March 31, 2015

Fact-checking Jeb Bush's claim comparing the religious freedom laws in Florida and Indiana

Likely presidential candidates have reacted to Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act as Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, has had to defend the law against those who say it discriminates against gays and lesbians.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush sided with Pence in a radio interview on Monday.

"I think Gov. Pence has done the right thing," Bush said in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt on March 30. "Florida has a law like this. Bill Clinton signed a law like this at the federal level. This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to be able to be people of conscience. I just think once the facts are established, people aren’t going to see this as discriminatory at all."

How similar is the Florida law to the Indiana law, or the federal law before that? When we reached out to Bush’s office, they reiterated that Bush was describing the laws as "very similar." We decided to delve into the evidence for a complete picture.

Quinnipiac poll: Hillary Clinton less popular than she used to be in Florida

@PatriciaMazzei

Hillary Clinton remains a formidable presidential candidate in Florida, but the Democrat's popularity has dropped in the nation's largest swing state after a controversy over her email use as U.S. secretary of state, a new poll found.

The public-opinion survey, by Quinnipiac University, found former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush edges Clinton 45-42 in a potential match-up -- essentially a tie, given the poll's error margin of 3 percentage points. Clinton tops Florida Sen. Marco Rubio 46-44, also a tie. Both Bush and Rubio are Republicans.

A single poll's results matter little this early in the 2016 presidential race -- so early that Bush, Clinton and Rubio have not even declared their candidacies. But each politician's popularity trend is noteworthy, and that's where Clinton is struggling a bit. The last Quinnipiac poll, released Feb. 3, showed Clinton topping Bush 44-43 and Rubio 49-39.

Since then, more Florida voters have learned about Clinton's exclusive use of private email as secretary of state. She deleted the emails from her personal server after turning over to the State Department the ones she and her staff deemed pertinent.

When asked if Clinton is honest and trustworthy, 50 percent of poll respondents said no, compared to 41 percent who said yes. Fifty-one percent called Clinton's email troubles very or somewhat important to their presidential choice, with 38 percent saying it would affect their vote and 56 percent saying it would not.

"The good news for Hillary Clinton is that the e-mail controversy has not done huge violence to her presidential chances. But the matter is taking a toll on the former secretary of state's public image," Peter A. Brown, the poll's assistant director, said in a statement.

Clinton is viewed favorably by 49 percent of respondents and negatively by 46 percent. That rating has fallen from 53-39 percent in February. Bush's is 47-42 percent, compared to 46-38 percent last month. 

Quinnipiac also surveyed two other crucial swing states. Clinton tops Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul 46-41 percent in Ohio, and Paul edges Clinton 45-44 percent in Pennsylvania. Paul has not yet announced his candidacy, either.

This post has been updated.

March 30, 2015

Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio back contentious Indiana law

via @lesleyclark

Republican presidential hopefuls are lining up behind a controversial Indiana law that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers by invoking religious freedom.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Monday that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence did “the right thing” -- despite calls from some businesses to boycott the state over the law.

"This is simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs, to be able to be people of conscience," Bush said, suggesting the critics don’t know enough about the law. "I think once the facts are established, people aren't going to see this as discriminatory at all."

Bush noted that Florida has a similar law and that President Bill Clinton signed a federal measure, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law in 1993. Some legal analysts, however, have noted that the Indiana law is more broadly written than most state laws or the federal law.

Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio also backed the law during an appearance on Fox News.

"Nobody is saying that it should be legal to deny someone service at a restaurant or at a hotel because of their sexual orientation,” Rubio said. “I think that's a consensus view in America.” But Rubio asked whether a photographer should be “punished for refusing to do a wedding that their faith teaches them is not one that is valid in the eyes of God?"

The White House last week decried Pence’s decision to sign the legislation, with Press Secretary Josh Earnest saying that it “doesn't seem like it's a step in the direction of equality and justice and liberty for all Americans.”

