June 12, 2015

Jeb Bush secures endorsements from top Florida Republicans ahead of campaign kickoff

@PatriciaMazzei @learyreports

Jeb Bush will gain endorsements Friday from a host of top Florida Republicans, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

Bush will also be endorsed by 11 of the state’s 17 Republican members of the U.S. House.

The endorsements, obtained first by the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, come as Bush prepares for his official announcement on Monday in Miami, home also to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who has emerged as a strong candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

With people beginning to talk up Sunshine State showdown between Bush and Rubio, the list is a way for Bush to show off the depth and geographical range of his support.

Bondi, Putnam and Atwater plan to attend the event as do some of the congressional members, subject to duties in Washington.

They are: Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor; Vern Buchanan of Sarasota; Ander Crenshaw of Jacksonville; Carlos Curbelo of Miami, Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami; David Jolly of Indian Shores; Jeff Miller of Chumuckla; John Mica of Winter Park; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, Dennis Ross of Lakeland; and Daniel Webster of Winter Garden.

Continue reading "Jeb Bush secures endorsements from top Florida Republicans ahead of campaign kickoff" »

May 29, 2015

UPDATED Jeb Bush calls lifting Cuba terror designation a 'mistake,' Marco Rubio says it's a 'giveaway'

@PatriciaMazzei

Jeb Bush, who last week basked in the hometown embrace of Miami Cuban-American hard-liners, stayed loyal to their cause Friday when he again denounced the Obama administration for removing Cuba from a list of terrorism sponsors.

"Neither continued repression at home nor Cuba's destabilizing activities abroad appear sufficient to stop President Obama from making further concessions to the Communist regime in Havana," Bush said in a statement. "Today's news is further evidence that President Obama seems more interested in capitulating to our adversaries than in confronting them. Iran's leaders are surely taking note."

He went further, referring to the action as a "mistake":

"The removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terrorism List and the unilateral concessions to Havana, before it changes its authoritarian ways and stops denying the Cuban people their basic human rights, is a mistake," Bush said. "I call on Congress to keep pressure on Cuba and hold the Administration accountable."

Bush had taken a similar stance when lifting the designation was first announced. Congress had 45 days to try to block it but didn't try to do so. The change is effective as of Friday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, the other 2016 Republican presidential hopeful from Miami, has called the decision "terrible."

UPDATE: Here's video of Rubio from Friday criticizing the decision as a "giveaway":

 

Miami's three Cuban-American Republicans in Congress -- Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- also slammed the change in statements Friday. Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen have endorsed Bush, and Curbelo also seems likely to do so once Bush formalizes his candidacy.

Continue reading "UPDATED Jeb Bush calls lifting Cuba terror designation a 'mistake,' Marco Rubio says it's a 'giveaway'" »

May 15, 2015

Miami Republicans in Congress vote against blocking undocumented youth from serving in military

@PatriciaMazzei

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a national defense bill Friday that was stripped from language that would have pushed the Pentagon to allow young people brought into the country illegally as children to serve in the military if they have been protected by President Obama's executive immigration order.

Voting against the amendment that eliminated that language were all House Democrats -- and 20 Republicans, including Miami's three Cuban Americans, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The trio -- especially Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart, who have been longer in Congress -- has repeatedly bucked its party on immigration.

"It's unfortunate," Diaz-Balart told the New York Times. "But it's part of the process."

They were the only Florida Republicans to vote no, though all three ultimately supported the version of the legislation. Two Florida Democrats voted yes on that final vote: Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, who's running for Senate in 2016. 

Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it passes the Senate.

April 28, 2015

Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tries to block new Cuba travel

@PatriciaMazzei

Republicans in Congress filed legislation Tuesday that would dramatically limit new travel to Cuba, an attempt to block part of President Obama's more open policy toward the island's communist regime.

The proposed measure would ban new flights and cruises to Cuba. It was tucked into a wide-ranging, must-pass budget bill drafted by U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, who chairs the House subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development appropriations.

Funding to facilitate travel to Cuba would be prohibited if airplanes or ships pass through any property confiscated by the Cuban government, which effectively rules out landing or docking at any airport or seaport. Importing restricted amounts of goods such as cigars would still be allowed.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart decried Obama's move in january to significantly ease travel restrictions. Permissible trips to Cuba, he said, now "include snorkeling, cigar factory tours, salsa dancing lessons, and other obvious tourist activities."

"Under these circumstances, Congress cannot remain idle," said Diaz-Balart, who is Cuban-American. "The expansion of regularly scheduled flights to Cuba is an obvious attempt to circumvent the tourism ban. Similarly, allowing cruises to dock in Cuba would violate both the spirit and the letter of U.S. law."

The massive, $55 billion budget bill was announced Tuesday with a news release that made no mention of the Cuba provision.

Another group of lawmakers has filed legislation to repeal all travel restrictions to the island.

April 14, 2015

Miami's Cuban-American members of Congress slam Obama over Cuba terror designation change

@PatriciaMazzei

The trio of Miami Cuban-American Republicans in Congress -- Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- were quick to denounce the White House's decision Tuesday to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Congress has 45 days to block the action, if it can find enough support -- a veto-proof majority -- to do so, which seems unlikely.

Here are statements from the three representatives:

Continue reading "Miami's Cuban-American members of Congress slam Obama over Cuba terror designation change" »

April 07, 2015

Jeb Bush PAC cuts checks for Miami members of Congress

@PatriciaMazzei

For the second time, Jeb Bush's political action committee has disclosed donations to Republican parties and members of Congress as he rakes in the cash for his all-but-declared 2016 GOP presidential bid.

Among this round's recipients from Right to Rise PAC: Miami's three Republican representatives, Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Curbelo is the only one of the trio who has yet to publicly endorse Bush's likely candidacy.

"I'm proud to support conservative leaders who are dedicated to expanding economic opportunity for all and restoring America's place in world," Bush said in a statement.

View the full list after the jump.

Continue reading "Jeb Bush PAC cuts checks for Miami members of Congress" »

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."