February 09, 2018

How South Florida lawmakers voted on a budget deal without a DACA fix

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@alextdaugherty

The federal government briefly shut down while you were sleeping, as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul held up a massive $300 billion budget bill that keeps the government running until March 23rd because it increased the federal deficit. House Democratic leaders also opposed the bill because Speaker Paul Ryan hasn't committed to an open debate on a solution for 690,000 DACA recipients who could be eligible for deportation as soon as March. 

The bill eventually passed the U.S. Senate at 1:30am by a 71-28 margin and the U.S. House at 5:30am by a 240-186 margin. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on Friday morning, reopening the federal government after it shut down at midnight. The massive budget bill included billions in disaster funding for Florida and Puerto Rico along with an increase in defense spending and budget caps. 

Here's how South Florida's members of Congress voted: 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R): Yes

Rubio praised the deal as a bipartisan compromise that gave Florida much-needed disaster relief. “While no one wants to have a hurricane and no one wants to have a natural disaster, I think this is a response that we should be happy about,” Rubio said on Wednesday. He did voice concerns over the deficit despite voting yes. 

"Throughout my time in the Senate, my support for increasing the debt limit has been consistently conditioned on meaningful spending reforms that address our long-term debt," Rubio said in a statement after the vote. "This budget deal does not do that. We must begin to seriously address the long-term drivers of our debt and get our fiscal house back in order. We cannot do that if we continue to govern through short term continuing resolutions that inefficiently spend taxpayer dollars and fail to provide the certainty required for effective planning."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D): Yes

Nelson spoke alongside Rubio on the Senate floor to praise the deal after it was announced. "Senator Rubio and I have been talking about all the things we have done together in trying to get this disaster aid package to finally come to the point at which we can say we are so thankful that we see a path forward,” Nelson said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R): Yes

Curbelo had voted against multiple spending bills because a DACA solution wasn't imminent. But hours before the vote on Thursday Curbelo switched his stance after Ryan said he would "bring a solution to the floor." 

In a statement released Thursday, Curbelo said Ryan "delivered his strongest commitment yet that legislation will be considered on the floor of the House" and that was enough to change his vote. 

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R): No 

Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring in 2018, was the only Republican in Congress to join Democrats and vote against the budget bill because it didn't include a DACA solution. 

“I will vote NO, as I have pledged to do so in the past," Ros-Lehtinen said in an email on Thursday. 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R): Yes

Diaz-Balart, an ally of leadership, has consistently voted in favor of short-term spending bills in recent months. 

"This bipartisan legislation continues government operations and funds programs that are critical to Americans across the nation. It also invests in our military during a time where we must provide our troops with the proper resources to defend our country, help our allies, and stand up to our adversaries," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "I represent parts of Florida that are still rebuilding from Hurricane Irma, and the $89.3 billion supplemental will go a long way in helping these communities recover from storm damage."

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D): No

Wilson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus that opposed the deal and one of the more liberal members of Congress, voted no. 

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D): No 

Wasserman Schultz was a firm no hours before the vote as some Democrats wavered on whether or not to follow leader Nancy Pelosi and vote no or vote to keep the government open without a DACA solution. 

Rep. Ted Deutch (D): Yes

In a statement, Deutch said he voted for the budget bill to keep the government open "finally beyond just weeks." The bill keeps the government running until March 23rd. 

"Tonight, I voted for a compromise budget deal because it will allow us to keep the government running, finally beyond just weeks," Deutch said. "This bill helps the millions of Americans in Florida and Puerto Rico, Texas, California and the Virgin Islands whose lives were turned upside down by natural disasters. It provides a potential lifeline to families struggling with opioid addiction."

He also added that Congress must focus on passing the DREAM Act to help DACA recipients. President Donald Trump has indicated he does not support the DREAM Act. 

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D): No

Hastings is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus that opposed the deal and is one of the more liberal members of Congress. 

February 08, 2018

Curbelo to vote for spending bill without DACA fix

Curbelo (1)

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo will vote in favor of a massive $300 billion spending bill even though a solution for 689,000 DACA recipients isn't included in the package. 

In a statement released Thursday, Curbelo said Speaker Paul Ryan "delivered his strongest commitment yet that legislation will be considered on the floor of the House." 

"One of my chief legislative priorities this Congress and the last, has been to forge a compromise on immigration that delivers a fair, permanent solution for young immigrants brought to our country as children, while securing the border so future illegal entry is discouraged and diminished," Curbelo said. "The main obstacles to that goal have been Congressional Leaders' refusal to allow each Chamber to consider legislation on the Floor and the objections of extremists in both parties."

Curbelo said Ryan's comments on Thursday morning were enough to sway his vote.

