July 13, 2017

Republicans fail in last-ditch push to ban medical treatments for transgender troops

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@alextdaugherty @verambergen

As the House of Representatives debated a proposal that would ban medical treatments for transgender individuals serving in the military, Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter of California had a brief message:

“Choose what gender you are before you join.”

A smattering of Democrats gathered to oppose the amendment offered by Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., quietly gasped.

After Hunter finished speaking, Sean Patrick Maloney, an openly gay congressman from New York, took his turn at the podium.

“No one in the Pentagon has called for this,” Maloney said. “The Hartzler amendment would single out and rob a small group of military service members and their families of their health care merely because these folks, or members of their family, experience gender a little differently.”

Just under an hour later, the House of Representatives narrowly voted down Hartzler’s proposal 214-209, to audible cheers from the House floor.

Two dozen House Republicans voted with 190 Democrats to sink the amendment that would prohibit military funds for soldiers seeking medical treatment related to gender transition.

“It’s a hurtful amendment, it’s not needed,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, a noted advocate for LGBT rights who has a transgender son. “I view it as a personal issue, because as a mom I’m impacted, but it’s an issue of fairness for everyone. You don’t have to know someone that’s transgender or have someone in your immediate family to feel this impact. It’s just needlessly hurtful and serves no useful purpose.”

Ros-Lehtinen was among the 24 Republicans, including Miami Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who voted against the amendment. Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart voted in favor.

Hartzler argued that her amendment would save the military money, and said the Department of Defense could buy 13 more F-35 fighter jets with the money that would be used for gender reassignment surgeries and hormone treatments for transgender service members.


Read more here. 
 

July 12, 2017

Diaz-Balart casts crucial vote that could allow horse slaughters in U.S.

Mario for fabi

@alextdaugherty 

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart voted against a long-approved ban on federal funds for horse slaughter inspectors on Wednesday, opening the door for horse slaughter to resume in the United States if the measure passes Congress.

The final vote tally was 25 in favor of the ban and 27 against. Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, previously voted in favor of the ban, meaning his switch was critical in sinking the ban this time around.

The ban was an amendment tacked on to the annual Department of Agriculture funding bill, and a tie vote would have resulted in the ban failing. Diaz-Balart voted in favor of the ban in 2014 but said the ban “did not yield the positive results that many envisioned and I had hoped for” and voted against the ban the last three years.

The ban on horse slaughter inspector funding passed the House committee in 2014 and 2016 but failed in 2015. The Senate overruled the House’s decision that year.

Horses raised in the United States are not intended to be eaten by humans, but U.S. horses can be transported to other countries and slaughtered for meat according to European Union standards. Horse meat is considered taboo in the United States, but it is eaten in parts of Europe and Asia.

Diaz-Balart argued that U.S. horses are still slaughtered outside the country, where they are not subject to inspections and oversight by the Department of Agriculture.

“The reality is, if these horses are not dealt with in USDA certified and inspected facilities, they will be hauled off to a foreign market where the conditions are much more cruel and less humane,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement. The Government Accountability Office “found that the ban shifted slaughter facilities to other countries, including Mexico, where humane methods and responsible oversight are not as rigorous as those in the U.S. GAO has also observed that there is not enough space in rescue facilities in the U.S. to handle abandoned horses.”

The GAO report said horse exports for slaughter to Mexico increased by 680 percent from 2006 to 2010, after Congress stopped funding slaughter inspections.

“Since domestic horse slaughter ceased in 2007, the slaughter horse market has shifted to Canada and Mexico,” the report said. “As a result, nearly the same number of U.S. horses was transported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter in 2010 – nearly 138,000 – as was slaughtered before domestic slaughter ceased.”

Republicans from western states with large populations of wild horses were the primary opponents of the ban, arguing that current methods of controlling wild horses aren’t enough. Wild horses, which have no natural predators, can disrupt food sources for other animals, but horse advocates say allowing horse slaughter is a handout to ranchers who dislike the horses because they compete with their cattle for food on public range land.

Four Republicans, including Florida Rep. Tom Rooney, voted in favor of the ban, while Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar was the only Democrat to vote with the Republican majority. The bipartisan amendment was cosponsored by California Democratic Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent.

Appropriations Committee member Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, spoke in favor of the ban during Wednesday's markup, arguing that population-control problems for wild horses is not a reason to open the door for horse slaughter.

“The inability to deal with that challenge does not make it okay to leave the door open for the possibility of horse slaughter in the United States of America,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Wasserman Schultz compared the slaughtering of horses to the slaughtering of greyhounds in Florida, which she said was banned while she worked in the Florida Legislature. Even though adoption programs for greyhounds didn't work, the state continued to find solutions that didn’t involve killing greyhounds.

