April 25, 2018

Bill Nelson will vote for Mike Pompeo as secretary of state

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@alextdaugherty

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson will vote to confirm Mike Pompeo as President Donald Trump's second secretary of state, his office confirmed Wednesday. Nelson's stance is a change from January 2017, when he voted against Pompeo's confirmation as CIA Director.  

Pompeo, a former congressman and currently director of the CIA, is expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate after about a half dozen Senate Democrats said they would vote for him. Some Democrats have expressed concerns over Pompeo leading the State Department due to his past support for torture practices and military intervention in Iraq. 

Nelson said Pompeo's secret meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un "put him in a better light" in terms of his confirmation but stopped short of saying how he would vote last week.

"I support the trip, I think it's a lot better talking than shooting especially when the crazy child dictator has nuclear weapons, I think it's better to be talking," Nelson said. "On Pompeo, I will defer on that. I voted against him. I thought he was going to be too political as CIA Director and I'm going to evaluate that as secretary of state." 

Pompeo will take over the State Department if confirmed after Rex Tillerson was fired via tweet. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is an enthusiastic supporter of Pompeo, who endorsed Rubio during his presidential bid. 

“CIA Director Mike Pompeo has the full confidence of the president, an outstanding record of service to our country, and is more than qualified to serve as Secretary of State," Rubio said in a statement. "As Director Pompeo’s nomination now moves to the Senate Floor, I strongly urge my colleagues to put country over party and confirm him without further delay."

April 24, 2018

How one Republican held up the U.S. Senate over Cuba travel policy

Cuba Trump

@alextdaugherty

The U.S. Senate ground to a halt last week, and Cuba was the culprit.

After months in limbo, Donald Trump's pick to lead NASA finally appeared to have enough support for confirmation, and a vote was scheduled. Sen. Marco Rubio, who opposed Rep. Jim Bridenstine's nomination because he wanted a non-politician to run the nation's space program, switched his stance, giving Republicans enough votes to move forward with Bridenstine on a party-line vote.

But Jeff Flake had other ideas.

The Arizona Republican seized the GOP's one-vote advantage over the minority and initially cast a "no" vote on Bridenstine. Vice President Mike Pence was in Florida, unable to hustle to Capitol Hill to break a 49-49 tie. Republican leaders were forced to negotiate with Flake on the Senate floor to get him to change his vote.

Flake's reason for dithering? The longtime critic of U.S. trade and travel restrictions with Cuba wanted to talk to Mike Pompeo, Trump's nominee for secretary of state, about travel restrictions to Cuba, according to Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas.

"I want to talk to Pompeo on a number of issues, that's all I'll say," Flake said with a smile when asked if he sought to talk to the secretary of state nominee about Cuba travel restrictions in exchange for a "yes" vote on Bridenstine.

Flake, a frequent Trump critic, doesn't have much of an incentive to listen to party leaders who could help his reelection chances:. He's retiring after the 2018 elections.

That means he can continue to push Senate leaders on issues like Cuba, where the fault lines aren't drawn up neatly along party lines.

"My goal has always been the same, of closer ties, more travel, more commerce because I think that moves Cuba closer to democracy, so I'll use any leverage I can to try to bring that about," Flake said. "I'll try to keep the progress and the policies we've made particularly with Cuban entrepreneurs achieving some kind of independence from the government down there that we don't turn them back."

Read more here.

April 20, 2018

Parkland parents say public officials need to be fired soon for failing their children

Guttenberg

@alextdaugherty

Fred Guttenberg, the Parkland parent who confronted Marco Rubio on national television about the senator’s opposition to an assault weapons ban, had a very different conversation with the Florida Republican on Capitol Hill this week.

“Senator, see you tomorrow?” Guttenberg asked.

“I’m around all day, flying out Thursday night,” Rubio replied.

The pair disagree on gun-control policy, but Guttenberg and the Parkland families are united with Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson behind an effort to make the authorities who failed their children accountable.

History suggests they may be successful.

The families of the 17 victims in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School persuaded the Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott to sign a gun bill over the objections of the National Rifle Association. They successfully got the slow-moving U.S. Senate to fast-track limited school safety legislation into a must-pass spending bill last month.

And the voices that no lawmaker can ignore are pushing for agencies like the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Broward School Board and FBI to be held responsible, and soon.

“We all think we know, but we need to know with certainty, we need to find out why they made the mistakes and we need to fire people for their mistakes,” Guttenberg said. “Do any of the mistakes cross over to a criminal activity? I don’t know the law, but I do know at a minimum people need to be fired and they need to be fired soon.”

Three Parkland parents are serving on a state commission established by Scott and granted subpoena powers. The commission is set to meet next week. One parent recently met with FBI Director Christopher Wray to discuss how the agency can learn from its mistakes. And the parents are confident something will happen, even if it takes a lot longer than they would want.

