August 03, 2017

Trump meets in Oval Office with Rubio and Bay of Pigs vets

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@PatriciaMazzei

Here's something that wasn't on President Donald Trump's public schedule Thursday: a private Oval Office gathering with Cuban-American Bay of Pigs veterans.

The six men got their picture taken with Sen. Marco Rubio and Trump, seated behind the Resolute Desk, according to a photo tweeted by Rubio's office.

Last time Trump was in Miami, tightening U.S. policy toward Cuba, he met for a few minutes backstage at the Manuel Artime Theater in East Little Havana with Brigade 2506 veterans. The brigade issued its first-ever presidential endorsement last year, for Trump, a fact he has since repeatedly mentioned as important to his campaign.

Photo courtesy Rubio's office 

Rubio still considering Trump-sponsored immigration plan introduced in February

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@alextdaugherty 

n 2013, Marco Rubio and three other Republican senators worked with Democrats to draft a bipartisan immigration bill.

Rubio’s 2013 bill, which proposed an expanded visa program for low-skilled workers, failed after the House decided not to vote on it.

On Wednesday, Rubio said he was still considering a different immigration proposal, backed by the White House, that cuts the number of green cards for low-skilled and non-English speaking immigrants. The 15-page plan was first introduced in the Senate in February, and the White House announced its support Wednesday.

Of the four Republican senators who drafted the 2013 bill, Rubio is the only one who hasn’t voiced disagreement.

“I’m glad to see the president is open to a step-by-step approach to improving our immigration laws, and I stand ready to work with my colleagues in Congress on common sense proposals to achieve real progress for Americans on this issue,” Rubio said in a statement. “I continue to support reform that prioritizes welcoming people to our country based on their skills, not just on whether they have a family member already living here.”
 
Rubio’s comments were in contrast to his three GOP colleagues who worked on the immigration bill.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Trump’s proposal “incentivizes more illegal immigration” by limiting the number of visas for low-skilled jobs in tourism and agriculture that would otherwise go unfilled.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said: “We need to make sure we are responsive to the needs of our economy and I’m concerned that drastic cuts to the number of immigrants fails to meet that goal.”

The other GOP senator who worked on the 2013 bill, John McCain of Arizona, is receiving treatment for cancer. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in February, McCain told reporters he was “not interested” in the bill.

Rubio, whose parents came to the United States from Cuba and worked in low-skill jobs for a period of time, declined to comment on the immigration policy beyond his statement.

His office said Rubio has always prioritized English-speaking immigrants, citing his work on the 2013 bill that would require green card holders to achieve English proficiency.

“On the day we announced the principles that would shape the immigration bill, we made it clear that English proficiency would now be required for permanent residency for the first time in American history,” Rubio said in 2013.

Rubio did not play a role in drafting the new proposal, his office said.

The White House said the plan, dubbed the Raise Act, will prioritize immigrants who speak English, have special skills and can support themselves financially. The Raise Act will prioritize high-wage immigrants because the White House argues that low-skilled legal immigrants currently drive down wages for all Americans.

Two of Rubio’s South Florida colleagues, Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, said they do not support the new legal immigration proposal.

“I’m against the RAISE Act because it dramatically cuts the number of folks who can enter our great nation by legal means,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “There are many individuals living in other lands who dream of becoming patriotic, law-abiding Americans but will be prevented from realizing that dream because they do not yet speak English or they lack special skills.”

Read more here.

Why the U.S. is taking its time before imposing more Venezuela sanctions

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@PatriciaMazzei @FrancoOrdonez

Caught in the White House transition this week from Reince Priebus to John Kelly: steep economic sanctions the U.S. threatened against Venezuela if President Nicolás Maduro rammed through his new constituent assembly in a Sunday vote denounced as fraudulent.

Kelly, a military general who used to head U.S. Southern Command in Miami, is intimately familiar with Venezuela’s tumult. And since being named chief of staff Friday, he’s taken a key role in shaping the Trump administration’s response to the South American country’s crisis, sources close to the White House said.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who has worked with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, the National Security Council, Priebus and now Kelly on Venezuela policy, said he felt reassured by Kelly’s Oval Office presence.