"To anyone who doubts my intention to solve this problem and bring up a DACA and immigration reform bill, do not," Ryan said during a press conference. "We will bring a solution to the floor, one the President will sign." 

Curbelo had voted against previous short-term spending bills, including one earlier this week, because a DACA solution wasn't imminent. 

Retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she will still vote against the bill due to concerns on immigration. 

“I will vote NO, as I have pledged to do so in the past,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an email. 

Ros-Lehtinen is the only Republican likely to vote against the spending bill over concerns on immigration. 

The bill, which funds the federal government past 11:59pm Thursday, faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives as some conservative Republicans will vote against it due to its effects on the deficit. Ryan will likely need Democratic votes to pass the spending bill, but its unclear whether Democratic leadership will persuade members to vote against it because of the lack of an immigration compromise. 

February 06, 2018

Ros-Lehtinen, Curbelo vote against short-term spending bill with no immigration fix

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

The threat of a government shutdown is unlikely in Washington this week, but two Miami Republicans in the House of Representatives continued to break ranks with their party and voted against a short-term spending bill that passed Tuesday because a solution for 690,000 DACA recipients isn't imminent. 

Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo were two of eight Republicans who voted against a spending bill that passed 245-182. Most of the other Republican No votes were from conservatives who typically vote against spending bills that don't include spending cuts. 

"I again voted no on the Continuing Resolution because we have yet to debate and vote on a bill that would provide legal status to our DREAMers," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "We have less than a month until the administration’s arbitrary deadline for DACA beneficiaries begins to phase out. However, these young immigrants face real challenges every day that Congress does not take action. They are missing out on job and school opportunities and in not being able to provide for their families. They live with fear of having to go back to a country that they don’t know. I remain committed in keeping my pledge to vote no on any funding bill until Congressional leadership brings a DREAMers fix to the floor." 

Curbelo voted in favor of a short-term spending bill to reopen the government last month after Senate Democrats decided to support a spending bill in exchange for a debate on discussion on an immigration bill, though he voted against previous spending bills in the last few months because of immigration. Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring in 2018, was the only House Republican to vote against the bill to reopen the government in January because it didn't provide a bill for DACA recipients. 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart voted in favor of the bill while South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel all voted against it.

Update: Curbelo released a statement on his vote. 

"One of my chief legislative priorities this Congress and the last, has been to forge a compromise on immigration that delivers a fair, permanent solution for young immigrants brought to our country as children, while securing the border so future illegal entry is discouraged and diminished," Curbelo said. "The biggest obstacles to that goal have been Congressional Leadership’s refusal to recognize we are running out of time and the objections of extremists in both parties. While I appreciate the Senate is almost certainly moving on immigration next week – and I want to give our institutions an opportunity to debate this issue with the government open – I am not comfortable extending the funding deadline past March 5th. Doing so would relieve the pressure, and we must keep the pressure on."

January 31, 2018

Curbelo unhurt after GOP train collides with dump truck

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@alextdaugherty

Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo is unhurt after a train with dozens of GOP lawmakers on it collided with a dump truck on Wednesday morning, killing at least one person in the truck and severely injuring another. 

Curbelo was en route to the yearly Republican retreat at a resort in West Virginia when it collided with a truck just west of Charlottesville, Virginia. No lawmakers were seriously hurt in the collision according to multiple reports and several lawmakers with medical training stepped up to help the victims. 

"Thanks to all who have called and texted," Curbelo tweeted. "We’re blessed to be ok, and hoping the best for those who were on this truck." He also spoke to MSNBC about the accident. 

Miami Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen were not on the train, according to their offices. Sen. Marco Rubio's office said he was not on the train.  

January 25, 2018

How a citizenship question on the 2020 Census could diminish Miami’s political clout

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@alextdaugherty

The Department of Justice wants the U.S. Census Bureau to ask people about their citizenship status on the 2020 census, and the additional questioning could lead to an undercount in immigrant-heavy Miami.

Undercounting the number of people living in Florida’s most populous county could affect how billions of federal dollars are distributed and diminish the state’s clout in the nation’s capital. The Census Bureau will choose whether or not to include the citizenship status question by March 31, when it finalizes the 2020 questionnaire.

“The purpose of the census is simple: collecting appropriate data on the people that reside in our communities so that we can distribute federal resources for the needs of the population,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “Any question, including one regarding citizenship, that could in any way discourage an accurate count, must be omitted. The census is not a means to do an immigration head count. It is a means to help all of our constituents with their needs regardless of their immigration status.”

The Justice Department argued that including the citizenship status question would help it enforce the Voting Rights Act, according to a letter from the DOJ to the Census Bureau obtained by ProPublica.

