September 14, 2017

Miami Republican demands straight answer from Trump on Dreamers

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

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Donald Trump was striking a deal over dinner with Democrats on Wednesday night to save Dreamers from deportation. By Thursday morning, his aides were playing catch up and insisting nothing changed in his position on immigration or border security.

Now, as confusion reigns over Trump’s true intentions for dealing with 800,000 people affected by a now-canceled Obama-era order that allowed them to live and work in the United States, one senior Republican lawmaker wants the White House to come clean.

“It is unfortunate that the President continues to play coy with young people who benefit our American society instead of being serious and straightforward about an important policy that will impact the lives of nearly 800,000 DREAMers,” said Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a statement provided to Miami Herald.

Ros-Lehtinen, the most senior Republican from Florida and a co-sponsor of a bill called the Dream Act that gives these young people a path to citizenship, was unable to be in Washington for congressional business this week, as her district continues to recover from Hurricane Irma.

“We hear reports that he is working on a deal that would help DREAMers, but he flatly denies such a deal,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Instead of changing with the prevailing wind, the President must be clear about his intentions. If he is interested in protecting DREAMers, he must cut out the rhetoric of trying to please all sides and, instead, put forth clear guidance on what legislative language he is willing to accept or reject on protecting Dreamers.”
 
As Trump looks increasingly willing to buck his far-right base to score some legislative victories — first on the nation’s borrowing limit and now on border security and the immigration policy known as DACA — three Miami-based Republicans find themselves in a new and potentially influential role as center-right lawmakers able to form a coalition with Democrats. Including Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo have something to gain from Trump’s dealmaking with Democrats.
 
Read more here.

September 12, 2017

Florida presses for federal dollars after Irma, but budget hawks resist

Middle Key Boat Block

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Many members of Florida’s congressional delegation couldn’t be in Washington for votes on Tuesday, as the state began a massive cleanup after Hurricane Irma. But that hasn’t stopped them from pressing colleagues who were spared Irma’s wrath to join in their quest for federal help.

Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the only member from Florida in office when Hurricane Andrew made landfall 25 years ago, is urging Washington to treat her state as it did Texas just a week ago.

Carlos Curbelo and I are determined to go back to D.C. and work with our colleagues to find the funds needed for the hurricane relief efforts,” Ros-Lehtinen said at a press conference. “We found it for Hurricane Harvey, we're going to band together and find it for the residents who are survivors of Hurricane Irma.”

But efforts to spend billions on hurricane relief will likely meet resistance from conservative Republicans who bristle at any new spending that doesn’t include corresponding cuts elsewhere. For them, Florida’s storm damage is a secondary concern to the long-term consequences of increasing the federal deficit.

“The unsustainable national debt remains the greatest existential threat to our nation that is routinely ignored in Washington,” said Texas Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling in a statement. “Emergency funding should not come to the House without an opportunity to propose offsets, a number of which can easily be found in President Trump’s budget.”

Last week, Hensarling, along with 106 Republicans in the House and Senate, voted against a $15.25 billion Hurricane Harvey relief bill that was coupled with an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling and a measure to keep the government funded for a short period, signaling that a faction of conservatives will likely vote against billions in Irma relief if they deem the money isn’t directly related to storm recovery.

“The extremists in the Republican conference who somehow think we should be offsetting the cost of an emergency don’t understand the concept of an emergency,” Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said. “ It was the largest storm to hit the state in modern times. We are going to need significant relief and recovery.”

But despite the opposition, Miami-Dade’s congressional delegation, including Ros-Lehtinen, Curbelo, Wasserman Schultz, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Rep. Frederica Wilson, and Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson are united in getting attention, and funding, for Florida.

“I spoke to Speaker Ryan last night and we were talking about how we have to get FEMA funded,” Wasserman Schultz said. “There’s no question that we’re going to need an emergency supplemental. He’s already put people on notice.”

Wasserman Schultz said it’s impossible to even ballpark how much money Florida will need from the federal government. The cleanup is just beginning, and the immediate priorities are restoring power and getting fuel into the state. Those efforts don’t require additional funding from Congress.

Nelson and Rubio have teamed up for a variety of press conferences and events before and after the storm, notably a flyover of the Florida Keys with Coast Guard personnel on Monday to view the damage and recovery efforts.

Read more here.