“We’re fortunate it worked out this way,” Rubio told the Miami Herald in an interview. “The president has Kelly next to him — not just a chief of staff who I believe will improve the performance of the White House, but someone who I believe understands Venezuela as well or better as anyone in the administration.”

Kelly’s involvement appears to be one of several reasons why the White House has taken its time before escalating penalties against Venezuela — not because Kelly opposes more sanctions, but because he wants to vet and weigh in on the administration’s plan. 

Maduro announced late Wednesday his government intends to seat the new constituent assembly Friday, a watershed move expected to trigger further action by the U.S. and international community, which have condemned the violence-marred election and refused to recognize the new assembly.

More here.

Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

August 02, 2017

State Department won’t call Venezuelan election ‘illegitimate’ while White House takes harder stance

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@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty 

The top State Department official in charge of Latin America declined Wednesday — even when pressed — to call a Venezuelan election “illegitimate,” as evidence mounted that the vote for a new legislative body with nearly unfettered power was fraudulent.

Francisco Palmieri, acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs, characterized Sunday’s election as “flawed” and said the U.S. will not recognize the new constituent assembly once it is seated as early as Wednesday.

“The election Sunday was a flawed attempt to undermine democratic institutions in Venezuela,” Palmieri said at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing. “We support the democratically elected National Assembly in its efforts to promote an enduring, peaceful solution to the crises in Venezuela.”

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who was chairing the hearing, wasn’t satisfied.

“So, just to be clear, is it the position of the administration that the vote that occurred on Sunday is illegitimate?” Rubio asked.

Palmieri repeated himself. Again Rubio asked. Again Palmieri deflected, though each time he inched closer to Rubio’s position.

“I know the process was flawed,” Rubio said, taking Palmieri to task. “The outcome is this new constituent assembly. There cannot be a legitimate National Assembly and a legitimate constituent assembly. If the National Assembly is the only legitimate entity, the constituent assembly by definition is illegitimate.”

“I take your point,” Palmieri conceded. “Yes, sir.”

The State Department’s resistance to use “illegitimate” came after U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley deployed the word Sunday. The White House, National Security Council and Treasury Department also adopted far harsher language against Venezuela in recent days, branding President Nicolás Maduro a “dictator” and referring to his government as a “dictatorship” that could be hit with escalating U.S. sanctions.

Critics have argued going hard after Maduro’s government is counterproductive because it gives him an anti-U.S. cause to rally supporters.

“Impose all the sanctions you want!” Maduro said in a televised speech Monday. “The Venezuelan people have decided to be free, and I’ve decided to be the president of a free people.”

In an interview published late Tuesday by Spanish news agency EFE and cited by Rubio, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South America Michael Fitzpatrick said the U.S. wants “dialogue” with Maduro’s government.

“We respect the official government of Venezuela and of President Maduro at this time,” Fitzpatrick said.

In contrast, President Donald Trump has vowed “strong and swift” economic sanctions against Venezuela that have yet to materialize.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who took a few days off last week as the U.S. sanctioned 13 members of Maduro’s government, said Tuesday the administration is still considering “what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future — and wants to leave of his own accord — or we can return the government processes back to their constitution.”

Read more here.

August 01, 2017

Rubio delivers speech in Spanish on independent Venezuelan TV station

 

@PatriciaMazzei

In an unusual move possible only for a bilingual U.S. senator, Florida Republican Marco Rubio got to make a speech late Monday night on an independent Venezuelan TV news channel in which he expressed solidarity for opponents of President Nicolás Maduro, who was sanctioned by the Trump administration Monday as a "dictator."

"There is no U.S. economic blockade on Venezuela. 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," said Rubio, who is fluent in Spanish. "For Nicolás Maduro, who I am sure is watching, the current path you are on will not end well for you."

The address, taped in Washington, aired on Globovisión, which is expected to continue playing the speech Tuesday.

"While the people of Venezuela struggle each day to feed their families, have you noticed how many of your leaders have gained weight?" Rubio said, pointing to periodic food shortages that have plagued the oil-rich South American nation.

