February 09, 2018

How South Florida lawmakers voted on a budget deal without a DACA fix

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@alextdaugherty

The federal government briefly shut down while you were sleeping, as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul held up a massive $300 billion budget bill that keeps the government running until March 23rd because it increased the federal deficit. House Democratic leaders also opposed the bill because Speaker Paul Ryan hasn't committed to an open debate on a solution for 690,000 DACA recipients who could be eligible for deportation as soon as March. 

The bill eventually passed the U.S. Senate at 1:30am by a 71-28 margin and the U.S. House at 5:30am by a 240-186 margin. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on Friday morning, reopening the federal government after it shut down at midnight. The massive budget bill included billions in disaster funding for Florida and Puerto Rico along with an increase in defense spending and budget caps. 

Here's how South Florida's members of Congress voted: 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R): Yes

Rubio praised the deal as a bipartisan compromise that gave Florida much-needed disaster relief. “While no one wants to have a hurricane and no one wants to have a natural disaster, I think this is a response that we should be happy about,” Rubio said on Wednesday. He did voice concerns over the deficit despite voting yes. 

"Throughout my time in the Senate, my support for increasing the debt limit has been consistently conditioned on meaningful spending reforms that address our long-term debt," Rubio said in a statement after the vote. "This budget deal does not do that. We must begin to seriously address the long-term drivers of our debt and get our fiscal house back in order. We cannot do that if we continue to govern through short term continuing resolutions that inefficiently spend taxpayer dollars and fail to provide the certainty required for effective planning."

Sen. Bill Nelson (D): Yes

Nelson spoke alongside Rubio on the Senate floor to praise the deal after it was announced. "Senator Rubio and I have been talking about all the things we have done together in trying to get this disaster aid package to finally come to the point at which we can say we are so thankful that we see a path forward,” Nelson said.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R): Yes

Curbelo had voted against multiple spending bills because a DACA solution wasn't imminent. But hours before the vote on Thursday Curbelo switched his stance after Ryan said he would "bring a solution to the floor." 

In a statement released Thursday, Curbelo said Ryan "delivered his strongest commitment yet that legislation will be considered on the floor of the House" and that was enough to change his vote. 

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R): No 

Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring in 2018, was the only Republican in Congress to join Democrats and vote against the budget bill because it didn't include a DACA solution. 

“I will vote NO, as I have pledged to do so in the past," Ros-Lehtinen said in an email on Thursday. 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R): Yes

Diaz-Balart, an ally of leadership, has consistently voted in favor of short-term spending bills in recent months. 

"This bipartisan legislation continues government operations and funds programs that are critical to Americans across the nation. It also invests in our military during a time where we must provide our troops with the proper resources to defend our country, help our allies, and stand up to our adversaries," Diaz-Balart said in a statement. "I represent parts of Florida that are still rebuilding from Hurricane Irma, and the $89.3 billion supplemental will go a long way in helping these communities recover from storm damage."

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D): No

Wilson, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus that opposed the deal and one of the more liberal members of Congress, voted no. 

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D): No 

Wasserman Schultz was a firm no hours before the vote as some Democrats wavered on whether or not to follow leader Nancy Pelosi and vote no or vote to keep the government open without a DACA solution. 

Rep. Ted Deutch (D): Yes

In a statement, Deutch said he voted for the budget bill to keep the government open "finally beyond just weeks." The bill keeps the government running until March 23rd. 

"Tonight, I voted for a compromise budget deal because it will allow us to keep the government running, finally beyond just weeks," Deutch said. "This bill helps the millions of Americans in Florida and Puerto Rico, Texas, California and the Virgin Islands whose lives were turned upside down by natural disasters. It provides a potential lifeline to families struggling with opioid addiction."

He also added that Congress must focus on passing the DREAM Act to help DACA recipients. President Donald Trump has indicated he does not support the DREAM Act. 

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D): No

Hastings is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus that opposed the deal and is one of the more liberal members of Congress. 

January 31, 2018

Curbelo unhurt after GOP train collides with dump truck

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@alextdaugherty

Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo is unhurt after a train with dozens of GOP lawmakers on it collided with a dump truck on Wednesday morning, killing at least one person in the truck and severely injuring another. 

Curbelo was en route to the yearly Republican retreat at a resort in West Virginia when it collided with a truck just west of Charlottesville, Virginia. No lawmakers were seriously hurt in the collision according to multiple reports and several lawmakers with medical training stepped up to help the victims. 

"Thanks to all who have called and texted," Curbelo tweeted. "We’re blessed to be ok, and hoping the best for those who were on this truck." He also spoke to MSNBC about the accident. 

Miami Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen were not on the train, according to their offices. Sen. Marco Rubio's office said he was not on the train.  

