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

CUBA-EXPEL

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

US NEWS LASVEGAS-SHOOTING 21 ABA

@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.

Rubio on federal response to Puerto Rico: 'In hindsight, we all wish we could get those 3 or 4 days back'

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Republicans don't want to criticize President Donald Trump's administration for its slow-moving response to assist Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

But they're also not going out of their way to praise it.

"In hindsight, we all wish we could get those three or four days back," U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio told reporters in Miami on Monday after they asked if Washington could have done more -- and more quickly -- to aid the island. "The good news is, now that Lt. Gen. [Jeffrey] Buchanan is on the ground, it appears that every single day that goes by, they have more control and authority over the reestablishment of logistics."

Delicate politics are at play: Republicans expect perhaps thousands of Puerto Ricans to move to states like Florida in the storm's aftermath. Puerto Ricans already tend to vote Democratic. And now some of them are upset at Trump's Twitter jabs at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz -- and at Puerto Rican workers -- after Maria.

Will they remember once they move here and go to the polls on Election Day?

"I haven't thought about the political dynamic of it, because we're still in the middle of a response to a hurricane," Rubio said. "So, in the short-term, all I've said is, I want us to focus 100 percent on what we need to do to improve the recovery effort. And anything that isn't about that is taking away [from that]. And we have plenty of time in the future to sit there and point to the mistakes that were made, and what could be done better, and what we would do differently, but right now every minute we spend sort of doing that sort of thing is a minute that isn't being spent trying to improve reconstruction and deal with it." 

Trump plans to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Puerto Rico's resident commissioner in Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón, estimated in an interview that aired Sunday on Miami's local Univision affiliate that as many as half a million Puerto Ricans could move to the mainland in the coming months.

Gov. Rick Scott, a fellow Republican who like Rubio traveled to Puerto Rico last week to view the hurricane's devastation firsthand, announced Monday he will open three relief centers in Miami and Orlando to help new Puerto Rican arrivals. 

Scott declined to say whether the White House could have acted with more urgency.

"I'm not here to assign blame," he said. "I know that we've worked hard to make sure we solve our problems in our state, and I know Gov. [Ricardo] Rosselló is doing [the same] over there in Puerto Rico. My experience by being over there is, I saw people working their tail off."

Scott wouldn't speculate on whether any new Florida voters from Puerto Rico could take out their frustration against him if he runs as U.S. Senate next year.

"I've been governor now for almost seven years," Scott said. "I reach out to people and talk to people and try to solve problems.... I know that people are going to come here from Puerto Rico are going to be hardworking. They're going to be part of our society, and my job as governor is to provide as many resources as I can, and give them the same opportunity that every other Floridian has."

Only Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a frequent, outspoken Trump critic who is retiring next year, openly lamented the federal government's handling of Puerto Rico, calling it "a terrible response to a horrible tragedy."

She made a point, however, to thank Rubio and Scott for their efforts -- putting them on a separate plane from the GOP president.

September 28, 2017

Rubio urges Trump to put Pentagon in charge of recovery in Puerto Rico

TRUMP - PUERTO RICO

@francoordonez @alextdaugherty 

As the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico spirals, Sen. Marco Rubio urged President Donald Trump to put the U.S. military in charge of recovery efforts on the island.

The Florida Republican said the government in Puerto Rico does not have the capacity — in money, staff or even communications resources — to lead such a massive effort as more than 3 million American citizens struggle amid rapidly deteriorating conditions.

Rubio, who has emerged in recent months as a key advisor to the president on Latin American issues, said the Defense Department is the only institution with the organizational capabilities and logistics skills needed to confront the devastation.

“This is what they do,” Rubio said Thursday. “They’re the best responders to natural disasters on the planet. And we need to employ them.”

Rubio, who clearly has the president’s ear, is leading a growing chorus of politicians who have become dissatisfied with the Trump administration’s response more than a week after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. Puerto Rico is now suffering food shortages and is at risk of disease outbreak, and both local and federal officials are pressuring the Trump administration to dramatically ramp up its efforts.
 
“I would like to see the fire and fury of this administration when it comes to a rescue effort,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.

Read more here.

September 27, 2017

Donald Trump is running out of time in Puerto Rico

Lamp

@alextdaugherty @francoordonez

Republicans and Democrats have a clear message for President Donald Trump: Puerto Rico is now a humanitarian crisis.

Large portions of the U.S. territory are without power and basic services one week after Hurricane Maria swept over the island as a Category Four hurricane. Politicians who have spent time on the ground in Puerto Rico since the storm, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez, are urging the Trump administration to take every action available to help more than 3 million U.S. citizens.

“Our conventional method to respond to a storm requires the federal government to kind of plug in with the existing emergency response... and work through them to distribute aid,” Rubio said. “That model probably won’t work as well, in fact I don’t think it will work on the situation in Puerto Rico.”

