January 02, 2018

Republicans can’t generate buzz for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, and some say it’s unwinnable

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

The GOP’s inability to find top-shelf candidates to run for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s U.S. House seat has some Republicans ready to write off the race and shift money and attention to more winnable contests.

The seat that encompasses Little Havana, most of downtown Miami and Miami Beach is now considered unwinnable by some Republicans in Congress and fundraisers who could infuse millions into a competitive congressional race, according to interviews with high-ranking GOP officials and potential donors. Others are slightly more hopeful but caution that a Republican path to victory is narrow, especially in an environment where President Donald Trump’s approval ratings remain low and Republicans brace for a potential Democratic wave in 2018.

Keeping Ros-Lehtinen’s seat was always going to be a challenge for Republicans after the longtime Miami congresswoman announced her retirement in May. Republicans couldn’t draw top-tier recruits, such as Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera; one announced candidate made national news for claiming to have boarded a spaceship with aliens; fundraising has lagged; and one of the top GOP candidates recently left the race.

“The seat is now going to go to the Democrats,” said Raquel Regalado, a former Miami-Dade school board member and candidate for Miami-Dade mayor who recently announced she was dropping out of the Republican race to replace Ros-Lehtinen. “I think I was the only moderate who could have fought that fight for a bunch of different reasons. I don’t think you’re going to see a large GOP financial investment. They’re looking for a moderate candidate, but I don’t think they’re going to find one.”

One Republican member of Congress rolled his eyes and sighed when asked about the GOP’s chances in the district. Five Republicans, including members of Congress, staffers and fundraisers who said the seat is not winnable, requested anonymity to discuss their own party candidly.

Ros-Lehtinen, a political veteran who knows the Miami scene well, is doing her part to keep the seat in Republican hands.

“They have to spend in my district. I don’t want national groups to think it’s not winnable,” she said. “They’ve got to be all in. I will beat down their doors if they take my district and write it off.”

Ros-Lehtinen is talking to any Republican who might be willing to step up. She personally met with Spanish-language TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar at a Cuban restaurant in South Miami in an effort to drum up more competition in the primary.

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

But Salazar, like many other names bandied about in Miami Republican circles, demurred when asked if she’ll run.

“I am a news reporter, not a news maker,” Salazar said in an email. “It’s an honor that over the years both parties have approached me to consider running for office. My plans are to continue being a TV journalist — until God and the audience give me that opportunity.”

Read more here.

December 14, 2017

Democratic poll: The GOP tax bill is unpopular among independents in swing Florida districts

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@alextdaugherty

As Republicans negotiate the final touches on a plan to overhaul the nation's tax system, with a few kinks along the way, Democrats say that the GOP tax plan will hurt the majority party at the ballot box if it passes.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a Washington-based organization tasked with electing Democrats to the House of Representatives, found that Democrats and independents living in competitive House districts do not support the GOP-led tax plan. 

The DCCC commissioned an 800 person poll among registered voters in 51 competitive House districts around the country, including Florida districts represented by Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen along with Treasure Coast Republican Rep. Brian Mast and Orlando-area Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy. The 51 districts included 41 Republican-held seats and 10 Democratic-held seats. 

Independents oppose the tax plan 41 percent to 23 percent while Democrats oppose it 71 percent to 6 percent. Republicans favor the plan 53 percent to 12 percent.  

The poll was conducted by GBA Strategies, a Democratic polling operation based in Washington. The poll administered approximately 40 percent of its interviews by cell phone and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. 

After being surveyed, the DCCC said the generic congressional ballot shifts from a 4-point Democratic advantage to an 11-point advantage, an indication that voters in competitive districts are leaning towards Democrats. 

Democrats must win about two dozen seats to regain control of the House of Representatives in 2018, though that number may fluctuate due to retirements and resignations. Curbelo's seat is rated as a "toss-up" by multiple national prognosticators, while Ros-Lehtinen's seat is rated as "lean Democratic." 

December 12, 2017

Curbelo calls on Congress to find a Dreamer solution this week

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@alextdaugherty 

Congress has less than three days to find a solution for Dreamers in order for it to become law by the end of the year, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said on Tuesday. 