Read more here.

April 18, 2018

NASA administrator opposed by Bill Nelson approved in drama-filled vote

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty

For months, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has railed against the nomination of Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., as NASA administrator, and his nomination stalled when Democrats along with Sen. Marco Rubio opposed him. 

On Wednesday, Bridenstine was finally confirmed to lead the nation's space program, but it wasn't without drama.

Rubio's belated support appeared to give Republicans enough votes, but Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake surprisingly voted "no" on Wednesday. Vice President Mike Pence was out of town, unable to break a 49-49 tie. Two senators were out for health-related reasons. 

The vote remained open for nearly an hour before Flake had a conversation with party leaders and switched his vote, though he was coy about his reasons for doing it. 

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Flake was trying to exert leverage over one of his signature issues: increased trade and interaction with Cuba. Flake wanted to talk Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo about travel restrictions to Cuba, according to Cornyn.   

Nelson has argued that Bridenstine, an elected official, should not be tapped to lead an agency typically led by a scientist. Bridenstine also attacked Rubio on immigration during the 2016 Republican primary. 

April 17, 2018

Rubio hires Heritage Action CEO as new chief of staff

Marco Rubio 3

@alextdaugherty

Sen. Marco Rubio has hired Michael Needham, the CEO of a conservative political organization that once battled with the Florida Republican over his support of a comprehensive immigration bill, as his new chief of staff. 

"Mike brings a wealth of policy, political and management experience that will greatly complement our office’s mission of serving the people of Florida and leading the effort to modernize the conservative movement in the 21st century," Rubio said in a statement. "Mike understands and shares these goals, and I look forward to his contributions." 

Needham, 36, was the CEO of Heritage Action for America, a conservative organization that pushed Republican lawmakers on a litany of issues including opposing comprehensive immigration reform and supporting the 2013 government shutdown over Obamacare funding. 

Needham will serve as Rubio's top advisor and oversee his staff of dozens in Washington and in various offices throughout Florida.

Rubio's former chief of staff Clint Reed was fired in January for violating "policies regarding proper relations between a supervisor and their subordinates." 

April 13, 2018

Curbelo won't appear with Trump in Miami on Monday

Donald trump 2

@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

President Donald Trump is coming to South Florida to talk up the GOP tax bill on Monday, but a Miami Republican who played a role in its creation—and who is facing a tough reelection—won't be there. 

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a member of the House tax writing committee that drafted the tax bill signed into law by Trump late last year, is in Lima this weekend at the Summit of the Americas and won't be back in time for the Monday afternoon event, according to spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez

"Congressman Curbelo is part of the U.S. Delegation to the Summit of the Americas, taking place in Peru this weekend, promoting our engagement in the region," Rodriguez said in an email. "The delegation is not set to return until Monday so he is currently not expected to make it back in time to attend the event in Miami." 

Curbelo had plans to attend the summit well before Trump’s event was announced, Rodriguez said. 

The Monday event is an official White House event and not a Trump campaign stop, though Curbelo appearing alongside a president who overwhelmingly lost Curbelo's Miami-to-Key West district to Hillary Clinton could be ad fodder for Democrats seeking to defeat him in November. Curbelo's campaign previously said he doesn't invite people to campaign with him but "anyone who wants to support Carlos' efforts and endorse his bipartisan approach to public service is welcome to do so." 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who doesn't have a serious Democratic opponent and who has worked with Trump on Cuba policy and immigration, confirmed that he will attend the event, though details have not been publicly released yet by the White House. 

Sen. Marco Rubio's office did not immediately respond when asked if he plans to attend, though Rubio is also attending the Summit of the Americas in Peru. 

April 05, 2018

Gun-related town halls are a partisan affair in South Florida (updated)

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@alextdaugherty

A national group that promotes face-to-face interactions between lawmakers and constituents is working with the March for Our Lives organizers to host town hall events on preventing gun violence during the current congressional recess, and no South Florida Republicans are planning to attend. 

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, who represents Parkland, held a town hall earlier this week, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, will hold a town hall on Saturday in Pembroke Pines, while Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, will host a town hall tonight in Miami Gardens. 

The three Republicans from Miami-Dade County, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, do not have any town hall events scheduled during the recess. 

A March for Our Lives-affiliated event is being held in Curbelo's district tonight, though Curbelo's office said he was not invited to the event at John A. Ferguson High School. While pro-gun control student activists from Parkland have demanded town hall events during this congressional recess, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart and Curbelo have not held any in-person town hall events since the beginning of 2017, according to the Town Hall Project. Curbelo and Diaz-Balart both hold office hours with staff at various locations throughout their districts. 

