August 30, 2016

Florida lawmakers urge tough steps against Venezuela



Florida's congressional delegation has the biggest presence in a bipartisan letter urging Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to extend sanctions and take other tough steps against the Venezuelan government.

Nine of the 30 lawmakers who signed the letter to Kerry and Lew are from the Sunshine State, among them South Florida Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, plus Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel and Frederica Wilson.

Also on the letter are Republican Reps. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach and John Mica of Winter Park, plus Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of West Boca Raton.

"People are literally starving, suicide rates are rising and the government continues to repress its people," the lawmakers wrote.

Congress in July passed legislation sponsored by Ros-Lehtinen and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Miami, which President Barack Obama signed into law, extending sanctions on human rights abusers in Venezuela.

"However, the are scores of other Venezuelan officials, including within the Supreme Court, federal judiciary, judges in various states, national and state prosecutors, and police and security officers who have reportedly directly engaged in human rights abuses, efforts to undermine democracy and public corruption," the lawmakers wrote to Kerry and Lew.

The 30 House members called on Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro to hold a recall referendum this year, release all political prisoners, follow democratic principles, permit the delivery of emergency food and medicine, and stop government support for drug trafficking.

To read the letter:

August 22, 2016

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen goes up on TV

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen_2

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen isn't taking any chances.

The Miami Republican is expected to comfortably defeat her novice primary opponents on Aug. 30. She's not seen as being in much more danger in the Nov. 8 general election, even though her district is now more Democratic and her likely opponent, political newcomer Scott Fuhrman, has said he'll put his own wealth into the campaign.

Nevertheless, Ros-Lehtinen is on the air on South Florida television, in an apparent get-out-the-vote effort that could also help keep her favorable opinion ratings and name ID up through November.

Here's the ad:


Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

August 07, 2016

Miami's first political campaign ad about Zika?



Miami Democrat Scott Fuhrman has seized on Zika as a political campaign issue as he tries to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Fuhrman debuted a 15-second video -- and a separate, non-video web ad -- blaming Ros-Lehtinen for Congress' inaction on the mosquito-borne virus. Lawmakers went on recess for seven weeks without passing legislation funding anti-Zika measures.

"Pregnant women told to stay out of our neighborhoods?" the video asks. "Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen goes on recess?"

A first-time candidate, Fuhrman is running a long-shot campaign against the popular congresswoman. Zika gave him an opening to draw at least a little bit of media attention; he showed up at a news conference last week held by Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on the virus. Fuhrman's wife, who is pregnant, gave an interview to NBC News sharing her concerns about contracting the virus.

Late Friday, Ros-Lehtinen sent Republican leaders in Congress a letter asking them to convene an emergency session to approve a Zika bill. She also wrote President Barack Obama, urging him to use existing funds to combat Ebola for Zika instead. And she led an effort by the Florida congressional delegation to request more money from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zika has become a hot campaign issue in Miami, with politicians ranging from the governor to city mayors touring Ground Zero in Wynwood -- and nabbing air time -- as they try to raise awareness about the virus. 


August 05, 2016

Miami Republican lawmaker asks GOP leaders in Congress to set special Zika session


Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen formally asked GOP leaders in Congress on Friday to convene an emergency session to fund efforts to fight and prevent the Zika virus spreading in Miami.

"I have been demanding an effective response from our federal government for months to ensure that we contain and eliminate this public health crisis," she wrote House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "Yet, the most critical role for Congress to play in the federal government’s response – appropriating an adequate and reliable stream of funding to support impacted states and local communities – has been caught up in protracted political battles."

Congress should pass stand-alone legislation funding President Barack Obama's request for $1.9 billion in Zika money, she added.

The congresswoman also wrote Obama on Friday, asking him to "reprogram" money from elsewhere in the federal budget toward Zika.

"The possibility of quickly reprogramming additional funds while Congress works to pass a robust Zika funding package was one idea generated from my meeting in Miami yesterday with Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden, Florida Governor Rick Scott, Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart," she said. Rubio has publicly made a similar request.

Campaigning in South Miami on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden indicated the Obama administration could re-purpose some money that had been set aside to combat Ebola to fight Zika instead, but he reiterated that congressional action is needed.

"Now, look, we're able to take the money we have now leftover from the fund we put together to deal with Ebola, but we need new legislation," he said. "It's almost unconscionable."

Ros-Lehtinen is up for re-election and faces a Democratic challenger in first-time candidate Scott Fuhrman, who has pointedly jabbed at the congresswoman about Zika on Twitter and in press releases.

August 02, 2016

Florida members of Congress ask CDC for more Zika money


Florida needs far more money to fight the Zika virus spreading in Miami than the federal government has set aside, according to the state's congressional delegation.

Twenty-six of Florida's 27 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday asking for additional funding to combat the mosquito-borne virus. Earlier Tuesday, the CDC promised $720,000 to combat the disease, which has been locally transmitted to at least 14 people in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood.

That's not nearly enough, the lawmakers wrote CDC Director Thomas Frieden, noting that there's a $16 million pot to divide among 40 states and territories. The $720,000, they said, "amounts to a paltry 4.5% of funding made available, despite the fact that almost half of all confirmed non-travel cases of the disease in the continental United States have now been linked to mosquito transmission in Florida."