But Curbelo is hopeful that Democrats and Republicans can find a compromise for the 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents who face uncertainly after President Donald Trump said he will cancel an Obama-era executive order known as DACA that allowed Dreamers to be protected from deportation.

"We had very good meetings last night, three meetings," Curbelo said. "For the first time a lot of the like-minded Republicans and Democrats who want to get to yes got together. We're getting closer to filing a compromise, which has been my frustration. There's an obvious compromise out there, DACA fix and border security, but no one has proffered that compromise." 

If both parties can find a compromise, then a spending bill that funds the government known as a continuing resolution is the likely legislative vehicle that can include a solution for Dreamers. It is expected that a continuing resolution will get a vote sometime next week before a December 22nd deadline. 

"If they (leadership) want to give us a standalone vote, that's fine, it'll pass. I know it will," Curbelo said. "The most obvious vehicle is whatever continuing resolution is with a budget cap with new bipartisan numbers. We're getting closer and a lot of people have put aside partisan differences we've had in recent weeks to focus on trying to have something next week to take a run at this before the end of the year."

If congressional leaders fail to find a compromise in an end of the year spending bill, Curbelo said he will vote against the legislation that keeps the government running. Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she will do the same. 

"I'm not going to back down from that commitment," Curbelo said. "If I get maybe a time-certain commitment from leadership that there will be a vote, maybe I would think about saying 'Okay, that's good enough.' But I doubt I would get that clarity." 

Curbelo said that if the year-end spending bill doesn't include a Dreamer solution, the next opportunity will likely be in January when Congress takes up another spending bill. 

Congress has just under three months to find a solution for Dreamers before the DACA order officially ends on March 5. 

Florida Dem accused of sexual harassment gets support from Congress

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@alextdaugherty

The phrase “I believe the women” has become a motto for lawmakers in the wake of career-ending sexual harassment allegations against Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken. But when sexual harassment allegations against South Florida Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings from 2011 resurfaced last week, the reaction was different.

“I believe him,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Gardens Democrat.

Capitol Hill news outlet Roll Call reported on Friday that a woman who accused Hastings of unwanted touching and lewd remarks in 2011 received a $220,000 taxpayer-funded settlement, the largest amount reported since a wave of sexual harassment allegations began sweeping through Congress.

The 81-year-old Hastings denies the allegations and said he had no previous knowledge that taxpayer funds were paid out to Winsome Packer, a congressional staffer who worked for a commission that studies security and cooperation in Europe. Court documents show that he was removed from the sexual harassment lawsuit in 2012. Packer continued the lawsuit against the commission after Hastings was removed, and the payment was made in 2014, according to Roll Call.

“I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needlessly paid to Ms. Packer,” Hastings said in a statement. “At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made.”

Hastings, who lives in Miramar and represents majority African-American neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, has been a magnet for controversy throughout his four decades in public office, and he has survived every time.

Hastings was stripped of his federal judgeship in 1989 after he was impeached and convicted of bribery and perjury, but successfully ran for Congress in 1992. His longtime girlfriend who works at his district office in Florida received the $168,411 maximum congressional salary for years. And the 2011 sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Packer and funded by conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch was rife with tabloid fodder and embarrassing anecdotes.

But Hastings has been reelected with ease every two years.

“If there is someone in the United States House of Representatives who can survive this, it’s Alcee Hastings,” said Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “My goodness, he’s been impeached by this body. Alcee Hastings, God bless him, he doesn’t care about...news cycles.”

Read more here.

December 11, 2017

Congress goes to the dogs (literally)

IMG_1936@alextdaugherty 

Under normal circumstances, no one wants to have the eyes of the House Oversight Committee on them. 

Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz pounded Hillary Clinton's email usage from the Oversight gavel during the 2016 campaign. Baseball player Rafael Palmeiro famously wagged his finger in front of the committee in 2005 and declared, "I never used steroids, period." (He later tested positive). 

But on Monday, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had no problem with everyone in the Oversight Committee hearing room craning their necks to see the Miami Republican. 

She was there to pet dogs, and there were treats to distribute. 

