June 12, 2017

U2's Bono gives Rubio a shoutout at Miami concert

@PatriciaMazzei @learyreports

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was in the audience when U2 performed in Miami Gardens on Sunday -- and it sounds like band frontman Bono knew it.

The Irish singer gave the Republican senator a shoutout in a monologue during the band's encore, thanking him for his support for programs that combat the AIDS virus.

"If you're a taxpayer here, you're an AIDS activist," Bono said. "An American story. It's heroic story, being championed by the left and the right -- by people like your Sen. Marco Rubio, who's fighting for this stuff and I want to thank him here tonight. I want to thank him.

"It's not good, to see people as I've seen them. These budget cuts by this president could undo the great work of the United States," Bono continued. "So send him a message. This country does incredible things when it works together, as one."

Bono then launched into "One," a song U2 released in the early 1990s as a single to benefit AIDS research.

Elsewhere in the concert, one attendee said, Bono made criticisms at President Donald Trump, particularly over the notion of building walls.

A CNN producer snapped a photo of Rubio at the Hard Rock Stadium after the concert. Nearby was longtime Rubio friend Bernie Navarro.

Rubio has backed PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief created in 2003 by then-President George W. Bush primarily to battle AIDS in Africa. As a GOP presidential contender last year, Rubio said he'd fully fund PEPFAR, and as senator, Rubio has written at least one op-ed and released statements since 2011 about fighting AIDS.

"You know, growing up, AIDS was a death sentence when I was a child," he said in 2012. "If someone got AIDS in the 1980s or even '90s, it meant you were going to die. Luckily, we're blessed that today that's not the case."

This post has been updated to include the audio of the show.

June 08, 2017

Sen. Bill Nelson says AG Sessions should testify before Senate Intelligence Committee (UPDATE: Rubio wants Sessions to testify)

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Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson nabbed the hottest ticket in Washington on Thursday—a front row seat to former FBI Director James Comey's hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. 

As other senators who weren't on the committee went about a normal work day in Washington, Nelson leaned back in his chair to hear the detailed steps that Comey took to document his conversations with President Donald Trump because he didn't feel the president was trustworthy. 

"Let me give you my strongest impression, the testimony was riveting and I was riveted when he (Comey) answered that he took copious and detailed notes because he felt that the president would lie," Nelson said. "That was stunning."

Nelson told reporters after the hearing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should testify before the committee to explain his role in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 

"He was part of it," Nelson said. "The special counsel certainly has lots of information to work with." 

Sessions, a former senator from Alabama and Trump ally, recused himself from the Russia investigation after a flurry of criticism over his previously undisclosed contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Nelson, leaned back in his chair as his fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, asked Comey questions during Thursday morning's open hearing. Rubio repeatedly questioned Comey about why he chose not to disclose publicly that Trump was not a target in the Russia investigation. 

UPDATE 3:23pm: Rubio said Sessions should testify before the Intelligence Committee to reporters after the hearing. "The attorney general...will hopefully answer some questions on a number of topics." 

Rubio defends Trump, pushes Comey to say Trump wasn’t involved in Russia probe

Congress Trump Russia


Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio defended President Donald Trump during a widely publicized hearing with former FBI Director James Comey on Thursday.

Rubio, who dined with the president earlier this week, pushed Comey over his decision to not publicly disclose that Trump was not a person of interest in the ongoing investigation into Russia’s influence in the 2016 election.

Rubio asked Comey about his conversations with Trump in which the president asked about the ongoing investigation.

“We keep talking about this cloud, you perceive the cloud to be the Russia investigation in general, but the specific ask [from Trump] was that you would tell the American people what you had already told him, what you had already told the leaders of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, that he was not personally under investigation,” Rubio asked.

“Yes sir,” Comey replied.

“Just to be clear, for you to make a public statement that he was not under investigation would not have been illegal but you felt it made no sense because it could potentially create a duty to correct if circumstances changed,” Rubio asked.

