November 01, 2017

Bill Nelson defends his "friend" Marco Rubio during NASA confirmation hearing

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@alexdaugherty 

Sen. Bill Nelson launched into a full-throated defense of bipartisanship and the nation's space program during a confirmation hearing for Donald Trump's pick to lead NASA on Wednesday. 

Nelson, the only sitting member of Congress who has been to space, took Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine to task for his past comments that were critical of Sen. Marco Rubio's role in crafting a comprehensive immigration bill with Democrats in 2013. 

"You made television commercials attacking my friend and fellow Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, deriding his work to find common ground on immigration and claiming he was working to make America less safe," Nelson said during his opening statement. He also criticized Bridenstine for his attacks on former House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. John McCain for working with Democrats to craft legislation. 

"NASA represents the best of what we can do as a people," Nelson said. "NASA is one of the last refuges from partisan politics. NASA needs a leader who will unite us, not divide us. Respectfully, Congressman Bridenstine, I don’t think you’re that leader." 

The administrator of NASA is tasked with running the nation's space program and conducting research, and the position is usually given to someone with a background in research and science instead of an elected official. 

Rubio also voiced displeasure at Bridenstine's nomination when it was first announced in September, telling Politico Florida "it could be devastating for the space program." 

"Obviously, being from Florida, I'm very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission," Rubio said. "It's the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics and it's at a critical juncture in its history."

Though Bridenstine's nomination has been opposed by many Democrats and some Republicans, the Oklahoma congressman has received endorsements from space industry groups along with Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. 

"NASA is at a crucial time in its history, preparing to explore Deep Space again for the first time in forty-five years," Bridenstine said. "To do this sustainably, we must develop a consensus-driven agenda, based on national interests."

Nelson flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1986, 10 days before the space shuttle Challenger exploded in midair, killing all the astronauts on board. Columbia itself disintegrated during re-entry in 2003, killing all the astronauts on board. 

"It is certainly no secret how passionate I am about NASA having qualified and effective leadership," Nelson said. "This passion comes from a deep respect I have for NASA and for everything the space program does to advance our national security, our economy, our understanding of cosmos and of ourselves, and for the hope and inspiration that NASA provides to all.  It also comes from having witnessed, very directly, the tragic consequences when NASA leadership has failed us." 

Nelson is up for reelection in 2018 and is likely to face a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott.

October 30, 2017

Feds to allow South Atlantic red snapper fishing after lobbying by Rubio and Nelson

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@alextdaugherty 

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson lobbied the Commerce Department to let South Florida anglers fish for red snapper in July, and now the federal government is implementing a short 2017 season for red snapper off the South Atlantic coast.

Recreational anglers can now fish for red snapper in the South Atlantic during the next two weekends while commercial fishers can begin harvesting red snapper on November 2 until the end of the year. This year marks the longest red snapper statewide since 2013 and the first time red snapper fishing was opened off the South Atlantic since 2014. 

"This fall’s new Red Snapper season will benefit Florida fishermen and small businesses," Rubio's office said in a tweet. 

The federal government has jurisdiction over red snapper fishing in federal waters, which begin nine miles offshore on the Gulf Coast and three miles offshore on the Atlantic coast. Closer to shore, the state of Florida regulates recreational red snapper fishing.

Recreational red snapper fishing will be allowed from Nov. 3-5 and Nov. 10-12 in waters off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina after the Commerce Department issued its decision. 

October 25, 2017

Rubio will vote against GOP tax plan if child tax credit isn’t expanded

Marco Rubio 3

@alextdaugherty 

Republicans in Congress are poised to release legislation soon that would revamp the nation’s tax code for the first time since Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

But Sen. Marco Rubio is insisting that a child tax credit he’s championed for years must be part of the package, or else he’ll vote against the plan. Rubio and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, are proposing an increase in the nation’s child tax credit to at least $2,000 per child, up from the current limit of $1,000 per child.

“I’m not going to vote for an increase on the middle class,” Rubio said. “But we’re not going to get to that point. We’re not that crazy around here.”

Rubio has been working with President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka for months on the plan, and she was on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for to pitch the plan with a group of Republicans including Rubio.

“It is a priority of this administration and it is a legislative priority to ensure that American families can thrive and that we deliver real and meaningful tax relief to middle-income Americans,” Ivanka Trump said Wednesday.

The relationship between Ivanka Trump and Rubio on taxes began in an unlikely place: the Republican primary debates, where Rubio insinuated that Donald Trump wasn’t well-endowed and Trump repeatedly used the phrase “Little Marco” to mock the Florida senator.

Rubio said Thursday that an important bond was formed between the Rubio and Trump families during those debates. Ivanka Trump frequently sat near the Rubio family while Rubio pitched the child tax credit increase during the debates, and she was impressed with his message.

“If you watched the debates you think the only thing that happened is the two hours on stage but... the Trump family and ours always sat the same place,” Rubio said. “And so over time we just kind of developed a rapport with them.”

Shortly after Trump won the White House, Ivanka Trump reached out to ask Rubio how the Senate could help working families in a tax overhaul plan.

“The one we can get... is expansion of the child tax credit,” Rubio said.

Read more here.

Rubio distances himself from Trump, but he isn't following Jeff Flake's path

Marco Rubio

@alextdaugherty 

 

Marco Rubio isn't going anywhere. 

The Florida Republican was in Arizona two weeks ago campaigning on behalf of Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a conservative who faced a daunting primary challenge in 2018 after he refused to endorse Donald Trump during the 2016 election. 

But Flake isn't sticking around.

On Tuesday, Flake became the second Senate Republican to announce that he won't week reelection in a matter of weeks following Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker. But Rubio said Wednesday that he has no plans of backing away from the Senate after deciding to run for reelection in 2016 a few months after losing to Trump in the GOP presidential primary. 

"Jeff is a friend of mine," Rubio said. "We disagree on one fundamental issue, on Cuba, but have been able to do so very respectfully and one of the reasons why is because he's a respectful guy and because he's a quality person." 

Rubio then went into a long comparison between the Roman Empire and America, arguing that the empire failed in part due to a Senate "that refused to address the issues of the day." 
 
"A lot of bad things got ahead of them and they never fixed them," Rubio said. 
 
He also blamed "the breakdown of societal norms and behaviors," while insisting that Trump is not solely responsible for the current political climate in America. 
 
"Without signaling out an individual, I don't behave like the president, we're different people," Rubio said. "The president has a way of expressing himself and it appeals to a lot of very frustrated people. There's a populist backlash that's not only economic but cultural. I think the overreach of political correctness went way too far." 
 
During his minutes-long comparison of Rome and America, Rubio stressed that Rome was successful because it was able to include many different groups of people in its empire, a shot at certain Republicans who want to drastically reduce legal immigration. 
 
"If the ethnic Italians said, 'No, Rome is only for ethnic Italians' the empire would have never held on,'" Rubio said. 
 
Rubio argued that his willingness to work with Trump on issues like Venezuela and Cuba gives him ability to positively influence policy changes, and that simply criticizing the president isn't a productive way to govern. 
 
"I have disagreements with the White House and I have been able to address some of them privately and a couple of them more publicly, whether it was the initial response in Puerto Rico or some of the foreign policy issues in different parts of the world," Rubio said. "But my view is this: 95 percent of what is going to happen to me today, I cannot control. What I can control is how I react to what happens. And what I’ve chosen to do more than ever is focus like a laser on the things that I can control and get done." 
 
Rubio also made a comment on Twitter, the President's chosen medium of communication. 
 
"Twitter is a vehicle for people to put online what they used to put in the bathroom stall," Rubio said. 

October 24, 2017

Replacing Miami’s beach sands costs millions. Here’s how Congress could make it cheaper

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@alextdaugherty @joeflech

Miami is out of sand.

Last year, Miami-Dade County depleted its offshore sand reserves, meaning miles of beaches that shrink from erosion must be replenished with sand from outside South Florida.

Rebuilding Miami’s beaches after Hurricane Irma will cost millions of dollars, and sand will have to be brought in by hundreds of trucks from a sand mine near Lake Okeechobee due to a longstanding federal law that prohibits local governments from importing foreign sand.

County officials say that sand from the Bahamas can be easily transported to Miami by barge, and importing foreign sand could save taxpayers millions. A bill dubbed the Sand Act that would overturn the restrictions on sand is being sponsored by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and is cosponsored by every member of Congress from South Florida.

“It’s such an archaic provision in the law, it’s many, many years old,” Frankel said.

