February 06, 2018

How Puerto Rico failed to influence its biggest advocates in Washington

Governor Ricardo Roselló0183 JAI (2)

@alextdaugherty 

Puerto Rico’s needs in Washington are urgent.

The U.S. territory’s federal Medicaid funding will run out this month. Congress hasn’t passed a disaster relief bill since October. And as Hurricane Maria fades out of the daily news cycle, pushing lawmakers to act through lobbying is one arena where the Puerto Rican government can exert influence.

But Puerto Rico’s government-appointed lobbyists in Washington failed to change the island’s corporate tax status after asking at the last second; the governor urged Congress in November to authorize $94.3 billion in disaster relief — a massive sum that a Republican-controlled House and Senate isn’t likely to approve — and Puerto Rican leaders recently began a statehood blitz on Capitol Hill that even supporters in Washington say has no hope of success.

The nearly year-long negotiations on the massive tax bill in Congress are a window into the Puerto Rican government’s inability to influence the levers of power in Washington, and Hurricane Maria along with the island’s lack of voting representation in Congress aren’t solely to blame.

After failing to get legislative victories, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló attacked Republicans who agree with him on Puerto Rican statehood, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Rosselló vowed to use the expanding Puerto Rican diaspora in states like Florida as political leverage in the 2018 elections.

But while Rosselló has started spending time in Florida, his office in Washington has yet to successfully influence major pieces of legislation.

The Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration, PRFFA, a Washington-based group of Puerto Rican government officials tasked with representing Rosselló’s interests on Capitol Hill and the White House, constantly shifted legislative priorities throughout negotiations on the tax overhaul, which made it difficult for members of Congress to understand the island’s needs, according to multiple congressional offices.

PRFFA executive director Carlos Mercader, a Rosselló appointee, said the group’s position on taxes “was conveyed throughout the process and it has never varied, to this day.”

“PRFAA never shifted the goalposts,” Mercader said in an email. “On the contrary, it addressed different provisions as they were put forward by Congress.”

Weeks before the tax bill became law, Rosselló’s lobbyists began to argue that the bill treated companies in Puerto Rico as foreign entities under the revamped tax code, putting them at a competitive disadvantage compared to their mainland counterparts. But the push came too late and wasn’t a feasible request, according to Republican and Democratic lawmaker offices who work extensively on Puerto Rican issues.

When the corporate tax change failed, Rosselló went on the offensive, publicly criticizing Republicans like Rubio for turning their backs on Puerto Rico in its time of need, three months after Hurricane Maria destroyed the island’s entire electrical grid.

Rubio said Rosselló’s office raised objections about corporate taxes in Puerto Rico just over a week before the bill passed the U.S. Senate, adding that “the bulk of their engagement was always with the disaster relief, and rightfully so.”

But, Rubio added, “it remains to be seen” whether the corporate tax changes will have the negative affects on Puerto Rico that Rosselló claims.

Rosselló isn’t happy that the tax bill imposes a 12.5 percent tax on “intangible assets” of U.S. companies abroad and a minimum of a 10 percent tax on companies’ profits abroad. The measure in the tax bill is designed to stop American companies from avoiding taxes by shifting profits overseas. But it would also apply to Puerto Rico because the island is treated as both a foreign and domestic entity under the U.S. tax code.

“We will analyze those who turned their back on Puerto Rico, who passed a bill that goes against the spirit of the law,” Rosselló said in December.

Read more here.

January 31, 2018

Curbelo unhurt after GOP train collides with dump truck

IMG_Economic_Impact_of_I_2_1_8BAO5GJG_L296697696 (4)

@alextdaugherty

Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo is unhurt after a train with dozens of GOP lawmakers on it collided with a dump truck on Wednesday morning, killing at least one person in the truck and severely injuring another. 

Curbelo was en route to the yearly Republican retreat at a resort in West Virginia when it collided with a truck just west of Charlottesville, Virginia. No lawmakers were seriously hurt in the collision according to multiple reports and several lawmakers with medical training stepped up to help the victims. 

"Thanks to all who have called and texted," Curbelo tweeted. "We’re blessed to be ok, and hoping the best for those who were on this truck." He also spoke to MSNBC about the accident. 

Miami Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen were not on the train, according to their offices. Sen. Marco Rubio's office said he was not on the train.  

January 30, 2018

Nelson and Rubio urge the U.S. Senate not to forget about disaster aid

6a00d83451b26169e201b7c92fb973970b-800wi

@alextdaugherty

The U.S. Senate is operating on borrowed time, with less 10 days remaining until another potential government shutdown as a debate over immigration policy consumes Washington. 

But Florida Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio reminded their colleagues on Tuesday that the U.S. Senate hasn't passed a disaster relief bill in over three months, even though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said additional relief bills would come to help Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"There will be additional rounds, and we are all fully committed to meeting the needs that have arisen as a result of these devastating hurricanes," McConnell said in October. 

In back-to-back speeches on the Senate floor, Nelson and Rubio delivered a laundry list of arguments in favor of a new disaster relief bill that helps victims of Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Harvey along with wildfires in California. 

"I hope our colleagues in the Senate will understand the urgency of this matter," Nelson said. "We can't keep pushing this off down into the future. The need to act is now." 

Nelson said Florida received only $600 million of the $7.4 billion doled out in September for long-term disaster relief through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

"What percentage is that of $7.4 billion? It's well less than 10 percent. It defies comprehension," Nelson said. 

Nelson also listed a number of other issues that must be resolved through a disaster aid package, including Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico, help for Florida's citrus industry and additional funding for Florida schools dealing with a glut of new students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

The Federal Emergency Management Administration is also set to end food and water aid in Puerto Rico this week as grocery stores reopen, a decision Nelson blasted. 

"I am absolutely shocked that FEMA has announced that on Wednesday, it will stop distributing food and water to Puerto Rico," Nelson said. "Cutting this aid to the people of Puerto Rico, almost a third of them who still do not have electricity, it's unconscionable, and it's a travesty." 

Rubio echoed many of the arguments made by Nelson. 

"Long after the cameras leave and long after the stories aren't being written real people and real lives are disrupted, sometimes permanently," Rubio said, pointing to floating debris in the Florida Keys and its negative impacts on tourism and business.  

"I am disappointed," Rubio said. "If you had told me that we would have gotten to the last week of January and still hadn't taken up disaster relief, I would have been surprised because we had a chance to actually address this at the end of last year. The House sent over a bill that didn't go far enough, the Senate had ideas about how to make it better and then for reasons involving leverage and using it as a tool to get people to vote for...short-term spending at the end its kind of been held up." 

Rubio also highlighted Puerto Rico's needs in a disaster aid package, adding that he would like to see the U.S. territory's Medicaid program addressed, a temporary payroll tax deduction and a temporary expansion of the child tax credit in Puerto Rico. 

It's unclear when a disaster relief bill will be addressed by the U.S. Senate. A proposal could be attached to the upcoming short-term spending bill or it could be brought up on its own.

"Do not forget about disaster relief...we have to get this done," Rubio said. 

January 29, 2018

Rubio supports legislation that overhauls sexual harassment rules

819931778

@alextdaugherty

Senator Marco Rubio said Monday he supports various efforts to overhaul the process of reporting and investigating allegations of sexual misconduct in Congress, two days after the Florida Republican fired his top staffer for what he said was evidence of inappropriate behavior with subordinates.

The U.S. Senate is likely to receive legislation from the House of Representatives this week that would mandate sexual harassment training for everyone who works in Congress along with changing the reporting process for victims and investigations conducted on Capitol Hill.

While some of his Senate Republican colleagues have said legislation isn’t necessary to force change and merely changing Senate rules would suffice, Rubio said he would support any effort that swiftly addresses wrongdoing while protecting victims.

“Senator Rubio would support any measure that requires senators to deal with harassment the way he has – swiftly, decisively and protective of the victims’ wishes to not be publicly identified,” Rubio spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said in a statement.

Perez-Cubas was referring to Rubio’s actions when informed of former chief of staff Clint Reed’s alleged misconduct.

According to a statement issued by Rubio’s office, the senator was made aware of allegations about Reed on Friday afternoon. After investigating the allegations with his general counsel, Rubio traveled from Florida to Washington on Saturday evening and fired Reed.

Rubio didn’t cosponsor a recent bill from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., that won the support of various Democrats and Republicans, though the statement from his office indicates he would vote in favor of legislation if it reaches the Senate floor. A bill sponsored by Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., is likely to pass the House of Representatives this week and the Senate can begin consideration of the proposal. Harper’s bill would update the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act and require the legislative branch to comply with workplace laws related to sexual harassment that are currently enforced in the private sector.

“The CAA Reform Act brings more transparency, accountability, and stronger protections for employees,” Harper said in a statement. “It institutes a respectful, more streamlined process for individuals to report claims and reach a resolution. Ultimately, these reforms will strengthen protections for individuals and needed accountability in the workplace.”

Read more here.

January 28, 2018

Rubio fires chief of staff for improper relations with lower level employees

Static

@alextdaugherty

Senator Marco Rubio fired his chief of staff Clint Reed late Saturday night after determining that his top staffer violated office policies regarding proper relations between a supervisor and subordinates along with threatening to withhold employee benefits.

“Yesterday (Friday) afternoon, I was made aware, for the first time, of allegations of improper conduct by my Chief of Staff while under the employment of my office,” Rubio said in a statement. “These allegations were reported directly to me instead of our General Counsel or the Congressional Office of Compliance. Immediately upon receiving this complaint, I along with our General Counsel, began an investigation of this matter.”

Rubio then concluded by Saturday afternoon that there was sufficient evidence that Reed “had violated office policies regarding proper relations between a supervisor and their subordinates. I further concluded that this led to actions which in my judgment amounted to threats to withhold employment benefits.”

He then traveled to Washington from Florida and fired Reed on Saturday evening. Reed could not be reached for comment and Rubio’s office asked for privacy, citing the wishes of those victimized by Reed’s conduct.

“We have taken steps to ensure that those impacted by this conduct have access to any services they may require now or in the future,” Rubio said in a statement. “Pursuant to the wishes of those victimized by this conduct, we will not be disclosing any further details about the incidents which occurred. We will be formally notifying the appropriate Congressional and Senate administrative offices of this matter when they return to work Monday morning.”

Reed, an Arkansas native, had worked as Rubio’s top staffer since January 2017 after managing the Florida Republican’s successful 2016 U.S. Senate campaign. He also worked on Rubio’s presidential campaign as a senior adviser and Iowa State director. He held previous posts with the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party of Arkansas.

Read more here.

January 26, 2018

Out front or out of sight, Rubio takes Miami heat for immigration work

Marco Rubio 3

@newsbysmiley @alextdaugherty

Maybe Marco Rubio can’t win on immigration.

Five years ago, as a first-term U.S. senator, the Miami Republican helped carry a doomed immigration overhaul bill and suffered politically as a result. Now, in 2018, he’s kept a low profile amid a fever-pitch debate over immigration — and it’s beginning to rankle some of his former political allies in Miami.

Rubio is taking heat on the home front for not being out front as Congress works to pass new immigration legislation in time to avoid another government shutdown next month. Business groups and immigration activists such as billionaire Coral Gables healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez are calling the Cuban-American senator out for doing too little to support one of the largest immigrant communities in the country.

Fernandez, despite being a former GOP donor, supported Rubio’s Democratic opponent in 2016. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday blasted his one-time mentee for lacking the political courage to on a risky issue.

“God forbid you actually took on something that was controversial and paid a political price,” Bush told USA Today. “That’s the attitude in D.C. right now. Certainly Sen. Rubio is no different in that regard. Marco is a talented guy and he understands this issue really well, and maybe behind the scenes he’s working hard. But at some point, his leadership would be really helpful.”

Rubio’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Local leaders, including Miami Dade College President Eduardo Pardon, say they have been contacting Rubio’s office to talk about immigration. Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Julio Fuentes said Rubio’s office told him the senator “is not the right person to be that champion” on immigration after his efforts failed in 2013.

“Sen. Rubio is so important because of what he represents: His father came here to this country [from Cuba] in the pursuit of the American Dream. This is something that should be near and dear to his heart,” said Felice Gorordo, a board member of the bipartisan Immigration Partnership and Coalition (IMPAC) Fund that Fernandez established last year to help pay for the defense of undocumented immigrants. “And yet we see him absent in this debate.”

