March 22, 2018

Two bills supported by Parkland families included in massive spending package

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The House and Senate are scheduled to vote on a massive $1.3 trillion spending package on Thursday and Friday, and the spending bill includes two bills that were a priority for the families of victims of the nation's deadliest high school shooting in Parkland. 

The STOP School Violence Act and Fix NICS Act are both in the package. Both bills received widespread support from both parties though a few Republicans were opposed to the Fix NICS Act, which aims to improve the background check system for guns by penalizing federal agencies that fail to report records, and increases federal funding for reporting domestic violence records.

"Today, we’re moving a little closer to turning the voices of the students marching across the country into action. While we still have so much work to do, I am happy to see some movement on bipartisan legislation I’ve worked on with Senator Rubio to help address gun violence in our country, including the Fix NICS Act and the STOP School Violence Act, which funds programs to help keep our schools safe," Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement. 

The spending bill also stipulates that the Centers for Disease Controls can conduct research on gun violence, a measure pushed by Orlando Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy after the Parkland shooting. A number of Republicans, including Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have backed the idea. Previously, the CDC was not allowed to spend money to research gun violence due to an amendment passed in 1996. 

"We are very happy that by the end of this week there should be close to a billion dollars over the next ten years available so that states can set up these systems to identify potential shooters and stop them before they kill anybody," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. 

March 09, 2018

Miami Republicans urge Trump to denounce potential Raúl Castro successor



The entire Miami-Dade Republican congressional delegation along with a gubernatorial contender urged President Donald Trump to denounce Raúl Castro's successor as illegitimate unless Cuba schedules "free, fair, and multiparty elections." 

Sen. Marco Rubio, along with Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Reps. Ron DeSantis (who is running for governor) and Ted Yoho all sent a letter to Trump on Friday voicing their concerns. 

Text of the letter below: 

Dear Mr. President,

We write today to thank you for holding the Castro regime accountable for its oppression and ongoing human rights abuses against the Cuban people, and for furthering U.S. national security and foreign policy interests of promoting democracy. We also request, within all applicable rules and regulations, that you continue to work toward empowering the Cuban people in their struggle for liberty. As you said in your June 16, 2017 announcement on Cuba policy from Miami:

For nearly six decades, the Cuban people have suffered under communist domination. To this day, Cuba is ruled by the same people who killed tens of thousands of their own citizens, who sought to spread their repressive and failed ideology throughout our hemisphere, and who once tried to host enemy nuclear weapons 90 miles from our shores. . . This is the simple truth of the Castro regime. My administration will not hide from it, excuse it, or glamorize it. And we will never, ever be blind to it. We know what’s going on and we remember what happened.

Toward that goal, we respectfully ask that you denounce Castro’s successor as illegitimate in the absence of free, fair, and multiparty elections, and call upon the international community to support the right of the Cuban people to decide their future.

As you know, dictator Raúl Castro has said that he will step down from the presidency on April 19, 2018. However, we know that a predetermined, charade election orchestrated by regime officials will continue the dictatorship.

This sham election is yet another example of the regime’s dictatorial repression of fundamental freedoms which must not be recognized by those who value freedom and democracy. This, along with your ongoing efforts to restrict financial transactions with the Cuban military that aid the Castro regime, will assist the Cuban people in their goal of self-government.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. We look forward to continuing to work with your Administration on this matter.

March 08, 2018

Democratic super PAC reserves $1.1 million in Miami TV time



A super PAC that seeks to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives is reserving $1.1 million in Miami TV time ahead of the 2018 elections, the first of what could be millions in outside TV spending in two competitive Miami congressional races. 

House Majority PAC announced Thursday it has reserved just over $43 million for television ads in the final weeks of the 2018 election cycle nationwide. The outlay includes $1,119,500 in Miami and $420,000 in West Palm Beach.

“The Republicans are panicking about losing their majority in the House, because they know that across the country Democrats have top-notch candidates running, and there’s a surge in grassroots participation,” House Majority PAC Executive Director Charlie Kelly said in a statement. “2018 will bring a barrage of frantic negative attack ads from GOP outside groups, but HMP is ensuring we’re prepared early-on to fight back. Momentum is on our side, and with smart, strategic investments, we will help Democrats win across the country.” 

The largest chunk of the $43 million is $5.2 million for the Los Angeles media market, while the group is spending more than $2 million in the Dallas, Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Minneapolis media markets. 

The most competitive House election in Miami is expected to be incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's race against Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Curbelo represents a Miami-to-Key West seat that leans Democratic, though he enjoys a sizable lead in fundraising along with greater name recognition. Multiple election prognosticators rate Curbelo's seat as a toss up. 