But Frankel’s bill, which allows foreign sand and dredging companies to compete with American firms for sand replenishment contracts, faces opposition from the domestic dredging and sand-mining industries.

“There’s resistance from the trucking and drudging industries because they make money; obviously they are saying they will lose money if there’s legislation,” Frankel said.

Frankel said that no other member of Congress has personally voiced opposition to the proposal, but “a lot of things go on behind the scenes.” One of the largest domestic dredging companies that frequently wins contracts in Florida, Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge and Lock, is opposed to the proposal and has spent $165,000 in 2017 lobbying Congress on dredging-related issues, according to Senate lobbying records.

A representative for Great Lakes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Sand Act was introduced at the beginning of this year’s hurricane season, before Irma washed away about 170,000 cubic yards of sand from Miami-Dade’s beaches. The amount of sand washed away, about the equivalent of 12,000 truckloads, was less than expected but will still cost millions to replace.

“We’re very lucky with regards to response for Hurricane Irma, it wasn’t catastrophic for us,” said Paul Voight, co-beach program manager for Miami-Dade County.

Currently, contracts for beach renewal projects in South Florida are awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Dredging and sand companies bid, and the Corps awards the contract. The most recent contract awarded in Miami-Dade County was $8.6 million to truck in 140,000 cubic yards of sand to replenish a stretch of Sunny Isles Beach. The federal government is covering 63 percent of the cost, with the remainder split between Miami Dade-County and the state of Florida.

But Miami-Dade officials argue that the only option left under current law is trucking in sand, because the county’s offshore sand reserve is gone. Other coastal counties in Florida have ample offshore sand reserves that could be dredged, but their governments don’t want to share with Miami.

“We’ve depleted all of our offshore sources of cheap sand,” Voight said. “The problem is the domestic dredging industry is lobbying strongly against it.”


Read more here. 

Bill Nelson blasts FEMA response in Florida and Puerto Rico

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@alextdaugherty

Sen. Bill Nelson sharply criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday, arguing that the federal government isn't doing enough to get inspectors out to damaged properties and help people who are still displaced. 

in a 15-minute speech on the Senate floor, Nelson said it takes too long for people to reach FEMA by phone, and that the agency is caught up in bureaucracy. 

"People are suffering and people are hurting," Nelson said. "Red tape just should not stop anyone in this country from having a safe place to live."

Nelson also referenced a Miami Herald report detailing that 50,000 people waited in Tropical Park last week for special food stamps handed out to Hurricane Irma victims. 

"People are getting desperate," Nelson said."There were 50,000 people waiting at a center in South Florida and many were turned away after waiting in the heat for hours and hours. And then the next day, it was the same story in another city." 

Nelson's remarks come as the Senate is expected to pass a $36.5 billion hurricane relief package this week. The package was passed by the House two weeks ago and will likely not include $2.5 billion in specific funding for Florida's citrus industry and direct funds to help Puerto Rico, elements that Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio argued must be included into a relief package now. 

The White House has said a third relief bill will likely come sometime in November. This week's relief package must be passed to keep the federal flood insurance program afloat and fund FEMA.

"I hope very much that in November...we’re going to pass a new thing, and it’s going to have this money in there to help them," Rubio said in a speech on Monday. "That would be fantastic. But we all know how this place works, and I just don’t know why we couldn’t do it now." 

Nelson also said it's taking too long for FEMA to get inspectors out to damaged properties in the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida. 

"You call FEMA, you're supposed to get a FEMA representative and you have to wait and wait and wait," Nelson said. "The last time we checked, the expected wait time to get a housing inspector is 45 days. That's too long for families to wait for an inspector." 

October 20, 2017

Rubio to Trump: Have U.S. vote 'no' on UN Cuba embargo resolution

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@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio wants the Trump administration to once again oppose the annual symbolic vote at the United Nations to condemn the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

The UN will probably hold the vote next month, the Florida Republican wrote in a letter Thursday to President Donald Trump, and the U.S. should say "No." Taking any other posture, Rubio argued, "would send the wrong message to human rights defenders and pro-democracy dissidents in Cuba."

Last year, under the Obama administration, the U.S. abstained from the vote for the first time, a historic shift underscoring the former president's diplomatic rapprochement with Raúl Castro's communist regime. It was the 25th time the UN formally rebuked the embargo -- the "blockade," Cuba calls it -- with a 191-2 vote. The U.S. and Israel abstained.

