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. 

April 25, 2016

Miami members of Congress return from trip to Guantánamo

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami's three Cuban-American Republicans in Congress recently traveled to the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the office of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced Monday.

Ros-Lehtinen, who chairs the House subcomittee on the Middle East and North Africa, took the trip along with Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart. Also traveling were Reps. Ted Yoho of Gainesville and George Holding of North Carolina, both Republicans.

Here's Ros-Lehtinen's statement on the trip:

The U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay is so much more than the detention center; It is a strategically important military base and our only permanent base in Latin America and the Caribbean. Yet, since President Obama announced his changes to our Cuba policy, the administration has been seeking to play down the importance of the Naval Station. Returning GTMO to the Castro regime would be the ultimate concession to the ruthless dictator and the final stroke in the President's misguided and dangerous Cuba policy, and Congress must not allow this to happen.

"From humanitarian operations and emergency response, to drug and weapon interdiction and so much more, GTMO allows us to maintain a permanent presence in the region in order to protect and promote our national security interests.

"The President's plan to close the detention center at GTMO is naive and dangerous. We've already heard testimony from his Special Envoys on Guantanamo Closure and Guantanamo Detention Closure that some of the individuals we have released not only went back to fighting against us, but have American blood on their hands. There can simply be no justification to release these dangerous prisoners when we know that many of them will go back and join the fight. Congress must prevent the President from closing the detention center and retuning the base to the Castro regime.

Here's Curbelo's statement:

This week I visited the US Naval Station Guantanamo Bay – a critical military and national security asset serving key roles in the war on terrorism, drug and migrant interdiction, and as a strategic forward base for the Atlantic Fleet. Every day approximately 7,000 US military personnel and contractors go to work at GTMO to keep our country safe and advance our national security interests in the Americas and throughout the world. I had the privilege of meeting with Captain Culpepper, the base commander, who briefed us on the base’s preparedness to assist with major migrant events in the Caribbean. This is important considering the significant increase in Cubans fleeing from the island over the last year. I also met with Rear Admiral Clarke who serves as Commander of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo. The JTF is working professionally and diligently to provide safe, humane, legal, and transparent care and custody of detainees. I was able to inspect the detention facilities, and I was impressed with efforts to treat the detainees with dignity and respect. Our young men and women in uniform do an extraordinary job of representing our country, sometimes under very difficult circumstances in this theater. The men and women of Naval Air Station Guantanamo, the Joint Task Force, and the Marines who protect the base perimeter deserve the admiration, appreciation, and support of the American people and this Congress. I thank my colleague from South Florida Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for leading our visit to GTMO, and I urge all of my colleagues to work to protect and strengthen this critical military asset.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Courtesy Rep. Carlos Curbelo's office

March 18, 2016

South Florida Republicans break with GOP in deportation vote

@jamesmartinrose

Only five Republican lawmakers stood up to their party leader in voting against allowing House Speaker Paul Ryan to file an amicus brief opposing President Barack Obama's decision to withhold deportation for more than 5 million undocumented immigrants.

All three Cuban-American representatives from South Florida -- Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo -- were among the five Republicans who voted against a resolution that the House passed Thursday almost entirely along party lines.

The Supreme Court next month will hear a case brought by Texas, joined by Florida and 24 other states, arguing that Obama's bid to shield about 5.2 million illegal aliens from deportation imposes unaffordable health-care, education, law-enforcement and other costs on them.

Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who replaced Ohioan John Boehner as speaker in October, acknowledged that House intervention in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court was unprecedented, but he insisted it was necessary to prevent executive overreach by Obama.

With no Democrats voting for the bill, Ryan and other Republicans said Obama's executive orders dating to 2012 amount to the president legislating immigration reform without going through Congress.

"I recognize that this is a very extraordinary step," Ryan said on the House floor. "I feel it is very necessary, though. In fact, I believe this is vital."

In a joint statement Friday, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart said that although individual members of Congress have the right to file briefs supporting court cases, the House as a whole should not do so.

