October 18, 2017

Senate committee to investigate Florida nursing home deaths

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via @learyreports

The Senate Finance Committee will investigate the hurricane-related deaths of 14 people at a South Florida nursing home.

The top members of the committee, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today questioned the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about its new nursing home emergency preparedness requirements and have requested responses from state agencies in Florida and Texas regarding their preparations and responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“We are writing to request information from Florida about its preparations for and responses to Hurricane Irma as it relates to nursing homes and other similar facilities,” the senators wrote in a letter to Florida’s Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, Justin Senior.

“The Senate Committee on Finance has jurisdiction over both the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs. As part of our oversight responsibilities, we want to ensure the safety of residents and patients in nursing homes and other similar facilities during natural and manmade disasters.”

The action follows a call for investigation from Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the committee, and that was echoed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Nelson has questioned Gov. Rick Scott, a potential 2018 election rival, after the governor personally received calls for assistance from the nursing home. Scott has insisted the calls were properly routed and that the nursing home had an obligation to call 911 after losing power.

October 17, 2017

Marco Rubio declines Nicolas Maduro’s invite to visit Venezuela

Marco Rubio 3

@alextdaugherty 

Sen. Marco Rubio has a lot of reasons not to visit Venezuela.

The Florida senator successfully pushed the Trump administration to take a hard line on the Venezuelan government, managed to invite Venezuelan opposition leader Lillian Tintori to the White House, and is the target of a potential death threat from socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello.

But that didn’t stop Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from extending an invite to Rubio on Tuesday.

“We can walk the streets together,” Maduro said, according to Stephen Gibbs from the China Global Television network.

Rubio declined the offer.

“Look forward to the day I can visit a democratic Venezuela instead of one governed by dictator Nicolás Maduro or drug lord Diosdado Cabello,” Rubio tweeted.

The exchange represents the latest in an ongoing war of words between Maduro and Rubio. Rubio chairs the Senate subcommittee that oversees Latin American affairs.

In August, Rubio appeared on Venezuelan independent television to voice his opposition to Maduro after the Trump administration imposed more sanctions on members of Venezuela’s socialist ruling party.

“There is no U.S. economic blockade on Venezuela,” Rubio said in Spanish. “Yet the economy of a rich nation is in shambles, because the Maduro government has given away your oil and much of your sovereignty to Cuba. For Nicolás Maduro, who I am sure is watching, the current path you are on will not end well for you.”

Read more here.

Rubio cosponsored bill that weakened federal opioid regulations

Trump Russia Probe

via @learyreports

Millions of TV viewers on Sunday learned of a successful attempt by the drug industry to weaken federal regulations just as the opioid crisis was reaching its peak – and two Florida Republicans played a supporting role.

Sen. Marco Rubio and Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor and were among a handful of co-sponsors of the legislation, which sailed through Congress last year and was signed into law by President Barack Obama.

“The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market,” the Washington Post reported in conjunction with 60 Minutes.

Bilirakis was one of six co-sponsors for the House version by Rep. Tom Marino, a Pennsylvania Republican who is President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the country’s drug czar. Marino withdrew his name from consideration on Tuesday.

Rubio was one of four co-sponsors for the Senate version, which is the one signed into law and was overseen by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act passed by unanimous consent.

We asked Bilirakis and Rubio for the reasons behind their support for the legislation and as of Monday evening, only Bilirakis had responded.

“Congressman Bilirakis hoped that this legislation would bring stakeholders at all levels together to discuss ways they could work together to prevent abuse while allowing really sick people like cancer patients, seniors, Veterans, and others with significant pain to get the relief they need with a legitimate prescription,” spokesman Summer Robertson wrote in an email.

“Gus had not been made aware by any current DEA official that the agency feels they do not currently have adequate authority to take action against any party that might be contributing to the proliferation of the opioid epidemic …

“Gus intends to reaffirm this understanding with the agency, as he is committed to ensuring that law enforcement has the tools it needs to go after bad actors,” he wrote. “Sometimes there are unintended consequences to good legislation. Not sure that’s the case here, but it would be helpful to hear from DEA if its ability to get bad guys is hampered.”

