November 14, 2017

All South Floridians in the House voted against flood-insurance overhaul. Here’s why

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The entire South Florida delegation in the House of Representatives voted Tuesday against a proposal to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program, as Congress seeks a long-term solution for the program saddled with billions in debt after Hurricane Irma.

Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo joined the majority of Democrats to vote against the proposal, which passed by a vote of 237-189, with 15 Democrats voted in favor.

“It doesn’t make the changes that I need to satisfy... a big percentage of my district,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Miami Beach and coastal areas of central Miami-Dade County. “We have a lot of homes that are highly valued and it’s going to incur a lot of cost. It’s got to be fair for everybody. To have a home that you can’t find anybody to insure, that doesn’t do anyone any good.”

South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch also voted against the bill.

The National Flood Insurance Program is set to run out of money by Dec. 8, and if Congress lets the program lapse, thousands of real estate transactions and construction projects in flood-prone areas could be affected. Florida has 35 percent of the nation’s 5 million policies covered by the federal program — three times as many as the second-ranked state, Texas, which has 593,000 policies.

The flood insurance funding bill was the product of an agreement between House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. Hensarling has fought for years to privatize portions of the flood insurance program in an effort to make it fiscally solvent. Lawmakers from coastal areas, like Scalise, have cautioned that reforms could result in higher premiums and hurt investment.

Read more here.

November 13, 2017

A new bill would allow all TPS recipients to apply for permanent residency

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As the Trump administration weighs whether or not to end the Temporary Protected Status for thousands of Haitians and Salvadorans, three members of Congress are preparing legislation that would allow every TPS recipient to apply for permanent residency.

The bill, dubbed the ASPIRE Act, would let every person covered by TPS before Jan. 1, 2017, apply for permanent residency by proving before a judge that they would face extreme hardship if forced to return home.

“The Temporary Protected Status program was created with bipartisan support to protect human life,” said Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., who plans to introduce the legislation with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Washington Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal. “It advances American interests and values and we must work in a bipartisan manner to do the right thing and protect hardworking immigrants from being sent back to countries where their physical well being could be cast into doubt.”

The bill also creates a new form of “protected status” for TPS recipients who have been in the the U.S. for at least five years. Instead of waiting for renewal or revocation of their status every 18 months, current TPS recipients would be able to stay in the U.S. for a renewable six-year period, though they would not be eligible for permanent residency if they cannot prove extreme hardship.

Clarke’s proposal is more expansive than a bill sponsored by Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo that would provide a path to permanent residency for TPS recipients from Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras who arrived in the U.S. before Jan. 13, 2011. Ros-Lehtinen and Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart have signed on to Curbelo’s bill.

The ASPIRE Act would also correct what Clarke’s office calls an “error” in existing law that requires TPS recipients who arrived in the U.S. illegally to leave the U.S. and reenter to adjust their status. Instead, a TPS designation would be enough of a reason to apply for permanent residency without having to leave the country.

Read more here.

November 09, 2017

More than a dozen Republicans demand a legislative solution for Dreamers

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In a show of force to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican leadership, more than a dozen Republicans from around the country are demanding a legislative solution by the end of 2017 for 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents.

There is less than four months left for Congress to find a solution for the young immigrants known as Dreamers before President Donald Trump will cancel an Obama-era executive order known as DACA that allowed Dreamers to be protected from deportation.

The 13 Republicans who gathered on Thursday want to vote on a bill now.

“The reality is that these young people with DACA status are already being harmed today,” said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., noting that over 22,000 DACA recipients missed an October deadline to renew their status and could be fired from their jobs immediately. “Everyday that Congress fails to act, every time that Congress kicks this can down the road, people, real people, are hurt.”

The group, which included conservative Texas Rep. Joe Barton along with moderate Miami Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, wasn’t the typical cast of characters at an immigration news conference on Capitol Hill.

While Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo are well-versed on immigration issues and delivered their talking points in English and Spanish, other members at the news conference on Capitol Hill tripped up when reciting details about DACA recipients. Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan Costello referred to DACA recipients as “those who were born here” before being corrected by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

The pro-Dreamer Republicans also included those who are trying to hold on to their seats in the face of well-funded Democratic challengers ahead of the 2018 elections. Issa ranks as the most vulnerable House incumbent in a recent analysis by Roll Call, while New York Rep. John Faso, who also spoke at the press conference, ranks third on Roll Call’s list.

But the Miami Republicans will need every possible Republican on board, even if their support is driven by political calculations, to convince Ryan to put a bill on the floor. Certain conservative Republican members are poised to vote against any proposal that expands immigration protections, but multiple Republicans at the press conference said that a legislative solution for Dreamers would easily garner over 300 votes in the 435 member House of Representatives.


Read more here.

November 08, 2017

Ros-Lehtinen: Fellow Republicans don’t care about finding a permanent TPS solution

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Over 200,000 Haitians and Salvadorans could be forced to leave the United States if the Trump administration ends Temporary Protected Status for the two countries, and Democrats along with Miami Republicans in Congress are pushing for a permanent solution.

But Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen isn’t convinced that most of her fellow Republicans care.

The outgoing Miami congresswoman said Tuesday that the majority of Congress “would not know what TPS is” if asked about it and that there isn’t an appetite from Republicans to give TPS recipients a path to permanent residency.

“I spoke yesterday about TPS, had hardly anyone ask me about it. I spoke again today about TPS, radio silence from my colleagues,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “There’s just no interest for immigration reform generally, and I don’t think there’s much appetite to help these two particular groups of people. It hurts to say it but it’s the political reality.”

Ros-Lehtinen and the entire Miami delegation in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — are united behind a bill by Rep. Carlos Curbelo that would allow Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans who receive TPS to obtain a path to permanent residency.

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Monday that TPS will expire in 2019 for Nicaraguans, while Hondurans will get a six-month extension until July 2018. The Trump administration has not yet announced a determination for Haitians and Salvadorans.

“While I’m disappointed in the administration’s announcement, these continued short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for their employers and neighbors whose prosperity also depends on them,” Curbelo said in a statement. “Congress has an opportunity to change that, and I’m grateful the Administration has called for a permanent solution from Congress.”

But finding a permanent solution will be a political challenge for House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Miami Republicans. Conservative Republicans have railed against any attempt to expand immigration, and the March 2018 deadline for Congress to find a legislative solution for young people known as Dreamers, who came to the country with their parents illegally as children, looms ahead of Nicaragua’s January 2019 TPS elimination or Honduras’ possible elimination in July 2018.

Read more here.

November 06, 2017

Final year in Congress: Ros-Lehtinen takes on Trump, immigration and climate change

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

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The congressional office with one of the best views of the Capitol Dome awakens from a mid-afternoon lull as the door swings open and the boss emerges with a loud, “Hello everybody!”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is in, and the cafecito is flowing.

The outgoing Miami Republican, one of the few remaining moderates in a Congress dominated by uncompromising politicians of both stripes, is cheerful and full of energy as she navigates her final year in Washington. Ros-Lehtinen freely distributes hip-bumps, high-fives and hugs to everyone, and typically dour-faced lawmakers light up whenever they encounter her on Capitol Hill.

Ros-Lehtinen, a 65-year-old Cuban-American who was a trailblazing Latina in Tallahassee and Washington, said she’s not leaving office because she’s scared that her overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning district will turn against her in 2018 or that she’s fed up with the hyper-partisan rhetoric of the Trump era.

It’s just been 28 years, and she and husband Dexter Lehtinen are ready for something different.

“Dexter and I, one morning we just woke up and we just looked at each other, maybe we had read an article in the Herald, I don’t know, and we just said ‘What do you think?’” Ros-Lehtinen said. “I said, ‘Yeah, I think we’re ready, I think we’re ready for a new adventure.’”

Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t have an immediate plan for the future. She may get back into teaching, her profession before she first ran for the Florida Legislature 35 years ago. Or she may work in an advocacy role that allows her to split time between Miami and Washington, noting that the two-hour flight is a breeze.