In June, Trump tightened U.S.-Cuba policy, in large part because Rubio -- Trump's go-to man on Latin America -- and Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart pressed the White House. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is a like-minded Rubio friend.

"It is my hope that America's new policy toward Cuba will help to bring closer the day when the Cuban people have the opportunity to elect their own leaders and live under a government that truly represents them and respects their God-given, inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," Rubio wrote.

Download Rubio letter

Photo credit: Lynne Sladky, Associated Press

October 19, 2017

Rubio says Congress isn’t doing enough to help Puerto Rico

Marco Rubio 3

@alextdaugherty 

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without power and running water, and Marco Rubio says Congress needs to do more.

The U.S. Senate is expected to formulate its own disaster relief bill on Thursday or Friday after the House passed a $36.5 billion proposal last week.

But Rubio said simply passing the House proposal doesn’t do enough for Florida, Texas and especially Puerto Rico in their time of need. The House proposal gives large sums of money to federal agencies for hurricane relief but does not include specific provisions that immediately fund rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico.

“It’s not so much the dollar amount, it’s really how those funds would be accessed,” Rubio said. “For example, it requires...a damage assessment, they’re not going to be able to do this in a timely fashion while they’re trying to restore power and get water and food to people. They [Puerto Rico] are today, four weeks after the storm, where Florida was 48 hours after the storm. They’re still dealing with the acute, immediate challenges.”

Rubio said he’s been working with Texas Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, who have both criticized the pending disaster aid package because it lacks specific provisions, along with Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York, to make changes to the relief bill before the Senate votes on it.

“It’s easy to get impressed by some of the dollar figures that are in there which is substantial,” Rubio said. “The problem for Puerto Rico and Florida and Texas is the package is not structured in a way that actually helps us entirely. In the case of Florida it leaves out key industries that need to be addressed. In the case of Puerto Rico it fails to adequately address the liquidity issue, and that is the ability to access the funds quickly to continue basic governmental operations.”

Rubio warned that the Puerto Rican government could shut down in the next 30 to 45 days if Congress doesn’t allocate funds specifically to the U.S. territory. A shutdown would be “incredibly cataclysmic” to Puerto Rico’s relief effort, Rubio said.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló met with Rubio on Thursday morning to update the senator on relief efforts before a meeting with President Donald Trump later in the day. Rosselló, who has been quick to publicly praise the federal government’s response in the weeks after Hurricane Maria, did not criticize Congress or the federal government’s response during remarks on Capitol Hill.

Read more here.

Rubio meets with Puerto Rico Gov. Rosselló

Marco Rubio 3

@alextdaugherty 

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is in Washington on Thursday as the Senate mulls another hurricane relief package after the House passed a $36.5 billion measure last week. 

Rosselló will meet President Donald Trump at the White House later this morning but his first stop of the day was with Sen. Marco Rubio. Rosselló also met with Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Thursday morning. 

"Our call is for Congress to take strong action so that we can have the resources appropriate to work with the U.S. citizens in Texas, U.S. citizens in Florida, U.S. citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico," Rosselló said. "In these emergencies things might have the appearance that they are stabilizing at one point but you always have future problems that can arise like public health emergencies. We need equal treatment." 

October 18, 2017

Senate committee to investigate Florida nursing home deaths

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via @learyreports

The Senate Finance Committee will investigate the hurricane-related deaths of 14 people at a South Florida nursing home.

The top members of the committee, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today questioned the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services about its new nursing home emergency preparedness requirements and have requested responses from state agencies in Florida and Texas regarding their preparations and responses to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“We are writing to request information from Florida about its preparations for and responses to Hurricane Irma as it relates to nursing homes and other similar facilities,” the senators wrote in a letter to Florida’s Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, Justin Senior.

“The Senate Committee on Finance has jurisdiction over both the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs. As part of our oversight responsibilities, we want to ensure the safety of residents and patients in nursing homes and other similar facilities during natural and manmade disasters.”

The action follows a call for investigation from Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the committee, and that was echoed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.

Nelson has questioned Gov. Rick Scott, a potential 2018 election rival, after the governor personally received calls for assistance from the nursing home. Scott has insisted the calls were properly routed and that the nursing home had an obligation to call 911 after losing power.