March 01, 2017

How Trump's speech echoed Rick Scott, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- President Trump’s speech last night can be viewed through three of Florida’s top political figures: Rick Scott, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.

First there was Trump’s passage about Obamacare.

“We should give our state governors the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid to make sure no one is left out," he said.

That could be lifted directly from Scott’s talking points from several recent trips to Washington. Scott says the state could more effectively design ways to use the funding. Scott in 2013 backed Medicaid expansion under Obamacare but was blocked by the House and then said he was against expansion, followed by calls for flexibility.

Next there was Trump’s call for “merit-based” immigration. As a senator and presidential candidate, Rubio has called for a major shift from family-based immigration to that based on what a person can contribute economically.

"Today, we have a legal immigration system for permanent residency that is largely based on whether or not you have a relative living here. And that’s the way my parents came legally in 1956,” Rubio said in an October 2015 presidential debate.

“But in 2015, we have a very different economy. Our legal immigration system from now on has to be merit-based. It has to be based on what skills you have, what you can contribute economically, and most important of all, on whether or not you’re coming here to become an American, not just live in America, but be an American.”

Bush as a cadidate also talked about a shift that rewards people with work skills rather than the family-based immigration system in place.

Finally, Trump spoke of education, calling it “the civil rights issue of our time.” He said: "I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.”

That’s straight from Bush’s playbook. Making the tie even stronger, Trump pointed to a young woman in the audience, Denisha Merriweather, a Jacksonville woman who benefited from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. It was Bush who first highlighted her story and Merriweather appeared on the campaign trail with him.

“We want all children to be able to break the cycle of poverty just like Denisha,” Trump said.

On Twitter, Bush wrote:

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Jim Lo Scalzo, pool photo via Associated Press

Rubio chides Democrats for sitting during tribute to Navy SEAL

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio in an interview Wednesday said about half of Democrats Tuesday night did not stand to honor the wife of NAVY Seal Ryan Owens, and he praised Donald Trump for a “presidential” speech.

“I don't mean this about everybody, I’m sure there were a few standing and clapping and they clapped earlier. But it was a stunning moment,” Rubio said on Fox & Friends.

“We were standing up in that minute and a half ovation for the widow of that Navy SEAL. I turn back around my shoulder and I see half the room, most of them, sitting down. I was just shocked by that. I noticed as soon as the speech was done they got up and walked out. So, look, they have a right to do all of that and that's fine. But, at the end of the day, last night's speech was presidential. And I don't think anyone can dispute that. You don't have to agree with everything. …

The Fox hosts did not ask Rubio about criticism from Owens’ father, who lives in Florida, and has criticized the mission that took his son.

“Having differences of opinion on issues is fine. That's different from saying, ‘do we want to make sure that he’s successful?’ There are people out there that literally want to nullify the election. Their notion is, ‘we lost the election so now let's make it impossible for him to be president.’ That's bad for America. That's wrong. That's not what we should be doing.”

Of course Democrats and President Obama said the same thing about GOP opposition over the past eight years.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Tampa office building asks Rubio office to leave because of disruptive protests


From Tony Marrero of the Tampa Bay Times:

TAMPA — Vocal crowds of demonstrators making weekly visits to the Tampa office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio have gotten the Miami Republican booted from the building.

The owner of Bridgeport Center, a gleaming, nine-story office center at 5201 Kennedy Blvd., notified Rubio's office on Feb. 1 that it will not renew its lease. The reason: The rallies have become too disruptive to the other tenants and a costly expense for the company, said Jude Williams, president of America's Capital Partners.

"A professional office building is not a place for that," Williams said. "I understand their cause, but at the end of the day, it was a security concern for us."

Rubio is now faced with the prospect of going without a brick-and-mortar office until a new location can be found. His annual lease expired in December and he has been renting on a month-to-month basis since then, working to negotiate a new agreement, according to his office. The staff needs to leave Suite 530 by Friday and does not have a new location lined up. Negotiations with another building recently fell through.

More here.

Photo credit: Loren Elliott, Tampa Bay Times

February 28, 2017

Rubio says Social Security, Medicaid should be part of budget talks


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday that President Donald Trump's proposed defense spending increase doesn't go far enough but he expressed concern about cuts to other areas of the budget and said changes to Social Security and Medicare should be on the table.