September 11, 2017

Miami politicians take to the skies to view Irma damage

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A gaggle of Miami politicians are getting an up-close-and-personal view of Hurricane Irma's destruction in Key West. 

Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson along with Rep. Carlos Curbelo, state Sen. Anitere Flores and Miami-Dade County commissioner José Pepe Díaz were all aboard a U.S. Coast Guard cargo plane bound for Key West with personnel dispatched to help with recover operations. 

The flight followed a Miami press conference with Curbelo, Flores Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Gov. Rick Scott

"We're working with FEMA, I can tell you the White House has been outstanding," Scott said. "I talked to President Trump three times yesterday, I talked to administrator Brock Long of FEMA multiple times yesterday. The White House and everybody at the federal level is showing up and my belief is they are going to show up and do everything they can." 

"Carlos Curbelo and I are determined to go back to D.C. and work with our colleagues to find the funds needed for the hurricane relief efforts," Ros-Lehtinen said. "We found it for Hurricane Harvey, we're going to band together and find it for the residents who are survivors of Hurricane Irma." 

"The Florida Keys is going to need a lot of help and we're blessed to have a wonderful governor and a very effective adminstrator at FEMA who is well aware of what the sitaution on the ground is starting to look like," Curbelo said. "We keep getting this question of how much this is going to cost and we don't have an exact estimate. But I can guarantee you this, it's going to cost billions upon billions upon billions of dollars to help the Florida Keys, Florida's Southwest Coast and obviously some of our residents here in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties to recover."  

Curbelo said he talked to Long, who relayed to him that FEMA has enough money to get through September. 

"What I would tell all my colleagues is...we cannot fund an agency like FEMA month to month," Curbelo said, adding that he plans to speak with Speaker Paul Ryan about a "robust" funding plan for FEMA.

 

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen asks Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi to visit Florida

Ileana 2

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Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is asking congressional leaders to visit Florida after Hurricane Irma made landfall and tracked along the state's Gulf Coast, as the state will likely need billions in federal relief to recover from the storm. 

Ros-Lehtinen will send a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and the leaders of the congressional committee that controls federal spending, urging them to join their Florida colleagues to assess the damage. 

"As Members of the Florida Congressional delegation, we strongly encourage you to visit our state and join us in assessing the extent of the damage," Ros-Lehtinen said in the letter. "While Floridians are coming together to begin the recovery process, we will need assistance from the federal government in the coming weeks and months to help rebuild our communities in the aftermath of this devastating storm. Florida is home to over 20 million residents, all of whom must know that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will have the resources necessary to assist and respond effectively."

Before the storm hit, Congress passed $15 billion in hurricane relief funding as part of a package to raise the nation's debt ceiling. Ros-Lehtinen and others from Florida urged Congress to vote in favor of the bill, which passed by a large margin. Just over 100 Republicans in the House and Senate voted against the package because they did not approve of a deal struck between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders to tie much-needed hurricane funding to the nation's debt ceiling. 

Two members of Congress from Florida, Reps. Matt Gaetz and Ted Yoho, voted against the package. 

"We commend last week’s passage of supplemental emergency funding to assist FEMA with its recovery efforts to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey," the letter said. "However, the destruction caused by Irma throughout Florida means that Congress must again act swiftly to ensure the availability of additional funding needed for recovery efforts. We hope you will join us in Florida to bear witness to our resolve, and return to Washington with a renewed commitment to act quickly to provide the assistance that our families desperately require." 

A spokesman for Ros-Lehtinen said collecting signatures for the letter may take longer than usual due to the storm. 

September 08, 2017

Lawmakers will ask Trump to extend TPS to Caribbean nations hit by Irma (Updated)

Hurricane Irma

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, are urging President Donald Trump to allow people in the United States but from Caribbean countries hit by Hurricane Irma to stay here for a temporary period.

Ros-Lehtinen, along with New York Democrat Eliot Engel and California Democrat Barbara Lee are circulating a letter to colleagues in Congress over the weekend asking them to support extending what’s known as Temporary Protected States to affected countries, including the Dominican Republic and Antigua and Barbuda.

On Monday, they will send the letter to Trump.

 

“While Congress and the Administration work to provide relief for those affected by devastation from Irma in our own country, we must also support our friends in the Caribbean,” the draft letter, obtained by Miami Herald, said. “As the storm moves away from the first-impacted islands, the casualty toll is slowly rising as deaths have been reported in Barbuda and Saint Martin. The economies of the affected areas have been completely destroyed and will take years to rebuild.”

