November 06, 2017

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

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


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



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



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.

October 14, 2017

Miami commissioner Ken Russell joins race to replace Ros-Lehtinen

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Congress could get its first professional yo-yo player if Ken Russell makes it to Washington.

The current Miami city commissioner, who once traveled around the world to showcase his yo-yo skills, told the Miami Herald that he is officially joining the crowded Democratic primary to replace retiring Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“I love my job as city commissioner and once Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement it started a new conversation,” Russell said. “It’s almost serendipity that [her retirement] is coinciding with what’s going on with the federal government. Instantly, I felt inside this is something I want to do.”


Russell set up an exploratory committee in May to gauge his electoral prospects and begin fundraising. After conducting internal polling, Russell concluded that there was a path to victory, even though other Democrats jumped in the race.

The 44-year-old, who won a Miami city commission seat in 2015, is now the eighth Democrat who has declared a candidacy for a Miami-based district that national Democrats hope they can flip in 2018. The district is among the most Democratic-leaning in the country that is currently represented by a Republican.

“There’s a lot of good people running, we’re all very different,” Russell said. We come from different backgrounds, we appeal to different backgrounds, we all have different visions.”

Seven others 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, Mark Anthony Person and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman.

Russell, who said his interest in politics started when the park across the street from his house was fenced off because of environmental neglect, plans to highlight the need for infrastructure development to offset sea level rise during his campaign.

“In Miami it’s more prevalent than anywhere else in the country, we cannot expel the water from our streets,” Russell said, adding that the Trump presidency will dominate a lot of the conversation during a Democratic primary but that the electorate will be attracted to a candidate “who is looking beyond the Trump years and has a vision.”

Read more here.

October 13, 2017

Miami Republican attacks Trump’s decision to end Obamacare payments

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sharply criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to end cost-sharing reduction payments intended to help low-income Americans afford health insurance.

Ros-Lehtinen, a frequent critic of Trump who is retiring in 2018, said late Thursday night on Twitter that “cutting health care subsidies will mean more uninsured in my district.”

“POTUS promised more access, affordable coverage,” Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. “This does opposite.”

The Trump administration said Thursday night that it will stop making payments to health insurers that participate in Obamacare. Trump continued to make the subsidy payments through the summer as he publicly pressured Congress to repeal the 2010 law.
“The bailout of insurance companies through these unlawful payments is yet another example of how the previous administration abused taxpayer dollars and skirted the law to prop up a broken system,” the White House said in a statement. “Congress needs to repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare law and provide real relief to the American people.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s Miami-based district has 96,300 people enrolled in Obamacare, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the highest number of enrollments of any congressional district in the country.

Another Miami Republican, Rep. Carlos Curbelo, tweeted on Friday morning that Congress should continue funding the subsides through the federal funding process.

“Cost sharing reductions are critical to low income Americans,” Curbelo tweeted. “Congress should guarantee their funding through the appropriations process.”

Curbelo’s district has 92,500 people enrolled in Obamacare.

Read more here.

October 10, 2017

Ros-Lehtinen dishes to Cosmo about climate change, Trump and mansplaining in Congress


Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen sat down for an early exit interview with "Cosmopolitan" magazine, sharing lessons from her extensive congressional career before she retires in 2018.

It's worth reading the entire piece, which highlights the areas in which Ros-Lehtinen has notably differed with the GOP: climate change ("People who argue that it isn't changing, that the sea levels are the same, are just delusional"), same-sex marriage ("If more members of our party listened to their hearts and acted on that, I think that we would be better off") and President Donald Trump ("I'm not the president of his fan club").

Of particular note is Ros-Lehtinen's nod to her trailblazing on Capitol Hill: She was the first Hispanic woman -- and first Cuban American -- elected to the House, and that made her all-too-familiar with "mansplaining," she told Cosmo:

When I first got to Congress many years ago, there weren't that many female members of Congress. And now there's so many more of us, and I think the male members have understood the changing nature of society. They’re more cognizant that maybe what they're thinking and their points of view are not the Magna Carta.