January 26, 2018

Out front or out of sight, Rubio takes Miami heat for immigration work

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@newsbysmiley @alextdaugherty

Maybe Marco Rubio can’t win on immigration.

Five years ago, as a first-term U.S. senator, the Miami Republican helped carry a doomed immigration overhaul bill and suffered politically as a result. Now, in 2018, he’s kept a low profile amid a fever-pitch debate over immigration — and it’s beginning to rankle some of his former political allies in Miami.

Rubio is taking heat on the home front for not being out front as Congress works to pass new immigration legislation in time to avoid another government shutdown next month. Business groups and immigration activists such as billionaire Coral Gables healthcare magnate Mike Fernandez are calling the Cuban-American senator out for doing too little to support one of the largest immigrant communities in the country.

Fernandez, despite being a former GOP donor, supported Rubio’s Democratic opponent in 2016. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday blasted his one-time mentee for lacking the political courage to on a risky issue.

“God forbid you actually took on something that was controversial and paid a political price,” Bush told USA Today. “That’s the attitude in D.C. right now. Certainly Sen. Rubio is no different in that regard. Marco is a talented guy and he understands this issue really well, and maybe behind the scenes he’s working hard. But at some point, his leadership would be really helpful.”

Rubio’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Local leaders, including Miami Dade College President Eduardo Pardon, say they have been contacting Rubio’s office to talk about immigration. Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Julio Fuentes said Rubio’s office told him the senator “is not the right person to be that champion” on immigration after his efforts failed in 2013.

“Sen. Rubio is so important because of what he represents: His father came here to this country [from Cuba] in the pursuit of the American Dream. This is something that should be near and dear to his heart,” said Felice Gorordo, a board member of the bipartisan Immigration Partnership and Coalition (IMPAC) Fund that Fernandez established last year to help pay for the defense of undocumented immigrants. “And yet we see him absent in this debate.”

Rubio has remained in the background as other members of South Florida’s delegation, particularly Republican Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario-Diaz Balart, have been vocal leaders for immigration legislation. In Diaz-Balart’s case, he said he chose to be criticized for staying silent about Trump’s reported “shithole” comments about nations where citizens have temporary protected status in the U.S. in order to preserve his ability to talk immigration.

Rubio’s low profile on the topic comes as a group of senators try to craft an immigration bill that could win some Democratic support in the Senate while remaining conservative enough to win support from the House of Representatives and President Donald Trump. And lately, Rubio has opened up a little about his strategy, telling the Miami Herald Thursday that legislation crafted by a small group of senators in secret has little chance of producing a bill that will pass a conservative, Republican-controlled Congress.

“I just don't think that you can produce an immigration bill that five, 10, 12 people behind closed doors drafts and then brings to the floor and basically says our job is to pass this bill and fight off everybody’s amendments,” Rubio said. “I don’t think that will work. In fact, I think that would implode in the current environment and with the current realities.”

Read more here.

January 25, 2018

How a citizenship question on the 2020 Census could diminish Miami’s political clout

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@alextdaugherty

The Department of Justice wants the U.S. Census Bureau to ask people about their citizenship status on the 2020 census, and the additional questioning could lead to an undercount in immigrant-heavy Miami.

Undercounting the number of people living in Florida’s most populous county could affect how billions of federal dollars are distributed and diminish the state’s clout in the nation’s capital. The Census Bureau will choose whether or not to include the citizenship status question by March 31, when it finalizes the 2020 questionnaire.

“The purpose of the census is simple: collecting appropriate data on the people that reside in our communities so that we can distribute federal resources for the needs of the population,” Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. “Any question, including one regarding citizenship, that could in any way discourage an accurate count, must be omitted. The census is not a means to do an immigration head count. It is a means to help all of our constituents with their needs regardless of their immigration status.”

The Justice Department argued that including the citizenship status question would help it enforce the Voting Rights Act, according to a letter from the DOJ to the Census Bureau obtained by ProPublica.

The census, conducted every 10 years, is used to determine how many people are living in a given area, and the federal government attempts to count everyone regardless of their citizenship status, including undocumented immigrants. If more people are counted in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, home to approximately 450,000 undocumented immigrants, there’s a better chance that more federal dollars for infrastructure projects or programs will come South Florida’s way.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he hasn’t decided whether it’s a good idea for the census to ask about citizenship status.

“I want to understand both arguments on it more clearly before I reach a firm opinion on it,” Rubio said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said he’s concerned some people could be dissuaded from answering the census if the citizenship question is asked.

“Unless I am provided with compelling statistics and facts as to why it is necessary, I would oppose its inclusion,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

And there’s also the looming reallocation of congressional seats due to population changes that occurs every 10 years after the census, called redistricting.

Read more here.

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

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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: