September 23, 2016

Ros-Lehtinen, Ortega toss verbal grenades at each other

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@jamesmartinrose

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and the Nicaraguan government traded bitter criticisms Friday over charges of intimidation and repression.

The exchange started with a statement by the Managua government opposing an effort in Congress led by Ros-Lehtinen to restrict its access to loans in what would be a form of economic sanctions.

Without citing the Miami Republican by name, Nicaragua accused her and other lawmakers of having "been involved in disinformation and intimidation campaigns in the media against Democratic, pluralistic and progressive processes in Latin America and the Caribbean."

The alleged interference in Latin America appeared to be a reference to lawmakers' past criticism of the Cuban and Venezuelan governments.

Ros-Lehtinen has been especially critical of Cuba and its allies in Venezuela and Nicaragua, along with Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and other Cuban-American members of Congress.

Ros-Lehtinen fired back at the Nicaraguan government's latest salvo.

"Ortega's baseless accusations are just his latest attempt to detract attention away from the human rights abuses and the acts of corruption and intimidation he has been perpetrating in Nicaragua, but nobody is fooled," she said.

While Ros-Lehtinen targeted Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the statement criticizing her bill came from the government he heads, not from him personally, although he all but certainly approved it.

And although Ros-Lehtinen said Ortega had attacked her, the Nicaraguan government statement did not mention her or any other lawmaker by name.

The House on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure that would place U.S. limits on loans to the Ortega government unless it accepts international observers and other steps toward holding free elections.

Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Albio Sires, a Cuban-American Democrat from New Jersey, were lead sponsors of the legislation. The Senate has not pass a companion bill.

Ros-Lehtinen said her measure's main aim was to “stop Ortega from accessing international funds until he adopts reforms that promote democracy, strengthen the rule of law, respect human rights, and celebrate free, fair, and transparent elections supervised by electoral observers.”

For more, read here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot

 

 

September 14, 2016

Competing demands crowd Zika money

  

@jamesmartinrose

WASHINGTON Turns out, Zika isn’t the only urgent problem that needs federal funds fast.

Florida lawmakers pushing to get $1.1 billion for Zika prevention and research into a rapidly evolving broader appropriations bill are competing with members of Congress from across the country who want their needs addressed.

On his second day in Washington to push for Zika funding, Gov. Rick Scott met with members of Congress from the state who briefed him on the rapidly evolving negotiations over federal spending.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s jousting with other panel members seeking vital funding for their districts and states.

Lawmakers from Louisiana want billions for flood relief. Congressmen from Michigan want millions to clean contaminated drinking water. Others are pushing for more money for veterans’ healthcare.

“Florida’s not the only state with urgent needs,” Diaz-Balart told reporters after he and other Florida lawmakers met with Scott.

The governor said that Florida can’t wait any longer to receive federal aid to help with treating the almost 800 people in the state infected with the virus and preventing it from spreading further.

“We need help, and we need help now,” Scott said.

Scott criticized Sen. Bill Nelson for joining other Democrats in having voted down earlier Zika bills because they contained extraneous provisions related to abortion, Planned Parenthood and the federal health insurance law.

Scott’s criticism drew a rebuke from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a fellow Republican from Miami.

“We don’t need to be calling people out,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Sen. Nelson has been trying to help get Zika funding.”

Beyond the competition among different funding needs, there was disagreement on Capitol Hill over how much time the omnibus spending bill, called a Continuing Resolution, should cover going forward.

Appropriators sought a short-term measure that would keep the government operating into December. Some conservatives wanted it to be funded until March. President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress were pushing for a bill to cover the entire next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1 and lasting through Sept. 30, 2017.

Video credit: Ken Cedeno, McClatchy

 

 

August 30, 2016

Florida lawmakers urge tough steps against Venezuela

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@jamesmartinrose

Florida's congressional delegation has the biggest presence in a bipartisan letter urging Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to extend sanctions and take other tough steps against the Venezuelan government.

Nine of the 30 lawmakers who signed the letter to Kerry and Lew are from the Sunshine State, among them South Florida Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, plus Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel and Frederica Wilson.

Also on the letter are Republican Reps. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach and John Mica of Winter Park, plus Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of West Boca Raton.

"People are literally starving, suicide rates are rising and the government continues to repress its people," the lawmakers wrote.

Congress in July passed legislation sponsored by Ros-Lehtinen and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Miami, which President Barack Obama signed into law, extending sanctions on human rights abusers in Venezuela.

"However, the are scores of other Venezuelan officials, including within the Supreme Court, federal judiciary, judges in various states, national and state prosecutors, and police and security officers who have reportedly directly engaged in human rights abuses, efforts to undermine democracy and public corruption," the lawmakers wrote to Kerry and Lew.

The 30 House members called on Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro to hold a recall referendum this year, release all political prisoners, follow democratic principles, permit the delivery of emergency food and medicine, and stop government support for drug trafficking.