There came a time in my public service career where I really had the gumption to express my point of view and I felt like, OK, don't tell me about this issue of human rights. I really do know a lot about it and we can share opinions, but there's certain facts that you need to know. That only comes once you master a subject, and you feel like, OK, I trust my instincts and I trust my knowledge, and boy, I'm not gonna let anybody mansplain to me. I'm gonna dig right in and I'm gonna get my point of view across. Having that sense of self is really a confidence builder. Hoo-boy, you just feel it in your bones. More and more I think men are seeing, Oh boy, this person knows what she's talking about. And they're a little more cautious than they used to be.

October 05, 2017

Multiple Democrats raise over six figures in race to replace Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Updated)

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A slew of Democrats are aiming to replace outgoing Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2018, and the first fundraising totals since seven Democrats have officially joined the race are beginning to trickle in. 

State Rep. David Richardson, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez and former federal judge nominee Mary Barzee Flores have all raised over $280,000 in the latest fundraising quarter, according to numbers provided to the Miami Herald from their campaigns. The latest fundraising quarter, which ended on September 30, is the first quarter since the trio officially announced their bids. 

Richardson leads the trio in total money during the last three months, as he will report over $500,000 in deposits after officially entering the race in July. But Richardson also loaned himself $250,000, putting him just behind Rodríguez and Barzee Flores in money raised from donors. His campaign reports that he received contributions from over 2,400 individuals and 92 percent of his donors contributed $200 or less.  

"I’m honored to have received such tremendous support from a broad spectrum of Democrats,” Richardson said in a statement. “In just 82 days our supporters came out when we needed them most in order to help us demonstrate strength in our critical first fundraising quarter.”

Rodríguez raised over $280,000, according to his campaign, with 1,500 total donors and an average contribution of $170. He was also recently endorsed by the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a potential additional source of funds. He announced his plans to run in May but officially kicked off his campaign a month later. 


“Our first fundraising quarter saw immense support from a diverse coalition of local residents who are sick and tired of the political games played in Washington, D.C.," Rodríguez said in a statement. "With their continued support, we will stand up to Donald Trump and his relentless efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and fight for real reforms that put everyday Americans ahead of the insiders and special interests."

Barzee Flores, who announced her candidacy in July, will report having raised $303,095 in the fundraising quarter. According to her campaign, she had over 500 individual donors with two-thirds of the contributions from Miami-Dade County.  

“This outpouring of support shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows Mary," said campaign manager Sam Miller in a statement. "She’s lived, worked and served in this community her whole life and has a deep well of respect and support as a result. Donors know that Mary will fight for the values of Miami in Congress and have reached in deep to make sure she has the resources to get there.”

Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez raised $55,515 in the latest quarter. She declared her candidacy before Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement and reported over $184,000 raised in the second quarter of 2017 before Richardson, Rodríguez and Barzee Flores jumped in. 

"In our first quarter of fundraising, we raised $184,411.42. The goal for the third quarter was $50,000," Rosen Gonzalez said in an email. "We set that amount because we knew that a lot of our supporters were going to be focused on municipal races. This quarter was also a challenge in light of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. We’re still dealing with the clean-up from Irma all across South Florida.  Nevertheless, we still managed to exceed our fundraising goal." 

Miami commissioner Ken Russell, who hasn't officially joined the race but formed an exploratory committee that allowed him to fundraise, declined to share his latest fundraising numbers after raising $133,000 during the previous quarter. 

"I’m still very seriously considering this in my heart," Russell said. "The fundraising is going well enough that I’ve been able to go to Washington and conduct polling." 

University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person have also declared candidacies in the Democratic primary. 

UPDATE 10/6/17: Matt Haggman's campaign released his fundraising numbers and the former Knight Foundation Director and Miami Herald reporter who joined the race in August raised $512,000 with $469,000 cash on hand. The total puts him at the top of the early money list among Democrats. His campaign said the total is "the most individual contributions any FL-27 candidate has raised in a single quarter in at least 20 years." 

"This is how change happens – by people across the community coming together and stepping up,” Haggman said in a statement. "I will be a congressman willing to take on President Trump and willing to fight to create opportunities for everyone, which is what I have done in our community throughout my career." 

The latest fundraising totals must be formally filed with the Federal Election Commission by October 15.