"I don't expect you're going to hear that tonight," the Florida Republican said hours before Trump's speech to Congress, "but I think in the months to come as the reality sets in, we'll have to accept that."

Rubio has long called for changes to Social Security and Medicaid, but not for current recipients.

"I'm against anything that is bad for my mom," he told reporters. "I'm talking about me … our generation. It's either going to be bankrupt or it's going to work differently. What are we talking about in some cases? I'm going to have to retire at 68½ instead of at 68. These are not unreasonable requests to add some longevity and stability to these programs."

Rubio also discussed Obamacare and the Russian probe.

More here.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio to meet with Florida lawmakers


via @learyreports

WASHINGTON — For the second consecutive day, top members of the Florida Legislature will meet behind closed doors Tuesday with Sen. Marco Rubio.

An itinerary obtained by the Tampa Bay Times shows topics Monday included flood insurance, the Affordable Care Act then a “social hour” and dinner with Rubio and Rep. Vern Buchanan.

Tuesday brings a “working breakfast” at Rubio’s office to discuss water issues, including the Everglades, followed by tax reform. Then state lawmakers will have individual meetings with congressional members and staff.

Rubio’s office would not say why the meetings, being attended by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other lawmakers, are closed. Reporters this morning have been offered the opportunity to briefly see the group but not listen in.

February 27, 2017

Corcoran, Negron to discuss Obamacare, flood insurance with Rubio in D.C.

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other legislators are in Washington Monday and Tuesday for a series of meetings and social gatherings with Sen. Marco Rubio and others.

Though the parties are keeping details close — for reasons that aren’t clear — we have obtained an itinerary.


1-2 p.m. Working lunch flood insurance
2-5 p.m. Affordable Care Act and impact on Florida
5-6 p.m. Social Hour
6-8 p.m. - Dinner with Rubio and Rep. Vern Buchanan


9-11 a.m. Breakfast - water issues
11-1 p.m. Tax reform
1-3 p.m. Meetings with individual members of Congress

Rubio’s office said Friday that the meetings are “to make sure we are providing open lines of communication and be a resource as it relates to federal activity and how it impacts Florida as they head into legislative session.”

Here is a list of those invited:

Speaker Richard Corcoran
President Joe Negron
Rep. Jeanette Nunez
Rep. Jose Oliva
Rep. Jose Felix Diaz
Rep. Michael Bileca
Rep. Janet Cruz
Rep. Ray Rodrigues
Rep. Bobby DuBose
Rep. George Moraitis
Rep. Carlos Trujillo
Sen. Wilton Simpson
Sen. Anitere Flores
Sen. Bill Galvano
Sen. Jack Latvala
Sen. Oscar Braynon
Sen. Lauren Book

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times, with Jeremy Wallace

February 26, 2017

Rubio: I won't attend town halls full of 'liberal activists'


Don't expect to see U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio at a town hall anytime soon.

The Florida Republican said in an interview this weekend that the much-ballyhooed events organized last week by Indivisible Miami, a group that opposes President Donald Trump, aren't real forums to exchange ideas.

"They are not town halls anymore," Rubio told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS 4 on Saturday. "And I wish they were, because I enjoy that process very much, going back to my time as [Florida] speaker of the House."

Indivisible Miami put together several "empty-chair" town halls for Rubio's constituents last week. The senator was never expected to show up. His office hasn't scheduled any town halls of his own, unlike some of his fellow GOP colleagues in the Senate. 

"These are real people. They are real liberal activists, and I respect their right to do it," Rubio said of the crowds who showed up to last week's events, estimating that "80-90 percent" were liberal activists. "But it is not a productive exercise. It's all designed to have news coverage at night."

Rubio also told "Facing South Florida" host Jim DeFede that it's too soon to call for a special prosecutor to investigate alleged Russian interference into the U.S. presidential election, including any potential ties to Trump's campaign, as Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California has suggested.

"We will gather facts. We will gather evidence," Rubio said of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "We will present that in a report to the Senate and ultimately to the American people and then I believe people will be able to opine about whether or not that is something worthy of the intervention of the Justice Department. And at that time we would opine. But I don't even know it will rise to that level. I'm not prepared to say that. It might and if it does we'll act and if it doesn't we won't."

