January 12, 2016

Florida reaction to Obama's final State of the Union

@PatriciaMazzei

Here's what Florida politicians had to say about President Obama's final State of the Union address Tuesday:

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican running for president:

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican running for president:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat:

It’s frustrating when partisanship prevents the Congress from getting things done. And it’s pretty clear that Americans are fed up with our inability to enact common-sense reforms. While we were able to get a few things passed back in December, there’s still a lot that we need to accomplish. And I will continue to do everything that I can to try to bring people together in a bipartisan way to get things done.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami:

President Obama's final State of the Union Address will be remembered not for what he said, but for what he didn’t say.

The President has failed yet again to use this opportunity to lay out a comprehensive plan to Congress and the American people on how best to defeat ISIS, and instead has opted to try to lull us into a false sense of security that is belied by the facts on the ground here in the U.S. and across the globe.

It's much the same situation with Iran: the President touted his nuclear deal with Tehran, yet what the President didn't say is that, since the deal, we have seen an increasingly bellicose regime flouting the international community, daring us to take action against its illicit behavior and then threatening to walk away from the nuclear deal if we do respond.

 

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January 08, 2016

Missing U.S. missile found in Cuba infuriates Marco Rubio, Miami Republicans

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio chided the White House on Friday for failing to inform members of Congress about a missing U.S. Hellfire missile in Cuba's possession.

The Wall Street Journal published the bombshell story late Thursday, prompting Rubio to write the State Department asking what it knew about the missile.

"The fact that the administration, including you, have apparently tried to withhold this information from the congressional debate and public discussion over U.S.-Cuba policy is disgraceful," Rubio wrote to Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Jacobson starred in the Cuba negotiations, and Rubio has been blamed for stalling her nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

"While your bureau is not the primary entity within the State Department handling these issues, you oversee U.S. policy toward Cuba and interactions with Cuban officials," Rubio wrote. "Thus, the fact that members of Congress are reading about Cuba's possession of a U.S. missile in the newspaper rather than from you or other State Department officials is astounding and inexcusable."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about Rubio's letter at a news briefing Friday afternoon. He made a jab at Rubio's missing Senate votes, saying he guessed Rubio "gets most of his information about what's happening in Congress int he newspaper, based on his attendance record."

Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos tweeted that Earnest was being "petty."

Pressed on whether the missile was discussed in talks before the U.S.-Cuba normalization policy was announced, Earnest said he couldn't shed much light, given that the missile's disappearance is under investigation by the state and defense departments.

Separately, four Cuban-American members of Congress, including three Miami Republicans, issued a joint statement calling it "unconscionable" for the U.S. to have pursued normalization talks in spite of the missing missile.

"The Cuban regime rebuffed the President's effort to secure the return of the Hellfire missile even as the negotiations were ongoing, and yet the regime still got everything it could have wanted," wrote Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, and Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat. "It is no wonder that the Castro brothers feel ever more emboldened to continue on with the repression of the Cuban people, with intimidation and unlawful arrests at an alarmingly high rate."

--with Lesley Clark

Cuban Americans in Congress back law to curtail benefits

@PatriciaMazzei

Six Cuban-American members of Congress have signed on to legislation to end automatic federal benefits for newly arrived Cubans.

The office of Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, announced the support Friday, a day after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio revealed he would file a bill in the Senate similar to the one Curbelo filed in the House last month.

Co-sponsoring Curbelo's proposal are Miami Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, West Virginia Republican Alex Mooney and New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires. The only fellow Cuban Americans not listed are New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who could only sign on once Rubio files his bill. (Cruz is a Rubio rival in the presidential race.)

"Together, we can protect those fleeing the Castro dictatorship while ensuring that America's generosity is not being exploited and abused," Curbelo said in a statement.

Three other House members from Florida are also listed: Republican Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach (who is running for U.S. Senate), and Democrats Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. Other co-sponsors so far are Reps. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania; Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.