Hours after the speech's initial airing, Venezuelan state security agents took two political prisoners who were under house arrest into custody. On Sunday, Maduro's government carried out a violent-marred election widely seen as fraudulent for a new all-powerful constituent assembly.

"Go ahead," Maduro said in a televised speech Monday evening. "Bring on your sanctions, Donald Trump."

Rubio noted in a Tuesday statement that Vice President Mike Pence had spoken to one of the prisoners, high-profile opposition leader Leopoldo López, by phone Friday. The other prisoner is former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma.

 “There should be no doubt that his arrest is a direct challenge to President Trump," Rubio said.

Rubio brought Lilian Tintori, López’s wife, to the Oval Office to meet Trump in February. Last week, López posted an online video urging Venezuelans to boycott Sunday’s constituent assembly vote and remain in the streets protesting. The terms of his house arrest prohibited him from speaking to reporters.

July 31, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott's promise to fight for Obamacare repeal has stalled

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@amysherman1

Gov. Rick Scott's promise to fight for repeal of the Affordable Care Act has hit a roadblock after the Senate failed to pass any legislation to repeal the law or replace it.

In the early morning of July 28, Republicans failed to muster enough votes to repeal former President Barack Obama's signature legislation. Three Republicans sided with the Democrats, leading to the defeat of repeal: John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Scott, a Republican and former health care company president, vowed during his first campaign in 2010 to fight to repeal the federal law. We have been tracking his progress on our Scott-O-Meter, which tracks dozens of Scott's campaign promises.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

July 28, 2017

Venezuela doesn’t have any friends left in Washington

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@alextdaugherty 

Marco Rubio and Nancy Pelosi rarely see eye to eye.

But both the liberal Democratic leader from San Francisco and the conservative Republican from Miami agree on one thing:

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is a brutal dictator.

“The President of Venezuela, to me, looks like he’s a thug and we just can’t let them exploit poor people in the country... with a message that looks like he’s their champion,” Pelosi said.

Ahead of a vote Sunday that could dramatically change Venezuela’s constitution in favor of Maduro, the tough talk from Pelosi and other liberal Democrats now mirrors the rhetoric of Miami Republicans who have long opposed Caracas.

As a result, any sympathy towards Maduro in Washington, even among liberal Democrats who once praised the leadership of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, has vanished.

Members of Congress who maintained a dialogue with Caracas during Chavez’s administration no longer speak to Maduro.

The leadership of the Washington-based Organization of American States is demanding free and fair elections.

And the White House declared the U.S. “will take strong and swift economic actions” if the Maduro regime goes ahead with the vote Sunday.

For pro-Venezuela politicians and diplomats in Washington, Chavez’s commitment to the country’s 1999 constitution was a redeeming characteristic for a leader who trafficked in anti-U.S. rhetoric during his 14 years in power.

“I’ve known Chavez and Maduro. Anytime we met, [Chavez] would always go into his pocket and bring out the constitution of Venezuela,” said U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat and the only sitting member of Congress who attended Chavez’s funeral in 2013. “Unfortunately, what Maduro is doing is tearing up the constitution.”

Meeks maintained regular contact with Caracas even as Chavez accused the U.S. of orchestrating a failed 2002 coup and referred to former President George W. Bush as “the devil” in 2006.

But Maduro’s decision to annul the Venezuelan legislature in March, and widespread protests that have led to the deaths of more than 100 people, are too much to reconcile.

“He doesn’t seem to me to be same guy that I knew when he was the leader of the Parliament back when I first met him with Hugo Chavez or the individual I spoke with briefly after he became president,” Meeks said.

The congressman added that his conversation with Maduro in 2013 was about “getting diplomatic relationships going again.”

But something changed between 2013 and 2015, when Maduro arrested opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and began suspending democratic norms.

“It seems to me at some point, I don’t know what happened, that he was not interested in having further dialogue, he’s not the same guy,” Meeks said. “Something has to happen to change what has been going on for years now. The lines have been crossed and there’s no attempt at trying to have reconciliation.”

That wasn’t the case years ago, when Chavez enjoyed amicable relations with U.S. officials appointed by President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.

“The name of the game was to engage,” said John Maisto, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela from 1997 to 2000.