A year ago, Ros-Lehtinen faced her closest challenge in years. She won by 10 percentage points over businessman Scott Fuhrman after spending $3.4 million in campaign cash, even though Hillary Clinton won her district by over 19 percentage points. But six months later, Ros-Lehtinen announced that she was retiring from Congress, a decision that sent shockwaves through the Miami political community.

“Ileana has been a champion for her time, I don’t look at it as a loss but a passing of the torch,” said Miami commissioner Ken Russell, one of the Democrats seeking to replace her in Congress.

Other Republican lawmakers who recently announced their retirement, like senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake, have fiercely criticized Trump and his associates for dragging American politics into a tweet-filled gutter. But Ros-Lehtinen, a veteran of many Miami-style political campaigns where insults are hurled with regularity in two languages, said politics has always been a rough game.

“I think Jeff Flake and others have been talking about how frustrated they feel in a polarized environment,” Ros-Lehtinen said minutes after Flake announced his retirement in a dramatic Senate floor speech. “This has always been a polarizing place it’s always been a source of frustration if that’s how you look it. I chose long ago I was going to be a Hubert Humphrey-style happy warrior.”

Read more here.

November 02, 2017

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen can apply for Hispanic Caucus membership (Updated)

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Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will receive a letter to officially apply for Congressional Hispanic Caucus membership, and then the body, currently made up of all Democrats, will vote on their application. 

Ros-Lehtinen has no intention of joining the caucus despite the invitation to apply, a spokesman for the congresswoman said.

The CHC executive council discussed Curbelo's potential candidacy during a closed-door meeting on Thursday, according to three members in the room. Curbelo has been trying to join the caucus since February, but the body has yet to make a decision. 

"The congressman’s intention has always been to join the Hispanic Caucus," said Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez

At issue is Curbelo's immigration stance. Some members of the caucus are concerned that inviting Curbelo would be antithetical to the group's position on immigration since Curbelo has not co-sponsored a version of the Dream Act, which would give the children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

The Dream Act has Republican co-sponsorship, including from Ros-Lehtinen, who urged a vote on the measure during a speech on Thursday. 

"Let's bring the Dream Act to a vote so that these young people can make their American dream a reality," Ros-Lehtinen said on the House floor. "The clock is ticking." 

But Curbelo has his own proposal, the Raising America's Children Act, that provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers but is more narrowly tailored than the Dream Act. Curbelo has pitched his solution as a conservative alternative to the Dream Act. 

"Even when I got into the caucus 14 years ago there was a vote by the other members and we'll take that vote," said Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva. "Once we're done that, he can possibly stop complaining that he hasn't been given an audience and start complaining about the result." 

Grijalva does not plan to vote for Curbelo even if he signs onto the Dream Act. 

"He's politicized it more than it should be," Grijalva said of Curbelo's desire to join the group. "He's the one running around whining about the fact that he's not being allowed in because he's a Republican. It has nothing to do with that. It's a political strategy to try to make himself in a competitive district look like he's a victim. He's not a victim." 

"We are absolutely, in writing, making it very clear that we recognize that Curbelo and Ileana informally have asked that they be part of the caucus, now they're going to be invited to formally say they want to be a member of the caucus," said CHC chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. "Every member of our caucus gets a vote." 

Lujan Grisham said the letter will be sent to Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen tomorrow and that a vote could take place next week if the Miami lawmakers reply promptly. Lujan Grisham has not made up her mind on whether she will vote for Curbelo, though she said "it may persuade some members" to vote for him if he signs onto the Dream Act. 

As for Ros-Lehtinen's candidacy, Grijalva said "she's been pretty consistent on our issues" but that the letter to her was more of a "gesture on her part." Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring in 2018, was once part of the CHC but left along with other Republican members in 2003 over differences on Cuba policy. 

The caucus at one time included members from both parties, but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who has said he’s not interested in joining the other caucus.

UPDATED 3:49pm

Ros-Lehtinen says she has no intention of joining the CHC. 

