January 17, 2018

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

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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.

Matt Haggman leads in fundraising, David Richardson in cash on hand in Dem race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

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@alextdaugherty

At least five Democrats in the hotly contested race to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have raised six-figures in the latest fundraising updates provided by their campaigns. 

Former Knight Foundation Director and Miami Herald reporter Matt Haggman leads the pack in money raised for a second straight quarter after entering the race in August. Haggman's campaign said he raised $402,000 with $747,000 on hand to spend as of the end of 2017. 

"We desperately need to turn a new page in our politics. I'm proud to have the support of so many friends and neighbors who are ready to do just that, and I'm proud to be running a campaign powered entirely by people—not PACs," Haggman said in a statement, referencing a pledge not to accept campaign contributions from political action committees that drew shade from some of his competitors.

PACs are typically created to further business and ideological interests or organized labor by funding candidates and campaigns. 

State Rep. David Richardson leads the race with $850,000 cash on hand according to a release from his campaign but he trails Haggman in fundraising after he loaned himself $250,000 for his campaign last quarter. That means Richardson raised just over $250,000 after his campaign said he raised $505,000 total from October to December. 

"We progressives must strive to implement a single-payer healthcare system, tackle climate change once and for all, reform our prison and criminal justice systems, and protect as well as expand upon the great strides we have made in this country on the rights of women, Hispanics, African Americans, the LGBT community, and other minority groups," Richardson said in a statement. 

Former federal judge nominee Mary Barzee Flores' campaign said she raised $220,000 in the latest quarter with $330,000 on hand. 

"Having spent her entire career in service to this community, the community she’s lived her whole life, makes Mary the exact type of candidate people want to rally around, a fact we’re seeing more and more each day," Barzee Flores' campaign manager Sam Miller said in a statement. "The tremendous amount of support from those who believe in Mary and share her values has allowed our campaign to build the sort of momentum that gets people paying attention, and they certainly have been." 

State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez raised $230,000 in the latest quarter with $325,000 cash on hand, according to his campaign. 

"We're in a pretty strong position," Rodríguez's campaign consultant Christian Ulvert said.

Miami commissioner Ken Russell, who officially joined the race in October after initially setting up an exploratory committee, raised about $222,247 with $325,392.35 cash on hand according to his campaign. Some of the cash on hand amount includes donations after December 31, 2017.

Russell's "record of progressive results, from increasing the minimum wage to expanding affordable housing to battling sea level rise as reasons for his campaign’s early appeal," campaign spokeswoman Sarah Awan said in a statement. 

Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said she raised $55,000 raised in the latest quarter with $175,000 on hand. 

"Our campaign doesn’t have a finance director or fundraising committee," Rosen Gonzalez said in an email. "These contributions came in from people who believe in our campaign." 

The fundraising totals are estimates and the final numbers could change when they are reported to the Federal Election Commission at the end of the month. 

University of Miami academic advisor Michael Hepburn said his campaign hasn't finished tallying the latest fundraising totals.

Democrats are buoyant about their chances of winning a Miami-based seat long held by Republicans in 2018, as Ros-Lehtinen's district voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by more than 19 percentage points in the 2016 election. 

Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro is the lone Republican with enough money so far to mount a viable campaign, though two women recently filed paperwork with the FEC to run in the Republican primary. 

This post was updated with figures from José Javier Rodríguez and includes updated figures from Ken Russell after his campaign sent new information. 

January 12, 2018

Trump’s ‘shithole countries’ comment may have a silver lining for Haitians

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@alextdaugherty

President Donald Trump’s descent into vulgarity during a high-stakes immigration meeting has brought attention to an often overlooked group in the national conversation: the over 300,000 immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and potentially Honduras who could be forced to leave the U.S. in 2019.

The president’s remarks — he reportedly said “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out” and “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” — were in reference to immigrants living and working legally in the United States under Temporary Protected Status and to making changes to the visa lottery system.

The more than over 300,000 immigrants whose TPS will expire in 2019 have been largely under the radar compared to the 800,000 young immigrants known as Dreamers brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. An Obama-era executive action known as DACA that allowed Dreamers to be protected from deportation expires in March, and is at the forefront of immigration discussions in Washington.

Several Miami lawmakers, including Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, along with Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, have offered legislative solutions that would provide a path to permanent residency for some or all TPS recipients. South Florida is home to the nation’s largest concentration of Haitians along with a sizable number of Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans.