Maisto said despite Chavez’s antagonistic rhetoric toward business interests and the United States, he was deeply committed to Article 350 of the Venezuelan constitution, which states “the Venezuelan people will not recognize any regime, legislation or authority that runs counter to democratic values, principles and guarantees, or undermines human rights.”

Protesters, including a man who attacked government buildings with a helicopter in June, have said Maduro is disregarding Article 350.

“The current regime is blatantly violating the constitution by not having local elections, by not having referenda... by trampling separation of powers and the non-recognition of the legislature,” Maisto said. “They are crossing a red line.”

Read more here.

Marco Rubio throws cold water on Bill Nelson's bipartisan health care push

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@alextdaugherty

Less than 24 hours after Sen. John McCain scuttled the GOP's push to repeal Obamacare, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson confirmed he is working with moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on a bipartisan health care plan.

"Sen. Collins and I have discussed this issue many times and we are now working together," Nelson said. "As former state insurance commissioners, we know how complicated this issue is and we are working with a small bipartisan group of senators equally dedicated to finding real solutions. This group of senators met for dinner the other night to start sharing our ideas and discussing a path forward." 

But Nelson's Florida colleague, Sen. Marco Rubio, threw cold water over a bipartisan health care plan on Friday afternoon. 

"I'd love to see a bipartisan effort to repeal and replace Obamacare," Rubio said. "Unfortunately, the growing consensus within the Democratic party, although they didn't have the courage to admit it yesterday, was to vote in favor of a single payer system." 

Rubio was referring to an effort by Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines on Thursday to force red state Democrats like Nelson on the record as to whether or not they support a single payer health care system. Instead, the majority of Senate Democrats, including liberals who support single payer like Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, voted "present" instead of yes or no.  

"I don't think they (Democrats) are really interested in repealing and I'm not sure we would like the replacement they have in mind because single payer is not a good replacement," Rubio said. "It would make things far worse than what we see now." 

Nelson said Friday he and Collins met earlier in the week to begin laying out ideas.

"While the imminent disaster of 20 percent rate hikes and 16 million people losing coverage has been avoided by the defeat of the Republican’s health care bill, now is the time to come together and start working in a bipartisan way to stabilize the market and make health care more affordable," Nelson said.

Rubio said Friday he's "proud" to be in a party that includes moderates like Collins and hard-line conservatives like Utah Sen. Mike Lee, even if it makes it harder to pass legislation. 

"I'd rather have them both and be a majority than have a more ideologically concise group but be in the minority," Rubio said. 

Rubio, who said he knew that McCain was going to vote against the Obamacare repeal measure dubbed "skinny repeal" about an hour before the dramatic vote early Friday morning, said the effort to repeal Obamacare isn't dead despite Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announcing "it's time to move on" after the failed vote.

"I imagine dictatorships are a lot more efficient, but I wouldn't want to live in one," Rubio said. 

 

Rubio says he intends to keep campaign promises on Obamacare

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Marco Rubio says he remains committed to overturning Obamacare following the collapse of the latest attempt.

"In both 2010 and 2016, I ran on the promise of repealing and replacing ObamaCare, and I intend to keep that promise," Rubio told the Tampa Bay times in a statement. "The insurance markets are crumbling - the average premiums have more than doubled and earlier this year yet another rate increase has been proposed for 2018. If we do not to act, things will only get worse because a failing ObamaCare will remain in place.

"Many people, across Florida and the country, expect their elected leaders to keep their commitments and do the work they were sent to Washington to do. While last evening's vote was disappointing, I remain committed to passing a health care bill that leaves Floridians better off than they are under the disastrous Obamacare."

We have asked Sen. Bill Nelson for a statement.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

July 26, 2017

Rubio defends Sessions amid Trump attacks

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday joined conservatives coming to the defense of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is under attack by President Trump.

"Served with Jeff Sessions for 6 yrs. Always honest & transparent. When he's with you no better ally, when against you, tough adversary," Rubio wrote on Twitter.

He said the Sessions "caricature" is created by those who don't know him. "Even when we disagreed on immigration I saw his fairness & kindness,' Rubio said.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times