April 06, 2013

Miami lawmakers question Beyoncé, Jay-Z trip to Cuba

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Cuban-American Republicans from Miami, sent a letter late Friday to the Treasury Department asking for details about R&B stars Beyoncé and Jay-Z's trip this week to Cuba.

In the letter to the office of foreign assets control, the members of Congress say they want to find out which type of license the couple received to travel to the island, what the purpose of their trip is and who approved it.

"As you know, U.S. law expressly prohibits the licensing of financial transactions for 'tourist activities' in Cuba," the letter says. It also notes that so-called "people-to-people" licenses require that travelers have "a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities" in Cuba.

"Despite the clear prohibition against tourism in Cuba, numerous press reports described the couple's trip as tourism, and the Castro regime touted it as such in its propaganda," the letter says. "We represent a community of many who have been deeply and personally harmed by the Castro regime's atrocities, including former political prisoners and the families of murdered innocents."

March 01, 2013

Walking the talk: Miami Reps Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen among most-bipartisan

@MarcACaputo via NBC Latino

According to new ratings from National Journal, Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), and Raul Labrador (Idaho), as well as Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas were near the ideological center of Congress, after an analysis of votes taken in 2012. Republican David Rivera of Florida also ranked near the middle but lost re-election last fall because of ethics, not ideology.

The most moderate Latino Member last year was Ros-Lehtinen, who has been in Congress for more than two decades and had a conservative rating of 49.3 percent last year (100 percent would be the most conservative Member of Congress). She added to her centrist credentials this week when she signed a legal brief, along with 75 other Republicans, that advocated for gay and lesbian couples’ right to marry.

Her Florida colleagues, Diaz-Balart (52 percent conservative) and Rivera (53.7 percent), also ranked as two of the more moderate House Members, along with Herrera Beutler (56.2 percent) and Labrador (58.2 percent), both of whom were first elected in 2010. Labrador has received some national attention for his efforts to push his party to a more moderate position on immigration (even though he still opposes a path to citizenship), but he consistently gets excellent marks with conservative, anti-tax groups.

February 07, 2013

Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen's letter, an FBI-raided donor's port deal, and the Bob Menendez scandal

 At first glance, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s letter to the Dominican Republic’s ambassador to the United States looks like standard fare for a chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

“Recent reports that the illicit drug trade and the presence of drug cartels may shift towards the Dominican Republic are of increasing concern to the Committee,” the Miami Republican, then committee chair, wrote Ambassador Aníbal de Castro April 10, 2012.

“I am interested to hear what specific steps your administration is tak[ing] to improve cargo security,” she closed, “and reducing the flow of drugs to the United States and how we can work together towards achieving this goal.”

Someone else was keenly interested, too: Dr. Salomon Melgen, investor in a Dominican Republic port security company, ICSSI, which wants to X-ray cargo at the very ports Ros-Lehtinen was concerned about.

Ros-Lehtinen's letter came a month after Melgen contributed $5,000 to her campaign in a race where she faced token opposition (in 2011, he contributed $4,800). And, a few months before that, Ros-Lehtinen held a benefit for medical research in which Melgen cut another $15,000 check.

Melgen’s West Palm Beach offices were raided last week by federal agents in a Medicare-fraud investigation. FBI agents are also examining his ties with Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ.

Melgen has a reputation, among some political insiders, of being “transactional,” meaning he gives donations but also expects to get something in return. Sources tell The Miami Herald the doctor has asked various members of Congress over the years for help with one of his lawsuits, his port deal, Medicare and a tax issue.

Continue reading "Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen's letter, an FBI-raided donor's port deal, and the Bob Menendez scandal" »

January 14, 2013

Rubio, Obama, Diaz-Balart, Ros-Lehtinen, Jeb -- oh my! Everyone's talking immigration now

The fiscal cliff debate is on hold. Now comes the demographic cliff debate: Immigration.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush hosted a Friday powwow about immigration reform. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and President Obama’s administration leaked details of their plans over the weekend that would give varying degrees of amnesty to those illegally in the country.

And on Monday in Doral, Miami U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen held a forum to gather ideas and, in Diaz-Balart’s words, give them “ammunition” to call on their colleagues to reform immigration.