“This is obviously tragic and very disheartening and disappointing in every way but I’m generally an optimist and when anything like this happens there’s also opportunity,” Curbelo said. “Now, many more Americans are aware of these immigrants who are in our country legally, who work here, pay taxes here and have been here in some cases more than two decades. All of a sudden they are extremely relevant in discussions regarding an immigration compromise, where before the conversation was almost exclusively about Dreamers and border security.”

Until now, most of the lawmakers pushing for letting TPS beneficiaries stay represent large urban areas like Miami and New York City, and many of them are Democrats outside Miami. Curbelo’s office also said his bill that addresses Dreamers, called the Raising America’s Children Act, has gotten significantly more attention than his bill to help TPS beneficiaries from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras, called the ESPERER Act.

Curbelo said Trump’s vulgar comments will raise awareness outside Miami, and his spokesperson said “several Republicans have approached Carlos about it. They want to learn more.”

“We’ve added TPS beneficiaries as candidates for inclusion in a deal and that’s good news,” Curbelo said.

Read more here.

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen to vote against a spending bill (again) unless there's a DACA fix

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@alextdaugherty

The federal government will shut down on January 19 if Congress can't pass a temporary spending bill, and Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen both said they will vote against the legislation, like they did in December, if an immigration deal is not imminent. 

Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen are frustrated with the pace of negotiations on a solution for 800,000 immigrants, known as Dreamers, who came to the U.S. as young children. Congress must find a legislative solution for Dreamers by March after President Donald Trump announced he will rescind an Obama-era executive order that protected them from deportation. 

"The way things stand today, I plan to keep my commitment to Dreamers and if there’s some breakthrough next week I will consider (voting yes)," Curbelo said on Friday. "If the status quo persists I am going to continue pressuring the leadership in both parties to forge a compromise because 800,000 lives are at risk." 

The two Miami Republicans were the only House Republicans who voted against the bill that keeps the government running due to immigration concerns. If enough Republicans join them, they could gain leverage to forge an immigration deal.

The vast majority of House Democrats voted with Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen against the plan in December, though moderate Florida Democrats like Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Charlie Crist voted in favor of the spending bill, even though Democratic-leaning immigrant advocacy groups urged Democrats to vote against it. 

January 11, 2018

Two women enter the Republican race for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat

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@alextdaugherty

Angie Chirino and Ariadna Balaguer are political novices running for Congress, but their names may sound familiar to some in South Florida.

That’s because Chirino is the daughter of Miami singer and songwriter Willy Chirino, while Balaguer’s father was Joaquín Balaguer, the longtime president of the Dominican Republic from 1966 to 1978 and 1986 to 1996.

Both women have officially entered to run as Republicans for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, according to recently filed Federal Election Commission records, though neither has announced any fundraising totals. Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro is the only announced GOP candidate with enough cash to run a viable campaign so far.

Balaguer, who holds two Ph.D. degrees in metabolic medicine and alternative therapies, works at a Sunny Isles Beach medical clinic that focuses on “integrative medical treatments” like an intravenous nutrient mixture called a Myers’ Cocktail that helps cure the side effects of a hangover. She was not immediately available for an interview.

Balaguer maintained a relatively low public profile, living and attending school in Florida, despite her famous father, who passed away in 2002.

Her father was a U.S. ally while leading the Dominican Republic, though he was criticized for manipulating elections and spending large sums on public works projects while many of his constituents were mired in poverty.

“He is not afraid to rule with iron will in the fashion of the old-style caudillo,” noted a 1994 Miami Herald article detailing an appearance by President Bill Clinton and Joaquín Balaguer at Vizcaya. “Balaguer's political legacy includes a dedication to huge public works projects, often at the expense of social welfare programs. It is a legacy that may always be tainted by charges that he won elections by vote-tampering.”

Chirino, a songwriter herself who also works as a donor-relations manager with the Voices of Children Foundation, declined to be interviewed through an inquiry with her campaign manager, as she plans to make a campaign announcement on January 18 at Versailles Restaurant.

Willy Chirino hinted at her daughter’s candidacy on Facebook earlier this week without explicitly naming her, and Ros-Lehtinen recently tweeted a photo of her and Willy Chirino at a Hair Cuttery.

The Miami New Times first reported that Chirino filed FEC paperwork for the seat.

Ros-Lehtinen’s open seat, which includes Miami Beach, downtown Miami and Little Havana, is considered a prime pick-up opportunity for Democrats this fall after Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than 19 percentage points in the district. The margin of victory was Clinton’s largest in a district currently held by Republican. Multiple Republicans have expressed doubts that the GOP can keep the seat as Democrats are hoping to take control of the House in 2018.