The TPS program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security and allows foreign nationals already in the United States from 10 countries to stay in the United States for a designated period of time. Trump, who continues to talk tough on immigration, hasn’t indicated that he’s open to extending the program to more people from more countries.

One of the 10 countries currently on the TPS list, Haiti, lies within Irma's path. TPS was extended to Haiti in 2011 after a massive 2010 earthquake and Florida lawmakers have asked the Trump administration to extend Haiti’s TPS status, which is set to expire in January 2018.

Other countries impacted by Irma include Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, along with overseas territories of the UK, France and the Netherlands. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were also impacted by Irma, though residents there are U.S. citizens and not subject to TPS.

“I have signed onto Eliot's letter and I support extending TPS to the folks living in the US who are from nations impacted by Hurricane Irma,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “For them to go back to their areas that have been devastated by Irma would not be constructive because the infrastructure is not able to sustain the economy. Jobs would be impossible for them to get and if they are granted TPS here, they can earn a living and pay taxes to help our economy.”

Ros-Lehtinen and Engel serve on the House Foreign Affairs Committee while Lee is part of a congressional subcommittee that deals with international diplomacy.

Update: 9/12/17: Engel's office announced in a press release that 75 members of Congress signed on to the letter.

Read more here.

Florida Republican calls hurricane funding bill "generational theft"

Pjimage

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Florida Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Ted Yoho of Gainesville voted against a $15 billion hurricane relief package on Friday despite calls from South Florida lawmakers to support increased FEMA funding as Hurricane Irma threatens Florida. 

The relief package was part of a deal between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders to raise the nation's debt ceiling for three months and temporarily fund the government through December. 

Gaetz bristled at the spending package, calling it "generational theft." 

"Only Congress can find a way to turn a natural disaster into a trillion new dollars in spending authority," Gaetz said. "I have a pretty strident view that I will only vote to raise the debt limit if that vote is accompanied with reductions in entitlement spending. If conservatives don’t start voting no against debt limit increases all the FEMA in the world won’t save us from our must unfortunate destiny."

Gaetz and Yoho did vote in favor of a standalone $7.5 hurricane relief bill on Wednesday, which passed the House with only three no votes. Gaetz represents a conservative-leaning district on the western part of Florida's panhandle, an area of the state less likely to be heavily damaged by Irma. 

The House passed the spending bill with the $15 billion in hurricane relief by a 316-90 vote. All 90 no votes were Republicans. 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin huddled with Republican lawmakers before the vote and urged them to "vote for the debt ceiling for me." 

"Ha. He's not one of my constituents," Yoho said to the Associated Press. 

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also urged the House to vote in favor of the bill, circulating a dear colleague letter on Thursday evening ahead of the vote. 

"As Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, I would ask that all my Congressional colleagues reflect on the fate of Florida’s 20.61 million residents when they are asked to again vote on this vital emergency disaster funding as it comes back from the Senate," Ros-Lehtinen said. 

Three Florida Republicans, Reps. Tom Rooney, Francis Rooney and Brian Mast, and every Florida Democrat left in Washington voted in favor of the bill while 11 Florida Republicans were not present as they left Washington to prepare for Irma. 

Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday after the U.S. Senate passed the hurricane relief bill by an 80-17 margin that he would have voted in favor even though he had "significant reservations." Rubio was in Miami preparing for Irma.

"I strongly disagree with the decision made by the administration to agree to pair funding for FEMA and emergency disaster relief to short-term extensions to the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling and the National Flood Insurance Program unaccompanied by significant reforms," Rubio said in a statement. "Absent extenuating circumstances such as the outbreak of the Zika virus last year, I have consistently opposed passage of short term continuing resolutions, because they are an incredibly inefficient way of spending taxpayer dollars and fails to provide the certainty required for effective planning." 

But Rubio said the need to keep FEMA afloat would have led him to vote yes despite his objections. 

Gaetz felt differently. 

"The federal government has a significant role to play in disaster relief, and I support that role, but we didn’t have to authorize over 1 trillion in new spending to help hurricane victims," Gaetz said. "That was Washington using a crisis to feed its addiction to spending." 

