August 29, 2017

Congress has one month to fix flood insurance. Hurricane Harvey makes it harder.

Flood(4)

@alextdaugherty

For months, political foes like Marco Rubio and Elizabeth Warren united behind a push to overhaul the nation’s flood insurance program by capping annual premium increases and focusing on preventing damage in future floods.

Hurricane Harvey could change all of that.

Congress has spent most of 2017 negotiating the National Flood Insurance Program, which must be renewed by Sept. 30. If the program lapses, thousands of real estate transactions and construction projects in flood-prone areas could be affected. But Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented flooding in the Houston area changes the debate about the future of flood insurance.

Massive storms like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 led to thousands of expensive claims — and the program plunged further into debt as the federal government continued to provide subsidized flood insurance rates well below market costs.

“Hurricane Harvey is the latest example of why we must act swiftly in reauthorizing and reforming our National Flood Insurance Program,” Rubio said in a statement. “I would vote for a short term extension to prevent the program from lapsing, but I would prefer passage of the SAFE NFIP Act, a bipartisan bill I’ve co-sponsored … that would reform our current system.”

Rubio and other coastal-state politicians are pushing to lower flood insurance premium increases to a maximum of 10 percent per year, a move meant to help their coastal constituents. Currently increases are limited to 18 to 25 percent, depending on the property. But experts say meaningful flood insurance reform will involve moving government-subsidized rates set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to rates that reflect the actual cost of insurance.

That means higher costs for Floridians living in flood-prone areas.

“It offers rates that are really below risk-based rates,” said Laura Lightbody, the project director for flood preparedness with the Pew Charitable Trusts. Lightbody said it will be a “missed opportunity” if Congress simply extends the flood insurance program and keeps rates the same instead of overhauling it.

Lightbody is hopeful that Congress will act because the House and Senate have already been negotiating the program’s renewal for months and the coverage of Hurricane Harvey will draw national attention to the fiscally troubled program.

Daniel Stander, the managing director of Risk Management Solutions, a worldwide catastrophic risk modeling company, said Hurricane Harvey will likely not result in an immediate increase of flood insurance rates but will compound the program’s $23 billion debt situation. However, the hurricane will likely cause FEMA to reassess the program’s cost-effectiveness.

“There is certainly a desire inside FEMA to modernize how the [flood insurance program] is run,” Stander said. Flood insurance rates are likely to increase but I see that more by movements toward risk-based pricing than by a specific event like Harvey.”

But Florida politicians bristle at the potential for higher rates.

Florida, with more than 1.7 million policies, has 35 percent of the 5 million policies covered by the federal program — three times as many as the second ranked state, Texas, which has 593,000 policies.

Read more here.

Fact-checking Marco Rubio's heckler about oil and gas campaign donations

RubioAP

@amysherman1

A college student and climate activist interrupted U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio during a recent speech to question Rubio's ties to the energy industry.

September Porras, a Swarthmore college student who is a member of the Sunrise Movement, a national group of climate change activists, challenged Rubio's links to fossil fuels at the Seminole County GOP fundraiser held at a hotel in Altamonte Springs on Aug. 22.

Here is a partial transcript of the exchange:

Porras: "Senator, if you really care about young Americans, why did you take three-quarters of a million dollars from fossil fuel executives in your last Senate election?"

Rubio: "I’m so glad I live in America where she can say that, in a lot of countries you go to jail, I am grateful that I live in America where ... (applause drowns out a few words) ... I don’t have a problem with protesters..."

Porras: "I’m not a protester, I just want to know why you aren’t answering our questions."

Rubio: "I don’t have a problem with hecklers. I don’t have a problem with any of that. You know why? Because one of the issues I am working on now involves nations where that’s not possible," a reference to his work related to U.S. policy on Cuba and Venezuela. "I am grateful that I live in a nation where people can disagree, I am grateful that I live in a nation where people get to vote every two to four years. I am grateful that I live in a place where people can speak their minds and they can settle their differences at a ballot box."

Rubio then made a call for the United States to achieve energy independence:

"I believe as a cornerstone of allowing us to succeed economically we need to be able to power a 21st century economy, and I believe technological advances are making that energy more efficient and cleaner than ever before. I absolutely believe that America needs to be energy independent. We are crazy as a nation if we don’t utilize all of the resources that God’s blessed this great land with and I will continue to be a strong supporter of that."