“I had informal conversations with Michelle and Lucille (Roybal-Allard) over this issue and I told them that I am saving money in my remaining time in Congress to pay for some Congressional costs I have outstanding and I don’t want to use those funds to pay dues to the Caucus," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Carlos is an outstanding legislator who merits being made a part of the Caucus and I hope that he is accepted by the Caucus."

Lesley Clark contributed 

October 31, 2017

South Florida lawmakers propose a path to legal status for Haitian TPS recipients

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A bipartisan group of South Florida lawmakers introduced a bill on Tuesday that provides a path to permanent residency for thousands of foreign citizens who participate in a temporary program that allows them to work and live in the United States.

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo introduced the Extending Status Protection for Eligible Refugees with Established Residency Act, which provides a pathway to permanent legal status for certain Haitians, Nicaraguans, El Salvadoreans and Hondurans who arrived in the United States before Jan. 13, 2011.

South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson and Alcee Hastings also signed on to the legislation, which applies to participants in the Temporary Protected Status program, along with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“While hoping and waiting they would be able to return to their native countries for years, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, Honduran and Haitian migrants have become essential parts of the South Florida community by contributing to our local economy and our culture,” Curbelo said in a statement. “While I will continue to support extensions for Temporary Protected Status, this bipartisan legislation would give these migrants the peace of mind to continue giving back to their communities, contributing to our economy and supporting their families.”

Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras are the three countries with the most participants in the program, which is administered by the Department of Homeland Security. About 300,000 people from those three countries participate in TPS, and the bulk of Haiti’s 50,000 TPS recipients live in South Florida.

“I am proud to be part of this bipartisan effort to provide a permanent solution for families living in the United States with temporary protected status,” Wilson said in a statement. “It is in the meantime imperative that we not forget the economic, cultural and other contributions that people living and working in the United States thanks to this measure are making to both to our nation and their native countries.”

The Trump administration faces multiple looming deadlines for extending the Temporary Protected Status program in Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. Haiti’s status is set to expire in January 2018 after then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly extended TPS for six months instead of the usual 18 in May.

Kelly also said Haitians “need to start thinking about returning.”

Extending TPS for Haitians is a source of bipartisan agreement among Florida lawmakers, including Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. But the Trump administration terminated Sudan’s TPS status in September, an indication that they could decide to end other countries’ TPS status.

Currently, citizens from nine countries are eligible for TPS. The bill to provide a path to permanent residency does not apply to TPS recipients from Nepal, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria or Yemen.

Read more here.

October 26, 2017

Bruno Barreiro lands on national Republican fundraising list

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Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro, one of three Republicans vying to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, landed on the National Republican Congressional Committee's "On the Radar" list. 

The NRCC, a Washington-based group dedicated to electing Republicans to the House of Representatives, listed Barreiro as one of 31 candidates nationwide that has met a "minimum threshold in campaign organization." As Barreiro raises more money, he could be come eligible for additional levels of support from the NRCC. 

"These 31 candidates are formidable competitors against the liberal agenda of Nancy Pelosi and the left," NRCC chairman Steve Stivers said in a statement. "We look forward to working with these candidates to grow our Republican majority and enact policies that help hard working Americans." 

Barreiro faces former Miami-Dade mayoral candidate and school board member Raquel Regalado and former Doral councilwoman Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera in the Republican primary. Ros-Lehtinen's Miami-based district is one of the most democratic-leaning in the country currently represented by a Republican. 

The most recent fundraising quarter was interrupted by Hurricane Irma, and Barreiro raised $41,950 after posting a haul just over $175,000 in the quarter after announcing his candidacy. 

October 16, 2017

Republicans trail Democrats in the money race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

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Over a dozen hopefuls have filed paperwork to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a Miami-based district that national Democrats hope to flip in 2018. 

But six months after Ros-Lehtinen retired, the declared Democrats are soundly beating the Republicans in the money race. 

Five Democrats have raised well over six figures in the latest fundraising quarter and a sixth has hauled in over $200,000 since the spring.