“I wrestled with it before my testimony where I confirmed that there was an investigation and that there was two primary concerns,” Comey said. “One was that it creates a duty to correct, which I’ve lived before and you want to be very careful about doing that, and second it’s a slippery slope because if we say the president and the vice president aren’t under investigation, what’s the principled basis for stopping?”

Rubio, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, questioned that decision from Comey, saying that the overall Russia investigation was full of leaks from the news media, and that Comey’s decision not to disclose that information implied to the American people that the president was potentially part of the investigation.

“This investigation is full of leaks left and right,” Rubio said. “We’ve learned more from the newspapers sometimes than we do from our open hearings for sure. You ever wonder why in this Russia investigation the only thing that’s never been leaked is the fact that the president was not personally under investigation?”

“I don’t know, I find matters that are briefed to the gang of eight are pretty tightly held in my experience,” Comey said.

The Gang of Eight are Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate and each chamber's intelligence committee.

Two days before the hearing, Rubio and fellow intelligence committee member Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., had dinner with President Trump and a small group of lawmakers at the White House, and Rubio has been working closely with the White House on rewriting the nation’s Cuba policy in recent weeks.

Comey’s hearing attracted widespread national attention, and early in his testimony the former FBI director said President Trump told lies about why he was fired in May.

Read more here. 

June 07, 2017

Rubio: If Trump has interfered with Russia investigation, 'American people deserve to know'

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio at Wednesday's Intelligence Committe hearing:

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

June 05, 2017

As Trump reviews Cuba policy, Rubio, Nelson want to address 'stolen property'

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson are pressing the Trump administration to seek compensation for Americans whose property was taken by the Cuban government.

The move comes as Trump is reviewing policy toward Cuba.

“The U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (FCSC) has certified more than 5,900 claims against the Cuban Government for stolen property,” the lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “These claims—now valued at approximately $8 billion—remain unresolved.

“While the Cuban Government has manufactured ridiculous counter-claims to avoid responsibility, we urge you to seek fair compensation on behalf of these Americans as soon as possible. To that end, we request that you work with Congress to develop a plan and timeline for resolution of these claims, as well as consider instructing the FCSC to conduct a third Cuban Claims Program to allow for potential new claimants.”

Rubio and Nelson also express “concern” with a January 2016 decision allowing Cubaexport to renew a trademark for Havana Club rum.

“Cubaexport registered the trademark for Havana Club in the United States only after the Cuban Government stole the trademark from the original owners. The decision was a troubling development, given longstanding U.S. policy and support for the rightful owners of stolen property, and we urge you to reconsider.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio, Rooney to dine with Trump on Tuesday

@anitakumar01 @PatriciaMazzei

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will dine with President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday, a White House source confirmed Monday to McClatchy.

Rubio will be one of several lawmakers at the dinner.  Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples has also been invited. Politico reported four other lawmakers are also slated to attend.

The potential discussion topics are unknown, but Rubio has been working with the White House and National Security Council on revising U.S.-Cuba policy. Trump is planning a Miami trip as early as this month to announce whatever policy is agreed to.

In February, Rubio and his wife, Jeanette, had dinner with Trump and First Lady Melania Trump. On that occasion, Rubio brought up the issue of Venezuela.

May 23, 2017

Rubio: If Trump asked intel chiefs to back off Russia investigation, it goes to 'very nature' of their work

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio suggested Tuesday morning reports about President Donald Trump asking top intelligence officials to squelch the Russia investigation could hurt information sharing.

"We have to confirm that that's what actually happened. And I'm not disputing that it did," Rubio said on CNN's "New Day."

"If it does, I would say to you that it goes further in my mind as a member of the intelligence committee than just the focus on the Russia investigation. I think it goes into the very nature of the intelligence community's work and its ability to work with the executive branch and the presidency."

It was Rubio's lastest national TV appearance in which he's discussed Russia issues, if carefully. Asked if Trump's alleged action amounted to obstruction, Rubio demurred, saying all the facts are needed.

He also sounded a pessimistic note about chance for a Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, which Trump is attempting to broker.

