November 16, 2017

Diaz-Balart, Nelson meet with Trump administration on TPS for Haitians

@PatriciaMazzei

Two members of Florida's congressional delegation met with President Donald Trump's Homeland Security chief Thursday ahead of a looming deadline over whether to extend Temporary Protected Status for Haitian immigrants.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, advocates of extending TPS, met with Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, who has until Thanksgiving to decide on whether to renew the program, which affects some 50,000 Haitians.

"Though we are approaching the eighth anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake, conditions on the island remain difficult," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "The United States was a place of comfort and solace for so many Haitians in the wake of the devastation, and forcing them to return to Haiti in its current state would be counterproductive."

Last week, Duke ended TPS for Nicaraguans, a decision that disappointed South Florida lawmakers who represent many of those immigrants and their families.

Staffers for other Florida legislators also attended the meeting with Duke, who spoke by phone Thursday with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. In May, Scott asked John Kelly, then Homeland Security secretary and now the White House chief of staff, to extend TPS.

"The Governor hopes for a permanent solution for these families," Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis told the Miami Herald.

--with Mary Ellen Klas

This post has been updated.

Miami Republicans vote in favor of Trump-supported tax overhaul

Congress Taxes

@alextdaugherty 

All three Miami Republicans in the House of Representatives voted Thursday in favor of a $1.5 trillion plan to overhaul the nation’s tax code, though one of them called the legislation a “monstrosity” and left the door open to voting against the final proposal if negotiations with the Senate don’t yield enough changes.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen all voted in favor of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which passed by a vote of 227-205. Every Democrat from South Florida voted against the plan with the exception of Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, who did not vote. Thirteen Republicans, mostly from northeastern states, voted against the plan.

Curbelo, a member of the House tax-writing committee responsible for drafting the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, has been a vocal supporter of the legislation for months and delivered introductory remarks in English and Spanish at a press conference with Republican leadership lauding the bill’s passage.

“What a country and what a day,” Curbelo said. “Today we are one step closer for tax relief for every American family.”

Passing a bill would give President Donald Trump and the GOP their first big legislative triumph in 2017 after an effort to repeal Obamacare stalled earlier this year.

Diaz-Balart also praised the bill in a statement after the final vote.

“Filing your taxes shouldn't be an arduous and burdensome task; this legislation creates a simpler, fairer tax code for individuals, protecting their hard-earned dollars,” Diaz-Balart said. “American families deserve a tax code that allows them to keep more of what they make; for Floridians, that means keeping $1,945 more of their wages. It also creates more than 50,000 new jobs in the Sunshine State, encouraging business owners and revitalizing the job market.”

Ros-Lehtinen had a much different response to the sweeping tax legislation, saying she only voted in favor on Thursday so the House and Senate can hash out differences before drafting a final bill. Ros-Lehtinen said she could vote against the final bill if enough changes aren’t made.

“I will vote for this monstrosity with the hope that many of these things will get taken care of once the bill comes back and we have conference and people come to their senses,” Ros-Lehtinen said before the vote.


Read more here.

November 14, 2017

All South Floridians in the House voted against flood-insurance overhaul. Here’s why

Flood(4)

@alextdaugherty

The entire South Florida delegation in the House of Representatives voted Tuesday against a proposal to overhaul the National Flood Insurance Program, as Congress seeks a long-term solution for the program saddled with billions in debt after Hurricane Irma.

Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo joined the majority of Democrats to vote against the proposal, which passed by a vote of 237-189, with 15 Democrats voted in favor.

“It doesn’t make the changes that I need to satisfy... a big percentage of my district,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who represents Miami Beach and coastal areas of central Miami-Dade County. “We have a lot of homes that are highly valued and it’s going to incur a lot of cost. It’s got to be fair for everybody. To have a home that you can’t find anybody to insure, that doesn’t do anyone any good.”

South Florida Democratic Reps. Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch also voted against the bill.

The National Flood Insurance Program is set to run out of money by Dec. 8, and if Congress lets the program lapse, thousands of real estate transactions and construction projects in flood-prone areas could be affected. Florida has 35 percent of the nation’s 5 million policies covered by the federal program — three times as many as the second-ranked state, Texas, which has 593,000 policies.

The flood insurance funding bill was the product of an agreement between House Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. Hensarling has fought for years to privatize portions of the flood insurance program in an effort to make it fiscally solvent. Lawmakers from coastal areas, like Scalise, have cautioned that reforms could result in higher premiums and hurt investment.

Read more here.

November 08, 2017

Diaz-Balart to headline forum on Venezuela

Flyer  VRCLUB @PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart will be the featured speaker next weekend at a local forum on Venezuela.

The community outreach event, sponsored by the Miami-Dade Republican Party, will take place Nov. 18 at Arepazo #2, a Doral Venezuelan eatery. Sponsoring the event are local Republican state lawmakers who could also drop by.

"The oppression, corruption, and assaults on Venezuela's democratic institutions under Maduro's rule must end," Diaz-Balart said in a statement provided by the party, referring to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. "I look forward to events such as this that bring together leaders from all sectors of society so that we can join together in the cause of promoting basic rights and liberties in Venezuela."

Ros-Lehtinen: Fellow Republicans don’t care about finding a permanent TPS solution

Cereijo_HaitianCompasFestival_18

@alextdaugherty

Over 200,000 Haitians and Salvadorans could be forced to leave the United States if the Trump administration ends Temporary Protected Status for the two countries, and Democrats along with Miami Republicans in Congress are pushing for a permanent solution.

But Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen isn’t convinced that most of her fellow Republicans care.

The outgoing Miami congresswoman said Tuesday that the majority of Congress “would not know what TPS is” if asked about it and that there isn’t an appetite from Republicans to give TPS recipients a path to permanent residency.

“I spoke yesterday about TPS, had hardly anyone ask me about it. I spoke again today about TPS, radio silence from my colleagues,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “There’s just no interest for immigration reform generally, and I don’t think there’s much appetite to help these two particular groups of people. It hurts to say it but it’s the political reality.”

Ros-Lehtinen and the entire Miami delegation in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — are united behind a bill by Rep. Carlos Curbelo that would allow Haitians, Salvadorans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans who receive TPS to obtain a path to permanent residency.

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Monday that TPS will expire in 2019 for Nicaraguans, while Hondurans will get a six-month extension until July 2018. The Trump administration has not yet announced a determination for Haitians and Salvadorans.

“While I’m disappointed in the administration’s announcement, these continued short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for their employers and neighbors whose prosperity also depends on them,” Curbelo said in a statement. “Congress has an opportunity to change that, and I’m grateful the Administration has called for a permanent solution from Congress.”

But finding a permanent solution will be a political challenge for House Speaker Paul Ryan and the Miami Republicans. Conservative Republicans have railed against any attempt to expand immigration, and the March 2018 deadline for Congress to find a legislative solution for young people known as Dreamers, who came to the country with their parents illegally as children, looms ahead of Nicaragua’s January 2019 TPS elimination or Honduras’ possible elimination in July 2018.

Read more here.

November 02, 2017

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen can apply for Hispanic Caucus membership (Updated)

Curbelo (1)

@alextdaugherty 

Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will receive a letter to officially apply for Congressional Hispanic Caucus membership, and then the body, currently made up of all Democrats, will vote on their application. 

Ros-Lehtinen has no intention of joining the caucus despite the invitation to apply, a spokesman for the congresswoman said.

The CHC executive council discussed Curbelo's potential candidacy during a closed-door meeting on Thursday, according to three members in the room. Curbelo has been trying to join the caucus since February, but the body has yet to make a decision. 

"The congressman’s intention has always been to join the Hispanic Caucus," said Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez

At issue is Curbelo's immigration stance. Some members of the caucus are concerned that inviting Curbelo would be antithetical to the group's position on immigration since Curbelo has not co-sponsored a version of the Dream Act, which would give the children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

The Dream Act has Republican co-sponsorship, including from Ros-Lehtinen, who urged a vote on the measure during a speech on Thursday. 

"Let's bring the Dream Act to a vote so that these young people can make their American dream a reality," Ros-Lehtinen said on the House floor. "The clock is ticking." 

But Curbelo has his own proposal, the Raising America's Children Act, that provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers but is more narrowly tailored than the Dream Act. Curbelo has pitched his solution as a conservative alternative to the Dream Act. 

"Even when I got into the caucus 14 years ago there was a vote by the other members and we'll take that vote," said Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva. "Once we're done that, he can possibly stop complaining that he hasn't been given an audience and start complaining about the result." 

Grijalva does not plan to vote for Curbelo even if he signs onto the Dream Act. 

"He's politicized it more than it should be," Grijalva said of Curbelo's desire to join the group. "He's the one running around whining about the fact that he's not being allowed in because he's a Republican. It has nothing to do with that. It's a political strategy to try to make himself in a competitive district look like he's a victim. He's not a victim." 

"We are absolutely, in writing, making it very clear that we recognize that Curbelo and Ileana informally have asked that they be part of the caucus, now they're going to be invited to formally say they want to be a member of the caucus," said CHC chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. "Every member of our caucus gets a vote." 