The census, conducted every 10 years, is used to determine how many people are living in a given area, and the federal government attempts to count everyone regardless of their citizenship status, including undocumented immigrants. If more people are counted in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, home to approximately 450,000 undocumented immigrants, there’s a better chance that more federal dollars for infrastructure projects or programs will come South Florida’s way.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he hasn’t decided whether it’s a good idea for the census to ask about citizenship status.

“I want to understand both arguments on it more clearly before I reach a firm opinion on it,” Rubio said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said he’s concerned some people could be dissuaded from answering the census if the citizenship question is asked.

“Unless I am provided with compelling statistics and facts as to why it is necessary, I would oppose its inclusion,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

And there’s also the looming reallocation of congressional seats due to population changes that occurs every 10 years after the census, called redistricting.

Read more here.

January 22, 2018

Miami Republican says Senate-brokered promises for Dreamers 'aren't good enough'

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a rebuke to her own party and a significant amount of Democrats on Monday, voting against a short-term spending bill agreed to by Senate leaders because it didn't include a legislative remedy for Dreamers, a group of nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants who could face deportation in March in Congress fails to act. 

“I’ve heard these promises once and again that we will find a permanent legislative remedy for Dreamers but a promise ain’t good enough any longer so that is why I voted no on the CR (Continuing Resolution)," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.

The congresswoman also mirrored the arguments of Democrats who voted against the bill, saying that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise to debate and vote on a solution for Dreamers, which will likely face opposition from conservative Republicans, isn't the same as concocting a deal. 

"We have been duped and strung around enough so Dreamers can’t rely on broken promises any longer," Ros-Lehtinen said. "I will vote to approve a budget once we fulfill our pledge to these young people who know no other home but the U.S.”

Her comments were similar to New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, one of 16 Senate Democrats to vote against the deal, which funds the government through Feb. 8. 

"Nothing in this legislation gives me any confidence that in three weeks Congress won’t end up exactly where we are today," Menendez said to CNN. 

Ros-Lehtinen's No vote differed from the majority of Senate Democrats, where moderates like Florida Sen. Bill Nelson praised McConnell's commitment to debate and vote as enough of a concession to reopen the government after it shut down on Friday night. 

"Now we have a path forward in which we can work a bipartisan solution that will take care of the Dreamers,” Nelson said. “I think the American people are going to be cheering that this occurred.”

While only 16 of 47 Senate Democrats voted against the bill, the majority of House Democrats did vote against the bill. Five other House Republicans also voted against the bill with Ros-Lehtinen because they typically disapprove of spending bills without spending cuts attached. 

Ros-Lehtinen is not running for reelection in 2018, though she represents the most Democratic-leaning district in the country currently held by a Republican. She is a frequent critic of President Donald Trump and has signed on to multiple legislative solutions for Dreamers before an Obama-era executive order rescinded by Trump expires. 

Curbelo says Senate deal to reopen government has enough assurances for Dreamers

Curbelo (1)

@alextdaugherty

Carlos Curbelo was in a lonely position last week. 

The Miami Republican was the only House Republican running for reelection in 2018 to vote against a short-term spending bill to keep the government open over concerns that it did not contain a solution for nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants known as Dreamers who could face deportation in March in Congress doesn't act. 

But Curbelo is now on board after Senate moderates from both parties agreed to reopen the government, at least until Feb. 8, if Republicans hold a debate and vote on a Dreamer solution. 

"So long as the government remains open it would be my intention to take up legislation here in the Senate that would address DACA, border security and related issues as well as disaster relief, defense funding, healthcare and other important matters," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor.

"Today’s statement by the Majority Leader (Mitch McConnell) was significant because Leadership has made a very public commitment the process will move forward in the coming weeks," Curbelo spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said. "That said, if Feb. 8 comes around and that commitment has not been upheld, the Congressman is prepared to reconsider his support." 

The federal government shut down on Friday night after Senate Democrats didn't go along with the spending proposal passed by the House. 

Curbelo also voted against short-term spending bills late last year because a solution for Dreamers was not imminent. 

"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,'" Curbelo said in December. 

Monday's deal met that time-certain commitment criteria, according to Curbelo's office. 

The Republican National Committee stressed that lawmakers who switched their vote did not get a deal today for Dreamers despite McConnell's intention to take up legislation. 

"Thankfully, Democrats came to their senses and realized that a temper tantrum would never lead to a real bipartisan fix for DACA,"  RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement.

"It's worth noting that the only votes that changed from No to Yes were Democrat votes," McDaniel's statement said, which was issued three minutes before Curbelo's (Republican) vote switch was finalized. 

Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was the only Republican who voted against the spending bill passed by the House today amid concerns over Dreamers, breaking with Curbelo on the issue. 

