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.”

June 28, 2012

Reaction rolling in on health care decision

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: "What’s important to remember is that what the Court rules on is whether something is constitutional or not, not whether it’s a good idea. And while the Court has said that the law is constitutional, it remains a bad idea for our economy, and I hope that in the fall we will have a majority here that will not just repeal this law, but replace it with real solutions that will insure more people and cost a lot less money."

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.: "A lot of us feel the health-care law wasn’t perfect.  ut it was needed.  Our system was broken and we had to do something.  Insurance companies were refusing to cover people or dropping those who got sick. So, we passed legislation to prevent insurers from running roughshod over people. And today, the Supreme Court upheld most of these reforms. Now, I think it’s time we finish the job of fixing our economy and creating more jobs."

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers: "Bill Nelson cast the deciding vote on the largest tax ever placed on the American people and he will be held accountable in November by all Floridians. ObamaCare not only kills jobs, burdens families and runs up our already-massive debt, it oversteps its bounds by stripping Americans of their freedoms and mandating compliance with a government edict by calling the law a tax."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston: "As a breast cancer survivor and one of 129 million Americans with a pre-existing condition, I am overjoyed that the Supreme Court upheld the right of every American to have access to quality, affordable health care insurance. Because of the Affordable Care Act, South Floridians like Lainie Schultz, a young woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks before her 25th birthday, will not be denied the health care coverage she needs because of pre-existing conditions. Thanks to the tax credit in the Affordable Care Act, small businesses like the GBS group in Pembroke Pines are, for the first time, able to offer health care coverage to their employees. The Affordable Care Act has already made it possible for American families and small businesses to have more control over their health care by reducing costs, increasing choice, and instituting common sense rules."

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami: “While I strongly disagree with the court’s judgment, today’s decision exemplifies why we are a system of checks and balances.  Our work is not finished, however. The court’s ruling underscores the critical role Congress must play by repealing ObamaCare.  America’s healthcare system should empower individuals and families instead of Washington bureaucrats. This ruling imposes a new huge tax on America’s already struggling families and this is unacceptable to those of us who believe that our money should stay in our pockets and not sent to Washington. I have already voted 30 times in Congress to defund, fully repeal or do away with parts of ObamaCare and I will vote that way again."

U.S. Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami: "It is in the best interest of our nation’s economy to repeal the job-killing health care law and replace it with common sense reforms that address what is wrong with the health insurance system in America. We must pass legislation that lower costs and protect American jobs, not threaten them. We must move toward a system that welcomes patient choice and flexibility, instead of more government involvement, by ensuring Americans the ability to make medical decisions without bureaucratic interference."

U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar: "The Supreme Court’s ruling today is a real victory for the American people.  This decision upholds the principle that all Americans should have access to affordable, quality health care. Millions of Americans have already benefited from this important piece of legislation. I have always advocated for access to universal health care with a public option.  With the Affordable Care Act, we have taken a huge step towards putting patients and their doctors, rather than big insurance companies, in charge of an individual’s health care decisions.  While I am pleased that this important legislation was upheld by the Supreme Court, there is still work to be done.  I hope that my Republican colleagues will now do their part and end their partisan attacks by putting the interests of Americans’ health care needs first."

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami: "The Affordable Care Act is already paying dividends for millions of Americans, with more improvements to the system going into effect in the next few years. In passing health reform, President Obama and a Democratic Congress made history for our country and progress for the American people. Because of the ACA, affordable health care is now a right for all, not a privilege for the few. Today, the Supreme Court affirmed our progress and protected that right, securing a future of health and economic security for working people and their families, students and seniors."

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami: “Today’s Supreme Court decision is a huge tax increase on the American people. The President’s healthcare bill, which was written behind closed doors, dramatically increases taxes, fees, and the cost of healthcare for all Americans. Obamacare was supposed to lower the price of healthcare. Instead, it has done the exact opposite – the price of healthcare has skyrocketed. With the individual mandate, President Obama is slamming the American people with a burdensome new tax. It has also been a major factor in the sluggish growth of our economy and anemic job creation. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to repeal Obamacare in order to protect Americans’ access to the care they need, from the doctors they choose, at a price they can afford." 

Continue reading "Reaction rolling in on health care decision" »

June 12, 2012

Ros-Lehtinen says she backs Holder contempt vote

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said she backs fellow House Republicans in their effort to subpoena Attorney General Eric Holder.

The Oversight and Government Reform Committee may vote next week to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to provide subpoenaed documents in what's known as the "Fast and Furious" gun operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The vote is scheduled for next Wednesday. (Ros-Lehtinen is not on the committee.)

Here's her statement: "I support the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s vote to hold Attorney General Holder in contempt of Congress.  Mr. Holder has not been forthcoming nor cooperative in the Committee’s efforts to find out what exactly occurred with the disastrous ‘Fast and Furious’ program that put guns in the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

‘Fast and Furious’ also led to the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry who was killed by a weapon lost in this failed operation. His family is looking for justice to be served and asking for those responsible to be held accountable.

Mr. Holder continues to stonewall Congress about this operation. This is a serious charge, and the Justice Department must come clean."