March 19, 2015

Miami Republican members of Congress oppose Cuban embassy in Washington, citing spies

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami's three Cuban-American Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives say they don't want to see a Cuban embassy opened in Washington D.C. -- or a Cuban consulate anywhere else in the country -- because it would risk allowing Cuba to spy on the U.S.

There is already a Cuban interests section in D.C., and a Cuban mission to the United Nations.

"We are all too familiar with the Castro regime's efforts to utilize their diplomats as intelligence agents tasked with the goal of committing espionage against their host countries," the members of Congress and several colleagues wrote in a letter Thursday to the U.S. State Department. "We believe that allowing Cuba to open an embassy in Washington, D.C. or consulates will further open the door for their espionage activities." 

They also asked to be briefed in detail about the status of the negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba to normalize diplomatic relations.

Signing the letter were Miami Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, as well as Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat and fellow Cuban American, and Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican whose father was born in Cuba. Cruz is considering a 2016 presidential candidacy.

March 12, 2015

Revoke Venezuelan diplomat's visa, Miami Republican members of Congress say

@PatriciaMazzei

The Venezuelan ambassador to the Organization of American States in Washington D.C. had a few choice words this week for members of the political opposition in the South American country.

"There comes a time when an opposition supporter's head can't be differentiated from a government supporter's head except for its contents," Amb. Roy Chaderton said. "The sound produced [by a bullet] in an opposition supporter head is like a click because the skull is empty."

The comment, made on Venezuelan television, prompted a harsh rebuke Wednesday from U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican. By Thursday, she had assembled a group of colleagues to sign a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that Chaderton's U.S. visa be revoked.

"Any foreign diplomat who supports and facilitates the use of violence against peaceful protesters should not enjoy the privilege of access to the United States," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Ambassador Chaderton's words are incompatible with American values and he must be held accountable for his vile and reprehensible conduct."

The move comes on the same week the Obama administration imposed sanctions on seven Venezuelan government officials and declared a state of emergency in U.S.-Venezuela relations. Congress passed legislation that the president signed in December penalizing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's administration for political oppression. Two weeks ago, Maduro called Ros-Lehtinen and other U.S. members of Congress "terrorists" and banned them from Venezuela. 

Ros-Lehtinen's letter was signed by fellow Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, and by Reps. Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina, and Albio Sires, D-New Jersey.

February 25, 2015

Obama, immigration and the politics of snagging a seat on Air Force One

@PatriciaMazzei

After the November election, where Democrats lost badly to Republicans across the country, the Obama administration said it would make an effort to reach out to more members of the GOP in Congress. Part of that outreach was supposed to include bringing them along for rides on Air Force One.

Yet that's not what Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo found this week when he asked the White House if he could hitch a ride on the presidential airplane to Miami for a town hall-style immigration meeting to be held in his swing district. Invited only two days before the event, and unwilling to take an early-morning commercial flight that would make him miss House votes, Curbelo was denied a seat on the plane and didn't attend. (In the end, House votes didn't begin until the early afternoon.)

"In this case, we were unable to accommodate the congressman's request, but we typically try to do so when we can," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Miami. When asked if there was no space for Curbelo, as the congressman said he was told, Earnest said he wasn't "exactly sure."

"When the president travels outside of Washington, it's not uncommon at all for us to invite a member of Congress from the congressional district where the president is appearing," Earnest said. "And we do that, whether or not it's a Democrat or a Republican who's participating -- or who represents that district in Congress." 

Miami's two other Republicans in Congress didn't attend, either, though all support an immigration overhaul.

Continue reading "Obama, immigration and the politics of snagging a seat on Air Force One" »

February 23, 2015

Mario Diaz-Balart warns Miami-Dade may have to make unpopular choices to fund transportation

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has a powerful new budget post in Congress, but don't expect federal dollars to start pouring in for local transportation projects.

There's not that much money to work with, the Republican told the Miami Herald's editorial board Monday. And Miami-Dade County must first draft detailed plans to extend public transit -- and find a way to pay for part of them on its own.

"There's not much we can do until the community gets its act together -- the local government, local governments, get their act together," said Diaz-Balart, the new chairman of the House transportation and housing appropriations subcommittee. "The key is to have a plan that is real. It's going to require a local match."

Interest in improving the county's disjointed transportation system has grown among politicians, with Miami-Dade's new commission chairman, Jean Monestime, citing it as a priority for his two-year term that begun last month. Commissioner Esteban "Steve" Bovo, the new transit committee chairman, has already met with Diaz-Balart to discuss a way forward.

That will involve picking only a few projects that have enough potential ridership to back them, Diaz-Balart said -- which could mean making unpopular political choices. Metrorail lines have long been promised to different areas of the county, regardless of whether they would draw sufficient customers.

"We can't do everything. We can't fund everything," Diaz-Balart said, echoing Bovo's stated approach. "If the ridership isn't there, those days of just empty promises -- which, by the way, don't do anything other than just that -- have to be over."

January 30, 2015

The Hill: Debbie Wasserman Schultz cast House vote on Mario Diaz-Balart's behalf

@PatriciaMazzei

Voting for another member of Congress is technically a no-no.

But that's what Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat and the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, did this week for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, according to The Hill.

Diaz-Balart was wrapping up an interview with a reporter when Wasserman Schultz walked by.

“Deb, are you going in?” he asked before handing her his voting card. “Can you…” he said, trailing off as he handed her the card.

Wasserman Schultz, whose day job at the DNC means she's usually acting as the party's attack dog against Republicans, tilted her head quizzically and half-shrugged.

"Yeah, the opposite, the opposite," Diaz-Balart said with a laugh, asking her to vote as him in the opposite way as she was voting during a roll-call vote. 

Wasserman Schultz headed onto the House floor.

“He handed off his voting card to me, yes,” she told The Hill upon her return a minute later.

Members of Congress are collegial -- even across party lines -- and that's been especially true among Wasserman Schultz (in spite of her partisan role) and Cuban-American Republicans. When Democrats lined up to challenge Diaz-Balart, his brother Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2008, Wasserman Schultz took heat for sitting the races out, in deference to her colleagues.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, told The Hill he would "take care of that matter."

January 21, 2015

GOP's Reince Priebus stumbles on immigration, Democrats crow: "WTF?"

 @MarcACaputo

The different Republican State of the Union responses about immigration (nada in English, un poquito en Español) was so tough for national GOP Chairman Reince Priebus to explain Wednesday that he tried to blame.....President Obama.

What about the Republican-controlled House that blocked the measure from a full vote in the chamber for years? Priebus didn’t go there.

“I’m not a policy guy,” Priebus said at one point after stammering on MSNBC to give a response.

The Democratic National Committee loved it, and almost mockingly swore at Priebus by asking in a press release headline: "Reince, WTF are you talking about?" By using the "What The Fuck" text abbreviation, the DNC ensured that Republicans could avoid the topic by pointing to the snarky crudity of the Democrats’ take-down rather than the substance of it.

But as Priebus' response to the original question shows, there's not much of a major credible response anyway. That left Priebus blame-shifting and evading questions asked by the Huffington Post's Sam Stein and ABC's Cokie Roberts on "Morning Joe:" 

Continue reading "GOP's Reince Priebus stumbles on immigration, Democrats crow: "WTF?"" »

January 20, 2015

Fact-checking claims about Cuba by Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ana Navarro

President Barack Obama’s administration has hit the reset button on Cuba, setting off a series of political claims from Florida.

On Jan. 15, the federal departments of Treasury and Commerce released new rules that make it easier for Americans to travel to Cuba and send money there. While the embargo remains in place -- that could only be lifted by Congress -- the new rules allow increased exports to the island and allow American visitors to return home with some Cuban cigars and rum.

As part of the deal between the two countries, Cuba released USAID worker Alan Gross and another spy whom the government didn’t identify (the Miami Heraldreported that Rolando Sarraff fits the description). Cuba also announced it would release 53 political prisoners -- though news reports stated that two have been arrested again. In return, the United States released three imprisoned Cuban spies.

The rules follow Obama’s Dec. 17 announcement that the United States would normalize relations with Cuba. Florida’s Cuban-American senator, Marco Rubio of Miami, blasted the move, as did some other GOP South Florida members of Congress. (Tampa Bay’s U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat, strongly supported the move.)

Cuba has been a hot topic in Florida politics for decades -- including in last year’s race for governor. But Obama’s announcement paves the way for more debate about Cuba heading into the 2016 presidential election.  Obama will likely mention Cuba in his State of the Union speech, given thatGross will sit with First Lady Michelle Obama. Rubio, meanwhile, has invited Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late activist Oswaldo Payá, who was killed in a suspicious car accident on the island. The GOP response will be given by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and translated into Spanish by Miami’s U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Here’s a summary of some of PolitiFact Florida's recent fact-checks that relate to Cuba.

 

January 16, 2015

Diaz-Balart: Cuba already backsliding, re-arrested 2 of 53 political prisoners released in Obama deal

@MarcACaputo

When President Obama and Raul Castro announced an effort to normalize ties between the United States and Cuba, the regime announced it would release 53 political prisoners.

But it never said it wouldn't re-arrest any of them.

And so, according to Hablemos Press via Capitol Hill Cubans, Rolando Reyes Rabanal and Luis Enrique Labrador are once again behind bars. And Cuba critics like Miami Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart are as outraged as they are not surprised. Here's the Republican's statement, which goes on to note the two were arrested along with another activist, Miguel Daniel Borroto Vazquez:

"According to reports, Cuban activists Rolando Reyes Rabanal and Luis Enrique Labrador, who are on the President's list of 53 political prisoners, were once again arrested while attempting to join a pro-democracy meeting of the Movement for a New Republic. Another opposition activist who was not on the list, Miguel Daniel Borroto Vazquez, was beaten, arrested, and ultimately imprisoned in El Vivac detention center.

