January 17, 2018

Rubio’s push for swift Russia sanctions is latest quiet break from Trump

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@alextdaugherty 

Marco Rubio’s new bill that would swiftly punish Russia for any future election meddling is the latest evidence of a subtle split between the Florida Republican and certain elements of his party who parrot President Donald Trump’s argument that the investigations into Russian meddling amount to a partisan witch hunt.

Rubio recently worked with the liberal Washington, D.C., city council to rename the street in front of the Russian embassy after slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. He continues to assert confidence in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as other Republicans question Mueller’s motives. And his election-meddling bill, co-sponsored with Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen, would give more power to Congress instead of the president when it comes to sanctioning Russia over election interference.

But Rubio’s supporters on Capitol Hill insist that the second-term senator isn’t changing his ideals, and his actions aren’t driven by animus towards the president. Instead, Trump’s attitude towards Russia and the investigations that have already resulted in the indictments of four former Trump campaign officials, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, are making anti-Russia hawks like Rubio more of an outlier within a Trumpian GOP.

“I think he’s true to his values and the values of our Republican Party,” Miami Republican congresswoman and Trump critic Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “It’s just now that instead of the Republican Party, it’s the Trump Party. But Marco is a true-blue Republican in the old-fashioned sense of the phrase. Who would think that being wary, suspicious of anti-Russian strongarm tactics would be deemed as outliers?”

For Rubio, the hard talk on Russian meddling goes back to the 2016 election, when he dropped out of the presidential race after losing to Trump in the Florida Republican primary. Rubio said last year that his former campaign staffers were targeted by unknown Russian IP addresses.

“In July 2016, shortly after I announced I’d seek re-election to the U.S. Senate, former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to the internal information of my presidential campaign were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia,” Rubio said at a Senate hearing. “That effort was unsuccessful. I do think it’s appropriate to divulge this to the committee, since a lot of this has taken a partisan tone.”

Read more here.

 

January 16, 2018

DACA deal still possible says Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart

Mario Diaz-Balart (1)

via @ngameztorres

Miami Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said on Tuesday that an agreement on DACA was still possible this week. But for that to happen it would be unwise to comment or satisfy the media’s curiosity about what President Donald Trump said at a controversial immigration meeting at the White House last week.

Diaz-Balart is the only Florida member of Congress who was at the meeting in which Trump allegedly used the term “shithole countries” in reference to some African nations and Haiti. The representative for district 25 insisted that it was not his policy to comment on private meetings.

“Obviously you cannot say what is said in private meetings,” Diaz-Balart said. “I have not done it in 30 years and I’m not going to do it now.”

The offensive remark, which has been denied by Trump but confirmed by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who was also present at the meeting, has generated a wave of outrage across the country and in South Florida, home of a large Haitian community.
 

Other Florida lawmakers were among the first to denounce Trump’s alleged comments as racist, including Miami Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

“The words of President Trump are unacceptable, racist,” she said Tuesday before gathering with other lawmakers for a congressional hearing in Miami. “He is clearly saying ... that he would like to have more immigrants from Norway, a country that has 83 percent white population. This is the same president who said a few months ago that all Haitians in Miami have AIDS.

“He has a record of saying racist things,” Ros-Lehtinen added.

“If anyone says that, I not only do not agree but I think that offends unnecessarily,” said Senator Marco Rubio, who clarified that he was not at the meeting and has not discussed the issue with colleagues. “Those are comments that I do not support, they are counterproductive, no matter who would say them.”

After being at the receiving end of criticism for withholding comment, Diaz-Balart suggested that political pragmatism and his interest in avoiding the deportation of thousands of immigrants were behind his decision not to confirm or deny Trump’s offensive remark.

“I fight for my community every day ... Unfortunately there is only one person from our community who is in these serious, very difficult and delicate negotiations to try to avoid the deportation of hundreds of thousands of people,” he said. “I’m not going to endanger those 800,000 people to go into accusations.”

Read more here.

Marco Rubio asks Trump to act in response to the Herald's 'Dirty Gold, Clean Cash' series

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@alextdaugherty

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, who chairs the Senate subcommittee responsible for Western Hemisphere affairs, urged President Donald Trump to investigate the mining and transportation of illicit gold in Latin America after the Miami Herald investigative series 'Dirty Gold, Clean Cash' was published on Tuesday.  

"Trade in gold from Latin America, which is largely destined for U.S. consumers, is becoming the preferred way for drug cartels, terrorists and bad regimes to launder their dirty money," Rubio said in a statement. "The U.S. Department of Justice’s prosecution of illicit gold traders Juan Granda, Samer Barrage and Renato Rodriguez, who pleaded guilty to money laundering involving dirty Latin American gold, is the tip of the iceberg, and should put all bad actors on notice. I will continue to follow this issue closely, and urge the Executive Branch to investigate the practices and circumstances leading to the mining and transportation of these precious metals for the purposes of money laundering."

The series details how gold became "the secret ingredient in the criminal alchemy" for Latin American narco-traffickers who make billions through turning cocaine into clean cash by exporting gold to Miami. 

Read the exhaustive work of Jay WeaverNick Nehamas, Kyra Gurney and Jim Wyss here: 

New Rubio bill would punish Russian meddling in future U.S. elections

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@alextdaugherty

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Van Hollen have a message for Moscow: Any interference in future U.S. elections will be met with swift punishment if Congress acts.

The Florida Republican who ran for president in 2016 and the Maryland Democrat will introduce a bill on Tuesday that sets explicit punishments for the Russian government — and other countries — if they meddle in future federal elections and directs the Director of National Intelligence to issue a report on potential election interference within one month of any federal election.

Rubio and Van Hollen’s bill comes as President Donald Trump has characterized two congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election as Democrat-led “witch hunts” and cast doubt on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that has already indicted four former Trump campaign officials, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

“For 11 months, they’ve had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government, and it has hurt our government,” Trump said. “It’s a Democrat hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an election.”

But as some Republicans have joined Trump in questioning Mueller’s motives, Rubio has expressed confidence in the special counsel’s investigation and continues to argue that Russian interference is an ongoing threat for future U.S. elections. A 2017 report by the Director of National Intelligence determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian government “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary (Hillary) Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

Rubio and Van Hollen’s bill, called the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, is the first bill since the 2016 presidential election that sets specific punishments for the Russian government and other countries that interfere in U.S. political campaigns.

“We cannot be a country where foreign intelligence agencies attempt to influence our political process without consequences,” Rubio said in a statement. “This bill will help to ensure the integrity of our electoral process by using key national security tools to dissuade foreign powers from meddling in our elections.”

The bill, if passed, codifies specific penalties for the Russians that must implemented within 10 days if the Director of National Intelligence determines that interference took place.

Read more here.

January 12, 2018

Rubio and Nelson say Senate stalling on disaster relief

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via @learyreports

Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson today urged their respective leaders to speed up a vote on a massive disaster relief package that will help Florida.

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

We write to highlight the importance of the disaster supplemental and urge you to consider this much needed appropriations measure on the floor as soon as possible. As you are well aware, last fall produced a number of devastating natural disasters, and our communities are still in need of federal assistance in order to continue their recovery efforts.  In particular, hurricanes and wildfires caused catastrophic destruction throughout the country, and we are deeply concerned that affected states, territories and local governments will not have the resources needed to address critical issues including agricultural aid, healthcare, and housing if Congress does not act immediately.

These disasters caused unprecedented destruction, and yet the federal government has still not provided an acceptable response.  Congress has a duty to fulfill, and a disaster supplemental appropriations bill would provide the federal aid our states and territories were promised months ago.  The House of Representatives passed a disaster supplemental, and while it did not fully encompass what is needed, it is past time for the Senate to act.  Unfortunately, Congress has delayed providing this aid for too long while our communities face the consequences of our inaction.

It is imperative that Americans nationwide know that the federal government is both ready and willing to direct resources needed to help them in the recovery process. As such, we strongly urge you to bring the disaster relief measure to the floor for consideration at the earliest opportunity to ensure that our communities are able to address and assist their respective needs.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Also, Gov. Rick Scott has called on Senate leaders to act.

"It is imperative that we as a state see relief from Congress in the aftermath of these storms. Now that the House passed a significant relief package prior to Christmas, the Senate must act immediately to lock in this critical funding for Florida and ensure the full recovery of families in our state and across the country," Scott wrote in a Jan. 3 letter.

January 11, 2018

Targeting Florida Republicans in 2018 will be tricky for Puerto Rican leaders

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@alextdaugherty

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló intends to throw his political weight around in the 2018 elections, mobilizing Puerto Ricans who recently moved to the mainland to vote against lawmakers he says “turned their back” on the U.S. territory in its time of need.

Rosselló’s threats are ostensibly aimed at Republicans in Congress tasked with doling out billions in disaster aid and in charge of an overhaul of the nation’s tax system, where Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory creates rules that don’t exist on the mainland. He called out Sen. Marco Rubio by name in December, saying he was “disappointed” in his tax bill vote, though Rosselló stopped short of offering any specific political retribution against the Florida Republican.

“Once it’s crunch time for the elections, that’s when our organization is going to start saying, ‘These are the folks who have been for Puerto Rico and these have been the folks that are against Puerto Rico,’” Rosselló said this week in Washington.

But carrying out political advocacy in swing state Florida, where Puerto Ricans who are Democrats and Republicans hold elected office, is a tricky balancing act for Rosselló, a Democrat.

Puerto Ricans in Florida could form a large enough voting bloc to affect statewide elections for governor and U.S. Senate in 2018. But Florida Republicans like Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott enjoy widespread support among many members of Rosselló’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party, in contrast to heavily Democratic states with many Puerto Ricans, like New York, Illinois and Connecticut.

“You don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” said state Rep. Bob Cortes, one of two Puerto Rican Republicans in the state Legislature.

Read more here.

January 09, 2018

Experts still confounded by source of attacks against U.S. embassy staffers in Havana

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@alextdaugherty 

State Department officials said Tuesday that experts are still investigating the source of the mysterious attacks against at least 24 U.S. embassy officials and their family members in Havana, including possibly ultrasound and viral, which Sen. Marco Rubio concluded must be the product of a rogue element within the Cuban government or another nation-state like Russia operating with Havana’s knowledge.

“Though these events were associated with an acoustic element, we were still looking at other possibilities,” said Todd Brown with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. “I don’t know that I would rule it out entirely, the acoustic element could be used as a masking piece. I do know that other types of attacks are being considered in connection with this. There’s viral, there’s ultrasound, there’s a range of things the technical experts are looking at as could this be a possibility.”

Brown’s comments during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday came after the Associated Press reported that an unreleased FBI investigation into the Cuba attacks casts doubt on the possibility of a “sonic attack” against U.S. officials in Havana.

“If the FBI has determined that is not the case... that doesn’t mean that an acoustic element couldn’t be part of another style of attack here and I do know that other types of attacks are being considered in connection with this,” Brown said, adding that a viral attack would include someone intentionally planting a virus that affects cognitive function.

Rubio and Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., repeatedly pressed Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere affairs Francisco Palmieri over the timing and scope of the State Department’s response in Havana, and Rubio argued that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson should have set up an Accountability Review Board within 60 days of the U.S. government learning about serious injuries suffered by U.S. government officials.

“By my calculation, if by early May we knew that at least one if not several... suffered serious injury, by early July in the 60-day period and certainly by early September if you run the whole 120-day period an Accountability Review Board should have been set up,” Rubio said.

Read more here.

January 08, 2018

Miami Republicans oppose Trump decision to end TPS for Salvadorans

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@alextdaugherty

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it will end Temporary Protected Status for about 200,000 Salvadorans in September 2019, and the three Miami Republicans in Congress voiced opposition to the Trump administration's decision. Monday's move comes after the Trump administration decided to end TPS for Haitians and Nicaraguans last year. TPS allows foreign nationals from countries affected by disaster and unrest to live and work in the United States for a period of time. 

