September 07, 2017

Miami congressman might take family to shelter for Hurricane Irma

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@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo lives in Miami's Kendall neighborhood -- not one of the low-lying coastal areas under mandatory evacuation orders for Hurricane Irma.

But the Republican might leave his house voluntarily anyway, for fear that strong winds could endanger his family.

"I am considering going to a shelter," Curbelo said in response to a reporter's question Thursday at the Miami-Dade County emergency operations center. "We do have some tall trees around our house, and given the strength and the magnitude of this storm, I don't feel entirely secure at home -- especially with our two little girls, ages 7 and 5."

Responding to the same question, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said his family is "still trying to debate" what to do though it is not in an evacuation zone, either.

"I'm confident my home will withstand" Irma, Rubio said, noting his West Miami house was built in 2005, after Hurricane Andrew. The 1992 Category 5 monster forced Florida to rewrite its building codes and make them stronger.

"The question is, how will we get in and out and, more importantly, how to get to my mom," added Rubio, who said he's studied 500-year flood maps for the area and found neighboring streets might flood.

Rubio said Irma's projected path, up Florida's east coast, should make residents in evacuation zones wary about trying to drive far.

"If you look at the map of Florida right now," he said, "there's not many places you look at and think, 'That looks like a pretty safe place.'"

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

September 06, 2017

Miami-Dade to unauthorized immigrants: Don’t fear Hurricane Irma shelters

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@PatriciaMazzei

Immigrants in South Florida illegally should not fear deportation if they seek shelter during Hurricane Irma, according to political leaders who urged the undocumented to heed local evacuation orders.

“We don’t ask anybody for their identification,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a briefing late Wednesday from the county’s emergency operations center in Doral. “Everybody who needs shelter in Miami-Dade County is welcome, and you should do so without any fear of any repercussions.”

When Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas late last month, some unauthorized immigrants told aid workers and news reporters they stayed away from public shelters because they were scared federal authorities would inquire about their legal status and detain them. Their concerns were exacerbated when uniformed U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents assisted in the recovery — even though the federal government said repeatedly the agents weren’t acting in any deportation capacity.

To avoid a similar situation in South Florida, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio urged the Department of Homeland Security to explain in advance its role during Hurricane Irma. The agency said Wednesday it “will not conduct non-criminal immigration enforcement operations in the affected area,” though Homeland Security personnel will be deployed to help federal, state and local authorities in the storm’s aftermath.

More here.

Photo credit: C.M. Guerrero, el Nuevo Herald

Rubio voted against Sandy aid in 2013. Now he wants money for Irma.

Marco Rubio

@alextdaugherty 

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson urged Congress to approve additional funds for disaster relief as Hurricane Irma threatens Miami, a bipartisan ritual for politicians with constituents facing hardship from a major storm.

But in 2013, Rubio was one of 36 Republican senators who voted against a Hurricane Sandy relief bill for New Jersey and New York, and now his South Florida colleagues hope he has learned a lesson.

“You can be a fiscal conservative until it hits you and your community and then you have a different point of view,” said Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Rubio in 2013 argued that the $60 billion bill for Sandy relief, which passed after months of delays, was filled with unnecessary spending.

“The Hurricane Sandy supplemental bill goes far beyond emergency relief to impacted victims and communities, which is why I voted no on final passage,” Rubio said in a 2012 statement. “The current spending bill goes far beyond emergency relief and all efforts to strip the bill of unrelated pork are being blocked.”
 
He was the only member of Congress who represented Miami-Dade County to vote against the bill. Nelson, Republican Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, former Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia and Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson all voted in favor of the Sandy bill, which passed after a minority of Republicans joined Democrats.
 
Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who came to Congress after the Sandy vote, described the decision by some Republicans to vote against Sandy relief as “horrible.”

“I’m sure a lot of them are regretting it today,” Curbelo said of the Sandy vote. “My message is, you could be next. When a significant number of Americans are suffering due to a natural disaster, we need to come together as a country and we’re really worried about spending around here, we should look at our entitlement programs, not refuse to help people who are homeless and lacking food.”

On Wednesday, Rubio and Nelson issued a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging Congress to include additional funds for Irma relief in the spending package that lawmakers are preparing to help Texas recover from Harvey.

“As Floridians are preparing for one of the worst storms on record, they need to know that the federal government is both ready and willing to direct the necessary resources needed to help them in the recovery process,” Rubio and Nelson wrote. “As such, we strongly urge you to include additional funding in the Hurricane Harvey aid package to account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur responding to Hurricane Irma.”

Read more here. 

Trump nominates a Florida lawyer to be the EPA's legal adviser

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@alextdaugherty

Donald Trump will nominate Tallahassee lawyer Matt Leopold to be the Environmental Protection Agency's top lawyer, a position that provides legal input to the federal agency responsible for the nation's environmental laws. 

Leopold previously served as general counsel for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from 2013 to 2015 and as an attorney for the United States Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division from 2007 to 2013. He is currently of counsel for Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, a Tallahassee lawfirm focusing on environment, energy, water law and litigation.

Florida Republicans Marco Rubio, Pam Bondi and Adam Putnam praised the appointment, which is subject to Senate confirmation. 

“Matt Leopold’s experience and knowledge will serve EPA well, and I’m glad the president nominated a Floridian who understands the importance of our state’s vast ecosystems to our economy and residents’ quality of life," Rubio said in a statement. 

Leopold also worked at the Washington office of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. 

Trump and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt have spent the past seven months rolling back portions of Barack Obama's climate agenda. Pruitt sued the EPA more than a dozen times during the Obama administration and played a key role in Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement in June. 

September 05, 2017

Rubio on DACA: 'The president will have to lead'

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@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to tell lawmakers what legislation he’d be willing to sign to allow to immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to stay, now that his administration has decided to wind down the executive program that protected them from deportation.

“Congress has to act,” Rubio said in an interview with the Miami Herald. “But on this matter, the White House and the president will have to lead.”

In his first public remarks about the end of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, the Republican senator said he’s been reassured in private conversations with the White House that Trump wants Congress to help the so-called “Dreamers” — and not just let their work permits and deportation protection expire.

“This is not something he really wants to do,” Rubio said of Trump. “He kind of finds himself in a situation, from a constitutional and legal perspective, where he has to address it.”

Rubio argued DACA, challenged in court by attorneys general from 10 states, would likely have been ruled unconstitutional in a few months and left the nearly 800,000 people who have benefited from the program immediately unprotected. When U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that DACA would be rescinded, he included a six-month wind-down period gives Congress room to legislate. 

“The idea that we could have somehow continued it in perpetuity isn’t true. It’s on very shaky constitutional ground,” Rubio said. “There were some advocating for its immediate cancellation. The only reason to put the six-month period in place is to give Congress to opportunity to address this.”

More here.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle, Getty Images

September 01, 2017

As Dems play catch-up on Venezuela, immigration attack could fall short

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@alextdaugherty

Democrats see Donald Trump’s tough-on-immigration stance as a political pitfall for Florida Republicans who profess to care about the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.

But Venezuelan immigration advocates disagree.

A Trump-sponsored system that rewards job skills and English speakers over familial connections could actually benefit Venezuelans, whose relatively high levels of education and English competency could put them ahead of other groups trying to get into the United States, especially other Latin American groups.

“The vast amount of Venezuelans who are coming here have advanced degrees,” said Jorge Guttman, a Miami-based attorney and Vice President of the Venezuelan American National Bar Association.

According to the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of Venezuelan immigrants ages 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 29 percent of Hispanic immigrants overall. About 70 percent of Venezuelan immigrants speak English proficiently, according to Pew.

“If there were to be some sort of merit-based immigration measure imposed I think that Venezuelans for the most part would not be necessarily affected,” Guttman said.

That could neutralize arguments against a merit-based immigration system as a political weapon for Democrats to use against Republicans, who are already emerging as the key advocates in South Florida for Venezuelan-Americans.

Trump has spent months talking tough on Venezuela, arguing that Barack Obama and Democrats did little to help Venezuelans suffering from malnutrition and political violence. As the situation worsens, Venezuelans fed up with Nicolás Maduro’s regime will likely turn to the Untied States for refuge.

“The community that is coming to the U.S. from Venezuela is highly educated and most obtain their green cards through an employment-based opportunity,” said Adriana Kostencki, president of the Venezuelan-American chamber of commerce and an attorney who focuses on immigration law.

In fact, Venezuelans are more educated than the overall U.S. population, where 33 percent of all adults have obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher and the U.S. Hispanic population, where 15 percent have bachelor’s degree or higher.

Part of the Trump-sponsored plan, dubbed the Raise Act, would slash the number of green cards available on a yearly basis from more than 1 million to about 500,000. The Venezuelan attorneys and some Republicans, including Marco Rubio, are not in favor of reducing the number of green cards.

But a system that curbs the overall number of immigrants and downplays family ties would have less of an effect on Venezuelans than on other immigrant groups, given the number of Venezuelans living in the U.S., about 225,000, is lower than the number of Mexicans, Cubans or Dominicans currently in the United States.

There are still questions over how the Raise Act will move through Congress. Rubio said the bill won’t pass as written.

“I think the White House knows that you don’t have 60 votes in the Senate,” Rubio said.

Rubio said he’s long been an advocate for an immigration system that priorities job and language skills over familial connections, even though his parents came to the United States as low-skilled Cuban immigrants in the 1950s.

Venezuelans in Florida see the recent sanctions on Venezuela by Trump and supported by Rubio as hard evidence that Republicans are going to bat for them. And the community is still wary of elements of the Democratic Party that associated with Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez.

Read more here.

August 31, 2017

Rubio records robocall for Miami Senate candidate Diaz

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@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has lent his name -- and now, his voice -- to help a Republican friend campaign for the Florida Senate in Miami.

Rubio recorded a robocall in English and Spanish for state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, who's running in a special Sept. 26 election for Senate District 40. Diaz faces Democrat Annette Taddeo and independent Christian "He-Man" Schlaerth.

Rubio had already been featured in a mailer for Diaz, asking voters to sign up to vote by mail. The robocall "chases" those forms, asking voters to return them.

Here's the call script, transcribed from an audio of the call obtained by the Miami Herald:

His, this is Sen. Marco Rubio. I'm calling on behalf of my good friend Jose Felix Diaz, who's a candidate for state Senate District 40. I recently mailed you an absentee-ballot request form, and it's important that you return it today. Jose Felix Diaz voted to cut taxes by over a billion dollars in the past two years, saving you and your family money on school supplies, property taxes and small businesses. Jose will be what he's always been, a tireless champion for your family in the Florida Senate. But he needs your help to get there, so please return your absentee-ballot request form today.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

August 30, 2017

When Marco Rubio faced heat for opposing Superstorm Sandy aid

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via @learyreports

“Stay home.”

That was an irate New York Rep. Peter King to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio after Rubio opposed a nearly $51 billion aid package for Superstorm Sandy in 2013.

“Guys like Marco Rubio in Florida, with all the money that your people have gotten in Florida over the years from every hurricane that came along, and this guy has got the nerve to vote against money for New York and then come up here and try to raise money?” King said on Morning Joe.

“You know, he can forget it. He can stay home.”

Rubio, who was then feeling out a run for president, argued that the aid package was stuffed with pork, an argument echoed by numerous other conservatives, including Texas, Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and most Texas GOP House members.

Now Texas is facing an epic catastrophe with Hurricane Harvey and the debate over aid has resurfaced.

Rubio’s office did not respond to a question Tuesday posed by the Tampa Bay Times whether he would seek any sort of conditions for Harvey money. In 2013, Rubio did vote for a smaller Sandy aid but that’s not what was approved.

In a statement explaining his opposition, Rubio said emergency assistance funding shouldn’t be “derailed by efforts to find spending cuts to offset them,” but “we do have a responsibility to make sure this emergency spending is ultimately going to disaster relief, and not to other pet projects. Unfortunately, the Hurricane Sandy supplemental bill goes far beyond emergency relief to impacted victims and communities, which is why I voted no on final passage.”

(The Washington Post’s fact checker found the pork claim doesn’t hold up.)

Two other Florida lawmakers opposed the Sandy money: Rep. Ron DeSantis and Ted Yoho.

DeSantis also did not respond to questions; Yoho was traveling overseas.

King says he won’t seek revenge. “1 bad turn doesn’t deserve another,” he wrote on Twitter. “I won’t abandon Texas the way Ted Cruz did New York.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Associated Press

August 29, 2017

Marco Rubio calls for temporary protected status for Venezuelans

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@alextdaugherty

Marco Rubio has spent months pushing the White House to expand a temporary program that would allow Venezuelans who have fled Nicolás Maduro’s regime to stay in the United States, according to a previously unpublished letter from Rubio to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

The letter, dated March 20, asks Tillerson and Kelly to “review the existing conditions in Venezuela and consider granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to eligible Venezuelan nationals residing in the United States.”

“In light of the ongoing political, economic, social and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, it is not in the best interests of the United States to deport non-violent Venezuelan nationals back to the country at this time,” the letter reads.

President Donald Trump, who continues to talk tough on immigration, hasn’t indicated that he is open to extending the program to another country.

Rubio’s position puts him in line with an increasing number of Venezuelan activists and Florida politicians from both parties who want to expand the temporary program, which currently applies to foreign nationals from 10 countries already in the United States.

Last week, Democrats Bill Nelson and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, along with Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, voiced their support for the program, which would not be a permanent solution for Venezuelans seeking to stay in the United States.

In recent days, José Javier Rodríguez, a Democratic state senator and congressional candidate, along with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, have also called for expanding the TPS program.

“Temporary Protected Status will allow Venzeuelans fleeing violence to live and work here legally and contribute to our state’s diverse communities until it is safe for them to return home,” Graham said in a statement.

Rubio has positioned himself as an important voice on Venezuela under Trump as the State Department deals with a downsized staff. He set up a meeting between Trump and Lilian Tintori, a human-rights activist married to jailed Venezuelan dissident Leopoldo Lopez, and Rubio’s vocal criticism of Maduro and his associates led to the Florida senator getting protection from a security detail.

Rubio and Nelson hinted as far back as 2014 that they would consider the possibility of TPS for Venezuelans, but the issue has drawn increased attention after Maduro held a constituent assembly vote with the power to redraw the nation’s constitution.

Read more here.

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

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@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.