To read the letter:

August 17, 2016

Diaz-Balart's awkward political position when it comes to Trump

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@PatriciaMazzei

In blue, Hispanic Miami-Dade County, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is an outlier: He's the only local Republican congressman who's maintained he'll vote for Donald Trump.

Except Diaz-Balart doesn't actually say Trump. His written statements mention backing the "nominee." When he goes on Spanish-language TV news shows, Diaz-Balart makes a point to separate himself from some of Trump's positions and comments.

So, is Diaz-Balart reconsidering?

Diaz-Balart's spokeswoman, Katrina Valdes, referred a Miami Herald reporter to the congressman's statement from May, in which he said he intended to vote for "the Republican nominee" and wouldn't consider voting for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

"Obviously, there are some basic Republican principles the nominee must adhere to: set forth an economic agenda that will revitalize our economy and provide robust resources for our military, provide unwavering support to America's best allies, such as Israel, Great Britain, Taiwan, and Poland, to name a few, confront our enemies and adversaries in places like Cuba, North Korea, and Iran, and support the opposition movements and heroic leaders within those countries," Diaz-Balart said at the time. "These are things that have to be addressed."

So far, in Diaz-Balart's view, Trump hasn't addressed those issues, Valdes said.

The congressman, she added, has been in touch with the Trump campaign by phone to try to get "clarification."

Photo credit: José A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

August 02, 2016

Florida members of Congress ask CDC for more Zika money

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida needs far more money to fight the Zika virus spreading in Miami than the federal government has set aside, according to the state's congressional delegation.

Twenty-six of Florida's 27 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday asking for additional funding to combat the mosquito-borne virus. Earlier Tuesday, the CDC promised $720,000 to combat the disease, which has been locally transmitted to at least 14 people in Miami's Wynwood neighborhood.

That's not nearly enough, the lawmakers wrote CDC Director Thomas Frieden, noting that there's a $16 million pot to divide among 40 states and territories. The $720,000, they said, "amounts to a paltry 4.5% of funding made available, despite the fact that almost half of all confirmed non-travel cases of the disease in the continental United States have now been linked to mosquito transmission in Florida."

The lawmakers thanked the CDC for its work with Florida authorities, and more distributing more than $8 million in "Zika-specific funding" to the state already.

"However, because of the potential for explosive spread of the virus via mosquito transmission through heavily-populated regions of the state, we urge you, in accordance with all applicable rules and regulations, to reconsider the current allocation formula for Zika-specific funds," they wrote. "If funds are truly allocated based on the risk of Zika virus transmission and population need, the State of Florida must receive a far greater share of available funds given the concerning developments linking new cases of the virus to local mosquitoes in Miami-Dade County."

They don't specify how much more money they want.

The letter was spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican whose Miami district begins just south of Wynwood. Among the co-signers is U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, the Miami Gardens Democrat whose district includes Wynwood, and every other delegation member except U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Winter Garden.

UPDATE: Webster has now signed the letter.

June 23, 2016

Rubio and fellow Miami Republicans react to SCOTUS immigration decision

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio lauded the Supreme Court on Thursday on its decision to keep blocking a plan by President Barack Obama to let scores of people in the country illegally remain in the U.S.

The court, still missing a ninth member after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, deadlocked 4-4 on the issue. That left standing an earlier appeals court decision prohibiting the Obama administration from implementing its Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA.

"This is the right decision," Rubio said in a statement. "No matter what solutions one may prefer to fix our broken immigration system, those policies must be pursued and passed into law by Congress."

But he and the other South Florida politicians -- all of whom have supported immigration reform -- also said Congress must also act.

"While the Supreme Court's decision makes clear that President Obama has acted lawlessly, it does not leave Congress off the hook either," Rubio said.

Miami's three Republican House members -- Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo -- were even more critical of lawmakers (many of them in the GOP) who have failed to address immigration issues.

"The Supreme Court has spoken, but today's decision does not resolve the issue," they said in a joint statement. "The American people expect Congress to work together to secure our borders, adhere to the rule of law, offer a humane solution to those living in the shadows, modernize our visa system, and bolster the economy. We are committed to fixing our broken immigration system once and for all."

Joining the Miamians in their position were Republican Reps. Fred Upton of Michigan, Mike Coffman of Colorado, Dan Newhouse of Washington, David Valadao of California, Jeff Denham of California, and Bob Dold of Illinois.

June 22, 2016

Mario Diaz-Balart endorses Marco Rubio

@PatriciaMazzei

Expect Marco Rubio to see the endorsements pour in from Florida Republicans who had backed Rubio's friend, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, for U.S. Senate before Rubio chose to seek re-election.

Here's one, from U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami:

I commend Senator Rubio on his decision to run for re-election. In these challenging times, Senator Rubio’s experience and deep knowledge on issues of foreign policy and national security are desperately needed. Carlos Lopez-Cantera would have made a great member of the U.S. Senate. His decision to step aside and recognize our state and country needed Senator Rubio’s expertise once again demonstrates that Carlos always puts his country first. I am confident he will continue serving our state with honor and integrity. I look forward to supporting Senator Rubio’s re-election bid this fall.