Rubio has remained in the background as other members of South Florida’s delegation, particularly Republican Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario-Diaz Balart, have been vocal leaders for immigration legislation. In Diaz-Balart’s case, he said he chose to be criticized for staying silent about Trump’s reported “shithole” comments about nations where citizens have temporary protected status in the U.S. in order to preserve his ability to talk immigration.

Rubio’s low profile on the topic comes as a group of senators try to craft an immigration bill that could win some Democratic support in the Senate while remaining conservative enough to win support from the House of Representatives and President Donald Trump. And lately, Rubio has opened up a little about his strategy, telling the Miami Herald Thursday that legislation crafted by a small group of senators in secret has little chance of producing a bill that will pass a conservative, Republican-controlled Congress.

“I just don't think that you can produce an immigration bill that five, 10, 12 people behind closed doors drafts and then brings to the floor and basically says our job is to pass this bill and fight off everybody’s amendments,” Rubio said. “I don’t think that will work. In fact, I think that would implode in the current environment and with the current realities.”

Read more here.

January 25, 2018

How a citizenship question on the 2020 Census could diminish Miami’s political clout

008 Downtown Miami Skyline

@alextdaugherty

The Department of Justice wants the U.S. Census Bureau to ask people about their citizenship status on the 2020 census, and the additional questioning could lead to an undercount in immigrant-heavy Miami.

Undercounting the number of people living in Florida’s most populous county could affect how billions of federal dollars are distributed and diminish the state’s clout in the nation’s capital. The Census Bureau will choose whether or not to include the citizenship status question by March 31, when it finalizes the 2020 questionnaire.

“The purpose of the census is simple: collecting appropriate data on the people that reside in our communities so that we can distribute federal resources for the needs of the population,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “Any question, including one regarding citizenship, that could in any way discourage an accurate count, must be omitted. The census is not a means to do an immigration head count. It is a means to help all of our constituents with their needs regardless of their immigration status.”

The Justice Department argued that including the citizenship status question would help it enforce the Voting Rights Act, according to a letter from the DOJ to the Census Bureau obtained by ProPublica.

The census, conducted every 10 years, is used to determine how many people are living in a given area, and the federal government attempts to count everyone regardless of their citizenship status, including undocumented immigrants. If more people are counted in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, home to approximately 450,000 undocumented immigrants, there’s a better chance that more federal dollars for infrastructure projects or programs will come South Florida’s way.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he hasn’t decided whether it’s a good idea for the census to ask about citizenship status.

“I want to understand both arguments on it more clearly before I reach a firm opinion on it,” Rubio said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said he’s concerned some people could be dissuaded from answering the census if the citizenship question is asked.

“Unless I am provided with compelling statistics and facts as to why it is necessary, I would oppose its inclusion,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

And there’s also the looming reallocation of congressional seats due to population changes that occurs every 10 years after the census, called redistricting.

Read more here.

January 24, 2018

Rubio calls for sanctions against Venezuela’s Diosdado Cabello

Marco Rubio 3

via @francoordonez 

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is calling for sanctions against one of Venezuela’s most powerful leaders.

Rubio, one of the most outspoken critics of the Caracas regime, is pressing President Donald Trump to hold Diosdado Cabello accountable for human rights abuses and undermining democracy in Venezuela. Rubio’s call comes after the European Union included the former leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly in sanctions against seven senior Venezuelan officials.

"While the United States has imposed its own sanctions against almost all of these senior officials in the Venezuelan government, it has not yet designated Cabello," Rubio wrote in a letter to Trump Tuesday. "I therefore respectfully urge your Administration to join the European Union in imposing sanctions against Diosdado Cabello."

The United States has slapped sanctions against more than 20 current and former Venezuelan government officials in recent months, including President Nicolas Maduro. The White House has prohibited U.S. banks from purchasing new Venezuelan debt, a deep blow to the country’s finances.

But, so far, Washington has stopped short of issuing sanctions against Cabello, a former military chief, who maintains strong influence over the Venezuelan military. Cabello, 54, a longtime ally of late President Hugo Chavez and a leader within the ruling Socialist party, is often referred to as Maduro’s second in command.