The race to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen could also get some attention from national groups, though Democrats are favored to flip a seat that Hillary Clinton won by over 19 percentage points in 2016. 

The other two incumbents whose districts fall mostly within the Miami media market, Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, have not drawn serious challengers yet.  

Treasure Coast Republican Rep. Brian Mast, whose district includes parts of Palm Beach County, is also facing a competitive reelection bid. 

March 01, 2018

Journalist Maria Elvira Salazar joins GOP race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat


@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

Miami broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar is jumping into the Republican race for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat. 

“We all want a better country for our children, so we need to rise above the political rhetoric and divisions that are tearing our communities apart, and have the courage to respect and listen to others, even if we don’t agree," Salazar said in a statement. "That is democracy at its best." 

Ros-Lehtinen encouraged Salazar and other Republican candidates to join the race for months to drum up enthusiasm in the Republican primary.

“The district is totally winnable for the right candidate,” Ros-Lehtinen said late last year. “She could be the right candidate.”

Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro is the only announced GOP candidate who has so far raised enough money for a viable campaign operation, though two newcomers, Ariadna Balaguer and Angie Chirino, have entered the GOP race since the last filing deadline.

Democrats are favored to flip Ros-Lehtinen's seat after Hillary Clinton trounced Donald Trump in the district that encompasses most of coastal Miami-Dade County in 2016. Six Democratic candidates have raised over $100,000, while Barreiro is the only Republican to have done so. 

Salazar was a news anchor for Miami-based MEGATV, and she previously hosted her political news show called "Maria Elvira Live." A bio provided by her campaign said Salazar was "the first and ONLY
U.S. Spanish-language television journalist to obtain a one-on-one interview with Fidel Castro during his
50 years in power."

Florida Republican with Nicaragua ties works to defeat Ros-Lehtinen’s crackdown bill

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty @francoordonez 

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a longtime proponent of a hardline approach to left-leaning regimes in Cuba and Central America who commands respect from both parties in Washington on Latin American policy.

But a rookie Republican lawmaker and fellow Floridian recently turned on Ros-Lehtinen on one of her signature issues, and she isn’t happy.

Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Naples, was one of 25 members of Congress who signed onto Ros-Lehtinen’s bill that that would limit U.S. loans to the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega until the longtime president carries out democratic reforms in the Central American country. The list of co-sponsors also includes every Republican and Democrat from Miami-Dade County.

But after Ros-Lehtinen’s bill passed the House by a voice vote in October, Rooney apparently had a change of heart.

According to Ros-Lehtinen and a U.S. official familiar with lobbying work who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, Rooney began scouring the halls of the U.S. Senate with Nicaraguan businessmen to lobby against Ros-Lehtinen’s Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act after it passed the House of Representatives — with his support.

“Why Rooney chose to lobby against a bill that he himself cosponsored and to do so without even giving me the courtesy of a notice, is practically unheard of in this institution,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “And then to take the extra step of being actively involved in lobbying against it, going to the Senate and lobbying senators against a bill he cosponsored? I don’t know what Rooney’s about, but it was not appreciated. It’s just uncool.”

Rooney did not respond to emails, phone calls and a request to speak in person about his work on the bill. A lobbyist hired by the American Chamber of Commerce in Nicaragua, which opposes Ros-Lehtinen’s bill, declined to say whether Rooney was working with them.

“We represent AMCHAM in Nicaragua and we do not comment on client matters,” said Carmen Group chief of staff Alison Cricks.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Nicaragua has spent at least $160,000 to lobby against Ros-Lehtinen’s bill in recent months, according to lobbying records.

Read more here.

February 20, 2018

Where South Floridians in Congress stand on gun legislation



The pressure is building in Washington.

Students are meeting with President Donald Trump, organizing protests outside the White House and planning a mass demonstration in March with the aim of getting Congress to do something to prevent another mass school shooting. after the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week.

In response, Trump has indicated he’s considering support of a narrowly tailored bill that would ensure federal and state authorities accurately report relevant criminal-history records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and penalize federal agencies that fail to upload relevant records. The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, also has the blessing of the National Rifle Association and Republicans from South Florida, though Murphy tweeted that “no one should pretend this bill alone is an adequate response to this epidemic.”

Trump also directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday to craft regulations to ban “bump stocks” and other devices that turn semi-automatic firearms into automatic weapons.

But where does South Florida’s congressional delegation stand on various federal bills that could limit access to guns and firearm accessories if passed into law?

Below is a list of relevant recent congressional legislation related to guns, and where South Florida’s two U.S. senators and eight U.S. representatives stand on such proposals, including campaign contributions from the NRA.


▪ Assault weapons ban: Congress passed a ban on certain semi-automatic “assault style” firearms like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting in 1994, though the ban expired in 2004 and wasn’t renewed. A bill to reinstate the ban in 2013 after the Sandy Hook school shooting failed in the U.S. Senate.