But zero Republicans have raised anything close to $100,000 in the latest quarter spanning July 1 to September 30.

Three Republicans have posted fundraising results that were publicly available on the Federal Election Commission's website on Sunday. Miami-Dade County commissioner Bruno Barreiro hauled in $41,950, former school board member and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado raised $15,050 and former Doral council member Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, who said that aliens took her on a spaceship, raised $4,990. 

Regalado said in a statement posted to her Facebook page that she suspended her campaign just before Hurricane Irma hit South Florida. Irma made landfall on September 10, about six weeks after Regalado officially announced her bid. 

"I made this decision knowing full well that all of the other candidates in this 2018 race would continue raising funds despite the challenges that we, our neighbors and fellow Floridians faced," Regalado said. "Rather than call and email my supporters for funds I decided to ask them to set this race aside and help our community recover." Regalado told the Miami Herald that she is fundraising this quarter.  

"The issue is that I officially became a candidate a week before the hurricane hit and during the hurricane all i did was help people," Rodriguez Aguilera said. "I didn’t think that was the moment to really fundraise." Rodriguez Aguilera announced her candidacy about 10 days before Irma made landfall. 

Barreiro, the only Republican who fundraised in the previous quarter, has just over $187,000 on hand for his campaign as of October 15. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

A host of other Democrats and Republicans in South Florida suspended fundraising efforts due to Hurricane Irma, including Democrats running for Ros-Lehtinen's seat.

Seven Democrats are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn, Miami city commissioner Ken Russell and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman. All of them except Hepburn have raised over $100,000. 

In contrast to the race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat, sitting Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who also represents a Democratic-leaning district in South Florida, raised $431,580 during the latest quarter. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who represents a more conservative district without a big-name Democratic challenger, raised $199,766 in the latest quarter. 

 

 

Miami politician says aliens took her on a spaceship. Now she’s running for Congress.

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Florida has a U.S. senator who once flew aboard the Space Shuttle.

A congressional candidate from Miami can go one better: Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera says she’s been aboard a spaceship too. But this one was crewed by aliens. As in extraterrestrials.

Three blond, big-bodied beings — two females, one male — visited her when she was 7 years old and have communicated telepathically with her several times in her life, she says. (Sen. Bill Nelson served as payload officer aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in 1986. All seven people aboard were from Earth. As far as is known.)

Rodriguez Aguilera, 59, a Republican who is running to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, recounted her experience with the ETs during a 2009 television interview.

She described “going up” inside the spaceship — though whether it went into space or just hovered around town was left unclear

“I went in. There were some round seats that were there, and some quartz rocks that controlled the ship — not like airplanes,” Rodriguez Aguilera said.

In two separate videos posted to YouTube years ago, one by local Spanish-language station America TeVe and another by a political critic with the user name DoralGirl26, Rodriguez Aguilera spoke on television in detail about her extraterrestrial experiences. She said the alien beings reminded her of the famous statue in Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer, with arms outstretched.

Among the things she said she found out from the aliens:

▪ There are 30,000 skulls — “different from humans” — in a cave in the Mediterranean island of Malta.

▪ The world’s “energy center” is in Africa.

▪ The Coral Castle, a limestone tourist attraction South Miami-Dade, is actually an ancient Egyptian pyramid.

▪ “God is a universal energy.”

She also said that the aliens had mentioned Isis, though she didn’t clarify if they meant the terrorist organization or the ancient Egyptian goddess.

The Miami Herald asked Rodriguez Aguilera about her experiences Friday. She responded with a statement that waxed astronomical but failed to mention close encounters of any kind.

“For years people, including Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and astronauts have publicly claimed to have seen unidentified flying objects and scientists like Stephen Hawking and institutions like the Vatican have stated that there are billions of galaxies in the universe and we are probably not alone,” she said. “I personally am a Christian and have a strong belief in God, I join the majority of Americans who believe that there must be intelligent life in the billions of planets and galaxies in the universe.”

Read more here.