Robertson noted that “the bill was bipartisan and approved unanimously in both the House and Senate, and signed into law by President Obama.” He also noted Bilirakis’ support of other measures to combat opioid abuse.

Rubio, too, has called attention to the issue this year.

His office did not immediately respond to questions about sponsorship of the bill.

The drug industry is a major political donor and almost all lawmakers get some money. Rubio in the 2016 election cycle received $289,000 from the pharmaceutical/health products industry, according to Opensecrets.org, putting him near the top of all senators in a year he also ran for president.

October 13, 2017

Rubio has 'serious doubts' Iran deal can be redrawn

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio has “serious doubts” whether the Iran deal can be refashioned and said Friday it should be killed outright.

President Donald Trump said Friday he would withdraw certification of the deal but keep it in place, effectively asking Congress to come up with new provisions.

“President Trump made the right decision to decertify the Obama Administration’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran (JCPOA). He is correct in finding that this deal is not in our national interest,” Rubio, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a statement.

“I know the White House has been working hard to craft a new law to fix the Iran deal, and I appreciate them and Chairman Corker seeking my input. I will reserve judgment until actual legislation is presented. But I have serious doubts about whether it is even possible to fix such a dangerously flawed agreement.

“Ultimately, leaving the nuclear deal, reimposing suspended sanctions, and having the president impose additional sanctions would serve our national interest better than a decertified deal that leaves sanctions suspended or a new law that leaves major flaws in that agreement in place.”

Democrats blasted the move. Florida Rep. Lois Frankel, who voted against the Iran deal in 2015, said Trump’s actions Friday were “reckless.”

Her statement:

In 2015, I opposed the Iran nuclear agreement because I felt it would legitimize Iran’s nuclear program after 15 years and give Iran access to billions of dollars without a commitment to cease its terrorist activity. These concerns remain. Moreover, since the adoption of the agreement, Iran has increased its destabilizing activities in the region, including ballistic missile testing, sponsorship of terrorism, propping up the Assad regime in Syria, and arming Hezbollah.

With that said, Iran has already received billions of dollars in previously frozen assets as a result of the JCPOA and there is no credible evidence that it is in violation of its requirements. The International Atomic Energy Agency has continuously confirmed Iranian technical compliance with the agreement. Our European allies agree. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned that if the U.S. were to pull out of the deal, it would give Tehran a pretext to resume its race to a nuclear capability. The President’s own national security team has urged him not to withdraw.

Donald Trump is wrong to believe that we have leverage to bring the parties back to the table to negotiate a better deal. Instead, by turning our backs on a multilateral agreement, we send a chilling message about the United States’ willingness to honor its commitments, throwing into question our reliability. We can’t afford such a dangerous gamble, especially when tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea are at an all-time high. Today’s action undermines the possibility, however unlikely, for a diplomatic approach to this ongoing crisis.

Mr. Trump’s reckless decision leaves Congress to decide whether the U.S. will reimpose JCPOA-related sanctions on Iran. If Congress were to take such action, the deal would likely collapse. Iran would walk away with the upper hand, leaving them an unobstructed path to race toward nuclear weapons. The consequences for peace and security in the Middle East would be catastrophic, and would put our greatest ally Israel at grave risk. We would lose the mantle of leadership in the international community.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

October 12, 2017

Rubio, Frederica Wilson call for federal investigation into nursing homes in Florida, Puerto Rico

Marco Rubio

@alextdaugherty 

Sen. Marco Rubio is asking the Senate Finance Committee to investigate the oversight of nursing homes in Florida and Puerto Rico after 14 people died at a Hollywood nursing home after Hurricane Irma. 

Rubio sent a letter on Thursday to Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the leading members of the Senate committee responsible for oversight of Medicare and Medicaid. 

