president could use as a wedge to motivate conservative voters in the midterms, ranked second. 

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face an uphill battle to keep Ros-Lehtinen's seat in GOP hands. Trump lost the district, which includes most of Miami Beach, downtown Miami and coastal South Dade, by more than 19 percentage points, the largest margin of victory for Clinton in the country in a GOP-held congressional district. Most of the national election prognosticators rate Ros-Lehtinen's seat as "lean Democratic." 

Barreiro's wife Zoraida lost a snap election for Bruno's old Miami-Dade commission seat last month, and Barriero donated $95,000 to his wife from his congressional campaign account for her unsuccessful race. 

June 26, 2018

South Florida Democrats lurch left with call to abolish ICE

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@alextdaugherty

Abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement by starving it of cash is now in vogue among Democrats running for Congress in Miami.

Three of the five Democrats in a contested primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are in favor of abolishing the nation's immigration enforcement agency, a rallying cry of the far left that has gained rapid mainstream attention in recent weeks because of the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents when they cross the border illegally.

Former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman, former state Rep. David Richardson and former University of Miami academic advisor Michael Hepburn are all in favor of abolishing ICE by defunding the federal agency in Congress.

"The brutality of taking people out of their homes for 20 years has now sort of been fully seen," said Sean McElwee, an anti-deportation advocate who leads an ongoing abolish ICE effort on social media. "For a while, the only people I could get to agree with me were third-tier candidates, who I love and agree with but who don't have much of a chance...but now this has legs."

Over the weekend, four Democrats in Congress became the first elected officials in Washington to call for abolishing ICE. Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan said Monday he plans to introduce legislation that would defund the agency, which has powers to conduct immigration checks within 100 miles of the border or coastline, a zone that includes the entire state of Florida.

Most Democrats don't want to abolish ICE, instead arguing that the agency's leadership and direction under the Trump administration is the problem, not the existence of the organization itself. McElwee estimates that about two dozen Democrats running for federal office out of around 1,000 declared candidates nationally have publicly endorsed abolishing ICE.

The two Miami-Dade Democrats running against Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, who aren't facing competitive primaries, aren't on board. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he "hasn't considered" defunding ICE.

"ICE should be targeting and arresting people that pose an imminent threat to others, not just rounding up innocent-even if undocumented-people," said Mary Barzee Flores, a Democrat running against Diaz-Balart. "It is neither reasonable nor practical to simply say 'let's abolish ICE,' but its enforcement priorities should be significantly adjusted."

"Abolishing ICE is not the answer," said Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is running against Curbelo. "I believe the agency must correct its abuses and should dedicate its staff to protecting the country from actual threats, like child exploitation, human trafficking and drug-related crimes, instead of attempting to induce fear in immigrant communities."

But for Haggman and Richardson, two well-funded candidates seeking to beat former University of Miami President Donna Shalala in the Democratic primary for Ros-Lehtinen's seat, talk about abolishing ICE provides a way to differentiate themselves from an opponent with better name recognition and a way to sway far left-leaning voters in the primary.

Read more here.

June 21, 2018

Internal poll shows Maria Elvira Salazar with commanding lead in GOP primary for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

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@alextdaugherty

Republican Maria Elvira Salazar has a 22 percentage point lead over her nearest competitor in the Republican primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, according to a new internal poll conducted on behalf of her campaign and shared with the Miami Herald. 

The Miami broadcast journalist received the support of 38 percent of likely GOP primary voters while former Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro received 16 percent. No other candidate in the poll received more than three percent, and 36 percent of voters are undecided. 

The poll is the latest bad news for Barriero's congressional campaign, which is reeling after his wife Zoraida lost a snap election for Bruno's old Miami-Dade commission seat on Tuesday. Barriero donated $95,000 to his wife's campaign from his congressional campaign account for her unsuccessful race, and he trailed Salazar in fundraising during the most recent quarter. 

Salazar has a 53 percent favorable rating compared to a 10 percent unfavorable rating, while Barreiro has a 36 percent favorable rating and a 16 percent unfavorable rating. 

"This survey clearly indicates that Maria Elvira Salazar is best positioned to win the primary on August 28th, as she captures a plurality of the vote and has the highest favorable rating," according to a summary of the poll conducted by Virginia-based McLaughlin and Associates, a firm that worked on President Donald Trump's presidential campaign. "With her already strong support and popularity, the undecideds have the potential to fall in for Salazar at similar margins."

The McLaughlin poll surveyed 400 likely GOP primary voters in Florida's 27th congressional district from June 11 to June 14. Interviews were administered via telephone and gave voters the choice to conduct the poll in English or Spanish. The survey was stratified by precinct, race/ethnicity, age and gender to correlate with actual voter turnout from the previous statewide GOP primary elections in non-presidential election years. The poll's margin of error was 4.9 percentage points. 

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face an uphill battle to keep Ros-Lehtinen's seat in GOP hands. Trump lost the district, which includes most of Miami Beach, downtown Miami and coastal South Dade, by more than 19 percentage points, the largest margin of victory for Clinton in the country in a GOP-held congressional district. Most of the national election prognosticators rate Ros-Lehtinen's seat as "lean Democratic." 

Salazar said her experience as an outsider in contrast to Barreiro, who has held elected office since 1992, is what gives her an edge with GOP primary voters.