"All amicus briefs should carry the same weight, and beginning this pattern may signal to the Supreme Court that Congress is prioritizing certain cases over others," the two Miami Republicans said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a first-term Republican from Kendall, went further. He accused Republicans of playing politics with the important issue of immigration.

"For two long, both parties have preferred to score petty political points using the immigration issue rather than passing meaningful reform to secure the border, reform our visa system and find a fair solution for the undocumented," Curbelo said.

"The surest and most constitutionally solvent way to end the president's executive overreach is to pass meaningful immigration reform, not by employing empty tactics that ignore the root cause of the problem," he said.

The two other Republicans who voted against the House resolution were Reps. Richard Hanna of New York and Robert Dold of Illinois. Rep. Alex Mooney, a West Virginia Republican and one of five other Cuban-Americans in Congress, voted for the measure, which passed by a 234-186 margin.

Among Florida's 24 other U.S. House members, 22 voted along party lines, with Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel and Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan failing to vote.

Nine other Florida Democrats voted against the measure, among them Reps. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

Two lower courts have ruled in favor of the states, most recently the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans.

With only eight justices on the Supreme Court since Justice Antonin Scalia's death last month, a 4-4 decision after the scheduled April 18 arguments would uphold the lower courts' rulings and overturn Obama's executive orders protecting millions of undocumented parents and their children from deportation.

Obama on Wednesday chose Merrick Garland, a former federal prosecutor and current judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to replace Scalia on the high court, but Senate Republican leaders are refusing to take a vote or even hold hearings on the nomination, saying Obama has only 10 months left in office.

Immigration has become perhaps the most divisive issue in the presidential campaign, with Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowing to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat of Puerto Rican descent, ridiculed Republican lawmakers, many of whom he said have disingenuously tried to distance themselves from Trump's hardline stance on immigration.

"They keep saying, 'Well, Trump doesn't represent us, he doesn't (represent) our views, he doesn't represent our values,' and now they want to know where Trump gets all of his anti-immigrant, xenophobic views from," Gutierrez told reporters. "Try the House of Republicans."

In a speech Friday on the House floor, Gutierrez accused his Republican colleagues of "stoking anti-immigrant fears and mass-deportation fantasies."

"The vote is a political stunt disguised as a legal brief because the Republican majority sees a crass political opportunity to stand with the anti-immigration wing of their party," he said.  

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and 60 individual business leaders, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, filed an amicus brief supporting Obama last week.

Before the vote Thursday, Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez, head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said "the Latino community is being used for political purposes."

Sanchez added: "We are being demonized, we are being marginalized, and we see a frightening level of hateful rhetoric and vile hate speech aimed at our community, and nobody is standing up within the Republican Party to say that this is unacceptable."

America's Voice, a pro-immigration advocacy group, said the vote Thursday was the eighth "anti-immigration" vote taken by Republicans in the current session of Congress.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 223 other Democrats filed an amicus brief backing Obama earlier this month, but there was no vote on the brief and it represents them as individuals.

In still another amicus brief, almost 120 cities and counties across the United States on March 8 expressed support for Obama, among them Pembroke Pines, Tampa and Sunrise.

 

February 22, 2016

Once Jeb Bush supporters, Miami members of Congress back Marco Rubio

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen got behind a horde of microphones Monday afternoon and waved a Florida absentee ballot, still in its envelope.

 

Inside, she explained, was the reason why she and other Republicans — in Florida and across the country — were lining up to endorse Marco Rubio less than 48 hours after the South Carolina primary.

“On this ballot, there are 13 names,” she said.

But most of them aren’t actual candidates anymore — including her first choice, Jeb Bush, who quit the race Saturday and left his supporters up for grabs three weeks before Florida’s March 15 primary.

Which means there is no time to waste for Bush backers to brush off the defeat and urge voters — especially the ones with ballots already in hand — to make a new choice.

And, increasingly for the mainstream GOP, that choice is Rubio.

“He’s ready, he’s effective, he’s brilliant,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said. “He illustrates the best of the American Dream, and he will unify and strengthen this country.”

More here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot, Miami Herald staff