"As the chairman and ranking member of the committee with jurisdiction over Medicare and Medicaid, I implore you to investigate the failures that occurred at this nursing home and others throughout the country, particularly in Florida and Puerto Rico, to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future," Rubio said in the letter. "Additionally, I respectfully request that you consider examining other ways in which Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries were impacted by these storms and how better planning and coordination between the federal, state, and local government could mitigate harm caused by hurricanes." 

Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, whose district contains the Hollywood nursing home, also called for a federal investigation during a meeting between Florida's congressional delegation and Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday. She plans to introduce legislation that would require nursing homes and long term care facilities that receive federal funding to have generators. 

"We have to do everything we can to keep all these individuals safe," Scott said. "We live in a peninsula, we are going to have hurricanes, we've got to be prepared." 

"While this terrible tragedy is currently under investigation, it has been widely reported that these individuals were left in sweltering conditions after the nursing facility’s air conditioning system lost power," Rubio said. "This has shocked the state of Florida, and rightfully raised questions about the oversight of nursing homes, particularly the enforcement of existing emergency preparedness requirements." 

October 05, 2017

Rubio asks Army to remove pro-communist officer

Marco Rubio 3

@alextdaugherty

Sen. Marco Rubio is asking the U.S. Army to decommission an officer who posted pro-communist statements and photos on social media. 

In a letter to acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, Rubio said that the Army should consider revoking Second Lieutenant Spenser Rapone's West Point degree and force him to pay back his government-funded education at the nation's preeminent military training school. 

"While I strongly believe academic institutions must respect the exchange of ideas and allow students to voice their opinions, members of the military who harbor anti-American views and express their desire to harm our country and its leaders are unfit to serve and defend our nation—and certainly should not enjoy the privilege of attending or graduating from an institution such as West Point, a taxpayer-funded military academy," Rubio wrote. 

In late September, Rapone posted photos in his military uniform that showed him wearing a hat with the slogan "communism will win" underneath his hat and a Che Guevara t-shirt underneath his uniform. 

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His twitter account is now protected. 

Rapone also called Secretary of Defense James Mattis "the most vile, evil f--- in the current administration" in a June tweet. 

"Rapone has publicly and vulgarly derided the secretary of defense, advocated for communism while in uniform and political violence in general, and expressed support and sympathy for enemies of the United States, including Chelsea Manning, a convicted traitor. This clearly violates multiple Army regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice," Rubio said. 

The letter asks McCarthy to respond within 30 days. 

Repealing the Jones Act would help Puerto Rico. But it could hurt Florida.

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@alextdaugherty 

As the debate over the Jones Act rages in the nation’s capital, lawmakers from Florida are faced with a difficult choice.

While Democrats and Republicans from Florida are urging the federal government to do everything in their power to help Puerto Rico, they are also beneficiaries of a law that protects Florida’s shipping industry at the expense of the island, a political quandary in a state with over 1 million Puerto Rican residents.

Pushing for a permanent repeal of the Jones Act would undoubtedly win the support of the state’s Puerto Rican community and voters sympathetic to hurricane recovery efforts, but it could hurt the state’s domestic shipping industry and thousands of jobs.

The domestic shipping industry is an economic behemoth in Florida, contributing 52,140 maritime jobs and $9.6 billion to Florida’s economy, according to a 2014 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The Port of Jacksonville is the nation’s hub for Jones Act shipping to Puerto Rico, and Florida ranks second among all states in jobs affected by the domestic maritime industry.

“Our top priority is ensuring the people of Puerto Rico have the resources they need to recover and rebuild both in the short and long term,” said Rep. John Rutherford, R-Jacksonville. “JAXPORT and the maritime industry in Northeast Florida are critically important to these efforts and have been for decades. The Jones Act reinforces this commerce by promoting investments in infrastructure that ensure shipments travel reliability between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico quickly.”
 
The Jones Act is a 1920 law that requires U.S. ships transporting goods within the country to be built, owned and operated by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Opponents of the Jones Act, including New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez and Arizona Sen. John McCain, argue that the law makes goods more expensive on islands like Puerto Rico, therefore making it harder for the U.S. territory to recover from Hurricane Maria.