Lujan Grisham said the letter will be sent to Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen tomorrow and that a vote could take place next week if the Miami lawmakers reply promptly. Lujan Grisham has not made up her mind on whether she will vote for Curbelo, though she said "it may persuade some members" to vote for him if he signs onto the Dream Act. 

As for Ros-Lehtinen's candidacy, Grijalva said "she's been pretty consistent on our issues" but that the letter to her was more of a "gesture on her part." Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring in 2018, was once part of the CHC but left along with other Republican members in 2003 over differences on Cuba policy. 

The caucus at one time included members from both parties, but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who has said he’s not interested in joining the other caucus.

UPDATED 3:49pm

Ros-Lehtinen says she has no intention of joining the CHC. 

“I had informal conversations with Michelle and Lucille (Roybal-Allard) over this issue and I told them that I am saving money in my remaining time in Congress to pay for some Congressional costs I have outstanding and I don’t want to use those funds to pay dues to the Caucus," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Carlos is an outstanding legislator who merits being made a part of the Caucus and I hope that he is accepted by the Caucus."

Lesley Clark contributed 

October 26, 2017

GOP’s Curbelo expected to join caucus that’s been Democrats-only

Curbelo (1)

via @lesleyclark

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's effort to join a Democratic-only congressional caucus is about to pay off with an invite.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus meets Thursday and Curbelo is expected to be accepted, the caucus chairwoman told McClatchy on Wednesday. Letters will go out to all Republican members of Congress who are Hispanic and caucus votes will follow, but Curbelo is almost certainly to be welcomed aboard, said Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M. Other GOP members could also join.

“He got us to a good place,” Grisham said of the Cuban-American Curbelo’s push to join the caucus, which began with his appointment to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, a non-profit affiliated organization.

The caucus that the Miami-area congressman is now likely to join is a forum for issues of concern to the Latino community. It now consists of 31 Democrats.

The caucus at one time included members from both parties, but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago over differences on Cuba policy and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., who said he’s not interested in joining the caucus.

He said the two groups have a “cordial” relationship and work together, but ”it’s pretty clear that there’s a partisan divide.”

Curbelo, who is up for re-election in 2018 in a Democratic-leaning district in Miami, had asked to join the Democrats-only Congressional Hispanic Caucus eight months ago, but said he was left wondering what happened to his application.

“I feel like when people gather in St. Peter’s Square awaiting the smoke to emerge from the Sistine Chapel,” Curbelo said, joking as he likened his acceptance to the group to the top-secret selection of a new pope.

He said he was grateful his request was being taken seriously, but added, “It should be an easy decision. My goal and my intention is to work constructively with all of those members on a lot of the issues that unite us.”

Read more here.

October 16, 2017

Republicans trail Democrats in the money race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

Ileana 2

@alextdaugherty

Over a dozen hopefuls have filed paperwork to replace retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a Miami-based district that national Democrats hope to flip in 2018. 

But six months after Ros-Lehtinen retired, the declared Democrats are soundly beating the Republicans in the money race. 

Five Democrats have raised well over six figures in the latest fundraising quarter and a sixth has hauled in over $200,000 since the spring.

But zero Republicans have raised anything close to $100,000 in the latest quarter spanning July 1 to September 30.

Three Republicans have posted fundraising results that were publicly available on the Federal Election Commission's website on Sunday. Miami-Dade County commissioner Bruno Barreiro hauled in $41,950, former school board member and Miami-Dade mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado raised $15,050 and former Doral council member Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, who said that aliens took her on a spaceship, raised $4,990. 

Regalado said in a statement posted to her Facebook page that she suspended her campaign just before Hurricane Irma hit South Florida. Irma made landfall on September 10, about six weeks after Regalado officially announced her bid. 

"I made this decision knowing full well that all of the other candidates in this 2018 race would continue raising funds despite the challenges that we, our neighbors and fellow Floridians faced," Regalado said. "Rather than call and email my supporters for funds I decided to ask them to set this race aside and help our community recover." Regalado told the Miami Herald that she is fundraising this quarter.  

"The issue is that I officially became a candidate a week before the hurricane hit and during the hurricane all i did was help people," Rodriguez Aguilera said. "I didn’t think that was the moment to really fundraise." Rodriguez Aguilera announced her candidacy about 10 days before Irma made landfall. 

Barreiro, the only Republican who fundraised in the previous quarter, has just over $187,000 on hand for his campaign as of October 15. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

A host of other Democrats and Republicans in South Florida suspended fundraising efforts due to Hurricane Irma, including Democrats running for Ros-Lehtinen's seat.

