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

Unnamed

@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

Rubio Backers 06 EKM

@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

February 21, 2016

Miami Republican members of Congress who had backed Jeb Bush prepare to endorse Marco Rubio

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami's current and former Cuban-American Republican members of Congress plan to endorse Marco Rubio on Monday, after having initially backed Jeb Bush.

A public, group announcement is in the works, a Rubio campaign source confirmed to the Miami Herald on Sunday, a day after Bush ended his candidacy in South Carolina.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, would all shift their support to the remaining Miami candidate in the GOP presidential race. It's a sign to other Bush backers to let go of any bad blood from the Bush-Rubio rivalry sooner rather than later.

Curbelo had hinted at the endorsement in a tweet Saturday night suggesting he would look for party unity in the wake of Bush's departure.

All four politicians had been careful not to bash Rubio during the campaign, saying they thought Bush was more experienced but Rubio too would make a good nominee. They would serve as prominent Rubio campaign surrogates leading up to the March 15 Florida primary, especially on Spanish-language media.

February 17, 2016

Miami politicians react to Obama's planned visit to Cuba

@PatriciaMazzei

News of President Barack Obama's impending trip to Cuba -- in March, sources told the Miami Herald -- prompted quick backlash from Miami politicians, many of them of Cuban descent.

Here's reaction, which we will update as it comes in:

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is running for president

 

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is running for president

 

Continue reading "Miami politicians react to Obama's planned visit to Cuba" »

February 13, 2016

Florida politicians react to Justice Antonin Scalia's death

@PatriciaMazzei

Republican presidential candidate and former Gov. Jeb Bush

Today we lost a great man whose principled service left our nation vastly better off. This afternoon at Mass, Columba and I prayed for Justice Scalia, who was devout in faith and has been brought home to God in heaven. Our prayers are also with his wife, Maureen, his children and his 28 grandchildren.

Justice Scalia was a brilliant defender of the rule of law--his logic and wit were unparalleled, and his decisions were models of clarity and good sense. I often said he was my favorite justice, because he took the Constitution, and the responsibility of judges to interpret it correctly, with the utmost seriousness. Now it is up to all of us to fight for the principles Justice Scalia espoused and carry forth his legacy.

Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

Today, our nation has suffered a deep loss. Justice Scalia was one of the most consequential Americans in our history and a brilliant legal mind who served with only one objective: to interpret and defend the Constitution as written. One of the greatest honors in my life was to attend oral arguments during Town of Greece v. Galloway and see Justice Scalia eloquently defend religious freedom. I will hold that memory forever. The next president must nominate a justice who will continue Justice Scalia's unwavering belief in the founding principles that we hold dear. Jeanette and I mourn the loss of Justice Scalia, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Maureen and his family.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson

I am stunned since Justice Scalia seemed to be in the prime of his life. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. And I take very seriously our constitutional responsibility to fill this vacancy.

Continue reading "Florida politicians react to Justice Antonin Scalia's death" »

January 26, 2016

Marco Rubio: 'Windfall' for Cuba from latest U.S. export regulations

@PatriciaMazzei

The Obama administration published new regulations Tuesday for U.S.-Cuba exports. Once again, the president's move to normalize relations between the two countries was slammed by Miami's Cuban-American Republican members of Congress, starting with Florida senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

"The Obama Administration's one-sided concessions to Cuba further empower the regime and enable it with an economic windfall," Rubio said in a statement. "These regulations are more proof that the Obama Administration's intent has never been to empower the Cuban people but rather to empower the Cuban government's monopolies and state-run enterprises.

"Our U.S. policy toward Cuba should be driven by our national security interests, securing greater political freedoms and defending the human rights of the Cuban people, none of which are advanced through Obama's latest concessions."

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart also weighed in with a statement accusing President Barack Obama of trying to undercut the trade embargo that can only be lifted by Congress.

This brazen attempt to allow direct trade with the Castro regime has revealed fully that President Obama's policy has nothing to do with supporting the Cuban people but has everything to do with propping up a brutal, anti-American dictatorship 90 miles from our shores. 

With political arrests surpassing 8,000 last year and brave political prisoners such as Vladimir Morera Bacallao, Danilo Maldonado Machado ('El Sexto'), and Misael Canet Velazquez nearly perishing in prison over the past several months, the Castro regime's human rights record remains the worst in our hemisphere. Shamefully, for the first time since the murderous Castro regime seized power decades ago, we have a U.S. president who repeatedly sides with the oppressors over the oppressed. 