“Our legislation would permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act, an antiquated, protectionist law that has driven up costs and crippled Puerto Rico’s economy,” McCain said in a statement after he introduced a bill that would repeal the Jones Act in Puerto Rico last week. “For years, I have fought to fully repeal the Jones Act, which has long outlived its purpose to the benefit of special interests.”

After a week of intense public pressure, President Donald Trump suspended the Jones Act in Puerto Rico for 10 days last Wednesday, though he said “we have a lot of shippers and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry who don't want the Jones Act lifted.”

Rep. Darren Soto, the first Puerto Rican in Congress from Florida, acknowledged the difficulties of a long-term Jones Act repeal. He wants the Trump administration to pursue an additional temporary suspension of the Jones Act instead of a full repeal.

“Over the long term I don’t think its an all-or-nothing deal,” Soto said. “It’s one of those issues where Florida benefits under the Jones Act and Puerto Rico does not. We don’t have to get rid of the Jones Act or have it go away, but 10 days is going to be insufficient. I expect we'll need emergency services for over a month or so, so we’re going to need a longer waiver than that.”

When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, suspending the Jones Act became a rallying cry for lawmakers from both parties.

“The Jones Act... makes everything more expensive,” said Velázquez. “One of the biggest issues we have right now is the availability of fuel in Puerto Rico.”

 

Read more here.

October 03, 2017

Miami politicians received donations from the National Rifle Association in 2016

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty 

Three of the four Republicans who represent Miami-Dade County in Washington received at least $2,000 from the National Rifle Association during the 2016 campaign, according to campaign finance records from the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Sen. Marco Rubio, who was in the midst of a reelection campaign against former Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, received $9,900 during the 2016 campaign. That total was the largest amount the NRA gave to any Florida lawmaker in Congress. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who won an expensive reelection bid against former Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, received $2,500 while Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart received $2,000.

Diaz-Balart is also the single largest recipient of NRA cash among Floridians in Congress since 1998, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. Diaz-Balart has received $26,450, according to the Post. 

The National Rifle Association is facing pressure from Democrats and anti-gun activists in the wake of a mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 59 people dead and over 500 people injured after a lone gunman fired on an outdoor concert from a high-rise hotel.

An NRA-backed bill that would make it easier to obtain gun silencers is facing fresh opposition after law enforcement officers in Las Vegas said that tracking the sounds of the shooting allowed them to find the gunman faster. None of the Miami lawmakers are cosponsors on that bill. 

Critics of the nation's largest gun lobby argue that the NRA blocks sensible measures in Congress that would reduce the chances of a mass shooting. In the 2016 cycle, the NRA contributed $839,215 to federal candidates nationwide and the Post reports that the NRA gave over $3.5 million to members of Congress since 1998. 

The NRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Representatives for Rubio, Curbelo and Diaz-Balart's campaigns did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

U.S. to expel two-thirds of Cuban diplomats amid sonic attack probe

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via @francoordonez

The Trump administration will kick nearly two-thirds of Cuba’s embassy personnel out of the United States after months of mysterious attacks targeting American diplomats drove the White House to pull its own staff from Havana, according to multiple sources familiar with the plan.

According to three of the U.S. sources briefed on the plan, the State Department will announce the expulsion of Cuban diplomatic personnel as soon as Tuesday. A fourth described the expulsion as “reciprocity” for the American withdrawal from Havana.

A series of mysterious “sonic” attacks began months ago and has affected as many as 25 U.S. personnel. According to one source, U.S. intelligence operatives were the first known American personnel affected. The most recent incidents were reported within the last few weeks.

The United States still does not know the nature of the device or weapon being employed against its staff.

The State Department has not accused Cuba of being behind the incidents. But it has repeatedly warned that Havana is responsible for the safety of foreign diplomats on its soil under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations.
 
“Cuba is not upholding its commitments of the Vienna convention, of protecting diplomats,” said a U.S. source, familiar with the State Department plans.