"Everyone says they want peace. How do you define peace? If peace means Israel can no longer retain their nature as a Jewish state or give up control of Jerusalem, if that's peace -- that's not peace, that's not going to happen," Rubio said.

"From the Palestinian leadership's perspective, I don't think their definition of peace fits within what most of us at least here in Congress and in the United States would define as peace. And that's always been a problem," Rubio said. "I think it is a very noble endeavor. I think the White House and President needs to be careful in an effort to make things better we end up making things worse."

"It is my view that the conditions for the sort of peace we all desire do not exist, and therefore, we need to try to begin to create those conditions."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

May 22, 2017

Rubio says 'people got what they voted for' with Trump

via @learyreports

Marco Rubio says people shouldn't be surprised about the drama flowing from the White House.

"I don't understand why people are that shocked," Rubio said Sunday on "Face the Nation," after being asked if he agreed with Mitch McConnell there could be less drama. "This president ran a very unconventional campaign. I was there for a big part of it at the beginning alongside being one of his competitors. And that's what the American people voted for. And in essence, you know, this White House is not much different from the campaign.

"I mean, people got what they voted for. They elected him. Obviously it's in the best interest of this country to try to help him succeed. As far as the drama's concerned, yeah, I mean, it's unique. It's different from anything we've ever confronted. I think our job remains to do our work. We'll have to deal with these issues. These issues come up, these questions every single day. And I do think the White House would benefit from some systems in place that perhaps avoid some of the unnecessary friction points that come up on a daily basis. But this is also the political environment we now live in, too. I mean, politics are covered this way.

"And politicians also behave in this way because they know they can get attention for saying things one way or the other. It's just the way politics has moved. I don't think it's good for the country. But that's where we're headed for now apparently."

Jeb Bush on Friday said: "When I ran for office, I said he is a chaos candidate and would be a chaos president. Unfortunately, so far chaos organizes the presidency right now."


--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

May 21, 2017

Rubio acknowledges taking more 'forceful' stand on human rights than Trump

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio on Sunday differed with President Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia, saying a more forceful stance on human rights is needed.

"We are not here to lecture," Trump said. "We are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership based on shared interests and values to pursue a better future for us all."

CNN host Jake Tapper said he couldn't imagine Rubio saying that. Rubio replied:

"Well, I mean, yes, that would not have been a part of a speech that I would have delivered, for the reason that I think it's in our national security interest to advocate for democracy and freedom and human rights, now, with a recognition that you may not get it overnight. There needs to be a period of transition. And I think, further in that speech, they talk about gradual improvements in places, which I think is wise and pragmatic. That said, I would tell you that the White House and I have a different approach on the issue of human rights. I'm much more forceful and open and vocal about criticizing whether it's Egypt or Saudi Arabia for its human rights record.

"The White House is convinced they can get better results by addressing those issues in private one on one. And, in fairness, there are issues we have raised with the White House. They have then raised it with foreign leaders and have gotten results. Aya Hijazi was released from Egypt, and Sandy Phan-Gillis was released from China. But those are, you know, one case. There are thousands of these cases."

Rubio also addressed his cautious approach to the Russia investigation and Venezuela.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

May 17, 2017

As Trump World turns, Republican lawmakers are forced to react. And react. And react.

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It’s become de rigueur for members of Congress: another day, another request from reporters to comment on the latest crisis overtaking the White House.

This week, the questions centered on the momentous revelations that President Donald Trump gave classified information to Russia in the Oval Office — and that fired FBI Director James Comey wrote a memo saying Trump asked him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Democrats have been uniformly critical. But for many Republican lawmakers, navigating the halls of the U.S. Capitol has turned into an exercise in deploying deliberately cautious language — while also sounding increasingly frustrated with the Trump administration.

Take, for example, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Curbelo, one of the most threatened GOP congressmen, is a frequent Trump critic who had been facing stinging criticism in his Democratic-leaning district for voting for House Republicans’ healthcare legislation. He backs the formation of a select committee to investigate the allegations against Trump.

More here.

Photo credit: Aaron P. Bernstein, Getty Images