Seven Democrats are vying for the party’s nomination to the rare open seat: former state Judge Mary Barzee Flores, state Rep. David Richardson of Miami Beach, state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami, Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, University of Miami academic adviser Michael Hepburn, Miami city commissioner Ken Russell and former Knight Foundation director Matt Haggman. All of them except Hepburn have raised over $100,000. 

In contrast to the race for Ros-Lehtinen's seat, sitting Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who also represents a Democratic-leaning district in South Florida, raised $431,580 during the latest quarter. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who represents a more conservative district without a big-name Democratic challenger, raised $199,766 in the latest quarter. 

 

 

October 12, 2017

Every Floridian in Congress votes for $36.5 billion hurricane relief bill

IMG_JovenFEMA2_5_1_LPB02B5T_L303507999 (2)

@alextdaugherty 

All 27 Floridians in the House of Representatives voted in favor of a $36.5 billion hurricane relief bill on Thursday, a measure that funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other hurricane relief programs as the federal government manages a massive recovery effort in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico. 

The bill now heads to the Senate, which is not in session this week, for approval. 

"In the weeks following Hurricane Irma, we are able to see the lasting effects this storm will have on our community, and it is evident that additional funding is necessary," Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said in a statement. Diaz-Balart is a leading member of the congressional committee that oversees federal spending. 

"This legislation delivers over $18 billion directly to FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, ensures the National Flood Insurance Program has the funding it needs to pay its claims, and grants food aid and loan eligibility to the storm-ravaged island of Puerto Rico," Diaz-Balart said. 

The bill passed the House by a vote of 353-69. All 69 "no" votes were Republicans, who were mainly concerned that the bill did not include federal spending offsets and did not overhaul the nation's flood insurance program. Instead, the bill included $16 billion to keep the nation's flood insurance program running as thousands of policyholders file claims after the hurricanes. 

"The NFIP urgently needs an overhaul, and until the House passes legislation that reforms this fractured program, I cannot support a $16 billion bailout that further kicks this problem to the future," said Texas Republican Roger Williams, one of the "no" votes, in a statement. 

Florida has the more national flood insurance policyholders than any other state. 

The bill also includes nearly $5 billion in low-interest loans to Puerto Rico to help the U.S. territory rebuild after Hurricane Maria. 

Thursday's bill did not include $2.5 billion in Department of Agriculture funding to help Florida's citrus industry recover from the storm. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was in Washington on Wednesday to push for the money's inclusion, but there wasn't enough time to get the provision in the bill, according to Rep. Tom Rooney's office. 

"I will fight to ensure Florida’s agricultural industry has the resources it needs to get back on their feet," Diaz-Balart said. 

A third hurricane relief bill is expected in the coming weeks, where Putnam's proposal and other Florida-specific provisions will be under consideration. 

Congress passed an initial $15 billion hurricane aid bill in September after Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding in Texas. Two Florida Republicans, Reps. Matt Gaetz and Ted Yoho, voted against that bill after President Donald Trump negotiated a deal with Democrats to raise the nation's debt ceiling as part of the relief package. Gaetz called that package "generational theft." 

 

October 03, 2017

Diaz-Balart, Wasserman Schultz ask White House to request more hurricane funding

Irma debris 03 Ekm

@alextdaugherty 

South Florida Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, are asking Office of Budget and Management Director Mick Mulvaney to request more money for hurricane relief.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration spends millions every day for hurricane recovery after Harvey, Irma and Maria, and a group of lawmakers from Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico are warning the government could run out of money soon. Mulvaney runs the Cabinet agency tasked with overseeing President Donald Trump's budget. 

“While federal agencies, including FEMA and HUD, continue to assess the damage and the costs of restoration, we are increasingly concerned [current] funds could be expended more quickly than expected,” Diaz-Balart and Wasserman Schultz wrote to Mulvaney. “We are concerned the agencies responsible for the recovery could run out of funds in the near term and be forced to await Congressional action to continue their vital work. This could greatly slow their efforts as well as have a significant long-term impact on the recovery.” 

Diaz-Balart and Wasserman Schultz led the letter, which was also signed by Miami-area Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Frederica Wilson along with 34 other members of Congress. 

"As representatives of those districts that have been severely affected by the recent natural disasters, we urge the Office of Management and Budget to send Congress a request for additional supplemental appropriations, that includes funding for, but is not limited to, FEMA, SBA (Small Business Administration), and CDBG-DR (Community Development Block Grant), as soon as possible to address the urgent needs of our constituents," the letter said. 

Congress passed a $15.25 billion hurricane relief package in September after Hurricane Harvey and the funds can be used for relief in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. FEMA has enough money to function through mid-October, according to multiple members of Congress, giving lawmakers about two weeks to pass an additional funding bill.