May 18, 2016

Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart pushes back on White House over Zika funding

@PatriciaMazzei

Count Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart among the Florida Republican members of Congress skeptical of President Obama's request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to combat Zika.

"I believe we need to provide and spend every dollar needed for Zika prevention, treatment, and response programs, and not one penny less," Diaz-Balart said in a statement to the Miami Herald.

The Senate on Tuesday passed a compromise measure setting aside $1.1 billion to fight the mosquito-borne virus, with both Florida senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio, reluctantly voting in favor. The two men want the full $1.9 billion.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, is considering a $622 million funding measure the White House has threatened to veto as inadequate. Obama's press secretary, Josh Earnest, specifically called out Florida Republicans in the House on Tuesday for failing to push for more money.

Diaz-Balart stressed that the $622 million proposed in the House is in addition to the $590 million already set aside this budget year for Zika efforts (from money that had been allocated to fighting Ebola).

"This will total almost $1.3 billion to combat Zika this fiscal year alone," he said in his statement. "Congress has a responsibility to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent effectively, unlike the fiasco that happened with the 'shovel-ready' projects. Once the Obama administration provides full details as to how they will spend these funds, we can then determine what if any additional resources are required."

Diaz-Balart's fellow Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo told the Herald last week he supports Obama's request, though he hasn't taken a lead in pushing for it. The third local GOP member of Congress, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, did not respond to requests for comment.

May 14, 2016

Miguel Diaz de la Portilla had special guests at his state Senate campaign launch, too

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@ByKristenMClark

The contentious Florida Senate race for District 37 in Miami-Dade County has attracted big guns for both the Democratic and Republican candidates.

Last week, Democratic state Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez had help from both U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, at his kick-off fundraiser.

But just three days later, it turns out, his Republican opponent -- current state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla -- quietly had many special guests of his own at a similar event.

Diaz de la Portilla's campaign announced Friday that it had held a kick-off party for the senator's re-election bid on May 6.

The campaign said it was held at Casa Juancho, a Spanish restaurant in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, and featured a "standing room-only crowd comprised of more than 200 friends and family."

Among the guests in attendance, the campaign said: Miami Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart; state Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; outgoing state Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami; Miami-Dade County Commissioners Barbara Jordan, Rebeca Sosa, Xavier Suarez, Javier Souto, Steve Bovo and Sally Heyman; and City of Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo.

Image3"Miguel has shown a unique ability to effectively represent our entire community. We need him in Tallahassee, fighting and delivering results for all of us," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement provided by Diaz de la Portilla's campaign.

District 37 represents much of the city of Miami and stretches south along the coast to include Coral Gables, Key Biscayne and Cutler Bay. It leans Democratic and is heavily Hispanic.

Diaz de la Portilla and Rodriguez, both of Miami, officially launched their campaigns a couple months ago, but their fundraisers marked the start of what's expected to be a heated election season this summer and fall. The race is already starting to bring in a lot of cash, with Diaz de la Portilla holding the edge over Rodriguez, as of April 30.

Diaz de la Portilla, one of the Florida Senate's more moderate Republicans, hopes to hold on to his seat. But through Rodriguez, Democrats are eyeing District 37 as one of a few seats they could pick up in November to narrow the Republican majority in the chamber.

"If you're from this diverse community, you get it: We work together for the common good," Diaz de la Portilla said in a statement Friday. "I am thankful for all the support I have received and look forward to continuing to work in Tallahassee for the entire community."

Photos courtesy of Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's re-election campaign

May 05, 2016

For Miami Republicans in Congress, a struggle to accept Donald Trump as nominee

@PatriciaMazzei

In the only county Donald Trump lost in the Florida primary, three Republican members of Congress are having trouble accepting him as their party's presidential nominee.

Two of them have said they won't for him.

Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen all endorsed Jeb Bush early in the campaign. As a group, they later backed Marco Rubio

What to do now that Trump is the last Republican standing?

Curbelo, a freshman in a swing district who last year posited that Trump might be a ringer for Democrat Hillary Clinton, said he won't support either political party's presidential pick. Clinton is still fending off challenger Bernie Sanders.

"My position has not changed," Curbelo told the Miami Herald in an email Wednesday. "I have no plans of supporting either of the presumptive nominees."

Ros-Lehtinen, the dean of the trio, has said much the same. Though her office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, the day after Ted Cruz dropped out of the race, she told Spanish-language news network NTN24 two weeks ago she was holding out hope for a contested GOP convention.

"I don't plan to vote for Donald Trump," she said. "I don't feel in my heart that I could support him. But I can't support Hillary Clinton."

 

More here.

Photo caption: Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart are pictured at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which they visited last month.

Photo credit: Courtesy Rep. Carlos Curbelo's office.