 

September 07, 2017

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen urges Congress to vote in favor of $15 billion hurricane relief bill

Ileana 2

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Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is urging her colleagues in the House of Representatives to vote in favor of a $15 billion hurricane relief bill passed by the U.S. Senate on Thursday. 

"As Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, I would ask that all my Congressional colleagues reflect on the fate of Florida’s 20.61 million residents when they are asked to again vote on this vital emergency disaster funding as it comes back from the Senate," Ros-Lehtinen said in a dear colleague letter to the House of Representatives. 

The House of Representatives passed a $7.85 billion Harvey relief bill by a nearly unanimous vote on Wednesday, but the Senate bill gives nearly double the funding and would give FEMA more time to respond to Harvey and Irma before it runs out of money.

The Senate bill is part of a larger deal by President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders which ties hurricane funding to a short-term increase in the nation's debt ceiling. A number of conservative Republicans voted against the Senate bill because they opposed the deal, but Sen. Marco Rubio would have voted in favor of the bill because it provided essential FEMA funding even though he also opposed the deal. He was not present for the vote on Thursday because he was in Miami preparing for the storm. 

"I urge all of my Congressional colleagues to please vote in favor of vital funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and allow the agency to continue to plan, prepare and respond to the looming disaster presented by Hurricane Irma," Ros-Lehtinen said.

Ros-Lehtinen and her South Florida colleagues likely won't be on hand for a House vote on hurricane relief, as they are in Miami preparing for the storm. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, was the only member of Miami-Dade's congressional delegation present for votes on Thursday. 

 

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen calls for extending TPS to Caribbean countries hit by Hurricane Irma (updated)

Dominican Republic Hurrican Irma

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Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen  joined a top Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee on calling for the Department of Homeland Security to extend Temporary Protected Status to Caribbean countries hit by Hurricane Irma. 

"I support extending TPS to the folks living in the U.S. who are from nations impacted by Hurricane Irma," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "For them to go back to their areas that have been devastated by Irma would not be constructive because the infrastructure is not able to sustain the economy. Jobs would be impossible for them to get and if they are granted TPS here, they can earn a living and pay taxes to help our economy."

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., also issued a statement on Thursday expressing support for allowing Caribbean citizens from places in Irma's wake to temporarily stay in the United States.  

“I am heartbroken by the loss of life and damage caused by Hurricane Irma, even as the storm still churns toward the United States mainland," Engel said in a statement. "Images from the island of Barbuda—reportedly no longer habitable—are especially haunting. I urge the Trump Administration to assist our friends in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico with all available resources. In particular, the Administration must provide Temporary Protected Status to Caribbean citizens who lived directly in Irma’s destructive path but are currently residing in the United States and unable to return to their home countries. I plan to lead efforts to ensure that this happens. Congress must also get to work to make sure any needed disaster relief assistance is quickly appropriated for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean region where Irma did heavy damage." 

The TPS program allows foreign nationals already in the United States from 10 countries to stay in the United States for a designated period of time. President Donald Trump, who continues to espouse a tough-on-immigration line, hasn’t indicated that he’s open to extending the program to another country.

One of the 10 countries on the TPS list, Haiti, lies within Irma's path. Other countries impacted by Irma include Antigua and Barbuda and the Dominican Republic, along with overseas territories of the UK, France and the Netherlands. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were also impacted by Irma, though residents there are U.S. citizens and not subject to TPS. 

Engel cited a 2016 law he co-authored with Ros-Lehtinen as justification for extending TPS to the Caribbean. 

“Earlier this year, the State Department and USAID released the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in the Caribbean, mandated by a law that I authored with Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen," Engel said in a statement. "This strategy promises renewed engagement with the region and strengthened resilience against natural disasters. I urge the Administration to move quickly to respond to Hurricane Irma and then support the Caribbean in preparing for future emergencies."

 

Congress confident it will find money for Irma as FEMA runs low on funds

IMG_Hurricane_Irma_2_1_OQCADA70_L340040219 (1)

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Donald Trump gave Florida some fiscal breathing room as Hurricane Irma approaches the state’s east coast.

The president gave Congress more time to pass a recovery package worth billions if Irma causes major damage when he defied Republicans on Wednesday. Trump cut a deal with Democrats to raise the nation’s debt ceiling and keep the government running as part of a package to provide hurricane-related aid.