January 07, 2016

Miami Republicans in Congress again ask White House for Cuban refugees plan

@PatriciaMazzei

Three Miami Republican members of Congress sent their third letter Thursday to President Barack Obama urging the White House to draft a plan to accommodate the influx of Cuban refugees to South Florida.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Cuban Americans, blame Obama's rapprochement with Cuba for the increase in migrants from the island arriving in the U.S. -- and want him to help local governments absorb the new arrivals.

The House members have written to Obama twice before. Some 8,000 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica are now enroute to the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal policy stipulates that Cubans who reach American soil can remain in the country. After 366 days, they can apply for U.S. residency.

"Since our previous letters, we have been in contact with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, and Doral Mayor Luigi Boria about their concerns regarding the growing strain on local governments and services in South Florida," the trio wrote Thursday. "Through its Homeless program, the City of Miami has been able to place Cuban migrants into shelters. However, these centers are now at full capacity and can no longer receive any of the 8,000 new refugees expected to arrive in the coming weeks. We have also been informed that Catholic Charities, Church World Services, and the International Rescue Committee do not have the funds necessary to assist these new refugees because they are already overwhelmed by the surge of Cuban nationals that have recently arrived in the United States."

Read the full letter: here.

December 18, 2015

Miami congresswoman to campaign for Jeb Bush in New Hampshire

@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush will have a friend from home by his side during his weekend campaign trip to New Hampshire.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and her husband, Dexter, will join Bush at the first of his four planned town-hall style events Saturday, in the small town of Contoocook.

Ros-Lehtinen is also scheduled to attend a New Hampshire Republican Party dinner Friday night, without Bush.

"Dexter and I are so proud to campaign for our friend Jeb in New Hampshire," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "I'm hoping to bring some Florida sunshine up north and share Jeb's record of accomplishment in our state. As president, Jeb will help create jobs, improve America's standing in the world, and create conditions to spur innovation."

December 17, 2015

Miami Republicans slam U.S.-Cuba policy, a year after change

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami's Cuban-American Republicans in Congress used Thursday's one-year anniversary of renewed U.S.-Cuba relations to bash President Obama's policies.

In a statement, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called the change a "sham." In an op-ed published on Medium, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart noted that "Cubans are departing Cuba in record numbers." And in a news release styled as an email tipsheet, presidential candidate and Sen. Marco Rubio decried a Cuban "chokehold on freedom."

Here's Rubio's statement:

The first year of President Obama's Cuba policy has been like the rest of his foreign policy: a disaster that prioritizes legacy-shaping headlines over freedom and results, treats our enemies far better than our allies, and negotiates deals from a position of weakness -– as if we are ashamed of our moral obligations as the world’s most powerful nation. Because of President Obama's Cuba policy, the U.S. has never been closer to the tyrants that rule the island or more alienated from the Cuban people working tirelessly to build a free and democratic future. Because of President Obama's weakness in negotiating with the Castro regime, cop killers, terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice continue to enjoy greater freedoms in Cuba than average Cubans who are experiencing a historically relentless wave of repression and political arrests this year.

American businesses have placed a risky bet to enrich themselves and, in the process, enrich the Cuban military that actually controls the economy. The next U.S. president should end the many concessions this one has made to the regime, and send a clear message that betting against the Cuban people's free and democratic future is a losing bet. With a year to go, President Obama can still inflict a lot of damage that further sets back the cause of a free and democratic Cuba, but those who care about freedom and the fate of the Cuban people will continue to fight him at every turn.

Here's Ros-Lehtinen's statement:

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December 02, 2015

Reaction to Florida Supreme Court redistricting ruling

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami:

No matter how the lines are drawn Florida 26 will always be a competitive district deserving a representative with a strong track record of working with Republicans and Democrats to get things done for ‎our community and the country. I have received a lot of support and positive feedback from the residents of Kendall, South Dade, and the Florida Keys during my first year in Congress, and I look forward to continuing my work on their behalf in the future.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami

My love for South Florida knows no boundaries and every part of it is special to me. How can it not be when we live in paradise? I know it’s a humbling honor to represent our community and I’ll continue to work hard every day to continue to earn the trust so many have placed in me. I’m ready for the road ahead and hope South Floridians will join me in working to improve our home.