However, the majority in Congress and every Cuban-American member, whether Democrat or Republican, whether in the House or Senate, continues to fiercely oppose President Obama's appeasement of the Castro regime. In contrast to the President, we remain in steadfast solidarity with Cuba's true leaders -- the political prisoners and human rights activists who risk everything to demand change in Cuba. We will continue to oppose the Obama-Castro deals that undermine the Cuban people's struggle for freedom by supporting their jailers.

January 12, 2016

In GOP State of the Union responses, different messages in English and Spanish on immigration

@PatriciaMazzei

The Republican Party's immigration split was reflected Tuesday in the two responses hand-picked party members gave -- one in English, one in Spanish -- to President Obama's final State of the Union address. The Spanish version, offered by a Cuban-American congressman from Miami, was decidedly softer.

Here's what South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said in English:

No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.

At the same time, that does not mean we just flat out open our borders. We can’t do that. We cannot continue to allow immigrants to come here illegally. And in this age of terrorism, we must not let in refugees whose intentions cannot be determined.

We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries.

I have no doubt that if we act with proper focus, we can protect our borders, our sovereignty and our citizens, all while remaining true to America’s noblest legacies.

Here's what Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said in Spanish (translation is ours):

No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love the United States should ever feel unwelcome in this country. It's not who we are.

At the same time, it's obvious that our immigration system needs to be reformed. The current system puts our national security at risk and is an obstacle for our economy.

It's essential that we find a legislative solution to protect our nation, defend our borders, offer a permanent and human solution to those who live in the shadows, respect the rule of law, modernize the visa system and push the economy forward.

I have no doubt that if we work together, we can achieve this and continue to be faithful to the noblest legacies of the United States.

There were other differences in the speeches as well. Haley and Diaz-Balart each briefly mentioned their personal backgrounds, which are obviously not the same. Haley spoke about the Charleston shooting and removal of the Confederate flag (which she referred to only as a "symbol that was being used to divide us") while Diaz-Balart spoke more generally about "tragedies" in South Carolina and California. Diaz-Balart didn't make veiled references to presidential front-runner Donald Trump, while Haley warned against the "noise" in politics.

And Diaz-Balart mentioned Cuba and Venezuela:

Unfortunately, there are still countries where basic liberties are not respected and were governments don't represent their people. Mullahs in Iran, devoted to radical Islam and with nuclear ambitions, prohibit dissidence and jail independent journalists as 'spies.' In North Korea, the people remain isolated from the rest of the world without Internet access or mass media. And here, in our own hemisphere, the Cuban people have not had a free election in more than 57 years, and political detentions and oppression keep increasing. And the Venezuelan people suffers the existence of political prisoners and corruption in the most important democratic institutions.

January 08, 2016

Missing U.S. missile found in Cuba infuriates Marco Rubio, Miami Republicans

@PatriciaMazzei

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio chided the White House on Friday for failing to inform members of Congress about a missing U.S. Hellfire missile in Cuba's possession.

The Wall Street Journal published the bombshell story late Thursday, prompting Rubio to write the State Department asking what it knew about the missile.

"The fact that the administration, including you, have apparently tried to withhold this information from the congressional debate and public discussion over U.S.-Cuba policy is disgraceful," Rubio wrote to Roberta Jacobson, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Jacobson starred in the Cuba negotiations, and Rubio has been blamed for stalling her nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

"While your bureau is not the primary entity within the State Department handling these issues, you oversee U.S. policy toward Cuba and interactions with Cuban officials," Rubio wrote. "Thus, the fact that members of Congress are reading about Cuba's possession of a U.S. missile in the newspaper rather than from you or other State Department officials is astounding and inexcusable."

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about Rubio's letter at a news briefing Friday afternoon. He made a jab at Rubio's missing Senate votes, saying he guessed Rubio "gets most of his information about what's happening in Congress int he newspaper, based on his attendance record."

Rubio spokesman Alex Burgos tweeted that Earnest was being "petty."

Pressed on whether the missile was discussed in talks before the U.S.-Cuba normalization policy was announced, Earnest said he couldn't shed much light, given that the missile's disappearance is under investigation by the state and defense departments.

Separately, four Cuban-American members of Congress, including three Miami Republicans, issued a joint statement calling it "unconscionable" for the U.S. to have pursued normalization talks in spite of the missing missile.

"The Cuban regime rebuffed the President's effort to secure the return of the Hellfire missile even as the negotiations were ongoing, and yet the regime still got everything it could have wanted," wrote Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, and Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat. "It is no wonder that the Castro brothers feel ever more emboldened to continue on with the repression of the Cuban people, with intimidation and unlawful arrests at an alarmingly high rate."

--with Lesley Clark