That time Marco Rubio fought for state funding for the Freedom Tower, and Jeb Bush threatened to veto it

via @adamsmithtimes

As we reported the other day, Marco Rubio and his advisers are looking at announcing his candidacy for president on April 13 at Miami's Freedom Tower, which for years served as a processing center for Cuban refugees. Though Miami-Dade College officials have alterted board members that a Rubio event may be held at the 1925 landmark, Rubio's advance team is still scouting a number of locations so nothing is final.

Freedom Tower symbolically would highlight not only the promise and greatness of America - but also Rubio's history of inconsistency when it comes to fiscal conservatism.

Rewind the clock to 2003.

The tea party was still a Revolutionary War phenomenon, Jeb Bush had just won a second term as governor, and Marco Rubio was merely a talented, young legislative leader, rather than a U.S. Senator and credible contender for leader of the free world. Rubio was a 31-year-old Florida House Majority Leader in 2003, a year when legislators faced particularly tough budget decisions. The Republican-controlled legislature ultimately had to hold a special session to hammer out a budget that raised college tuitions 8.5 percent, led to teacher layoffs, and left developmentally disabled Floridians on waiting lists for services.

But even as lawmakers were debating how much to funding for Florida's "medically needy" program for severely ill Floridians, Marco Rubio was pushing for taxpayers to spend $7-million so Miami Dade Community College could buy Freedom Tower. He called it the "Cuban Ellis Island" and said it has "tremendous meaning in our community." 

Then-Gov. Bush, a fellow Miami-Dade resident, threatened to veto the Freedom Tower earmark, calling it "a turkey," which is Tallahassee-speak for pork barrel project.

"It is certainly not a turkey," Rubio told the Orlando Sentinel at the time. "Just because a project maybe didn't go through the proper channels doesn't mean that it is unworthy of state funding."

The public funding never did go through, but in 2005 a developer, The Terra Group, donated it to what is now called Miami Dade College.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

March 27, 2015

Jeb Bush's claim about Florida's achievement gap

In his first foray into New Hampshire as a potential Republican presidential contender, former Gov. Jeb Bush talked up Florida’s record on education during his tenure.

Bush, who was governor between 1999 and  2007, talked about how the state stopped automatically moving up third-graders to fourth grade if they weren’t deemed ready. (The old approach has sometimes been called "social promotion.") And he also touted that during his tenure Florida started the state’s voluntary prekindergarten program.

Such policies paid off, Bush said.

"We had significant gains, particularly with kids in poverty," Bush said at a business roundtable in Hudson, N.H., March 13. "Florida continues to be one of the states that does the best with low-income kids, and we are one of the few states that has actually had a narrowing of the achievement gap based on income, or based on race or ethnicity."

Is Bush correct that Florida is one of the few states that narrowed the achievement gap for minorities and the poor? PolitiFact Florida took a closer look and here is Bush's full Truth-O-Meter record.

March 26, 2015

Jeb Bush: 'Stay the course' on Gitmo

via @learyreports

Jeb Bush just wrapped up an interview with a Fox News radio host and said the U.S. should not close the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.

The discussion began when the host asked Bush about the desertion charges facing Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

"To try to bring back someone who turns out to have been a deserter is just heartbreaking," Bush said, speaking from a cell phone on the road in Texas, while an aide in the back seat streamed the interview on Meerkat. "The president is totally focused on closing Guantanamo as an organizing principle. And it's all based on politics. It's not based on keeping us safe, which should be his first obligation. We shouldn’t be closing down Guantanamo. We shouldn’t be releasing Taliban that are openly organizing once again to attack us."

The host then asked more specifically about closing the prison. “We have a real challenge bringing people back inside of our criminal courts," Bush said. "It’s not going to be appropriate for every one of these folks. They themselves are threats to our country and so I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this. But closing it down for political purposes is not the right thing to do. Unless there is some compelling alternative, I do believe that we ought to stay the course."