"No one brought any treats?" Ros-Lehtinen asked incredulously, before producing a bag of her own and making many new four-legged friends in the process. 

Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, had their office dogs on display during a "Bipawtisan Howliday" gathering of Capitol Hill dogs on Monday. 

Curbelo's dog Riggins, a 2-year-old Welsh terrier owned by Curbelo communications director Joanna Rodriguez, donned a green elf outfit with a hat adorned with the slogan "Santa's lil' helper." 

Ros-Lehtinen's dog Mya, who showed up to the event sans holiday garb, shed ample amounts of fur. 

"She's a little old and a little cranky, just like me," Ros-Lehtinen said, referring to Mya as the "office boss." 

Most of the dogs brought by staffers were relatively well-behaved, though there was some growling and intimate sniffing. Ros-Lehtinen sat in the middle of it all, handing out treats and belting out various iterations of the phrase "That's a good dog!" 

But soon the bell for votes rang, causing Ros-Lehtinen and Mya to scamper back to the office, though they did run into more dogs on the way back.

Upon entering the office, Mya was released from her leash and darted into the abyss, while the senior member of Florida's congressional delegation went on the hunt for a lint roller.

Ros-Lehtinen's search was successful, and she showed up to votes on Monday evening no worse for wear. 

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December 06, 2017

For some South Florida Democrats in Congress, Trump is right on Jerusalem

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@alextdaugherty

South Florida Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch rarely agree with President Donald Trump, but the pair supported his decision on Wednesday to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital along with moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

“My longstanding view is that Jerusalem is and will remain the undivided capital of Israel, and it should remain a city accessible to people of all faiths,” Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said in a statement. “We must work toward a day where the entire world recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that can be achieved through final status negotiations. I remain as committed as ever to safeguarding Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, at peace with its neighbors, with Jerusalem as its undisputed capital.”

Deutch, D-Boca Raton, issued a joint statement supporting the move with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The two are the highest ranking members on the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee.

“There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection,” Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen said.

Deutch and Wasserman Schultz represent districts with large Jewish populations and are seen as supporters of Israel in Congress.

South Florida Republicans uniformly praised Trump’s decision on Wednesday, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.

“I commend President Trump for following U.S. law and recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel,” Rubio said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is an important step in the right direction. Unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be complete when the U.S. embassy is officially relocated there.”

But some of Trump’s top Cabinet officials reportedly opposed the decision, arguing that the move to recognize Jerusalem would needlessly inflame tensions between Israel and Palestinians and potentially put people in danger.

Read more here.

State Department to appoint new leader for U.S. embassy in Venezuela

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via @kyragurney

The U.S. State Department plans to appoint a new leader to the U.S. embassy in Venezuela amid increasing tensions with the beleaguered South American nation.

Todd D. Robinson, the former U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, has been chosen to lead the embassy in Caracas, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, told the Miami Herald.

The decision comes at a critical time for U.S. relations with Venezuela. The Trump Administration has sanctioned dozens of Venezuelans in recent months, including President Nicolás Maduro, whom Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has labeled a “dictator.” In August, the U.S. also imposed economic sanctions against Venezuela, banning debt trades for bonds issued by the government and its state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA.

Ros-Lehtinen expressed confidence in Robinson’s ability to represent U.S. interests in Venezuela. “He’s for freedom, democracy, the rule of law, separation of powers. He gets it,” Ros-Lehtinen said on Tuesday shortly after meeting with Robinson. “We told him, ‘Sanction more people, that’s the best thing that we can do. Get those thugs to not be able to come to the U.S.’”

Read more here.

December 05, 2017

Longtime Ros-Lehtinen foreign affairs staffer is leaving Capitol Hill

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

via @francoordonez @alextdaugherty

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's longtime staff director Eddy Acevedo is leaving.

Ros-Lehtinen, and several members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where Acevedo is subcommittee staff director and senior foreign policy advisor for Ros-Lehtinen, took to the House Floor Tuesday to deliver tributes to Acevedo who is leaving to join the United States Agency for International Development. Acevedo, who worked for Ros-Lehtinen for nearly a decade, will be the new Deputy Assistant Administrator and Chief Legislative Strategist in USAID’s Bureau for Legislative and Public Affairs.