Curbelo's seat is a target for Democrats in 2018 while Ros-Lehtinen is retiring and Diaz-Balart does not have a serious Democratic challenger. 

Neither of Florida's two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, have held an in-person town hall since the beginning of 2017, according to the Town Hall Project.  

UPDATE (4/6/18): A student organizer with pro gun-control group Students Demand Action said Curbelo was invited to the town hall event in his district, but he declined citing a scheduling conflict. 

William Breslin, who lives outside of Curbelo's district, said he called Curbelo's official office three times before receiving a response that Curbelo could not attend. Breslin then invited Curbelo's Democratic opponents after the congressman declined the invitation, he said. 

Information on upcoming town halls: 

Town hall with Frederica Wilson and state Rep. Shevrin Jones: 

Thursday, April 5 6:30pm

Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex Auditorium

3000 NW 199th St. 

Miami Gardens, FL 33056 

Town hall with Debbie Wasserman Schultz: 

Saturday, April 7 2pm 

301 NW 103rd Avenue

Pembroke Pines, FL 33026 

Town Hall for Our Lives West Miami-Dade

Thursday, April 5 7pm

John A. Ferguson High School 

15900 SW 56th St. 

Miami, FL 33185

Rubio blames ‘bureaucracy’ for the wait on federal Irma funding

Congress Gun Violence

via @keywestgwen 

Asked why parts of the Florida Keys remain severely damaged nearly seven months after Hurricane Irma, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had one word: Bureaucracy.

“It’s a pretty straightforward task,” Rubio said, standing in a trailer park in Marathon where a canal is still choked with debris and filth from the storm. “Get the money that we’ve already voted for down here so they can hire people to clean this up.”

People applauded.

“Don’t clap yet, we’ve got to get the money,” Rubio said. “We just voted for the money; the hard part is getting the federal government to release it. We’ll keep banging on the door. There’s nothing else they can use the money for — it’s appropriated for this.”

Rubio added, “Next time we get back here, these things will be cleaned up.”

Rubio also attended a one-hour roundtable discussion at the Marathon Government Center where he spoke with mostly elected leaders about struggles in the Keys over affordable housing.

“We’ve had a housing crisis in this community for decades,” said County Commissioner Heather Carruthers, of Key West. “The storm exacerbated it and revealed the real depth of the problem.”

One solution, she said, is to purchase property and deed-restrict it for affordable and workforce housing.

“We don’t have the depth of resources to be able to do that,” Carruthers said.

Read more here.

March 23, 2018

Miami Republican lawmaker confirmed as U.S. ambassador to OAS

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@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Trujillo was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States by the U.S. Senate on Thursday. 

The White House announced Trujillo’s appointment in October, just two months after President Donald Trump named him one of four U.S. representatives to the United Nations General Assembly. That job made Trujillo, an early Trump campaign supporter who attended the president’s inauguration, one of U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s four deputies.

Trujillo was ultimately approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, though he did face questioning from Democrats over a 2015 bill in the Florida Legislature that would have made it a felony for an undocumented immigrant who was previously deported, or facing a deportation order, to be in the state. 

"As someone with a strong understanding of U.S.-Latin American relations, Carlos Trujillo is an outstanding choice to serve as U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. "Carlos has served his constituents diligently in the Florida House of Representatives over the last eight years, and I know he will do the same while representing the American people at the OAS."

Rubio, an ally of Trujillo's also serves as chairman of the Latin America subcommittee in the U.S. Senate. 

March 22, 2018

Two bills supported by Parkland families included in massive spending package

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@alextdaugherty

The House and Senate are scheduled to vote on a massive $1.3 trillion spending package on Thursday and Friday, and the spending bill includes two bills that were a priority for the families of victims of the nation's deadliest high school shooting in Parkland. 

The STOP School Violence Act and Fix NICS Act are both in the package. Both bills received widespread support from both parties though a few Republicans were opposed to the Fix NICS Act, which aims to improve the background check system for guns by penalizing federal agencies that fail to report records, and increases federal funding for reporting domestic violence records.

"Today, we’re moving a little closer to turning the voices of the students marching across the country into action. While we still have so much work to do, I am happy to see some movement on bipartisan legislation I’ve worked on with Senator Rubio to help address gun violence in our country, including the Fix NICS Act and the STOP School Violence Act, which funds programs to help keep our schools safe," Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement. 

The spending bill also stipulates that the Centers for Disease Controls can conduct research on gun violence, a measure pushed by Orlando Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy after the Parkland shooting. A number of Republicans, including Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have backed the idea. Previously, the CDC was not allowed to spend money to research gun violence due to an amendment passed in 1996. 

"We are very happy that by the end of this week there should be close to a billion dollars over the next ten years available so that states can set up these systems to identify potential shooters and stop them before they kill anybody," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement.