June 27, 2017

Rubio and Scott crisscross the Capitol as Obamacare repeal bill stalls in Senate

Marco Rubio 2

@alextdaugherty

Minutes after he delayed a vote on a bill to repeal Obamacare when a number of Republican senators said they could not support it as written, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell retreated to his office.

Rick Scott and Marco Rubio were waiting for him.

The pair met with McConnell for half an hour, and after the meeting Rubio said the vote delay was “helpful to us.” 

“I’m going to view this entirely through the lens of what this means for Florida,” Rubio said. “The one unique advantage that we have being from Florida is that we have done what this law is going to... encourage other states to do.”

Rubio and Scott never publicly opposed the bill, which stalled after a number of senators told McConnell said they could not vote for the legislation in its current shape. But their tepid response, with Rubio summoning health care staffers from Tallahassee to review the bill and Scott declining to say he would vote for it if he could, is evidence of the work Senate leaders need to do to get a bill passed.

“Look, legislation of this complexity almost always takes longer than anybody else would hope,” McConnell said. “But we are going to press on. We think the status quo is unsustainable for all the obvious reasons we have discussed over and over and over again. And we are optimistic we are going to get to a result that’s better than the status quo.”

Scott, an ally of President Donald Trump and former health care executive, packed his day in the capital with meetings and television appearances, with the goal of stressing to Republican senators that the bill to repeal Obamacare must not penalize states like Florida that chose not to expand Medicaid.

“We're not treated the same way as a state like New York,” Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York.

“Our federal tax rates aren’t lower, so why should we get paid less?”

But Florida gets paid less because it declined to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. The state left as much as $66 billion in federal dollars on the table over 10 years after it decided not to expand Medicaid. Scott countered that expanding Medicaid would cost Florida $1.9 billion a year, but the actual cost to the state would have been closer to $500 million and wouldn’t kick in for a few years.


Read more here.

Rick Scott declines to say if he thinks Marco Rubio should vote for the health care bill as written

Rick

@alextdaugherty 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is crisscrossing Capitol Hill on Tuesday as the Senate wrestles with a bill that would repeal parts of Obamacare. He's meeting with top Republicans Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and senior Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch.

But Scott, a Republican and ally of Donald Trump, demurred when asked if Sen. Marco Rubio should vote for the bill as written. Scott will meet with Rubio later on Tuesday afternoon. 

"There's constant conversations and it's changing, so you can't say where it is right now," Scott said. "Let's all focus on the biggest here, and the biggest issue here is cost reduction. What I'm talking about to him right now are the things that are important to our families and our taxpayers." 

Rubio hasn't given any indication that he plans to block the bill's path to the Senate floor, although he's brought three staffers from Tallahassee to Washington to review the bill. 

The staffers are Allen Brown, health care adviser to Senate President Joe Negron; Carol Gormley, health care adviser to House Speaker Richard Corcoran; and Justin Senior, secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Scott said a big priority for him is to make sure that states who didn't expand Medicaid, like Florida, receive the same per capita funding for Medicaid as a state that chose to expand the program under Obamacare. 

"We're not treated the same way as a state like New York," Scott said, arguing that New York gets $23 billion in federal dollars for health insurance while Florida gets $14 billion, despite Florida having more people to cover than New York. 

"Our federal tax rates aren't lower so why should we get paid less?"

Senate leadership is urging a vote on the health care bill this week, saying that a further delay will make it harder for a majority to support the bill. But a  

"Whoever is paying for it, the Obamacare costs have skyrocketed, people can't afford their health care, employers can't afford their health care and the government can't afford their health care.  

Four Republican senators, including moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Dean Heller of Nevada along with conservatives Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said they will not allow the legislation to proceed in its current form. The GOP enjoys a four seat majority in the Senate, meaning three Republican dissenters can kill the bill. 

Even if the bill passes the Senate, it could be a tough road to make it through the House. A group of conservative lawmakers dubbed the Freedom Caucus are expected to oppose the Senate bill in its current form. 

"I don't have a vote," Scott said. "But it's very important to repeal and replace Obamacare." 

 

The Trump whisperer: Marco Rubio has the president’s ear on Latin America

Trump Cuba (1)

@alextdaugherty 

Donald Trump has a distaste for the State Department and its legions of diplomats tasked with crafting the nation’s foreign policy.

So when it comes to Latin America, the CEO-turned-president is listening to a man he derided on the campaign trail a year ago: Marco Rubio.

It was Rubio who set up a White House meeting with Lilian Tintori, a human-rights activist married to jailed Venezuelan dissident Leopoldo Lopez. After the meeting, Trump tweeted his support for Lopez, a public rebuke of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

It was Rubio who helped draft a changed Cuba policy in recent weeks, culminating in Trump’s first presidential visit to Miami to fulfill a campaign promise to the conservative Cubans who helped him win the White House.

And Rubio is well-positioned to take advantage of a vacuum of leadership in the State Department and communicate directly with a president who dislikes diplomacy-as-usual on Latin American foreign policy, according to interviews with former Rubio foreign policy staffers and State Department officials.

“They’ve asked for my input on basically every issue in Latin America and the Western Hemisphere and … we’ve been engaged with them and they’ve been very open,” Rubio said. “In some ways, the fact that they didn’t come in with preconceived ideas of what to do has created the space for that debate to occur.”

There’s plenty of space.

Six months into his administration, Donald Trump has yet to appoint dozens of high-level State Department employees, including the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, the top diplomat in charge of Latin America.

And the president bucked the advice of some of his own senior officials and a slew of congressional Republicans in favor of Rubio to finish the Cuba deal.

Rubio “found a way to say, ‘You don’t want to listen to the experts, listen to me,’ ” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a group that lobbies for closer Cuba ties and is opposed to Trump’s policy changes. “He found a really successful way to tell Trump, don’t listen to your own bureaucracy.”

Not that Trump needs an excuse to eschew the federal bureaucracy, which will be massively downsized if the White House gets its way.

Trump wants to cut the State Department’s budget by 30 percent, repeatedly rails against foreign aid and openly disagreed with his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, during a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“It is a genuine problem not to have people that are diplomats, trained people that really are very loyal and dedicated American citizens who want to represent their country,” said former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, a Democrat who served under Bill Clinton. “I’ve just been traveling abroad, and our embassies don’t have enough people.”

Read more here. 

June 26, 2017

Rubio reviews Senate healthcare bill while protesters ask him to oppose it

Healthcare2 protest lnew cm
@PatriciaMazzei

To study the Senate healthcare bill's effects on Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio last week invited the top three Republicans in the state Capitol -- Gov. Rick Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron -- to weigh in on the legislation.

By Monday, three staffers sent by the three state GOP leaders were in Washington, going through the bill with Rubio aides. Scott himself will travel to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to offer his thoughts to Rubio directly.

The staffers are Allen Brown, health care adviser to Negron; Carol Gormley, health care adviser to Corcoran; and Justin Senior secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. 

The Republican senator has yet to say how he'll vote. But he's hardly expected to oppose the legislation, given his past support to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And the state staffers, expected to remain "embedded" in Rubio's office all week, probably won't give him a compelling reason to vote no, either: Scott, Corcoran and Negron chose not to expand Medicaid under the ACA and have been critical of the law. That's even though Florida, with its large uninsured population, was one of the states to see the most people covered under Obamacare.

Rubio outlined his criteria for the bill in a Facebook Live appearance last week. For example, he wants people with pre-existing conditions to be protected and Florida to be "treated fairly" on Medicaid (that is, not penalized for not expanding the program).

Pro-Obamacare activists demonstrated outside Rubio's Doral office Monday to urge him to oppose the Senate's "Better Care Reconciliation Act."

"Rubio, do your job!" some of them chanted.

After the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday that 22 million Americans would lose health-insurance coverage by 2026 under the Senate plan, two Republican senators said they would vote against the bill as written: Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Three GOP no's would kill the bill.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor to oppose the legislation: "This bill is just as bad as the House bill," he said.

This post has been updated.

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

June 20, 2017

Marco Rubio hosts Ivanka Trump at the Capitol to talk family tax credits

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@alextdaugherty 

Sen. Marco Rubio hosted Ivanka Trump at the Capitol on Tuesday to talk about one of their shared priorities: a childhood tax credit. 

"There is a growing desire within the Republican conference, within the Senate and House, to address the fundamental factor that there are people in America who have decided they can't afford to have children because they can't take a month off of work and not be paid," Rubio said after the meeting. 

Trump has long championed a mandatory six-week paid leave for parents and a child tax credit for couples making less than $500,000 a year that would allow them to deduct child care expenses from their income taxes. Lower-income families who wouldn't benefit from a tax deduction could receive a rebate of up to $1,200 a year for child care expenses.

Her proposals, particularly the mandatory paid leave plan, are likely to face blowback from some conservative Republicans. Rubio stopped short of offering support for a mandatory paid leave plan on Tuesday. 

"We're in the early stages of trying to figure out the right approach," Rubio said.

Rubio and Trump didn't get into specifics about how they would expand the tax credit or offer paid leave during the meeting, Rubio said. 

"Today was in receive mode, listening to some of the different concepts and ideas that are already out there and figuring out how some of these can work together," Rubio said. "It was really more of an introductory, first step meeting but it was a good one." 

Also in the meeting were Republican Sens. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Joni Ernst of Iowa,  Mike Lee of Utah, Steve Daines of Montana and Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Rubio, Lee and Fischer have each sponsored legislation that would provide tax credits to businesses that provide paid leave to parents. 

"In order to do public policy right, it takes a little bit of time and a lot of input to make sure you have answers to every question," Rubio said. "We're all operating on 30 minute news cycles but tax policy of this sort and broader policies of this sort takes a little bit of time, but it's worth the work." 

Rubio also said that it would be his preference to include a child tax credit as part of a larger tax overhaul, but that he's prepared to move forward on a standalone bill if it can't be included. 

"That would be ideal, if there's going to be a broad tax reform, for the pro-family component to be a part of it," Rubio said. "But if it doesn't happen we're prepared to move independently of a broader reform." 

Rubio said that younger Senators in their 30s, 40s and 50s with young children are particularly sensitive to the challenges that come with raising children. 

"People used to tell me, 'How can you have four kids, it's really expensive?'" Rubio said. "And I would say all you've got to do is put more water in the soup, but now you're finding out that is not necessarily always the case." 

Photo via AP's Erica Werner on Twitter. 

June 18, 2017

Rubio says Trump will not fire prosecutors conducting Russia investigations

Colombia rubio(2)

@alextdaugherty 

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said on Sunday that he doesn't think President Donald Trump will fire deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein or special counsel Robert Mueller, the two men charged with leading investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. 

Rubio was asked by CNN anchor Jake Tapper on the Sunday morning show "State of the Union" about Trump's recent tweets calling the investigation a "witch-hunt." 

"Some of your Senate colleagues, as you know, are concerned that President Trump is preparing to fire Mueller or Mueller and Rosenstein. How would you react if he did?" Tapper asked. 

"Well, first of all, that's not going to happen," Rubio said. "I don't believe it's going to happen. The best thing that could happen for the president and the country is a full and credible investigation. I really, truly believe that. If we want to put all this behind us, let's find out what happened, let's put it out there, and let's not undermine the credibility of the investigation." 

Rubio said he's confident that Trump's surprising decision to dismiss FBI Director James Comey has not impeded the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation, and that he is confident Mueller will conduct a thorough and fair investigation. 

Tapper also asked Rubio about the revamped Cuba policy which undos limits travel options for American citizens and bans U.S. business transactions with Cuban military apparatus, specifically highlighting the differences between Trump's desire for closer relations with China and Saudi Arabia while blasting the Cuban government as a violator of human rights. 

Rubio countered that Cuba's human rights record is particularly important to U.S. interests because it's a close neighbor. 

"I would say it's in our national security interests to have human rights and democracy in our region, because the absence of those two things leads to migratory pressure and instability," Rubio said. "Whether it's Haiti or Cuba or Mexico or Central America, so much of the migratory pressure on the United States is created by instability in the Western Hemisphere. And so there is a national security interest in our region in creating stability and democracy." 

Rubio spent Sunday morning on a host of shows, including NBC's Meet the Press, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox News, Telemundo and CBS' Miami affiliate. 