U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens:

To say that I am deeply disappointed by the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to approve the redistricting map drawn by the Fair Districts Coalition is a gross understatement. From the start, I strongly opposed the map known as CP-1 because it strips from District 24 several economic drivers and cultural attractions and threatens to return our community to its former status as the nation’s “most suffering” district. CP-1 removes from the district PortMiami, Bayside marketplace, AmericanAirlines Arena, Watson Island, Jungle Island/Parrot Island, and Bayfront Park, to name a few.

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New chief of staff for Miami's Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@PatriciaMazzei

Arthur "Art" Estopiñan, the longtime chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is retiring, prompting several moves in her congressional offices.

Estopiñan, who has worked for Ros-Lehtinen for more than a quarter century, will act as senior adviser to the Miami Republican effective Jan. 1, the congresswoman said in a statement.

Estopiñan's deputy, Maytee Sanz, who has worked for Ros-Lehtinen for 25 years, will become the new chief of staff in charge of all of the congresswoman's offices. Legislative Director Joshua Salpeter will run Ros-Lehtinen's D.C. office and also advise on legislation. Both are South Florida natives.

In a statement, Estopiñan noted his son's health as a reason for leaving for the more lucrative private sector.

"While this is a challenge, it is one I am looking forward to," he said. "It will allow me to enter a new phase of life where I can provide for my family, particularly raising a severely disabled child who has a rare genetic muscular disease."

Ros-Lehtinen thanked Estopiñan and called the two staffers she promoted "consummate professionals."

"Art's hard work and dedication to South Florida are well known by our community leaders and his contributions to mentoring and guiding staff and interns have earned him much respect throughout his years on the Hill," she said. "Art's grace in the face of adversity has inspired us all and his leadership in our office will be missed."

October 28, 2015

Miami congresswoman and transgender son preach acceptance in Telemundo interview

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has opened up in recent years over her son Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, a transgender man, and the journey the Lehtinen family went through during his transition.

So hearing her and her son discuss the topic again on television this week wasn't surprising. What was more striking was that the interview was aired on Telemundo, the Miami-based Spanish-language network.

Ros-Lehtinen regularly appears on Spanish media, especially locally. But some of those outlets tend to be more conservative on social issues. To hear the congresswoman and her son both speak at length on the national network about how parents should welcome their transgender children seemed particularly poignant.

The title of the piece? "Love that breaks barriers."

 

Miami members of Congress back immigration reform - and Paul Ryan, who won't bring it to vote under Obama

@PatriciaMazzei

When Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said he'd likely run for U.S. House speaker, Miami's three moderate GOP members of Congress quickly threw their support behind him -- even though Ryan has said he won't take up one of the lawmakers' top issues: immigration reform.

Ryan said he would not bring immigration legislation to a vote under Democratic President Barack Obama, whom many Republicans say can't be trusted. They accuse Obama of playing politics with immigration to keep Hispanic voters casting ballots for Democrats.

No one expected an immigration vote during the remainder of Obama's term. But Ryan's assertion nevertheless offered Democrats a way to jab pro-reform Republicans for supporting his bid for speaker.

Nonsense, according to the Miami Republicans.

"I'm strong proponent of fixing our dysfunctional immigration system," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "I deeply wish the U.S. Congress could come together and address this issue but I know of Ryan's reluctance to make a deal with the Obama administration. Ryan has also said he believes in the pressing issue of immigration reform. However, instead of working with Congress, President Obama has taken steps that undermine this effort by taking unilateral executive actions that bypass the legislative branch and this develops deep mistrust." 

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