"I am in strong disagreement with the Administration’s decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadoran nationals who reside in the United States," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. "These innocent people fled their home country after a disastrous earthquake, and while living conditions may have slightly improved, El Salvador now faces a significant problem with drug trafficking, gangs, and crime. Since 2001, these people have established themselves in the United States, making countless contributions to our society and our local communities. As I did with the decisions to end TPS for Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Honduran nationals who reside in the United States, I strongly urge the Administration to reconsider this decision."

"Today’s decision about Salvadoran TPS – and previous decisions about Honduran and Nicaraguan TPS – are disappointing," said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. "Many years of short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty, not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for employers and neighbors who have welcomed them to our communities." 

"It is unconscionable that @POTUS would terminate the much needed  status of more than 200,000 people from  who have been here for years, working legally + sending remittances to their families," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said on Twitter. 

The three Miami Republicans, who all represent districts with large Latino populations, are signed on to a bill that would provide a path to permanent residency and American citizenship for immigrants currently living in the U.S. under TPS from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicarauga and Honduras.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is also in favor of extending TPS for Haiti, and all of the Democrats representing South Florida including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson and Sen. Bill Nelson are opposed to the Department of Homeland Security's decision. 

Rubio calls Cuba sonic attacks a “documented fact” after GOP colleague questions evidence

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via @FrancoOrdonez 

Sen. Marco Rubio pushed back Sunday against comments from a Republican colleague that the United States has found no evidence of “sonic attacks” in Cuba.

The Florida Republican charged the attacks were a “documented fact.”

In a series of tweets Sunday, Rubio dismissed comments by Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a longtime advocate for improving ties with Cuba, stating that any U.S. official briefed on the mysterious events in Havana “knows full well that while method of attack still in question, that attacks and injuries occurred isn’t.”

“It’s a documented FACT that 24 U.S. govt officials & spouses were victims of some sort of sophisticated attack while stationed in Havana,” Rubio tweeted.

Flake said Saturday that he has seen no evidence that American diplomats who suffered health symptoms while in Havana were “attacked,” according to the Associated Press.

After meeting with high ranking Cuban officials, Flake said classified briefings from U.S. officials had given him no reason to doubt Cuban officials who said there was no evidence any health symptoms were a result of an attack.

Rubio countered calling it impossible “to conduct 24 separate & sophisticated attacks" on U.S. government personnel without Cuban officials knowing.

The back and forth between the two senators sets up a potentially explosive hearing Tuesday at a highly anticipated Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing chaired by Rubio. Members are expected to press State Department officials for more answers about the mysterious events.

The Trump administration has already pulled much of the U.S embassy staff from Havana and expelled 15 of their Cuban counterparts working in Washington.

The State Department continued to call it an “attack” on Sunday despite not knowing the source or cause of the events.

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also sharply criticized Flake on Sunday. 

Read more here.

January 05, 2018

Trump plan for oil drilling off coast ripped by Florida leaders — in both parties

Trump offshore drilling

@jenstaletovich

Florida waters long closed to offshore drilling would open up under a Trump administration plan to dramatically expand domestic oil and gas production.

The plan drew swift criticism from political leaders of both parties in Florida. Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who previously opposed protections put in place by the Obama administration, objected. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who have fought to extend a drilling ban in the eastern Gulf, also criticized a draft proposal released Thursday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration,” Scott said in a statement.

According to the proposal, open to public comment for the next 60 days, the nation would more than quadruple the number of drilling leases available in U.S. waters. The plan covers parts of the eastern Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coast not available since 1988, as well as the Atlantic coast and Florida Straits. In total, the plan would open the nation’s offshore oil and gas reserves in all but one area off Alaska over the next five years.

“This is clearly the difference between energy weakness and energy dominance,” Zinke said in a press call.

Zinke said Florida’s worries, still colored by thedisastrous oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig failure in 2010, would factor into the final plan, along with concerns about sensitive military operations in the Gulf.

“Certainly, Florida is going to have a say,” he said. “Interior should not be the role of adversary. We should be a partner.”

Read more here.