January 17, 2018

John Kelly sits down with the Miami delegation to discuss immigration

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@alextdaugherty

White House chief of staff John Kelly made the rounds on Capitol Hill Wednesday as Congress tries to find a solution for 800,000 undocumented young immigrants and one of the groups he met with were Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart. Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd joined the Miami trio. 

Kelly, the former head of U.S. Southern Command which is based in Doral, is talking to lawmakers as Congress wrestles with an immigration debate amid finding a way to fund the government past Friday. The White House has not signaled any specific proposals it would support regarding immigration, and congressional leaders from both parties are trying to hash out a deal. 

Kelly also met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which is made up of all Democrats, to discuss immigration. All three Miami Republicans are willing to vote for legislation that stops the potential deportation of Dreamers, but its unclear which specific proposals will earn the votes of enough liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans. 

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Photo courtesy of Curbelo's office.

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.

January 15, 2018

Miami Republican still silent as others in White House meeting defend Trump

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty

A high-stakes White House immigration meeting has devolved into a debate on whether President Donald Trump used the terms “shithole” or “shithouse” to refer to immigrants, and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart still isn’t saying anything.

Two senators in the meeting, one Democrat and one Republican, said Trump used the profane language. Two other Republican senators in the meeting now say he didn’t utter “shit” in any form after initially saying they didn’t recall. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was also in the meeting, isn’t sure.

But Diaz-Balart hasn’t said whether he sides with Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who say Trump used disparaging language, or Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., who said they didn’t hear it.

The Miami Republican has not confirmed or denied either of the accounts, even after Cotton and Perdue shifted their story on Sunday. Two Diaz-Balart staffers did not respond to questions on Monday and the congressman’s Washington and Doral offices were closed for Martin Luther King Day. It isn’t clear if Diaz-Balart challenged Trump in the meeting on his language towards immigrants.

Diaz-Balart confirmed he was at the White House in a statement on Friday and a spokesperson told Miami Herald news partner CBS 4 on Sunday that he doesn’t comment on private meetings.

“First of all, in his three decades of public service, Congressman Diaz-Balart has NEVER repeated, stated, or leaked what is said in private meetings,” a spokesperson said to CBS 4. “Secondly, he remains focused on the fact that in March, some 800,000 young people face deportation, and he continues to work on a bipartisan deal so that won’t happen. And finally Congressman Diaz-Balart fights and stands up for his community every single day, and his record in doing so is clear.”

Read more here.

January 12, 2018

A Miami Republican was there, but won’t say if Trump called Haiti a ‘shithole’ country

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

There were only seven lawmakers in the room when President Donald Trump reportedly referred to Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “shithole countries.” Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was one of them.

Did the Miami Republican hear the words himself? Did he challenge the president’s comment? He refuses to say, even after the lone Democrat in the room said Friday that Trump had “said hateful things, and he said them repeatedly.”

In a statement, Diaz-Balart merely confirmed that he was at the White House meeting on Thursday, but he did not back up Trump’s Twitter denial of the “shithole” comment, or the claim made by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who said Friday that Trump had said, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

“For months, I have been involved in numerous high level bipartisan meetings negotiating DACA, including Thursday’s meeting at the White House,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement. “There are almost 800,000 young DACA beneficiaries who will face imminent deportation in March if we do not reach a deal. I will not be diverted from all possible efforts to continue negotiating to stop the deportations. Nothing will divert my focus to stop the deportation of these innocent people whose futures are at stake.”

Diaz-Balart left Washington, D.C., on Thursday after his meeting with Trump. A Miami Herald reporter unsuccessfully attempted on Friday to find Diaz-Balart at his office in Doral, located across the street from the Trump Doral resort.

Trump’s reported comments caused an uproar in Miami, home to the nation’s largest concentration of Haitian Americans.

“The president calling Haiti a ‘shithole country’ ignores the contributions thousands of Haitians have made to our SoFla community and nation,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. “Language like that shouldn't be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn't be heard in the White House.”

After the White House initially did not deny the “shithole” comment, which was first reported by the Washington Post, Trump took to Twitter on Friday morning to offer his version of events.

“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used,” Trump tweeted. “What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made — a big setback for DACA!”

Read more here.

January 11, 2018

South Florida lawmakers defend Haiti after Trump's "shithole" comment

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@alextdaugherty

The ongoing high-stakes immigration debate in Washington was upended on Thursday when the Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and African countries as "shitholes" when a group of lawmakers at the White House floated the idea of restoring protections for immigrants who recently lost Temporary Protected Status. 

"Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" Trump said, according to the Post. 

His comments drew condemnation from South Florida lawmakers, home to the nation's largest concentration of Haitians. 

"The president calling a 'shithole country' ignores the contributions thousands of Haitians have made to our community and nation," Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen tweeted. "Language like that shouldn't be heard in locker rooms and it shouldn't be heard in the White House." 

"Under no circumstances is it acceptable to degrade, denigrate, or dehumanize immigrants," Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo tweeted. "The White House must immediately explain the situation and leave no doubt regarding what was said and in what context." 

Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents Little Haiti and was the subject of public attacks from Trump last year, was succinct in her reaction. 

"Sigh," Wilson tweeted. 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who was present at Thursday's White House meeting with Republican and Democratic negotiators, was traveling and unavailable for comment, per his office. 

UPDATE: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz weighs in: 

January 09, 2018

Diaz-Balart calls White House immigration talk 'one of the most productive meetings I've been to'

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@alextdaugherty

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was happy with a high-stakes immigration meeting at the White House on Tuesday where President Donald Trump's negotiating skills were displayed on live television.  

Despite the media saturation, the Miami Republican said the meeting with about two dozen Democrats and Republicans was "one of the most productive meetings I've been to" as Congress tries to find a solution to help undocumented young adults known as Dreamers who came to the U.S. as young children.

"We've been discussing these issues for a long, long time and this is one of the most productive meetings I've been to," Diaz-Balart said. "Particularly when you're talking about a large group like that, diverse and everything else. I think the president set the tone and I think it was exceedingly productive." 

Diaz-Balart said the conversation in real-time with the cameras running made lawmakers from both sides explain what they meant when using terms like "clean" and "border security." 

"One of the things that I have learned over the years is that there are certain terms that when people say them they're thinking of something, and who you are talking to is thinking of a totally different thing which is why i just don't use them," Diaz-Balart said, referring to terms like "clean," "comprehensive" and "amnesty." 

He said the exchange between Trump and California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, where the President initially appeared to back a solution for Dreamers without a promise for border security, was evidence of the productivity of Tuesday's meeting. 

"When the president thinks of DACA, he's thinking of DACA and border security," Diaz-Balart said. "It was good that Sen. Feinstein said 'What are we talking about here? Her version of 'clean' and his version of 'clean' are two different things and it was clarified and that was important. But it was a very, very, very positive atmosphere."

Diaz-Balart said four items, and only four, will be part of any immigration deal between Democrats and Republicans that must pass by March when the Obama-era executive order called DACA that protects Dreamers expires. 

"That's DACA...border security, chain migration and the diversity visa lottery," Diaz-Balart said. "Some want more issues, others want less, but that's what the group agreed to." 

Diaz-Balart, who unsuccessfully pushed a massive immigration overhaul bill in 2014, is part of House Speaker Paul Ryan's immigration working group and was the only Floridian present at Tuesday's meeting. 

Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen voted against a year-end spending bill in December because it did not address Dreamers. Diaz-Balart, who is generally the most conservative Miami Republican in the House of Representatives, voted in favor of the spending plan. 

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. 

December 06, 2017

For some South Florida Democrats in Congress, Trump is right on Jerusalem

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@alextdaugherty

South Florida Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch rarely agree with President Donald Trump, but the pair supported his decision on Wednesday to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital along with moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

“My longstanding view is that Jerusalem is and will remain the undivided capital of Israel, and it should remain a city accessible to people of all faiths,” Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said in a statement. “We must work toward a day where the entire world recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that can be achieved through final status negotiations. I remain as committed as ever to safeguarding Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, at peace with its neighbors, with Jerusalem as its undisputed capital.”

Deutch, D-Boca Raton, issued a joint statement supporting the move with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The two are the highest ranking members on the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee.

“There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection,” Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen said.

Deutch and Wasserman Schultz represent districts with large Jewish populations and are seen as supporters of Israel in Congress.

South Florida Republicans uniformly praised Trump’s decision on Wednesday, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.

“I commend President Trump for following U.S. law and recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel,” Rubio said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is an important step in the right direction. Unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be complete when the U.S. embassy is officially relocated there.”

But some of Trump’s top Cabinet officials reportedly opposed the decision, arguing that the move to recognize Jerusalem would needlessly inflame tensions between Israel and Palestinians and potentially put people in danger.

Read more here.

December 05, 2017

As Dreamers protested outside Marco Rubio’s office, a U.S. Border Patrol truck showed up

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via @moniqueomadan

As immigrant advocacy groups rallied outside Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s offices in Doral Monday, protesters say a U.S. Customs and Border Protection truck circled around the group.

“@ICEgov just sent a truck to intimidate the dreamers fasting outside of the offices of Senator @marcorubio and Congressman @MarioDB. #CleanDreamAct #DreamActNow,” posted Florida Immigrant Coalition’s Tomas Kennedy.

The protest was organized to demand the protection for Dreamers, those who were brought by their families to the United States as children even though they were undocumented immigrants.

Many of those participating— some elderly — launched a week-long hunger strike Friday, urging local politicians to fight the Trump administration’s repeal of the country’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

TPS is a program that protects foreign nationals — Hondurans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Haitians — from being deported to their homelands amid instability and perilous conditions caused by armed conflict or natural disasters. The Obama-era DACA programs has allowed those who entered the U.S. illegally as minors to be protected from immediate deportation.

Read more here.