The part of the exchange we will fact-check is whether Rubio took three-quarters of a million dollars from fossil fuel executives during his 2016 Senate bid. 

More here from PolitiFact Florida.

August 25, 2017

Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelans gains bipartisan support in Florida (updated)

Bill Nelson

@alextdaugherty 

 

Florida politicians began expressing their support for expanding a temporary program that would allow Venezuelans who have fled Nicolás Maduro’s regime to stay in the United States, aligning themselves with a growing chorus of Venezuelan activists who are pushing the Trump administration to take additional action.

Sen. Bill Nelson said Friday at an event in Little Haiti that he wants the Trump administration to grant Temporary Protected Status for Venezuelan nationals already in the United States.

“Just as in Haiti with natural disasters, there is a political disaster in Venezuela,” Nelson said. “Increasingly, with the economic chaos in Venezuela... I think Venezuelans ought to be considered.”

The TPS program allows foreign nationals already in the United States from 10 countries to stay in the United States for a designated period of time. President Donald Trump, who continues to espouse a tough-on-immigration line in Washington, hasn’t indicated that he’s open to extending the program to another country.

“I’ve been to the White House and talked to the national security people about this,” Nelson said. “They have it under consideration, and we’ll see what they intend to do.”

President Trump, not Congress, must make the decision.

Nelson’s position has bipartisan support, as Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said they support extending TPS to Venezuelans.

“I'm in favor of TPS for Venezuelans, as well as for Haitians and other groups in our community who contribute greatly to our area and whose native country lacks the most basic commodities,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “However, raising false hopes is not productive so I advocate for our immigration system to be more compassionate when individual cases come before those officials.”

“I strongly support granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to all eligible Venezuelans who seek safe haven from a regime that has employed official violence and political oppression, and left that nation devastated by food and medical shortages,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. “President Trump must grant this essential status for the safety of Venezuelans who came to the U.S. out of fear for theirs and their families’ safety.”

Republicans Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart and Rick Scott, who have all urged tough sanctions against Venezuela after Maduro installed a constituent assembly with the power to rewrite the nation’s constitution, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the TPS program.

More here.

August 23, 2017

Rubio to Seminole County GOP: 'America is going to be OK'

@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a reshaped stump speech Tuesday night to the Seminole County GOP, touching on many of the same points he made as a presidential candidate but adapting it to the tumultuous politics of the moment.

"America is going to be OK," Rubio said. "America is going to be fine. In fact, America -- your America, my America, the America we're going to leave our children -- has a chance to be better than it's ever been. I believe our children have the opportunity to be the freest and most prosperous people that have ever walked the face of this earth."

"It's hard to believe that if you open up newspapers, watch the news, get on the internet, whatever," Rubio said, without immediately naming President Donald Trump. "But I really believe that with all of my heart, because that's been our history. It's at the core of who we are."

Rubio later praised the president's Monday night speech on Afghanistan and denounced the white supremacists and neo-Nazis instigators in Charlottesville.

"There is nothing conservative about those people. Nothing," he said to applause.

The senator noted that "there are people on the other side of the spectrum" who attack conservatives they disagree with.

"It's not acceptable, either," he said, noting he was speaking at the Seminole GOP's Lincoln Day fundraiser. "But first we have to take care of our own house. And our house is the party of Lincoln."

Elsewhere in his remarks, Rubio was interrupted by protesters -- like he was often as a presidential candidate.

"I'm grateful that I live in a nation where people can disagree," he said, indirectly pointing to his work on Cuba and Venezuela policy.

Rubio lamented the loss of civil discourse and said "the new Congress has failed" in enacting promises made to voters.

"That needs to change," he said. "Otherwise, people will conclude that there's no reason to vote for cons because it doesn't matter anyways."

 

August 22, 2017

Rubio to make special appearance at Curbelo fundraiser

IMG_7571
@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio will help raise campaign money for Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo on Thursday in Bal Harbour.

The evening reception will be held at the home of the Falic family, which has been politically active for years, particularly on issues related to Israel. In the past, family members have supported conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- as well as Weston Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine , a Democrat in a nonpartisan post.

An invitation to the fundraiser obtained by the Miami Herald shows contribution levels ranging from $2,700 to $10,400 a person.

Curbelo, a prolific fundraiser, has been ramping up his money efforts ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. He's got a fundraiser scheduled for Wednesday with several well-known local Democrats.

August 17, 2017

Venezuelan lawmaker tied to Rubio threat: ‘We don’t care about you’

Venezuela Political Crisis (2)
@PatriciaMazzei

The powerful Venezuelan lawmaker tied to a potential death order against U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio dismissed the notion late Wednesday that he has a personal interest in getting the Florida Republican killed.

“The things we’ve said here about Narco Rubio are responses to his attacks,” Diosdado Cabello said, repeating his preferred slur against the senator. “But from my telling you that, to coming up with a plan to assassinate someone — you don’t know us. We always deal with things head on. We don’t use imperialism’s methods.”

Cabello made the comments on his state-run television program, “Con el Mazo Dando” (Hitting with the Sledgehammer), three days after the Miami Herald revealed that U.S. intelligence linked an unverified death threat against Rubio to Cabello last month. A security detail organized by Capitol Police has been protecting Rubio in Washington and Miami since then.

Rubio’s office declined to comment Thursday on Cabello’s remarks. It has also declined comment on the security detail and the death threat.

The U.S. believes Cabello, a former military chief, controls all of Venezuela’s security forces. Rubio, a close White House adviser on Latin America, has forcefully advocated for the U.S. to penalize Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government over the inauguration of a new legislative assembly elected under suspected fraud

Cabello, a delegate to the new constituent assembly and top leader of the ruling socialist party, spent most of his Wednesday program lashing out at President Donald Trump for saying offhandedly last week that his administration might consider a “military option” against Venezuela. But Cabello also devoted some time to needling Rubio, one of his favorite U.S. targets.

“I’m not the one who has a brother-in-law in prison for drug trafficking, and I’m not the one who as a senator has stuck his hand out to help him,” Cabello said. “That’s you.”

More here.

Photo credit: Ariana Cubillos, Associated Press

August 15, 2017

Republicans again denounce Trump after he again accuses 'both sides' of violence in Charlottesville

@PatriciaMazzei

Check out Miami Republicans' tweets from Saturday and now, again, from Tuesday, in response to President Donald Trump's insistence that "both sides" -- and not just white supremacists and neo-Nazis -- were to blame for violence over the weekend Charlottesville. The three lawmakers are Hispanic.

Continue reading "Republicans again denounce Trump after he again accuses 'both sides' of violence in Charlottesville" »

August 13, 2017

Venezuelan lawmaker may have issued death order against Rubio

Trump Russia Probe
@PatriciaMazzei

One of Venezuela’s most powerful leaders may have put out an order to kill Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a fervent critic of the South American country’s government, according to intelligence obtained by the U.S. last month.

Though federal authorities couldn’t be sure at the time if the uncorroborated threat was real, they took it seriously enough that Rubio has been guarded by a security detail for several weeks in both Washington and Miami.

Believed to be behind the order: Diosdado Cabello, the influential former military chief and lawmaker from the ruling socialist party who has publicly feuded with Rubio.

At a July 19 Senate hearing, the same day he was first spotted with more security, Rubio repeated his line that Cabello — who has long been suspected by U.S. authorities of drug trafficking — is “the Pablo Escobar of Venezuela.” A week ago on Twitter, Cabello dubbed the senator “Narco Rubio.”

The death threat was outlined in a memo to several law enforcement agencies disseminated last month by the Department of Homeland Security. The memo, designated “law enforcement sensitive” but not classified, was obtained by the Miami Herald.

More here.

Photo credit: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

August 11, 2017

Credit Suisse's Venezuela trading ban and Marco Rubio

819931778
@PatriciaMazzei

Citing Venezuela's tumultuous political climate, Credit Suisse banned certain bond trades with Venezuela on Thursday -- the sort of action encouraged for months by opponents of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, including Sen. Marco Rubio.

An internal memo detailed the bank's new policy, which will add a layer of screening to financial transactions involving the Venezuelan government.

The Swiss bank's decision comes after Maduro pushed through an all-powerful legislative body elected in a vote widely seen as fraudulent. The international community has condemned his government as a dictatorship; a prolonged economic collapse has resulted in food and medicine shortages and led to months of street unrest.

Financial giant Goldman Sachs faced heavy criticism for buying deeply discounted Venezuelan state-oil company bonds in May, weeks after Maduro's political opposition -- and Rubio -- had begun urging banks to avoid bailing out the oil-rich South American country. 

"I have the obligation to warn you that by supporting such a gold swap you would be taking actions favoring a government that's been recognized as dictatorial by the international community," Julio Borges, the opposition president of parliament, had written to major banks.

On May 5, Rubio wrote Urs Rohner, chairman of Credit Suisse's board, asking him to heed Borges' warning that banks agreeing to exchange the country's gold reserves for cash would circumvent parliament's authority and risk damaging their reputations by financing Maduro's cash-strapped government. 

"As you know, Venezuela is suffering a massive political meltdown, an economic depression, and a humanitarian crisis due to the Maduro regime's moves towards authoritarianism and other violations of democratic norms; to its rampant corruption, disregard
for the impartial rule of law, and fiscal mismanagement; and to its violent-and increasingly lethal--crackdown against the country's growing peaceful protest movements," wrote Rubio, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.

Rubio noted previous drug-trafficking sanctions imposed by the U.S. against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami and said more penalties could come. The Trump administration has stepped up its sanctions against members of Maduro's governments in recent weeks, as punishment for electing and then inaugurating the new assembly.

On June 2, Rohner responded from Zurich that Credit Suisse "is committed to human rights and respects them as a key element of responsible business conduct."

"We will very carefully evaluate any new business involving the government of Venezuela, taking into account these factors as well as the concerns that you outlined in your letter," Rohner said.

Read Rubio's letter to Credit Suisse.

Read Credit Suisse's response.

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

 

Anti-Castro politicians talk tough on Cuba after suspected attack on U.S. diplomats

Cuba embassy

@alextdaugherty 

As the Trump administration prepares to write new regulations regarding travel to Cuba, Havana and Washington are involved in a diplomatic tug of war that seems straight out of the 1960s.

American diplomats in Cuba left the country after experiencing severe hearing loss attributed to a sonic device, according to U.S. officials. In response, the U.S. government expelled two Cuban diplomats from Washington.

The Raúl Castro government vehemently denied any involvement, and there’s chatter the Russians could have been behind it.

“In terms of the timing ... if this was an intentional thing by the Cuban government, the timing couldn’t be worse or stranger,” said Collin Laverty, president of a company that arranges group trips to Cuba and is in favor of improved relations with Havana. “Relations were good when Obama was in office. This just seems completely out of context.”

Anti-Castro elements of the U.S. government, including Republicans from Miami, are capitalizing on the latest news as a sign that Havana cannot be trusted, even though it isn’t clear yet that the Cuban government tried to harm U.S. diplomats.

 

“The Cuban government has been harassing U.S. personnel working in Havana for decades,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement. “This has not stopped with President Obama’s appeasement.”

“It shouldn’t come as a surprise the Castro regime can’t guarantee the safety of our diplomats,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, said. “The escalation described in these reports is unacceptable and clearly indicates that the previous administration’s policy of unilateral concessions failed to advance U.S. interests.”

“The Castro regime has a long and documented history of acting in a manner adverse to U.S. national interests,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said. “The expulsion of two Castro regime officials sends a clear message that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated.”

Rubio played a big role in the Trump administration’s decision earlier this summer to limit some types of travel to Cuba, and the president was eager to please conservative Cubans in Miami who helped him win the 2016 election.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding the incident, and the State Department declined to go into detail about what happened to the diplomats.

“We first heard about these incidents back in late 2016,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. “When we talk about medical issues, about Americans, we don’t get into it. We take those incidents very seriously, and there is an investigation currently under way.”

A White House official said the State Department and White House are “monitoring” the situation in Cuba.

On Wednesday, an unnamed U.S. official told The Associated Press that investigators were looking into the possibility that Russia or another third party could have carried out the attack without the Cuban government’s knowledge.

But Otto Reich, a former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs under President George W. Bush, said it’s highly unlikely that the Cuban government would not be aware of a sonic device installed at the house of a diplomat.

Read more here.