Sen. Marco Rubio visited Guantanamo in 2012.

In a diss on Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, Rand Paul says he has best shot at beating Hillary Clinton

Among the potential Republican contenders, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., says he is best-positioned to take on likely Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

In an interview with Fox News host Megyn Kelly, who asked about his chances at a win, Paul said, "I think when you see my polling, the polling that's out there so far, nobody is doing better against Hillary Clinton than myself."

"Also though, when you poll people not just against each other, but against the other side, that shows which candidate has the best chance of picking up the independent vote," he added. "And right now I'm the only one that beats Hillary Clinton in certain purple states. I'm the only one that also scores above all the other Republicans in whether or not I can beat her."

We wondered if Paul really is doing the best in polls against Clinton in a hypothetical 2016 general election match-up. See what Lauren Carroll and Katharina Fielder of PolitiFact found.

March 25, 2015

MSNBC: Former GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison says she will back Jeb Bush in 2016

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison appeared on MSNBC on Wednesday and said she is going to support Jeb Bush for president.

"I think he is exactly what we need right now that will take us in the right direction," Hutchison said on MSNBC's NOW w/Alex Wagner.

"I think he will have a vision and I think he will implement the vision because he's been a governor, he's run things.  He knows business and I think he will help our economy," she said.

She also described as being a "Floridian" as opposed to a Texan.

Said the former senator: "I think he is his own person.  He is not a Texan.  He's a Floridian.  He has a great record as governor in his own right in Florida."

When Jeb Bush helped launch the rescue operation for Ethiopian Jews

via @learyreports

Jeb Bush this week has worked to assert his pro-Israel credentials after criticism from the right surfaced over comments James Baker, an adviser to Bush’s presidential campaign in waiting, made about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bush first issued a statement distancing himself from Baker’s remarks, made to the liberal J Street on Monday, and on Wednesday, penned a National Review column bashing the Obama administration's relationship with Israel. This afternoon Bush's PAC put out anemail soliciting donations to support candidates who “stand with Israel against a nuclear Iran.”

What Bush hasn’t mentioned is his role in a little-remembered secret mission to rescue an obscure sect of Jews from starvation.

As head of the Miami-Dade GOP in the early 1980s, Bush became a fixer of sorts, "tooling around Dade in a silver Thunderbird," as a Miami Herald story put it. He was not shy about contacting the White House when issues arose, sometimes to the annoyance of officials there, including, it seems, Baker, who was President Reagan’s chief of staff.

“James Baker explained several times that the White House could not be involved in any exemption decision,” a presidential aide wrote in a memo after Jeb Bush passed along a complaint from a supporter about federal noise regulations at airports.

In 1984, Bush heard from a Miami attorney Ron Krongold about Ethiopian Jews, the Falashas, who had fled their homeland due to famine for a refugee camp in Sudan. Bush, according to a report a decade later in the Herald, tipped off his Vice President father and the U.S. got involved in a top-secret mission, “Operation Moses,” to rescue them.

Thousands of people were airlifted to Israel, though the U.S. involvement dealt with hundreds of those, according to news reports at the time.

In Texas, the Bush family chases campaign cash together

via @learyreports

Jeb Bush's race for cash takes him to Texas Wednesday to begin a series of fundraisers featuring his family.

George W. and Laura Bush will attend a fundraiser in Dallas today. On Thursday, George H.W. and Barbara Bush will attend one in Houston.

Per the Dallas Morning News: The invitation, with the list of about 50 Texas supporters, indicates the millionaire-business class that have been big backers of establishment Republicans in Texas.

Among those joining the event are real estate developer Woody Hunt, oil man T. Boone Pickens, attorney Mike Boone, former U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans, former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, former ambassador to Switzerland Pam Willeford, homebuilder David Weekley, former U.S. Rep. Tom Loeffler and beer distributor John Nau.

ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times