The State Department’s plan follows days of pressure from some U.S. lawmakers to expel Cuban diplomatic personnel after the White House pulled Americans out of Havana and issued a travel warning.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has emerged as a key advisor to President Donald Trump on all Latin America issues, tweeted last week that the United States “should expel a Cuban diplomat for every U.S. diplomat evacuated due to acoustic attacks.”

“I spoke on Friday to the State Department and I told them that I am strongly advocating that the U.S. kick those 'diplomats,' who are nothing more than spies, out of the U.S.,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican. “State told me that it was reviewing this action, so I’m pleased as punch to hear that it may happen soon.”


Read more here.

October 02, 2017

Florida Republicans create distance with Trump on Puerto Rico

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@alextdaugherty @patriciamazzei

While President Donald Trump spent the weekend attacking the mayor of San Juan and blasting negative coverage of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts, Florida state Rep. Bob Cortes was worried about his daughter in San Juan’s western suburbs.

Cortes’ daughter, Leslie, and her 2-year-old son, Jeremy, had their roof torn off during Hurricane Maria, and two feet of water rushed into their house in Dorado.

“I was terrified they were going to lose their lives,” Cortes said, as his voice trembled.

The second-term Republican lawmaker from Altamonte Springs spent days trying to reach family members in Puerto Rico and is asking anyone he can for help.

They might not be directly criticizing Trump. But Florida Republicans are taking a noticeably different tack from the leader of their party when it comes to Puerto Rico, an issue that affects some of them, like Cortes, personally — and many of them politically.
 
Instead of adopting the president’s finger-pointing rhetoric, the federal and state GOP lawmakers are highlighting the need for action in Puerto Rico. Some 1 million Puerto Ricans call Florida home.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio urged Trump to let the military lead logistical Hurricane Maria relief efforts. Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that Florida will open relief centers Tuesday for Puerto Ricans arriving in Miami and Orlando. He also asked schools to give in-state tuition to Puerto Rican students displaced by the hurricane.

How many might come is unknown. “A lot,” Scott guessed.

Rubio has said this isn’t the time to talk hurricane-relief politics, but a day before Trump was scheduled to land in San Juan, the senator acknowledged the initial response from the administration could have been swifter.

“In hindsight, we all wish we could get those three or four days back,” Rubio told reporters in Miami on Monday after they asked if Washington could have done more — and more quickly — to aid the island. “I want us to focus 100 percent on what we need to do to improve the recovery effort. And we have plenty of time in the future to sit there and point to the mistakes that were made.... But right now every minute we spend doing that sort of thing is a minute that isn’t being spent trying to improve reconstruction and deal with it.”

State lawmakers said that an influx of thousands of Puerto Ricans won’t go unnoticed.

“Florida’s the closest one to Puerto Rico, and it’s ground zero for relief efforts,” said Cortes, who represents a portion of Orange and Seminole Counties. “We’re going to be shipping most of the things they need to get back on their feet.”

Cortes said he expects at least 100,000 Puerto Ricans to relocate to Florida after the storm, and many of them will settle in greater Orlando. Puerto Ricans already tend to vote Democratic, potentially altering the political dynamics of America’s largest swing state ahead of the 2018 elections.

“It can be a game-changer politically,” said state Rep. Amy Mercado, a Puerto Rican Democrat from Orlando. “The speed of what’s occurring, that’s the million-dollar question. How fast, how much and how long?”

A 100,000-vote swing in favor of Democrats would have given Charlie Crist the governorship in 2014 over Scott and would have eaten up most of Trump’s margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But the math isn’t that simple. Not all Puerto Ricans will vote for Democrats, and many will choose not to vote at all. Cortes argued that Puerto Ricans coming directly from the island are more likely to vote Republican than second-or third-generation Puerto Ricans.

“Those that have been coming usually tend to be more ideologically with the Republican Party because they are leaving a place that had fiscal issues,” Cortes said, adding that both parties need to do a better job of reaching out to Puerto Ricans in Florida.

Read more here.