Read more here.

South Florida lawmakers defend Haiti after Trump's "shithole" comment

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@alextdaugherty

The ongoing high-stakes immigration debate in Washington was upended on Thursday when the Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and African countries as "shitholes" when a group of lawmakers at the White House floated the idea of restoring protections for immigrants who recently lost Temporary Protected Status. 

"Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" Trump said, according to the Post. 

His comments drew condemnation from South Florida lawmakers, home to the nation's largest concentration of Haitians. 

"The president calling a 'shithole country' ignores the contributions thousands of Haitians have made to our community and nation," Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. "Language like that shouldn't be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn't be heard in the White House." 

"Under no circumstances is it acceptable to degrade, denigrate, or dehumanize immigrants," Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo tweeted. "The White House must immediately explain the situation and leave no doubt regarding what was said and in what context." 

Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents Little Haiti and was the subject of public attacks from Trump last year, was succinct in her reaction. 

"Sigh," Wilson tweeted. 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who was present at Thursday's White House meeting with Republican and Democratic negotiators, was traveling and unavailable for comment, per his office. 

UPDATE: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz weighs in: 

January 08, 2018

Miami Republicans oppose Trump decision to end TPS for Salvadorans

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@alextdaugherty

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it will end Temporary Protected Status for about 200,000 Salvadorans in September 2019, and the three Miami Republicans in Congress voiced opposition to the Trump administration's decision. Monday's move comes after the Trump administration decided to end TPS for Haitians and Nicaraguans last year. TPS allows foreign nationals from countries affected by disaster and unrest to live and work in the United States for a period of time. 

"I am in strong disagreement with the Administration’s decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadoran nationals who reside in the United States," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. "These innocent people fled their home country after a disastrous earthquake, and while living conditions may have slightly improved, El Salvador now faces a significant problem with drug trafficking, gangs, and crime. Since 2001, these people have established themselves in the United States, making countless contributions to our society and our local communities. As I did with the decisions to end TPS for Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Honduran nationals who reside in the United States, I strongly urge the Administration to reconsider this decision."

"Today’s decision about Salvadoran TPS – and previous decisions about Honduran and Nicaraguan TPS – are disappointing," said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. "Many years of short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty, not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for employers and neighbors who have welcomed them to our communities." 

"It is unconscionable that @POTUS would terminate the much needed  status of more than 200,000 people from  who have been here for years, working legally + sending remittances to their families," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said on Twitter. 

The three Miami Republicans, who all represent districts with large Latino populations, are signed on to a bill that would provide a path to permanent residency and American citizenship for immigrants currently living in the U.S. under TPS from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicarauga and Honduras.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is also in favor of extending TPS for Haiti, and all of the Democrats representing South Florida including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson and Sen. Bill Nelson are opposed to the Department of Homeland Security's decision. 

Rubio calls Cuba sonic attacks a “documented fact” after GOP colleague questions evidence

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via @FrancoOrdonez 

Sen. Marco Rubio pushed back Sunday against comments from a Republican colleague that the United States has found no evidence of “sonic attacks” in Cuba.

The Florida Republican charged the attacks were a “documented fact.”

In a series of tweets Sunday, Rubio dismissed comments by Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a longtime advocate for improving ties with Cuba, stating that any U.S. official briefed on the mysterious events in Havana “knows full well that while method of attack still in question, that attacks and injuries occurred isn’t.”

“It’s a documented FACT that 24 U.S. govt officials & spouses were victims of some sort of sophisticated attack while stationed in Havana,” Rubio tweeted.

Flake said Saturday that he has seen no evidence that American diplomats who suffered health symptoms while in Havana were “attacked,” according to the Associated Press.

After meeting with high ranking Cuban officials, Flake said classified briefings from U.S. officials had given him no reason to doubt Cuban officials who said there was no evidence any health symptoms were a result of an attack.

Rubio countered calling it impossible “to conduct 24 separate & sophisticated attacks" on U.S. government personnel without Cuban officials knowing.

The back and forth between the two senators sets up a potentially explosive hearing Tuesday at a highly anticipated Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing chaired by Rubio. Members are expected to press State Department officials for more answers about the mysterious events.

The Trump administration has already pulled much of the U.S embassy staff from Havana and expelled 15 of their Cuban counterparts working in Washington.

The State Department continued to call it an “attack” on Sunday despite not knowing the source or cause of the events.

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also sharply criticized Flake on Sunday. 

Read more here.

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.