Miami's current and former Cuban-American Republican members of Congress plan to endorse Marco Rubio on Monday, after having initially backed Jeb Bush.
A public, group announcement is in the works, a Rubio campaign source confirmed to the Miami Herald on Sunday, a day after Bush ended his candidacy in South Carolina.
Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, would all shift their support to the remaining Miami candidate in the GOP presidential race. It's a sign to other Bush backers to let go of any bad blood from the Bush-Rubio rivalry sooner rather than later.
Curbelo had hinted at the endorsement in a tweet Saturday night suggesting he would look for party unity in the wake of Bush's departure.
It's time for all Republicans to unite behind a candidate who respects the American people; respects the Constitution & can WIN #SCPrimary— Carlos Curbelo (@carloslcurbelo) February 21, 2016
All four politicians had been careful not to bash Rubio during the campaign, saying they thought Bush was more experienced but Rubio too would make a good nominee. They would serve as prominent Rubio campaign surrogates leading up to the March 15 Florida primary, especially on Spanish-language media.
In December, on the one-year anniversary of President Barack Obama's diplomatic opening toward Cuba, a Miami Democratic consultant commissioned a local poll to, among other things, gauge the policy's popularity.
The survey, of a newly redrawn Miami congressional district represented by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, showed narrow support -- 47-43 percent -- for a hypothetical congressional candidate who favored normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations and lifting the trade embargo, according to results shared with the Miami Herald by consultant Christian Ulvert.
Democrats were far more likely to back the policy change (68 percent) than Republicans (30 percent) and voters without party affiliation (44 percent). That nearly a third of Republicans would be OK with ending the embargo is particularly noteworthy in South Florida, the heart of the hard-line Cuban exile community, where reactions were divided Thursday to the White House's announcement that Obama plans to travel to the island next month.
The poll was conducted by SEA Polling & Strategic Design between Dec.17-21. It surveyed 400 likely voters, with a slightly Republican-leaning sample, and has an error margin of 4.9 percent.
"The poll I commissioned in late December shows how voters in CD-27 continue to embrace the leadership President Obama has shown to bring meaningful and democratic change to the Cuban people through normalizing relations with the island," Ulvert said in a statement. "CD-27 voters appreciate that the failed policies over the last 50 years have not resulted in a free and democratic Cuba, so voters see great opportunity in President Obama being a voice for a new democracy in Cuba and through deep coordination with Cuban-American civic and elected leaders in South Florida, we can achieve that dream for Cuba."
The same poll showed that Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban-American who stridently opposes any rapprochement with the Castro regime, remains highly popular in her district, even now that it's filled with more Democrats. Her favorability rating was 61-27 percent, with 6 percent of respondents holding a mixed view of the congresswoman and 6 percent saying they didn't know. So even if a majority of voters disagree with her on Cuba, it appears very unlikely that the longtime incumbent would draw any serious opposition.
News of President Barack Obama's impending trip to Cuba -- in March, sources told the Miami Herald -- prompted quick backlash from Miami politicians, many of them of Cuban descent.
Here's reaction, which we will update as it comes in:
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is running for president
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is running for president
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:
It appears Obama is still under the impression ISIS is the JV team. Next President must understand the enemy and the threat. #SOTU— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) January 13, 2016
Safer? ISIS on the rise. North Korea testing nukes. Syria in chaos. Taliban on march. This president is living in a different world. #SOTU— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) January 13, 2016
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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."
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."
1 yr aftr @POTUS's decision to normalize relations w/Cuba, Castro dictatorship has major wins. US & Cuban people have gained next to nothing— Rep. Carlos Curbelo (@RepCurbelo) December 17, 2015
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: