September 19, 2018

Miami’s pro-Trump ‘master of selfies’ could upend a competitive congressional race

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@alextdaugherty

At a recent Ron DeSantis campaign event at Miami’s Versailles restaurant, a congressional candidate was on hand waving a “Make America Great Again” hat, shouting at conservative Republicans who had come to get a glimpse of the GOP gubernatorial nominee to vote for her.

But the MAGA-clad candidate for congressional District 27 wasn’t the Republican nominee, Maria Elvira Salazar. It was no-party candidate Mayra Joli.

Joli, Miami’s self-described master of selfies, has been campaigning for nearly a year for retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s seat. She bypassed the GOP primary for a shot in the general election against Salazar and Democrat Donna Shalala, and doesn’t have much money in her campaign account. Independent campaigns for congressional seats are usually long-shot propositions.

But Joli’s outspoken pro-Trump message on Spanish-language radio and at other candidates’ campaign events could undercut the effort by Republicans to keep Ros-Lehtinen’s seat. The race is already a difficult one for the GOP — Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the district by more than 19 percentage points in 2016. Republicans are relying on a coalition of conservatives and moderate voters who supported Ros-Lehtinen to stay in their camp come November, and they’re hopeful that Salazar is the right candidate to make the race competitive.

“Basically, the Republicans, the Diaz-Balarts and the Ros-Lehtinens, they are more anti-Trump than even some Democrats and many in the Cuban-American community think they have sold their souls to Washington,” Joli said. “I’m running as an NPA [No Party Affliation] because I understand the only way to help the president is to be with him for America First.”

Nelson Diaz, the head of the Miami-Dade Republican Party, blasted Joli’s candidacy as disingenuous, noting that she donated $500 to Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid and that Republicans who vote for her are essentially giving their vote to Shalala.

“If somebody was looking to derail the GOP nominee in this election you would do exactly what she’s doing; Say you’re a Trump supporter, wiggle your away to the front of the room,” Diaz said. “If she cares so much about this president, why would she do something that’s going to damage or hurt the president?”

Diaz said he thinks Joli’s campaign is a “scam,” though he acknowledged he has no evidence that she’s in the race as a ringer candidate to deliberately sabotage the chances of the GOP nominee.

“I think Maria Elvira will win by a good margin because the Dems have nominated someone who is such a bad candidate for this seat, but she [Joli] could make a difference,” Diaz said. “Of course, we are going to combat it. I’ve been on the radio this week telling people that this woman’s a fraud.”

Read more here.

September 11, 2018

Trump called Haiti a ‘sh--hole’ campaigning in Miami in 2016, Woodward’s book says

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@alextdaugherty

When Donald Trump visited Little Haiti during the 2016 presidential campaign, he told the Haitian-American community: “I really want to be your biggest champion.”

Minutes later, he was calling Haiti a shithole.

In Bob Woodward’s new book released on Tuesday, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” the veteran reporter wrote that Trump used the vulgarity to describe Haiti after a campaign stop in Little Haiti.

“The idea of ‘shithole countries’ was not a new one for Trump,” Woodward wrote. “During the 2016 campaign, Trump had visited Little Haiti in Miami. Former Haitian leaders had come to the microphones and accused the Clintons of corruption and stealing from Haiti.”

“After the event, in private, Trump seemed down. ‘I really felt for these people. They come from such a shithole.’”

The comments in 2016 came after a Trump campaign event where the then-candidate told Haitian-Americans they shared “a lot of common values” and railed against the Clinton Foundation’s spending in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

“Whether you vote for me or not I really want to be your biggest champion,” Trump said in prepared remarks. “Clinton was responsible for doing things a lot of the Haitian people are not happy with. Taxpayer dollars intended for Haiti and the earthquake victims went to a lot of the Clinton cronies.”

Michael Barnett, the vice chairman of the Florida Republican party who helped organized the Little Haiti event, said he will continue to believe the president when he says he didn’t say it. 

"I am still willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt," he said. "I would like to know where these allegations have come from; who are the sources? Until I see any concrete proof, I am willing to believe the president when he says he didn't say it."
 
Barnett was tasked with getting the Little Haiti community to show up to the Trump campaign event. He said he doesn’t recall the president having any private meeting after and that “he got into his vehicle and left the cultural center. I don’t know where he went after that.”

Trump’s use of the vulgarity set off a barrage of criticism earlier this year when the president referred to Haiti and some African nations as “shithole countries” during a much-publicized January meeting on immigration.

But it wasn’t the first time Trump used the term, according to Woodward.

Read more here.

September 10, 2018

Maria Elvira Salazar will vote for "any type of tower, any type of guards" at U.S.-Mexico border

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@alextdaugherty

Republican Maria Elvira Salazar wants to reform the nation's immigration system, but will vote to spend money on Donald Trump's border priorities if elected to Congress. 

Salazar, running to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a Miami-based seat that Trump lost by more than 19 percentage points in 2016, did not directly endorse Trump's border wall in a Sunday night interview with MSNBC host Kasie Hunt, but she did endorse specific parts of a border security plan that most Democrats do not support. 

"I would definitely vote in order to secure the border," Salazar said when asked about the wall. 

"Does that mean the wall that the president wants, the big, beautiful wall?" Hunt responded. 

"That means any type of tower, any type of technology, any type of guards for border security that will secure the border because we do not want (imprisoned Mexican drug lord) El Chapo or his friends smuggling drugs," Salazar said. "Listen, the undocumented people do not want to be undocumented. That's why we need to reform our immigration system and we need to give visas to those that are coming to pick up Jalapeno peppers in Southern California or to clean toilets in Orlando or in Manhattan. They need some type of legality so they can stay here, they can pay taxes, they can contribute to the economy and continue working as they are right now without a criminal record." 

Salazar blamed Barack Obama for prioritizing Obamacare over an immigration overhaul while in office and Bill Clinton for passing immigration laws that laid the framework for Trump's family separation policy. 

"This is not a matter of Democrats or Republicans, when it comes to immigration everybody's at fault," Salazar said. 

Hunt also asked Salazar, a broadcast journalist for decades until January, about Trump's comments declaring the press as the enemy of the people. Salazar disagreed with his remarks.

"We have the best press in the world," Salazar said. "The press, the press we need always." 

Salazar faces Democrat Donna Shalala and pro-Trump independent Mayra Joli in the general election. 

Watch the interview here.

August 28, 2018

A sporty Carlos Curbelo goes up on TV

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@alextdaugherty

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's first TV spot is an extended metaphor on his two terms in Congress that also serves to let voters know his first occupation: basketball referee. 

Curbelo shows off his post game and launches some mid-range jumpers as he criticizes Democrats for not getting behind his conservative alternative to the Dream Act and Republicans for not doing enough to help the environment or push for certain gun control measures. 

"My first job was refereeing basketball. I called a fair game," Curbelo says, as he spins a whistle around his finger. "But Washington politicians don’t play fair. And I just call ‘em like I see ‘em. The left blocked my Dreamers solution, I called them out and kept working. The right didn’t do enough for our environment or school safety, so I called that one, too. In Washington, many politicians play for their party, but I play for you."

Curbelo, who represents the most Democratic-leaning district in the country held by a Republican running for reelection, is expected to spend millions against likely Democratic opponent Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Outside groups on both sides will likely run their own ads ahead of Election Day. 

The 30-second spot doesn't actually show Curbelo hitting any shots, so it's hard to tell how his basketball skills match up with lawmakers like Bernie Sanders (who drained shot after shot via the backboard during the 2016 presidential campaign) or Ted Cruz (who recently bested Jimmy Kimmel in a one-on-one matchup for charity). 

"We didn’t keep a running score, but can say he’s definitely been practicing since the Congressional charity basketball game and I’m predicting more playing time in his future," Curbelo spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez said.

Watch the ad below: 

August 17, 2018

A tale of two primaries: The race to replace Ros-Lehtinen enters the final stretch

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

@alextdaugherty

The Republican and Democratic primaries to replace Miami icon Ileana Ros-Lehtinen both have front-runners.

That’s where the similarities end.

Democrats are arguing over policy issues that could accelerate the party’s leftward shift and are trying to attack former University of Miami President Donna Shalala. Discussions about abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and implementing Medicare for all are ideas that just recently came to the national party’s attention.

Republicans are arguing that the leading candidate, TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, was flirtatious with former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro in an television interview 23 years ago, lobbing well-worn accusations of being soft on Cuba that have been a staple of Miami campaigns for decades.

“You would think that in Miami that we’re running campaigns on foreign policy,” said Republican political consultant Jesse Manzano-Plaza, who is not involved in the GOP race. “This is an example on the federal level, but even on the policy it seems like it’s about the perception that someone may have been friendly to Fidel Castro in an interview years ago.”

When Ros-Lehtinen, the GOP’s leading social moderate in Congress and a noted critic of President Donald Trump, announced her retirement nearly a year and a half ago, the seat instantly became the Democrats’ to lose. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than 19 percentage points in the district that encompasses Miami Beach, most of Miami, Kendall and parts of coastal South Dade.

Republicans and Democrats have gone 0 for 23 in situations like Ros-Lehtinen’s since 1994, when an incumbent representative doesn’t run for reelection in a district carried two years earlier by a president from the opposite party.

Read more here.

July 27, 2018

Miami lawmakers plan to publicly rebuke Daniel Ortega for violence in Nicaragua

Nicaragua Unrest

@alextdaugherty

Daniel Ortega’s biggest foes in Washington are trying to draw more attention to Nicaragua’s ongoing human-rights crisis, though they acknowledge that military action by President Donald Trump against the leftist leader is unlikely.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. Marco Rubio of Miami are leading efforts in the House and Senate to publicly rebuke violent attacks by masked gunmen linked to Ortega’s government who have killed 97 people since July 11. This week, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution written by Ros-Lehtinen that condemns the violence and calls on the use of sanctions for individuals that are connected to the killings. Rubio has proposed a similar resolution in the Senate.

The retiring Miami congresswoman said the successful resolution was the first step in a four-part plan to rebuke Ortega.

Additionally, she’s angling for the Senate to pass her bill that limits U.S. loans to Ortega’s government until the longtime president carries out democratic reforms; more sanctions for individuals who can be connected to violent acts against anti-Ortega protestors, and overturning the Trump administration’s decision to end a temporary immigration program that allowed 2,500 Nicaraguans to live and work in the U.S. without the fear of deportation.

“I would not want to compare atrocities, but Nicaragua is a smaller country than Venezuela, smaller population, and they had almost 400 people killed and the international community shrugs,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “If we’re going to say that it’s terrible in Nicaragua, why are we going to deport Nicaraguan Americans to Nicaragua when we are saying that it’s in political chaos?”

The Trump administration decided to end Nicaragua’s Temporary Protected Status in November 2017, a designation that was made in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch killed nearly 4,000 people and uprooted land mines around the country. Nicaraguans who have been living in the U.S. with TPS since 1998 now have until January 2019 to seek another form of legal residency or else return to Nicaragua.

“By next year, they will all be deported,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “These are law-abiding people, they are legal, they have permits to work, they’re being educated, they’ve got driver’s licenses and now we’re going to deport them to the violent hell that is Nicaragua? That’s just not right.”

Ros-Lehtinen’s letter to Trump urging him to change Nicaragua’s TPS designation was signed by four of Miami-Dade County’s five House members, including Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart. Miami-Dade is home to about one-third of all Nicaraguan Americans.

Rubio said there is already work being done to sanction individuals and entities in Nicaragua that are responsible for the violence. Ortega’s recent decision not to move up elections that were scheduled for 2021, as requested by the nation’s business community and Catholic clergy, moved him past the point of no return in Rubio’s eyes.

“There is a direct national security interest for the United States in seeing a return to democracy and stability in Nicaragua,” Rubio said in a statement. “The message from the U.S. to the Ortega regime was very clear: Call for early elections and allow legitimate elections. That did not happen. As Nicaragua follows Venezuela’s dangerous path, the U.S. should be prepared to take further action with our regional allies to address the threat of Ortega’s regime.”

Read more here.

July 20, 2018

Curbelo says 1,313 kids in Homestead shelter are treated with ‘care and compassion’

Immigration Florida

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said one of the country’s largest compounds for immigrant children felt a lot like a high school after touring it for the first time on Friday.

Curbelo was able to visit the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children after initially being denied entry to the facility, which is in his district, by the Department of Health and Human Services.

There are currently 1,313 children from ages 13-17 at the facility, Curbelo said, and 114 of them are children who were separated from their parents at the border because of the Trump administration’s policy of separating families who cross the border illegally together. The rest of the children are unaccompanied minors who crossed the border without their parents.

“The minors in this facility are being treated with great care and compassion,” Curbelo said in an interview after he toured the facility. “From everything I saw these adolescents are being treated with great care and all of their needs are being attended to.”

Curbelo said the facility director told him that 37 children who were once at the facility have been reunited with their parents after being separated at the border, a policy that Curbelo and most lawmakers in Washington want to end.

Inside the facility, Curbelo said he saw classrooms where students were learning English, dormitory-style sleeping quarters and a cafeteria that reminded him of a high school. There are 1,700 employees dedicated to staffing the facility, and the gender split of the children appeared to be 60 percent male and 40 percent female, Curbelo said. Males and females appear to be completely separated from each other, they use the cafeteria at different times and have separate sleeping quarters and classrooms, he said.

Curbelo said he was told not to “interrogate” the children, but he did have “light conversations” with children who indicated they were being treated well.

“We had full access,” Curbelo said. “They asked us not to interrogate the minors but they did encourage light conversation. I greeted a lot of the minors, I asked them how they felt and how they were being treated, and they were positive conversations.”

Read more here.

July 06, 2018

Trump's HHS says lawmakers visiting immigrant children create 'unnecessary strain'

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@alextdaugherty @katieglueck

The Department of Health and Human Services is hitting back at members of Congress and their staffs who are trying to see inside facilities that house children who have been separated from their parents while crossing the border illegally.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican, was barred from visiting the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children on Friday even though he tried to set up a visit weeks ago and followed protocols issued by the Trump administration.

When asked why Curbelo was not allowed into the Homestead facility, an HHS spokesperson said requests to visit facilities by members of Congress have created "a significant and unnecessary strain" on staff members working at the facilities.

"More than 50 members of Congress and 60 congressional staffers visited in the month of June alone," HHS spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer said in a statement. "Despite these efforts, there continue to be Members and staff who disregard long-standing policies for visit requests and accommodations, creating significant and unnecessary strain on grantee shelters’ staff, whose first and foremost priority is providing for the safety, security, and care of youth at their facilities. President [Donald] Trump has continually called on Congress to fix our nation’s broken immigration system, and we encourage members of Congress to focus on long-term solutions to policies that are driving tens of thousands of people to our borders, unaccompanied or otherwise."

Curbelo, who is responsible for oversight and helps set funding levels for federal agencies such as HHS, was appalled by the response.

"I don't feel sorry for them at all," Curbelo said. "We fund all of their operations and all of their salaries, so they should make the time and effort to allow us to see the work they're doing, especially if they're confident in the work they're doing."

Curbelo said his visit had been confirmed with local officials for over a week and that he followed protocols laid out by HHS last month for lawmakers who wish to visit facilities housing immigrant children, making sure that his visit wouldn't be intrusive.

"I was extremely upset given that we had worked for weeks to set this up," Curbelo said. "I didn't go over there and just show up unannounced, I said I'll work through all the channels and make sure that the facility is prepared and that I'm not a distraction to any work being done there, so it was very disappointing."