The lawmakers thanked the CDC for its work with Florida authorities, and more distributing more than $8 million in "Zika-specific funding" to the state already.

"However, because of the potential for explosive spread of the virus via mosquito transmission through heavily-populated regions of the state, we urge you, in accordance with all applicable rules and regulations, to reconsider the current allocation formula for Zika-specific funds," they wrote. "If funds are truly allocated based on the risk of Zika virus transmission and population need, the State of Florida must receive a far greater share of available funds given the concerning developments linking new cases of the virus to local mosquitoes in Miami-Dade County."

They don't specify how much more money they want.

The letter was spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican whose Miami district begins just south of Wynwood. Among the co-signers is U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, the Miami Gardens Democrat whose district includes Wynwood, and every other delegation member except U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Winter Garden.

UPDATE: Webster has now signed the letter.

July 08, 2016

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen files bill to study rising seas' effects on coral reefs


Here's something noteworthy: A Republican lawmaker has proposed legislation dealing with one of the effects of sea-level rise.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami introduced a bill -- dubbed, yes, the "CORAL Act" -- that would widen the scope of coral-reef research to include "the impacts of ocean acidification, warming seas and invasive species." The law would also allow the federal government to more quickly respond to problems like coral disease and bleaching, and give agencies a more active role in restoring reefs.

The GOP has been reluctant to take on sea-level rise, but the issue is unavoidable for South Florida Republicans with coastal districts, such as Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who signed on to the coral bill. Both face opponents who have stressed climate change as a key issue.

"Having fled the oppressive Castro regime in Cuba with my parents decades ago, I know that South Florida is special because it serves as a place of hope for so many," Ros-Lehtinen said on the House floor Wednesday. "We cannot allow changing ocean conditions to rob us of our livelihoods, of our lifestyle, or of our identity as an optimistic community."


June 23, 2016

Rubio and fellow Miami Republicans react to SCOTUS immigration decision


U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio lauded the Supreme Court on Thursday on its decision to keep blocking a plan by President Barack Obama to let scores of people in the country illegally remain in the U.S.

The court, still missing a ninth member after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, deadlocked 4-4 on the issue. That left standing an earlier appeals court decision prohibiting the Obama administration from implementing its Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.

"This is the right decision," Rubio said in a statement. "No matter what solutions one may prefer to fix our broken immigration system, those policies must be pursued and passed into law by Congress."

But he and the other South Florida politicians -- all of whom have supported immigration reform -- also said Congress must also act.

"While the Supreme Court's decision makes clear that President Obama has acted lawlessly, it does not leave Congress off the hook either," Rubio said.

Miami's three Republican House members -- Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo -- were even more critical of lawmakers (many of them in the GOP) who have failed to address immigration issues.

"The Supreme Court has spoken, but today's decision does not resolve the issue," they said in a joint statement. "The American people expect Congress to work together to secure our borders, adhere to the rule of law, offer a humane solution to those living in the shadows, modernize our visa system, and bolster the economy. We are committed to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all."

Joining the Miamians in their position were Republican Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan, Mike Coffman of Colorado, Dan Newhouse of Washington, David Valadao of California, Jeff Denham of California, and Bob Dold of Illinois.

June 22, 2016

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo back Marco Rubio


Marco Rubio picks up the backing of two fellow Miami Republicans who areprobably relieved at the prospect of having Rubio on the November ballot:

June 20, 2016

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen gets AFL-CIO endorsement

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, has been endorsed by the South Florida AFL-CIO and the United Teachers of Dade.

Ros-Lehtinen's district was redrawn and is now slightly Democratic but she is still considered a safe incumbent as a social liberal who has been in Congress since 1989. She is expected to draw a Democratic challenger: Scott Furhman, a political newcomer who has national Democratic backing.

Ros-Lehtinen represents District 27 which stretches from North Bay Village to Cutler Bay.


June 07, 2016

Unanimous House support for Holocaust bill authored by South Florida reps


Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Boca Raton Rep. Ted Deutch want Germany to provide more financial resources to Holocaust survivors, who are elderly and in some cases, according to the members of Congress, struggling to get by.

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by the two South Floridians calling on Germany to do more. Both Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, and Deutch, a Democrat, spoke on the bill's behalf on the House floor.

"These survivors are passing away" without the care they need, Ros-Lehtinen said.

Deutch talked of "infirm, isolated and poor Nazi victims" facing caps for the number of hours a day they can get home care as an example of what some cash-strapped survivors face.

The measure is largely symbolic, but important to Jewish constituents for both members of Congress in South Florida. It received a vote of 363-0.

"Germany has long acknowledged its obligations to Holocaust survivors, and though it has taken steps to address the needs of survivors, the assistance has been inadequate and often caught up in time consuming bureaucracy," Ros-Lehtinen told the Miami Herald in a statement. "Survivors endured unspeakable horrors and atrocities, yet they continue to suffer lingering injustices. They deserve to live out the remainder of their days in dignity and comfort."

The resolution now heads to the U.S. Senate, where it's sponsored by Florida Democrat Bill Nelson and Maine Republican Susan Collins.