January 17, 2018

John Kelly sits down with the Miami delegation to discuss immigration

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@alextdaugherty

White House chief of staff John Kelly made the rounds on Capitol Hill Wednesday as Congress tries to find a solution for 800,000 undocumented young immigrants and one of the groups he met with were Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart. Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd joined the Miami trio. 

Kelly, the former head of U.S. Southern Command which is based in Doral, is talking to lawmakers as Congress wrestles with an immigration debate amid finding a way to fund the government past Friday. The White House has not signaled any specific proposals it would support regarding immigration, and congressional leaders from both parties are trying to hash out a deal. 

Kelly also met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which is made up of all Democrats, to discuss immigration. All three Miami Republicans are willing to vote for legislation that stops the potential deportation of Dreamers, but its unclear which specific proposals will earn the votes of enough liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans. 

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Photo courtesy of Curbelo's office.

Rubio’s push for swift Russia sanctions is latest quiet break from Trump

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@alextdaugherty 

Marco Rubio’s new bill that would swiftly punish Russia for any future election meddling is the latest evidence of a subtle split between the Florida Republican and certain elements of his party who parrot President Donald Trump’s argument that the investigations into Russian meddling amount to a partisan witch hunt.

Rubio recently worked with the liberal Washington, D.C., city council to rename the street in front of the Russian embassy after slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. He continues to assert confidence in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as other Republicans question Mueller’s motives. And his election-meddling bill, co-sponsored with Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, would give more power to Congress instead of the president when it comes to sanctioning Russia over election interference.

But Rubio’s supporters on Capitol Hill insist that the second-term senator isn’t changing his ideals, and his actions aren’t driven by animus towards the president. Instead, Trump’s attitude towards Russia and the investigations that have already resulted in the indictments of four former Trump campaign officials, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, are making anti-Russia hawks like Rubio more of an outlier within a Trumpian GOP.

“I think he’s true to his values and the values of our Republican Party,” Miami Republican congresswoman and Trump critic Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “It’s just now that instead of the Republican Party, it’s the Trump Party. But Marco is a true-blue Republican in the old-fashioned sense of the phrase. Who would think that being wary, suspicious of anti-Russian strongarm tactics would be deemed as outliers?”

For Rubio, the hard talk on Russian meddling goes back to the 2016 election, when he dropped out of the presidential race after losing to Trump in the Florida Republican primary. Rubio said last year that his former campaign staffers were targeted by unknown Russian IP addresses.

“In July 2016, shortly after I announced I’d seek re-election to the U.S. Senate, former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to the internal information of my presidential campaign were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia,” Rubio said at a Senate hearing. “That effort was unsuccessful. I do think it’s appropriate to divulge this to the committee, since a lot of this has taken a partisan tone.”

Read more here.

 

January 16, 2018

DACA deal still possible says Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart

Mario Diaz-Balart (1)

via @ngameztorres

Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said on Tuesday that an agreement on DACA was still possible this week. But for that to happen it would be unwise to comment or satisfy the media’s curiosity about what President Donald Trump said at a controversial immigration meeting at the White House last week.

Diaz-Balart is the only Florida member of Congress who was at the meeting in which Trump allegedly used the term “shithole countries” in reference to some African nations and Haiti. The representative for district 25 insisted that it was not his policy to comment on private meetings.

“Obviously you cannot say what is said in private meetings,” Diaz-Balart said. “I have not done it in 30 years and I’m not going to do it now.”

The offensive remark, which has been denied by Trump but confirmed by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who was also present at the meeting, has generated a wave of outrage across the country and in South Florida, home of a large Haitian community.
 

Other Florida lawmakers were among the first to denounce Trump’s alleged comments as racist, including Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“The words of President Trump are unacceptable, racist,” she said Tuesday before gathering with other lawmakers for a congressional hearing in Miami. “He is clearly saying ... that he would like to have more immigrants from Norway, a country that has 83 percent white population. This is the same president who said a few months ago that all Haitians in Miami have AIDS.

“He has a record of saying racist things,” Ros-Lehtinen added.

“If anyone says that, I not only do not agree but I think that offends unnecessarily,” said Senator Marco Rubio, who clarified that he was not at the meeting and has not discussed the issue with colleagues. “Those are comments that I do not support, they are counterproductive, no matter who would say them.”

After being at the receiving end of criticism for withholding comment, Diaz-Balart suggested that political pragmatism and his interest in avoiding the deportation of thousands of immigrants were behind his decision not to confirm or deny Trump’s offensive remark.

“I fight for my community every day ... Unfortunately there is only one person from our community who is in these serious, very difficult and delicate negotiations to try to avoid the deportation of hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “I’m not going to endanger those 800,000 people to go into accusations.”

Read more here.