Read more here.

January 19, 2018

Bill Nelson votes against short-term spending bill without immigration deal

BillNelsonCarlJusteApril172017

@alextdaugherty

Sen. Bill Nelson voted against a short-term spending bill to keep the government running on Friday as the Florida Democrat balked at a proposal that did not include a solution for nearly 800,000 undocumented young immigrants who could face deportation in March if Congress fails to act.

As of 10:40 pm the Senate vote was still open and not finalized.

Nelson remained undecided on his vote for over 24 hours after the House of Representatives passed a short-term spending bill on Thursday night. Nelson’s office said on Thursday he would wait to see what the House passed before making a decision, but then the Florida Democrat did not make his vote public until giving his thumbs down on the Senate floor just before 10:30 pm.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needed Democratic support to keep the government open because a spending bill requires 60 votes in the 100-member Senate, and Republicans control only 51 seats.

Nelson, the only statewide elected Democrat from Florida, faced pressure from immigration activists to join the more liberal wing of his party to vote against a short-term spending bill without a solution for Dreamers.

Nelson is one of 10 Democrats up for reelection in 2018 in states won by President Donald Trump in 2016. Some of the red state Democratic senators like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin backed the short-term spending bill while others like Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey did not.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio voted in favor of the bill along with most Senate Republicans. He blamed Senate Democrats for voting to shut down the government.

“At a time when we face so much chaos in our politics, the only thing worse than a short-term spending deal is a government shutdown. I too support border security, dealing with DACA, increasing defense spending and disaster relief for Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico,” Rubio said in a statement shortly before the vote. “We should keep the government open while we continue to work on these issues.”

Two Miami Republicans in the House of Representatives, Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, also voted against the spending bill after arguing that it is irresponsible to keep stalling on the Dreamer issue.

Rubio calls out Puerto Rico’s governor and tampers statehood push

Governor Ricardo Roselló0183 JAI (2)

@alextdaugherty

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is learning what happens when you challenge Marco Rubio.

In December, Rosselló called out Rubio by name because he was unhappy with the Republican tax bill and said he would campaign against those who “turned their backs” on the U.S. territory.

Now, the Florida Republican who is often regarded as Puerto Rico’s most important advocate in Washington, is throwing cold water on Puerto Rican statehood and is urging Rosselló, a Democrat who won election in 2016, to spend more time governing in San Juan than campaigning in Florida. Rubio’s comments in Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper are a blow to Rosselló’s hopes for Congress to act on statehood, his party’s most important policy issue.

“If I were the governor of a state or territory that does not have power, I would spend more time [there] than in Orlando,” Rubio said to El Nuevo Día. “Sometimes, when people feel criticized and under pressure, they look for someone to blame, because they did not achieve this or that. I do not think it is smart to turn the Puerto Rican issue into a partisan issue.”

Rubio’s comments come after Rosselló was in Washington last week to announce a Puerto Rican “shadow delegation” of two U.S. senators and five U.S. House members who demand to be seated in Congress. Puerto Rico’s “shadow delegation” is attempting to gain statehood through a similar plan successfully adopted by Tennessee in the late 1700s and copied by other states like Alaska.

Rosselló’s shadow delegation was a 2016 campaign promise, but the effort is getting more attention after Puerto Rico’s power grid was destroyed by Hurricane Maria and thousands on the island are still without power months later.

“Certainly the hurricane has had an influence,” said Pedro Rosselló, Ricardo Rosselló’s father and the governor of Puerto Rico from 1993 to 2001, in an interview with the Miami Herald.

Pedro Rosselló said the hurricane and the federal government’s slower response compared to disaster recovery efforts in Florida and Texas has raised the profile of the statehood issue.

“Stateside, U.S. citizens recognize that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, natural born,” Rosselló said. “That wasn’t so before [Hurricane Maria]. Before, our polling shows that about 25 percent recognize that fact, after that it’s up in the 85 percent level. That’s a direct result of the hurricane.”

But while Rubio hasn’t changed his longtime position supporting statehood, a public admission that there aren’t 60 votes for statehood in the U.S. Senate is a blow to Ricardo Rosselló’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party.

Read more here.