▪ Raising the age to legally own semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 from 18 to 21. The 19-year old Parkland shooter suspect legally purchased an AR-15 rifle after he turned 18 old. California Sen. Dianne Feinstein plans to introduce legislation that would raise the age requirements.

▪ Bump stock ban: Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo introduced a bill after the Las Vegas shooting in October that would ban “bump stocks,” or legal modifications to semiautomatic weapons that allow them to fire like automatic weapons. So far, there haven’t been any votes on Curbelo’s bill.

▪ Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act: This bill would allow concealed carry permits obtained in one state to be valid in another state, essentially transforming concealed carry permits into transferable documents like driver’s licenses. The bill passed the House and awaits consideration in the U.S. Senate.

▪ Purchasing guns while on the terror watch list: Feinstein introduced legislation after the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016 that would prevent U.S. citizens under investigation for suspected terrorist activity from purchasing a gun, while Cornyn countered with legislation that would have installed a review period for people on the terror watch list wishing to purchase guns. Both measures failed in the U.S. Senate; the House didn’t vote on them.

Read more here.

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen cosponsor bill to allow federal gun violence research



Rep. Stephanie Murphy's bill to repeal a ban on federal government gun violence research is now getting support from Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen after the deadliest high school shooting in the nation's history in Parkland, Florida. 

Murphy, D-Winter Park, already has 122 Democrats signed on to the bill that ends the prohibition on the Department of Health and Human Services using federal funds to advocate or promote gun control. The issue has received attention from Republicans in recent days as a potential area for compromise in Congress, though some Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio have stopped short of fully endorsing the idea. 

Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen are generally more moderate on guns than many of their Republican counterparts. They were part of just over a dozen House Republicans who voted against a bill that would allow concealed carry permits to be valid across state lines last year.

February 09, 2018

How South Florida lawmakers voted on a budget deal without a DACA fix



The federal government briefly shut down while you were sleeping, as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul held up a massive $300 billion budget bill that keeps the government running until March 23rd because it increased the federal deficit. House Democratic leaders also opposed the bill because Speaker Paul Ryan hasn't committed to an open debate on a solution for 690,000 DACA recipients who could be eligible for deportation as soon as March. 

The bill eventually passed the U.S. Senate at 1:30am by a 71-28 margin and the U.S. House at 5:30am by a 240-186 margin. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on Friday morning, reopening the federal government after it shut down at midnight. The massive budget bill included billions in disaster funding for Florida and Puerto Rico along with an increase in defense spending and budget caps. 

Here's how South Florida's members of Congress voted: 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R): Yes

Rubio praised the deal as a bipartisan compromise that gave Florida much-needed disaster relief. “While no one wants to have a hurricane and no one wants to have a natural disaster, I think this is a response that we should be happy about,” Rubio said on Wednesday. He did voice concerns over the deficit despite voting yes. 

"Throughout my time in the Senate, my support for increasing the debt limit has been consistently conditioned on meaningful spending reforms that address our long-term debt," Rubio said in a statement after the vote. "This budget deal does not do that. We must begin to seriously address the long-term drivers of our debt and get our fiscal house back in order. We cannot do that if we continue to govern through short term continuing resolutions that inefficiently spend taxpayer dollars and fail to provide the certainty required for effective planning."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D): Yes

Nelson spoke alongside Rubio on the Senate floor to praise the deal after it was announced. "Senator Rubio and I have been talking about all the things we have done together in trying to get this disaster aid package to finally come to the point at which we can say we are so thankful that we see a path forward,” Nelson said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R): Yes

Curbelo had voted against multiple spending bills because a DACA solution wasn't imminent. But hours before the vote on Thursday Curbelo switched his stance after Ryan said he would "bring a solution to the floor." 

In a statement released Thursday, Curbelo said Ryan "delivered his strongest commitment yet that legislation will be considered on the floor of the House" and that was enough to change his vote. 

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R): No 

Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring in 2018, was the only Republican in Congress to join Democrats and vote against the budget bill because it didn't include a DACA solution. 

“I will vote NO, as I have pledged to do so in the past," Ros-Lehtinen said in an email on Thursday. 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R): Yes

Diaz-Balart, an ally of leadership, has consistently voted in favor of short-term spending bills in recent months. 

"This bipartisan legislation continues government operations and funds programs that are critical to Americans across the nation. It also invests in our military during a time where we must provide our troops with the proper resources to defend our country, help our allies, and stand up to our adversaries," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "I represent parts of Florida that are still rebuilding from Hurricane Irma, and the $89.3 billion supplemental will go a long way in helping these communities recover from storm damage."