FEMA is set to run out of money by Friday, but Congress is expected to quickly send a $15 billion relief bill for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts and potential damage from Irma to Trump’s desk. The Senate passed the bill 80-17 on Thursday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., like many Republicans, was not happy that Trump made a deal with Democrats instead of GOP lawmakers. But he acknowledged that the agreement makes it easier to get funding as Florida prepares for a major hurricane. The deal would extend government funding and the debt limit, which was expected to be reached this month, through December 15.

I have “never supported a debt limit increase without fiscal restraint,” Rubio told Fox News radio. “And about the only good news in this whole endeavor is that it does provide funding for FEMA and it does those sorts of things I’ve talked about until December, which hopefully gives us time to go about doing it the right way.”

Members of Congress from South Florida expressed optimism that Congress will provide FEMA with the funding necessary to help Florida recover.

“Congress has always been there for the victims of natural disasters and I have no doubt that we will use the people’s money wisely,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “This isn’t the government’s money, it’s the taxpayer’s money and that’s what they expect from their government agencies, to replenish the coffers of state and local officials who have dedicated a lot of funds to helping the community. I have no doubt that Congress will come through for us.”

The relatively quick response from Congress on Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged parts of Texas and Louisiana, as well as potential Hurricane Irma relief is in contrast to the months-long debate over funding for a Superstorm Sandy aid package in 2012 and 2013. When Congress was debating how much money to spend on Sandy, FEMA was relatively flush with cash to provide short-term relief to affected areas in New Jersey and New York.

That isn’t the case with FEMA in 2017.

The agency only has a few hundred million dollars, and it’s spending it fast.

“Earlier today, we had a conference call with FEMA officials, and the latest update is that FEMA has approximately $460 million remaining in its disaster relief fund,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo said at the Miami-Dade County Emergency Operations Center in Doral on Thursday. “They are spending at a clip of $200 million a day.”

The $15 billion Congress is considering gives FEMA 75 more days of funding if it spends about $200 million a day. FEMA’s spending could go up depending on how much is needed for Harvey and Irma.

“I want the Senate to be forewarned that this $15 billion package, this is only temporary, it will probably only take us through mid-October at the most,” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson said Thursday.

Members of Congress from Florida and Texas were confident more money will be available if needed.

Read more here.

September 06, 2017

Rubio voted against Sandy aid in 2013. Now he wants money for Irma.

Marco Rubio

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Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson urged Congress to approve additional funds for disaster relief as Hurricane Irma threatens Miami, a bipartisan ritual for politicians with constituents facing hardship from a major storm.

But in 2013, Rubio was one of 36 Republican senators who voted against a Hurricane Sandy relief bill for New Jersey and New York, and now his South Florida colleagues hope he has learned a lesson.

“You can be a fiscal conservative until it hits you and your community and then you have a different point of view,” said Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Rubio in 2013 argued that the $60 billion bill for Sandy relief, which passed after months of delays, was filled with unnecessary spending.

“The Hurricane Sandy supplemental bill goes far beyond emergency relief to impacted victims and communities, which is why I voted no on final passage,” Rubio said in a 2012 statement. “The current spending bill goes far beyond emergency relief and all efforts to strip the bill of unrelated pork are being blocked.”
 
He was the only member of Congress who represented Miami-Dade County to vote against the bill. Nelson, Republican Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, former Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia and Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson all voted in favor of the Sandy bill, which passed after a minority of Republicans joined Democrats.
 
Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who came to Congress after the Sandy vote, described the decision by some Republicans to vote against Sandy relief as “horrible.”

“I’m sure a lot of them are regretting it today,” Curbelo said of the Sandy vote. “My message is, you could be next. When a significant number of Americans are suffering due to a natural disaster, we need to come together as a country and we’re really worried about spending around here, we should look at our entitlement programs, not refuse to help people who are homeless and lacking food.”

On Wednesday, Rubio and Nelson issued a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging Congress to include additional funds for Irma relief in the spending package that lawmakers are preparing to help Texas recover from Harvey.

“As Floridians are preparing for one of the worst storms on record, they need to know that the federal government is both ready and willing to direct the necessary resources needed to help them in the recovery process,” Rubio and Nelson wrote. “As such, we strongly urge you to include additional funding in the Hurricane Harvey aid package to account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur responding to Hurricane Irma.”

Read more here.