“The President's flawed and arbitrary list of 53 political prisoners falls far short of a condition that should be non-negotiable: the permanent release of ALL political prisoners. When the Castro regime re-arrests political prisoners after the President "negotiated" their release, it makes a mockery of the entire bad deal. But, as the administration has conceded several times, the President is too invested in his policy of appeasement to change course over the regime's human rights abuses. It remains an utter disgrace that a decent human rights record, and Cuban prisons emptied of innocent men and women, was not part of the President's deal.”

January 09, 2015

Cuban Americans in Congress ask John Kerry to stop U.S. 'concessions' to Cuba

@PatriciaMazzei

Six Cuban-American members of Congress asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday to reconsider normalization talks with Cuba.

"We agree in the importance of advocating on behalf of U.S. national security interests, human rights, and basic freedoms for the Cuban people," the letter says.

"However, mere lip service is inadequate. As such, we urge you to cease unilateral concessions that reward and embolden a brutal dictatorship in the midst of a brutal crackdown. Canceling future talks, and ending unilateral concessions, would signal that the Administration's position on human rights is not just empty rhetoric and broken promises, but is actually supported by concrete actions."

The letter is signed by three Miami Republicans, Reps. Carlos CurbeloMario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and by Reps. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) and Albio Sires (D-N.J.) and Sen. Ted Cruz, D-Texas.

The missing Cuban American is one of Cruz's potential presidential rivals, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who wrote a letter of his own earlier this week to President Barack Obama urging him not to hold talks with Cuba without more information on 53 political prisoners the island's communist regime was supposed to release. Some of the prisoners were reportedly freed Thursday.

The Obama administration has given little attention to Cuban Americans who have loudly criticized the president's rapprochment with Cuba. Talks between the two countries are scheduled to take place in Havana on Jan. 21-22.

December 23, 2014

Pro-embargo, Cuba hardline is a minority stance in U.S., polls show

@MarcACaputo

The polling is in: Cuban exile hardliners and Republicans are in the clear minority nationwide when it comes to the embargo and reestablishing ties with the island nation.

A raft of new surveys, taken after President Barack Obama announced plans Wednesday to normalize relations with Cuba, shows far more Americans want the sanctions lifted and relations improved compared to those who favor current U.S. policy — namely Republicans and many Cuban-Americans.

But there’s one aspect of U.S. Cuba policy that Cuban-Americans, rank-and-file Republicans nationwide and Americans in general agree on: Easing travel restrictions to the island.

The surveys are unwelcome — but not unexpected news — to embargo supporters, mostly centered in South Florida where two potential presidential candidates, former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, have been outspoken about strengthening the embargo.

“We’ve found that the more information people learn about what happens in Cuba, the more they are to support U.S. policy,” said Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, the nation’s premier political action committee that supports the exile community.

“That’s always been the challenge: Informing people,” Claver-Carone said. “We’re a small community, yes, but we have a big megaphone.”

And in America at large, Republicans’ and the Cuban-American community’s attitudes about Cuba policy are decidedly in the minority, according to a comparison of national polls from CNN/ORC International, Langer Research/ABC-Washington Post, Reuters/Ipsos, CBS and a Bendixen & Amandi International survey conducted last week for The Miami Herald, El Nuevo Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.....

Normalizing relations:

ABC/Langer: Americans back it 64-31 percent; while the GOP is split 49-47 percent. “Very conservative” respondents’ support was lacking, 36-61 percent.

CNN/ORC: Americans support, 63-33 percent; while GOP support is split, 45-51 percent.

Reuters/Ipsos: Americans back it 45-22 percent, while GOP support is 31-38 percent. Reuters is the only online survey.

Herald/Bendixen: Cuban-Americans oppose normalization, 48-44 percent, an inside-the-error margin tie in the poll of 400 Cuban-Americans. It showed Republican Cuban-Americans oppose it 79-11 percent.

CBS: Americans back it 54-28 percent. CBS did not provide political party data. All the national polls surveyed about 1,000 people and have an error margin of 3.5 percentage points. The Republican polling numbers have a larger error margin.

Embargo

ABC/Langer: Americans want it ended, 68-29 percent; while Republicans want it ended 57-40 percent. But “very conservative” support is lowest at 42-57 percent.

CNN/ORC: Americans want it ended, 55-40 percent; while Republicans want it ended 44-52 percent.

Reuters/Ipsos: Americans want it ended, 40-26 percent; while Republicans want it ended 28-41 percent.

Herald/Bendixen: Cuban-Americans want it discontinued, 44-40 percent; while Cuban-American Republicans wanted it to remain in place, 70-18 percent.

Travel restrictions

ABC/Langer: Americans want them ended, 74-24 percent, with Republicans at 64-33 percent and the “very conservative” at 51-47 percent.

CNN/ORC: Americans want them changed, 67-32 percent, with Republicans at 58-40 percent.

Herald/Bendixen: Cuban-Americans want them eased, 47-39 percent, with Republican Cuban-Americans oppose easing, 56-26 percent.

More here