February 24, 2017

Rubio gets empty-chair town hall treatment in South Miami

via @harrisalexc

The mayor of South Miami and the former mayor of Pinecrest hoisted a dark suit on a hanger into the air between them, and the crowd of nearly 300 people jeered and laughed.

Someone threw a wad of cash on the table, nearly hitting the paper name tag identifying the invisible man as Senator Marco Rubio. Philip Stoddard, of South Miami, stuffed the bills in a suit pocket and held a water bottle near the lapels.

A man from the overflow crowd outside shouted from the open doors: “It’s an empty chair. We deserve better than an empty chair.”

He, and hundreds of other activists, gathered in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami in Glenvar Heights Thursday night for a town hall meeting without their elected official.

Congress is in recess this week, so some representatives — including Florida Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Dennis Ross — use the break to hold town hall meetings. Rubio’s office said he was in Europe on senate business this week and wouldn’t be attending any, but activists found the senator twice on Thursday and posted videos of the confrontation online.

More here.

February 23, 2017

Rubio quietly returns from Europe and is confronted in Miami

Rubio Protest

The line from U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's aides when they were asked this week why the Florida Republican wasn't planning any town hall meetings during the congressional recess was that he was away in Europe on Senate business.

But Rubio returned quietly Wednesday night -- and was promptly confronted Thursday morning by a protester who found the senator even though he hadn't publicly listed any appearances.

In a video posted on Facebook by Miami activist Tomas Kennedy, a protester chases Rubio down at Jackson Memorial Hospital. The video was first reported by the Miami New Times.

"Senator, I thought you were in Europe," an unidentified man says on the clip. "Are you going to host a town hall?"

"Good to see you, man," Rubio responded.

The New Times reported Rubio returned from Europe in time to teach his weekly politics class at Florida International University.

Indivisible Miami, an anti-Trump group, has planned an empty-chair town hall -- to be held with or without Rubio -- for Thursday night. Another one is scheduled for Saturday in Plantation. Activists held a similar event Wednesday night in Tampa, featuring a Rubio cardboard cutout. More than 500 people attended.

Rubio's office said the senator was at Jackson for a roundtable discussion on Florida's opioid crisis. The office did not advertise Rubio's appearance in advance, as it often does with local events so news reporters can attend. Aides later posted a recap of the event on Rubio's Senate website.

The senator's Europe trip was also shrouded in mystery. Rubio's office didn't say until Monday that he had made the trip to France and Germany; he'd been expected to depart for Europe on Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference but didn't due to extended Senate business. No day-to-day schedule or recaps of Rubio's trip have been made public, either.

Labor groups have been picketing Rubio's Doral office on a weekly basis over his support for President Trump's Cabinet picks. Protesters have also shown up at the offices of Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen this week, asking for town halls.

Republican lawmakers' town halls across the country have turned rowdy, but that hasn't stopped legislators -- including Florida Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Dennis Ross -- from holding them. 

Photo credit: Alan Diaz, Associated Press

February 22, 2017

What's Rubio doing in Europe?

Trump Secretary of State(2)
via @learyreports

WASHINGTON -- As lawmakers are home facing often hostile crowds at town halls, Sen. Marco Rubio is somewhere overseas right now on what his office calls an “official oversight trip” whose mission includes discussing “Russian aggression in Europe.”

On Monday, Rubio’s office said he would “attend multiple bilateral meetings with heads of state and senior government officials in Germany and France, two countries with upcoming elections who are facing concerns about Russian interference.”

A member of the Foreign Relations, Intel and Appropriations committees, Rubio was also to discuss “U.S./E.U. relationship, NATO operations, counter-ISIS activities, foreign assistance programs.”

But beyond that broad outline, Rubio’s office has not provided any detail about the visit, including specifically where his he’ll be, who he’ll meet with and who he is traveling with, besides his wife, Jeanette.

Several request for additional information have gone unanswered. “As soon as I have additional details I will be happy to share them with you,” a spokesman told the Tampa Bay Times in an email Tuesday morning.

Rubio left on Sunday. His has not used Twitter of Facebook since then.

Could Rubio be traveling with Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Intelligence Committee?

Burr’s office won’t say either when we contacted. Burr is not in North Carolina, according to news reports, which do not say where he is other than out of state.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Alex Brandon, Associated Press