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D): No

Wilson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus that opposed the deal and one of the more liberal members of Congress, voted no. 

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D): No 

Wasserman Schultz was a firm no hours before the vote as some Democrats wavered on whether or not to follow leader Nancy Pelosi and vote no or vote to keep the government open without a DACA solution. 

Rep. Ted Deutch (D): Yes

In a statement, Deutch said he voted for the budget bill to keep the government open "finally beyond just weeks." The bill keeps the government running until March 23rd. 

"Tonight, I voted for a compromise budget deal because it will allow us to keep the government running, finally beyond just weeks," Deutch said. "This bill helps the millions of Americans in Florida and Puerto Rico, Texas, California and the Virgin Islands whose lives were turned upside down by natural disasters. It provides a potential lifeline to families struggling with opioid addiction."

He also added that Congress must focus on passing the DREAM Act to help DACA recipients. President Donald Trump has indicated he does not support the DREAM Act. 

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D): No

Hastings is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus that opposed the deal and is one of the more liberal members of Congress. 

February 08, 2018

Curbelo to vote for spending bill without DACA fix

Curbelo (1)


Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo will vote in favor of a massive $300 billion spending bill even though a solution for 689,000 DACA recipients isn't included in the package. 

In a statement released Thursday, Curbelo said Speaker Paul Ryan "delivered his strongest commitment yet that legislation will be considered on the floor of the House." 

"One of my chief legislative priorities this Congress and the last, has been to forge a compromise on immigration that delivers a fair, permanent solution for young immigrants brought to our country as children, while securing the border so future illegal entry is discouraged and diminished," Curbelo said. "The main obstacles to that goal have been Congressional Leaders' refusal to allow each Chamber to consider legislation on the Floor and the objections of extremists in both parties."

Curbelo said Ryan's comments on Thursday morning were enough to sway his vote.

"To anyone who doubts my intention to solve this problem and bring up a DACA and immigration reform bill, do not," Ryan said during a press conference. "We will bring a solution to the floor, one the President will sign." 

Curbelo had voted against previous short-term spending bills, including one earlier this week, because a DACA solution wasn't imminent. 

Retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she will still vote against the bill due to concerns on immigration. 

“I will vote NO, as I have pledged to do so in the past,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an email. 

Ros-Lehtinen is the only Republican likely to vote against the spending bill over concerns on immigration. 

The bill, which funds the federal government past 11:59pm Thursday, faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives as some conservative Republicans will vote against it due to its effects on the deficit. Ryan will likely need Democratic votes to pass the spending bill, but its unclear whether Democratic leadership will persuade members to vote against it because of the lack of an immigration compromise. 

February 06, 2018

Ros-Lehtinen, Curbelo vote against short-term spending bill with no immigration fix

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


The threat of a government shutdown is unlikely in Washington this week, but two Miami Republicans in the House of Representatives continued to break ranks with their party and voted against a short-term spending bill that passed Tuesday because a solution for 690,000 DACA recipients isn't imminent. 

Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo were two of eight Republicans who voted against a spending bill that passed 245-182. Most of the other Republican No votes were from conservatives who typically vote against spending bills that don't include spending cuts. 

"I again voted no on the Continuing Resolution because we have yet to debate and vote on a bill that would provide legal status to our DREAMers," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "We have less than a month until the administration’s arbitrary deadline for DACA beneficiaries begins to phase out. However, these young immigrants face real challenges every day that Congress does not take action. They are missing out on job and school opportunities and in not being able to provide for their families. They live with fear of having to go back to a country that they don’t know. I remain committed in keeping my pledge to vote no on any funding bill until Congressional leadership brings a DREAMers fix to the floor." 

Curbelo voted in favor of a short-term spending bill to reopen the government last month after Senate Democrats decided to support a spending bill in exchange for a debate on discussion on an immigration bill, though he voted against previous spending bills in the last few months because of immigration. Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring in 2018, was the only House Republican to vote against the bill to reopen the government in January because it didn't provide a bill for DACA recipients. 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart voted in favor of the bill while South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel all voted against it.

Update: Curbelo released a statement on his vote. 

"One of my chief legislative priorities this Congress and the last, has been to forge a compromise on immigration that delivers a fair, permanent solution for young immigrants brought to our country as children, while securing the border so future illegal entry is discouraged and diminished," Curbelo said. "The biggest obstacles to that goal have been Congressional Leadership’s refusal to recognize we are running out of time and the objections of extremists in both parties. While I appreciate the Senate is almost certainly moving on immigration next week – and I want to give our institutions an opportunity to debate this issue with the government open – I am not comfortable extending the funding deadline past March 5th. Doing so would relieve the pressure, and we must keep the pressure on."