Rubio said it takes five days for supplies to reach Puerto Rico by barge from Miami and seven days from Jacksonville, making it tough to get much-needed medical supplies and aid there quickly. Puerto Rico is 1,000 miles from Miami, while countries like the Dominican Republic and Jamaica are closer.

Trump said the situation in Puerto Rico is serious and that there isn’t an easy solution.
“That place was just destroyed,” Trump said on Wednesday. “That's not a question of ‘Gee, let’s dry up the water. Lets do this or that.’ That is a really tough situation. I feel so badly for those people.”

But the Trump administration has not waived a U.S. law that would allow foreign vessels to assist in Puerto Rico’s relief effort. The Jones Act, a law that requires the delivery of goods between U.S. ports to done by U.S. owned and operated ships, was waved in Texas after Hurricane Harvey and in Florida after Hurricane Irma to allow for more efficient fuel delivery.

“That is critical, particularly for fuel,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said to CNN, adding that he expects the Trump administration to eventually waive the law. “One of the considerations right now is the priority of getting fuel, diesel, gasoline, all across the island. Right now we have enough fuel. We’re limited by the transportation logistics, but at some point, of course, getting fuel into the island is going to be critical so that we can have the major functions of telecoms, hospitals, water, to be running appropriately.”

Trump said he’s thinking about rescinding the Jones Act in Puerto Rico, but he will take into consideration the interests of the U.S. shipping industry.

“We're thinking about that, but 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,” Trump said. “And we have a lot of ships out there right now.”

The Department of Homeland Security, under pressure from lawmakers like Velázquez and Arizona Sen. John McCain to waive the act, said they are not “legally allowed to waive the Jones Act to make goods cheaper.”

DHS officials, who declined to speak on the record, said that the Jones Act is waived “in the interest of national defense” and that the Department of Defense usually makes the recommendation based on requests from U.S. shipping interests.

Velázquez, along with three other Puerto Rican members of Congress, submitted a request to waive the act on Monday. DHS officials said the request from Congress was “not normal” but that it was being evaluated. The officials declined to say when they would make a decision on the request, but said it is “unlikely” a decision would come on Wednesday.

Read more here.

Bob Menendez says White House blocked a planned trip to Puerto Rico with Marco Rubio

Menendez_Trial_The_Evidence_81383

@alextdaugherty 

A New Jersey Democrat is not happy that the Trump administration is reportedly barring lawmaker travel to Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Maria. 

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that at least 10 lawmakers were hoping to go to Puerto Rico aboard military aircraft over the weekend on a trip organized by Sen. Bob Menendez, but they were stopped by the White House and Pentagon. The administration officials said lawmaker travel at this time would impede relief efforts, according to the Post. 

After the Post piece was published, Menendez said on Twitter that he was planning to travel with Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, one of only a handful of lawmakers who have visited Puerto Rico since the storm hit. 

"Over a dozen members of Congress say they’d join Marco Rubio & I to head to Puerto Rico to assess disaster response," Menendez tweeted. "Restricting us doesn’t serve millions in NJ & across U.S. waiting to get a hold of their families. These are Americans who need our help. We will not back down!" 

After visiting Puerto Rico and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Monday, Rubio met with Vice President Mike Pence and other top FEMA officials on Tuesday to relay his concerns about the humanitarian situation throughout the territory.  

“I'm concerned about human suffering and potential loss of life if aid doesn't reach the places it needs to reach quickly enough,” Rubio said. “I hope that we don't see Katrina-like images.”

President Donald Trump announced plans to visit Puerto Rico next Tuesday, and he said that was the earliest possible day he could visit without hampering relief efforts. The Post reported that lawmakers have been barred from traveling on military planes to Puerto Rico since Monday evening. 

Menendez's office confirmed that the New Jersey senator was working with Republicans to organize a trip. 

"I can confirm that Senator Menendez is the lead member organizing a bipartisan CODEL to Puerto Rico with several members," Menendez spokesman Juan Pachon said in an email. "Our office is now trying to figure out alternatives to make this happen as the situation on the island is extremely dire." 

Rubio acknowledged the logistical constraints of travel to the island in a Facebook video on Wednesday. 

“I tried to get there Friday last week and it wasn’t possible for a lot of reasons," Rubio said. "I want people to understand, when you think about some of these trips, you have an airport, and the airport can only take X number of flights a day, and so if I get on an airplane and fly in there, that’s one less flight that can land with food or medicine or personnel, and so we didn’t want to be in the way.”

Planes can only land once every 15 minutes in San Juan according to Rubio, and the lack of flights is an obstacle for getting aid into the territory. Rubio's office sent four staffers to the island on Wednesday to assist with recovery efforts.

Menendez and Rubio are the leading members of the Senate subcommittee that oversees Western Hemisphere affairs. Menendez is currently on trial for corruption in New Jersey. 