The Homestead facility, which is thought to host about 1,100 children, was recently reopened after the Trump administration decided to start separating parents from their children when they cross the border illegally. About 70 children at the facility were separated from their parents and some of those children have been unable to contact their parents. The rest of the children at the facility are unaccompanied minors.

HHS spokesperson Kenneth Wolfe did not respond when asked for an updated account of how many children were at the Homestead facility.

Read more here.

July 03, 2018

Miami wants the 2020 Democratic convention. The county's top Democrat doesn't.

Democratic national convention crowd shot

@doug_hanks

Miami-Dade has drawn an unlikely opponent to the county landing the 2020 Democratic National Convention. On Monday, the chairman of the county Democratic party urged national Democrats to look elsewhere unless Miami-Dade reverses a 2017 decision to comply with President Donald Trump's crackdown on immigration detentions.

Addressing national Democratic chairman Tom Perez on Twitter, Miami-Dade chair Juan Cuba wrote: "It's with great regret that I urge you to remove Miami from contention until they reverse their anti-immigrant policies of cooperating with ICE to deport our friends & neighbors."

Miami-Dade is one of three finalists bidding for the Democratic National Convention to be held July 13-16, 2020. If Miami-Dade wins, it would be the first time in nearly 50 years that the county will host a major political convention. Leaders from the county and the cities of Miami and Miami Beach made their pitch to the Democrats Friday in Washington D.C. Next, a committee of Democrats will visit the finalist cities and begin contract negotiations. The DNC plans to announce the 2020 host city in January.

The other two finalists for the 2020 Democratic convention — Houston and Milwaukee — also accept the federal detention requests at the heart of Miami-Dade's immigration controversy. But those jurisdictions had accepted the requests during the Obama administration, too, sparing them the national spotlight that came to Miami-Dade when it was the first major metro area to change policies after the 2016 presidential election.

Days after Trump took office, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez reversed a five-year policy of refusing detention requests from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The requests ask jails to extend detentions by 48 hours for people who are booked on unrelated local charges and are flagged on federal watch lists for alleged immigration offenders being sought for deportation.

Read more here.

Internal Bruno Barreiro poll shows him down 14 points to Maria Elvira Salazar

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@alextdaugherty

Former Miami-Dade commissioner Bruno Barreiro faces an uphill climb in the Republican primary to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, according to internal polling by his campaign. 

A poll conducted by Magellan Strategies on behalf of Barreiro shows him trailing Miami broadcast journalist Maria Elvira Salazar by 14 percentage points. Salazar, who raised the most money in the field in recent months, received the support of 24 percent of likely GOP primary voters while Barreiro received 10 percent. No other Republican running received more than 1 percent support, and 64 percent of voters are undecided. 

Barreiro's poll unsurprisingly has him in a better position than an internal poll recently conducted by Salazar that shows her up 22 percentage points over Barreiro, though he trails by double digits in both. Salazar is also more well-known among voters than Barreiro, though a majority of voters either haven't heard of either or do not have a strong positive or negative opinion about either of them.  

The poll, which was conducted via interviews with 401 likely voters from June 11-12, has a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points. 

Magellan's poll also asked GOP voters about the most important issues that need to be addressed by President Donald Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress. Reducing the cost of healthcare ranked as the most important issue in a district with thousands of Obamacare recipients while addressing illegal immigration, an issue that the president could use as a wedge to motivate conservative voters in the midterms, ranked second. 

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face an uphill battle to keep Ros-Lehtinen's seat in GOP hands. Trump lost the district, which includes most of Miami Beach, downtown Miami and coastal South Dade, by more than 19 percentage points, the largest margin of victory for Clinton in the country in a GOP-held congressional district. Most of the national election prognosticators rate Ros-Lehtinen's seat as "lean Democratic." 

Barreiro's wife Zoraida lost a snap election for Bruno's old Miami-Dade commission seat last month, and Barriero donated $95,000 to his wife from his congressional campaign account for her unsuccessful race.