With the exception of Obama, all are from Florida and are Republicans. Their party’s hard-line immigration stances helped drive Hispanics, the state and nation’s fastest-growing demographic group, to the Democratic Party this last election. Republicans don’t want a repeat in two years.

“Both parties have used immigration as a political wedge issue,” Diaz-Balart said. “The Democrats never wanted to get it done. They wanted to have it as a political issue. It worked very well for them.”

But, Diaz-Balart said, his party isn’t without fault.

“Republicans didn’t want to get it done — leadership — they wanted it as a wedge issue. It has worked poorly for them,” he said.

Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen say this is the year that Congress needs to pass immigration reform. A major fault-line: Whether to give illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship or a pathway to residency.

Still, this is the time, Diaz-Balart said because it’s not an election year. So there’s less chance for hyper-partisan politics, Diaz-Balart said. It’s also a new Congress. And Republicans, who blocked major congressional immigration legislation in 2010 and 2006, might be more willing to vote for immigration-reform plans as the lessons of 2012’s elections are still fresh.

More here

December 21, 2012

Jon Hammar, jailed ex-Marine from Miami, released from Mexican prison

Jon Hammar, the former Marine from Palmetto Bay who had been detained at a Mexican prison since August, has been freed.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the family's congresswoman, relayed the news late Friday night. Hammar's mother, Olivia, also issued a statement to the press about her son's release.

"The only expression that captures how we feel today is that 'our cup runneth over,'" the family said. It thanked Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Sens. Bill Nelson (a Democrat) and Marco Rubio (a Republican), and Rep. Mike Thompson, a California Democrat, for assisting in Hammar's case. Thompson represents the California district where Hammar, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, spent some time in a residential facility for veterans, being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

In her own statement, Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, thanked "the American people" and her congressional colleagues for pushing for Hammar's release. "I am overcome with joy knowing that Jon will be spending Christmas with his parents, family and friends," she said.

Read their full statements after the jump.

Continue reading "Jon Hammar, jailed ex-Marine from Miami, released from Mexican prison" »

UPDATED Former U.S. Marine from Miami to be released from Mexican prison

Jon Hammar, the Marine veteran from South Florida detained for months in a Mexican border prison for bringing his great-grandfather’s shotgun into the country, is expected to be released Friday in what his mother calls a “Christmas miracle.’’

His mother, Olivia, said she and her husband were awoken with a 2:30 a.m. phone call from Hammar’s defense attorney sharing the good news. Hammar’s father, Jon, quickly found a flight to Texas.

“We made it from our house in Palmetto Bay to the airport in 11 minutes,” she told The Miami Herald. “This is our Christmas miracle.”

The elder Hammar will wait for his son, who has been held since August in a prison in Matamoros, Mexico, across the border in Brownsville, Texas. They will likely remain there for a few days, Olivia Hammar said, because her son is interested in getting back the 1972 Winnebago motor home — and some nine surfboards he was transporting — from Mexican authorities.

“It will be closure for him,” she said.

Hammar was arrested Aug. 13 when he and a fellow Marine veteran, who were headed to Costa Rica to surf, tried to cross into Mexico. Hammar had been told by U.S. authorities he could declare a six-decades-old .410 bore Sears & Roebuck shotgun at the border. The firearm is suitable for shooting rabbits and birds.

But Mexican authorities dismissed Hammar’s U.S. registration papers for the disassembled relic. Prosecutors charged him with a serious crime: possession of a weapon restricted for use to Mexico’s armed forces.

More here.

December 13, 2012

Family, friends of former U.S. Marine from Miami detained in Mexico call for his release

When the mother of a military veteran arrested and detained in a dangerous foreign jail called her congresswoman’s office two weeks ago asking for help, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she had a hard time believing former Marine Lance Cpl. Jon Hammar was in prison for carrying a six-decade-old shotgun into Mexico.

“We said, ‘Surely she must be exaggerating,’ ” recalled Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican.

She wasn’t. Olivia Hammar’s son had been in a state prison in Matamoros, along the Mexican border, for nearly four months.

His parents, who live in Palmetto Bay, tried to resolve the matter quietly, hiring attorneys in Mexico and dealing with the U.S. consulate there. But the effort went nowhere.

Now the family has gone public — so public that even Hammar’s jailors have seen the case in the news.