“He’s been my partner for all of these battles in favor of freedom and democracy and against autocratic regimes,” said Ros-Lehtinen said of Acevedo, before speaking in support of a Venezuela humanitarian aid bill.

“I want to say about the gentlewoman from Florida—there’s no member of this body who has done more to champion democracy and human rights in Venezuela than the gentlewoman from Florida, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen," said Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat and ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee. “I also want to thank her longtime Staff Director Eddy Acevedo, who is in his last week on Capitol Hill," Engel said. "Eddy has been such a positive force on Venezuela and the entire Latin American region in support of Ileana’s work. He has been a consistent collaborator with my staff, and his work here will be sorely missed." 

 

December 01, 2017

Lawmakers call on Trump to invoke "anti-Russia" law to punish Nicaraguan officials

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via @francoordonez

Cuban-American lawmakers are calling on President Donald Trump to consider punishing two top Nicaraguan officials for alleged human rights violations under a so-called “anti-Russia” law.

Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is leading a bipartisan group of senators and representatives pressing Trump to consider imposing economic sanctions against the president of Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council and a top Nicaraguan oil official connected to the Venezuela government, according to a letter obtained by McClatchy.

“We urge you to take immediate action to determine whether Nicaraguan nationals Roberto Jose Rivas Reyes and Francisco Lopez meet the criteria to be sanctioned in accordance with the law for human rights abuses, corruption, and illicit activity,” the lawmakers write in a joint letter.

The five Republican and five Democratic lawmakers are calling on Trump to investigate the officials under a law originally adopted to punish human rights abuses in Russia that has since been expanded globally.

They accuse Rivas Reyes, president of the Supreme Electoral Council, of overseeing fraudulent elections rigged to keep President Daniel Ortega Saavedra of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in power. And they accuse Lopez, vice president of Albanisa, a joint venture between the Venezuelan state owned-oil company, PDVSA, and its Nicaraguan counterpart, with corruption and profiting from improper loans.

Ten lawmakers signed the letter, including Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J. as well as Reps. Paul Cook, R-Calif., Albio Sires, D-N.J. and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.

Read more here. 

November 29, 2017

A Miami congressional candidate shares her #metoo moment

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@alextdaugherty 

Mary Barzee Flores was 17, working the night shift at Pizza Hut when her boss followed her into the walk-in freezer.

She had just been installed as the night manager after the previous night manager, the boss’s wife, was ousted after Barzee Flores noticed irregularities on the books.

Her boss was angry.

“The manager followed me in and shut the door,” Barzee Flores said. “He said if I was going to take his wife’s place I would have to do all of her duties, and he made clear what he meant by that.”

Her boss groped her, she said.

“It was terrifying thing to happen, but I pushed him off and told him off and got out of there,” Barzee Flores said.

Barzee Flores is now a 55-year-old lawyer and former judge who is running as a Democrat to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The recent #metoo movement that exploded after high-profile sexual assault and harassment allegations against dozens of men in politics, entertainment and media gives more women the opportunity to speak out about their personal experiences, Barzee Flores said.

She didn’t tell anyone about the Pizza Hut incident at the time, choosing instead to keep working while keeping her guard up. Looking back, she said, it was a “terrible position for a kid to be in.”

“Sexual harassment is a bipartisan issue, it doesn’t have to do with whether you’re a Democrat or Republican,” Barzee Flores said. “It’s an abuse of power when it happens and I think that the last few months with these allegations coming out, whether in politics or Hollywood and workplaces all over the country have been very important.”

And Barzee Flores has been quick to criticize members of her own party who have been accused of sexual harassment.

She was one of the first Democrats to call for the resignation of Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a civil-rights icon and the longest-serving member of Congress, after multiple women accused the congressman of sexual harassment. At least one woman reached a taxpayer-funded settlement with Conyers.

“There is no reason we should hold Rep. Conyers to a different standard than any TV show personality, movie mogul, or corporate leader,” Barzee Flores said last week. “In fact, we must hold him (and every elected official on both sides) to a higher standard. For that reason, given everything I’ve read and seen, Rep. Conyers should resign.”

Read more here.