One lawmaker, Illinois Democratic Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, plans to travel to Puerto Rico this weekend. But he is traveling on a commercial flight and not a military plane, according to the Post. 

"I hope to return to Puerto Rico here in the next couple days if possible with some of my colleagues to begin what we can do to kind of break down barriers and help deliver aid,” Rubio said. 

September 26, 2017

Lawmakers warn Trump: Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands could become Katrina-like disaster

AP_17269090675075

@alextdaugherty 

The Trump administration’s response to the hurricanes that ravaged Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands could become a Hurricane Katrina-like political disaster if he does not respond to the storms’ aftermath more decisively, congressional lawmakers from both parties warned Tuesday.

“I'm concerned about human suffering and potential loss of life if aid doesn't reach the places it needs to reach quickly enough,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who spent Monday in San Juan with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. “I hope that we don't see Katrina-like images.”

Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., one of five Puerto Ricans in Congress, warned Trump that “If you don’t take this crisis seriously, this is going to be your Katrina.”

 

President George W. Bush’s response to Katrina, which devastated parts of Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, was criticized as initially weak and insensitive.

Bush did a flyover in Air Force One to survey the damage rather than land, a move that he described in 2010 as a “huge mistake.”
When Bush did visit the area, he praised the much-maligned performance of then-FEMA Secretary Michael Brown.

“Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job,” Bush said as water and provisions were in short supply for New Orleans survivors of the storm.

Tuesday, lawmakers delivered the dire message to the White House following a Monday night tweet by Trump in which he spoke about the devastation in Puerto Rico but also mentioned the island’s debt crisis.

“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” the president wrote.

Read more here.

September 25, 2017

FEMA has money to spend in Puerto Rico, but Congress will need to act soon

IMG_30MariaPuertoRico922_2_1_FSCELVFE_L343825129 (1)

@alextdaugherty 

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico less than a week ago, but the Federal Emergency Management Administration has more relief funding available than it did after Hurricane Harvey.

After Harvey hit the Houston area, Congress passed a $15.25 billion hurricane relief bill when President Donald Trump struck a deal with Democrats. FEMA was only a few days away from running out of money.

Nearly half of the hurricane relief package that passed in early September, $7.4 billion, is going to FEMA, allowing it to stay afloat while it responds to the crisis in Puerto Rico and cleanup in Florida after Hurricane Irma. A FEMA spokesperson told the Miami Herald that the agency has just over $5 billion in uncommitted disaster relief money as of Monday morning.

That money won’t last long. Congress will likely need to pass additional funding bills to manage long-term recovery efforts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico before the end of the year.

“Our focus is still continuing to be on the life-saving efforts and the immediate disaster response efforts which are still currently under way,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
 
A Republican staffer with knowledge of the appropriations process said that federal funding for hurricane relief will be “fine until mid-October” and that Congress will likely vote on an additional funding bill in the next three weeks.

“Congress has done its job,” the staffer said.

But Congress only supplies the money. It’s up to local and federal agencies to effectively manage it after a hurricane.

On Monday, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson called on the U.S. military to provide more search-and-rescue teams to Puerto Rico. Nelson said last week it will cost much more than $15 billion to manage relief efforts in Florida and Puerto Rico.

 

The White House said Monday that it’s doing everything possible to manage the short-term response in Puerto Rico. Homeland security adviser Tom Bossert and FEMA administrator Brock Long arrived in Puerto Rico on Monday to assess the situation and will inform the White House about what is needed most.

But short-term efforts like search-and-rescue missions or restoring Puerto Rico’s power grid are different than long-term projects like hardening the power grid to ensure it can withstand a major hurricane. The FEMA money focuses on the short-term effort, but months from now Republicans and Democrats will inevitably debate the merits of long-term relief for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. Texas has 38 votes in Congress and Florida has 29, and if they stick together the majority-Republican states can be an important voting bloc in a contentious negotiation.

In contrast, Puerto Rico has one non-voting delegate.

Read more here.

September 21, 2017

Marco Rubio and Tim Tebow team up in the Florida Keys

TebowPortal

@alextdaugherty

Sen. Marco Rubio and former University of Florida quarterback turned New York Mets minor league baseball player Tim Tebow will distribute food (and likely some autographs) to Hurricane Irma victims in Big Pine Key this morning. 

The duo will begin handing out food around 11:15 am today at the Coca-Cola Plant at 30801 Ave. A in Big Pine Key, according to a press release from Rubio's office. 

Tebow, a Jacksonville native, visited the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee on Sept. 12 with Gov. Rick Scott

“I’m just here to thank everybody and [tell them I] appreciate all their work and what they’ve been doing and just let them know how everybody is so grateful,” Tebow said during his Tallahassee visit. 

Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner, finished his first season of professional baseball in 2017 after a five year NFL career.