“What’s going on?” Hammar asked in a late-night phone call Wednesday, according to his parents. “The guards are going crazy down here.”

The story of how Hammar, a 27-year-old who returned from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with post-traumatic stress disorder and hoped to find peace surfing in Central America, wound up chained to a bed in Mexican prison drew widespread attention after McClatchy, The Miami Herald’s parent company, published a report about the case last week.

November 27, 2012

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to wrap up term as foreign affairs committee chair due to House limits

Top Republicans in Congress on Tuesday recommended a new chairman for the Foreign Affairs Committee, a position to be vacated by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen due to GOP term limits in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican, served two years as chairwoman of the powerful committee, and four years as the ranking GOP member -- the maximum six years party rules allow members to remain in committee leadership positions. 

She backed the new chairman, Rep. Ed Royce of California, and told The Miami Herald on Tuesday night that she cherishes the time she had atop the committee.

"It's been a great privilege and a great honor," she said, declaring herself "very happy" about Royce's appointment.

As chairwoman, Ros-Lehtinen has held perhaps the most visible House leadership position among South Florida Republicans. Ros-Lehtinen, who is Cuban-American, has been particularly outspoken on matters regarding Cuba and Latin America, and she has criticized the Obama administration on its policies in the Middle East.

"What a thrill it has been for me to be both the top Republican in the minority, and the top Republican in the majority" at foreign affairs, she said. "It says a lot about the greatness of the country that a naturalized American could be chairing the Foreign Affairs Committee."

Ros-Lehtinen, who was first elected to Congress in 1989, said she looks forward to whatever role Royce gives her in the committee, be it heading a subcommittee or something else.

"Whatever role he sees for me, I will be pleased as punch," the characteristically cheerful Ros-Lehtinen said. "We want to give the new folks, the new kids on the block, a shot at leadership."

She added: "I didn't come to Congress to chair a committee, or for power or prestige. I came to represent my community ... I love this job."

The headline to this post has been changed to more accurately reflect that the congresswoman is only leaving her post due to term limits. 

September 22, 2012

Paul Ryan to Little Havana: 'We will be tough on Castro'

U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan got the Cuban exile seal of approval Saturday at a campaign rally in Little Havana where he pledged to hold a hard line against the Castro regime.

The Republican vice presidential candidate did not mention that he once opposed the U.S. trade embargo against the island, but he pointed to his change of heart — prompted by Miami’s current and former Cuban-American Republicans in Congress, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart.

“They’ve given me a great education — lots of us in Congress — about how we need to clamp down on the Castro regime,” Ryan told supporters at the Versailles restaurant. “We will be tough on Castro, tough on [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chávez.”

Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, has voted against the embargo at least three times. The Midwest tends to see trade opportunities in agriculture with Cuba.

 

Ryan began supporting the embargo in 2007 as he started to ascend the House Republican leadership ranks. And on Saturday he began criticizing President Barack Obama’s policies toward the island. The Obama administration has made it easier for families and certain groups to travel and send money to Cuba.

 

Ryan said he and GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney would take a different approach.

“We will not keep practicing this policy of appeasement,” Ryan said. “We will be tough on this brutal dictator.”

More here.

July 23, 2012

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen bashes President Obama for no Israel visits. What about Reagan, Bush, Nixon?

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a backer of Republican Mitt Romney and the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, took a swipe at President Obama today for failing to visit Israel during his first term.

The left is pushing back, saying that  Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush. The last two didn't visit Israel until their second terms. It appears Reagan never did.

The focus on Israel and the Jewish vote has taken a back seat of late to all the talk about the Hispanic vote. Republican John McCain's campaign made a big deal about the Jewish vote in 2008 and it didn't work then. But this year could be different.

Here's Ros-Lehtinen's statement:

“Next week, Mitt Romney is traveling to Israel for the fourth time. Meanwhile, Barack Obama has yet to visit Israel as President, even as he has found time to visit numerous other countries around the world, including in the Middle East. We can only speculate about why the President has failed to visit the capital of our closest ally in the region, but we don’t need to speculate about the timing of the latest hint from the White House that President Obama will travel to Israel in his second term. It’s politically inspired, coming as it does only days before Mitt Romney heads off to Jerusalem.  One should not play political games with U.S. foreign policy, particularly at a moment when the Middle East is a tinderbox.”