Full interview here: 

 

 

June 17, 2017

June 16, 2017

Trump defies congressional Republicans who want closer relations with Cuba

Trump Cuba

@alextdaugherty 

Congressional Republicans from outside South Florida opposed President Donald Trump’s revamped Cuba policy announcement on Friday, as lawmakers from states with agricultural and trade interests on the island fretted about the economic implications of a ban on U.S. business with the Cuban military apparatus.

“Any policy change that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interests of the United States or the Cuban people,” said Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a proponent of ending the Cuban embargo.

Flake introduced legislation earlier this year that would eliminate travel restrictions to Cuba for American citizens, and he garnered 54 other co-sponsors, including Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, for his bill. Flake implored Senate leadership to put his legislation on the floor for a vote.

“The bill has 55 total cosponsors and I am convinced it would pass the Senate with upwards of 70 votes,” Flake said in a statement.

But President Trump ignored the wishes of the majority of the Senate to fulfill a campaign pledge for conservative Cubans in South Florida: As part of the policy change, travel to Cuba for American citizens will face increased scrutiny.

“We will enforce the ban on tourism, we will enforce the embargo and we will take concrete steps to insure investments flow directly to the people,” Trump said in Miami on Friday.

As the president doled out heaps of praise for Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the two South Florida Republicans who played an integral role in shaping the revamped Cuba policy, other congressional Republicans began to voice their displeasure.

“I have a bill that would allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba, one of my compatriots has a bill that would allow agricultural exports,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., a proponent of ending the trade embargo. “These are all Republican measures these are all Republican bills. We tried the same approach for 50 years and it didn’t work.”

Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran, who represents a state with a large agricultural sector, said the newly announced changes will hurt U.S. businesses seeking to expand abroad.

“Cuba is a natural market for our nation’s farmers and ranchers, and when we don’t sell to Cuba, another country does,” Moran said.

Read more here. 

June 15, 2017

Inside Rubio and Diaz-Balart's Oval Office push to crack down on Cuba

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@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart sat in the Oval Office last month, surrounded by two Cabinet secretaries, the national security adviser and an array of top White House staff, and asked President Donald Trump to put his power behind their plans for Cuba.

The Miami Republican lawmakers had been pressing Trump for months to unwind former President Barack Obama’s policies, bringing up Cuba at every opportunity: Diaz-Balart when he and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen met in private with their former House colleague, Vice President Mike Pence, in February; Rubio when he and his wife joined the president and first lady for an intimate dinner two days later, and again when the senator flew aboard Air Force One to Florida in March.

The administration had been waiting for deputies across Cabinet agencies to review existing Cuba regulations. By the May 3 Oval Office meeting, their recommendation was in: Keep Obama’s push to normalize U.S. relations with the regime of Cuban leader Raúl Castro.

That’s not what Trump wanted. As a candidate, he’d promised change to South Florida’s Cuban-American hardliners, including Bay of Pigs veterans who endorsed him, a gesture that stuck with Trump and that he repeatedly mentioned as president.

“The president said, ‘Look, I want to do this,’” Rubio said.

More here.

Photo credit: Rainier Ehrhardt, Associated Press

Rubio: 'Tomorrow is going to be a good day for the Cuban people'

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Marco Rubio confirmed Thursday morning he will join President Donald Trump in Miami on Friday to unveil “strategic and targeted” changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“The goal of these polices is very simple: We want to power and we want to strengthen the Cuban people without strengthening the Cuban military, which controls a significant  percentage of their economy," Rubio said in a Facebook live chat from his Senate office.

“I’m very proud of what the president will be announcing tomorrow. It’s up to them to lay out the specifics, but suffice it to say that tomorrow is going to be a good day for the Cuban people, a better deal for the Cuban people, which is who new are trying to help by empowering them and doing so in a way that does not empower their oppressors.”

The change Rubio alludes to would seek to restrict business between private U.S. companies and Cuban companies controlled by the military, the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A., or GAESA.

Trump is also considering other changes, including possible limits on travel. He is scheduled to deliver remarks at Manuel Artime Theater in Miami at 1 p.m. He'll also be joined by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who like Rubio has criticized the ways in which President Barack Obama's opening relations with Cuba.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times