“Those are the steps that we should be taking, not literally holding a machete to the neck of a horse in order to make sure that we can solve a problem that I’m sure in the states where it is an issue needs solving,” Wasserman Schultz said. “We should not do something that most Americans find abhorrent and allow even a step toward the slaughter of horses.”

Roybal-Allard argued that funding horse-slaughter inspectors doesn't have anything to do with controlling wild horses and only serves to benefit ranchers who want to slaughter horse meat for consumption abroad.

“Let me reiterate the fact that this bill does not address the issue of wild horses,” Roybal-Allard said. “It deals only with domestic horses slaughtered for human consumption. Let us not fall victim to the notion that horse slaughter would be humane if somehow done in the United States because no amount of regulation will change the essential nature of a horse and make it a humane practice.”

The Department of Agriculture funding bill still needs pass the House, so there is still a chance the ban on horse slaughter inspections could be reinserted.

July 05, 2017

Trump plan to overhaul air traffic control has key opponent: Mario Diaz-Balart

Mario Diaz-Balart

@alextdaugherty 

One month ago, Donald Trump publicly backed an overhaul of the nation’s air traffic control system during a White House speech, the first major policy proposal announced by the president during “Infrastructure Week.”

But standing in Trump’s way is the only Miami House Republican who voted for him during the 2016 election: Mario Diaz-Balart.

Diaz-Balart is chairman of the House subcommittee tasked with funding the Federal Aviation Administration, a powerful position that allows the veteran lawmaker to shape legislation that affects the federal budget. He’s worried that public oversight of the nation’s air-traffic control system could end if it’s run by a private non-profit controlled by various stakeholders in the airline industry.

Proponents of the plan say that privatizing the nation’s air traffic control system will lead to faster implementation of GPS technology that will result in fewer flight delays and queues on the tarmac.

Diaz-Balart bristles at calling the proposal “privatization.”

“It’s not privatization,” Diaz-Balart said. “It’s a monopoly and it will remain a monopoly as opposed to being a monopoly being run by the public sector. It will be a monopoly run by private interests with zero oversight. There’s still no competition.”

Diaz-Balart said it’s important to have elected officials in charge of overseeing the nation’s air traffic control system, because everyday citizens can choose to vote someone out of office if they think a member of Congress isn’t doing enough to rectify airplane noise or pollution complaints.

In the past, Diaz-Balart has contacted the FAA on flight paths through downtown Miami and said the FAA made changes to the flight paths after his office reached out.

That doesn’t happen if a private non-profit takes control, said Diaz-Balart, whose district includes Miami International Airport.

“Who would people go to if in fact there are issues of excess noise?” Diaz-Balart said. “Who are you going to complain to? Right now you complain to your member of Congress and we win some and lose some. I don’t have a problem with special interests but I do have a problem when you’re giving those special interests run of the U.S. airspace without competition.”

Airlines for America, a group composed of major commercial airlines in favor of privatization, said Diaz-Balart’s opposition won’t slow the bill down.

“It would be unfortunate for political turf wars in Washington to stand between the residents of South Florida and the modern, 21st century ATC system they are paying for but haven’t yet received,” Airlines for America spokesman Vaughn Jennings said in an email. “There is unprecedented momentum in favor of reforming our nation’s antiquated ATC infrastructure. We are confident that the bill will reach the floor.”

Read more here. 

June 29, 2017

Miami Republicans vote against bill to expand penalties on sanctuary cities

AP_17104569569385

@alextdaugherty 

Donald Trump campaigned as a tough-on-immigration Republican who would roll back Obama-era protections for undocumented immigrants.

But he can’t count on Miami’s Republican delegation in the House to back him on every facet of his immigration agenda.

The three Republicans, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen voted against a bill on Thursday that would deny federal law-enforcement funds to cities that choose not to comply with the federal government’s effort to enforce tougher immigration laws.

“I think this one is frankly too broad,” Diaz-Balart said.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 228-195. The Miami trio were among just seven Republicans who voted against the bill, which passed largely on party lines.

But the three Republicans did vote for another bill on Thursday trumpeted by Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would expand criminal penalties for undocumented immigrants who commit serious crimes. The bill, dubbed Kate’s Law, is named after Kate Steinle, a San Francisco woman murdered by an illegal immigrant who was in the U.S. despite multiple deportations.

“I think most people would agree, you’re here in this country illegally, you’re doing terrible things, you’re just a bad apple. Let’s get rid of you,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “We have so many good people who want to come. That’s totally different than the sanctuary cities issue where so many of those folks are good people. That makes no distinction between whether they are good people or criminals. But in Kate’s Law we’re talking about criminals who have done horrible things. I don’t care if they’re American or from Central America. You’re bad, you’ve got to be in jail and you should be deported.”

Read more here. 

June 16, 2017

Trump defies congressional Republicans who want closer relations with Cuba

Trump Cuba

@alextdaugherty 

Congressional Republicans from outside South Florida opposed President Donald Trump’s revamped Cuba policy announcement on Friday, as lawmakers from states with agricultural and trade interests on the island fretted about the economic implications of a ban on U.S. business with the Cuban military apparatus.

“Any policy change that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interests of the United States or the Cuban people,” said Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a proponent of ending the Cuban embargo.

Flake introduced legislation earlier this year that would eliminate travel restrictions to Cuba for American citizens, and he garnered 54 other co-sponsors, including Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, for his bill. Flake implored Senate leadership to put his legislation on the floor for a vote.

“The bill has 55 total cosponsors and I am convinced it would pass the Senate with upwards of 70 votes,” Flake said in a statement.

But President Trump ignored the wishes of the majority of the Senate to fulfill a campaign pledge for conservative Cubans in South Florida: As part of the policy change, travel to Cuba for American citizens will face increased scrutiny.

“We will enforce the ban on tourism, we will enforce the embargo and we will take concrete steps to insure investments flow directly to the people,” Trump said in Miami on Friday.

As the president doled out heaps of praise for Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, the two South Florida Republicans who played an integral role in shaping the revamped Cuba policy, other congressional Republicans began to voice their displeasure.

“I have a bill that would allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba, one of my compatriots has a bill that would allow agricultural exports,” said Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., a proponent of ending the trade embargo. “These are all Republican measures these are all Republican bills. We tried the same approach for 50 years and it didn’t work.”

Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran, who represents a state with a large agricultural sector, said the newly announced changes will hurt U.S. businesses seeking to expand abroad.

“Cuba is a natural market for our nation’s farmers and ranchers, and when we don’t sell to Cuba, another country does,” Moran said.

Read more here. 

June 15, 2017

Inside Rubio and Diaz-Balart's Oval Office push to crack down on Cuba

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@PatriciaMazzei

Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart sat in the Oval Office last month, surrounded by two Cabinet secretaries, the national security adviser and an array of top White House staff, and asked President Donald Trump to put his power behind their plans for Cuba.

The Miami Republican lawmakers had been pressing Trump for months to unwind former President Barack Obama’s policies, bringing up Cuba at every opportunity: Diaz-Balart when he and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen met in private with their former House colleague, Vice President Mike Pence, in February; Rubio when he and his wife joined the president and first lady for an intimate dinner two days later, and again when the senator flew aboard Air Force One to Florida in March.

The administration had been waiting for deputies across Cabinet agencies to review existing Cuba regulations. By the May 3 Oval Office meeting, their recommendation was in: Keep Obama’s push to normalize U.S. relations with the regime of Cuban leader Raúl Castro.

That’s not what Trump wanted. As a candidate, he’d promised change to South Florida’s Cuban-American hardliners, including Bay of Pigs veterans who endorsed him, a gesture that stuck with Trump and that he repeatedly mentioned as president.

“The president said, ‘Look, I want to do this,’” Rubio said.

More here.

Photo credit: Rainier Ehrhardt, Associated Press

June 13, 2017

Rex Tillerson doesn't get into Cuba policy review specifics during Senate hearing

Trump_63933

@alextdaugherty 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did not get into specifics when asked about President Donald Trump's Cuba announcement set for Friday in Miami as senators from both parties questioned Tillerson during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday.

"Can you give us some of the general contours you see shaping up relative to what that policy is going to be?" asked committee chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican and Trump ally. 

"The general approach...is to allow as much of this continued commercial and engagement activity go to on as possible," Tillerson said. "We do see the sunny side as I describe it, we do see the benefits of that and to the Cuban people. But on the other hand, we think we have achieved very little in terms of changing the behavior of the regime in Cuba and the treatment of its people. Our concern is that they may be the biggest beneficiaries of all of this which promotes the continuance of that regime." 

Tillerson said that pressure on the Cuban government to implement democratic reforms "has been, in our view, largely removed now" after former President Barack Obama strengthened relations between the United States and Cuba in 2016. 

"I was down there not long ago and America has always felt that if it could do more business with folks it would pave the way for democracy," Corker said. "I do hope we end up with a policy that will cause the Cuban people themselves to reach their aspirations." 

New Mexico Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, a supporter of Obama's efforts, rattled off a host of business ventures now possible in Cuba after Obama's changes, including the introduction of Airbnb into the Cuban economy. 

"Do you agree we should continue these efforts or do you believe we should return to the failed policies of the Cold War?" Udall asked. 

"Well, what you have described is the sunny side of the relationship and it's all positive and it's great," Tillerson said. "There is the dark side though and that is Cuba has failed to improve it's own human rights record. What we have to achieve in approaching Cuba is if were going to sustain the sunny side of this relationship Cuba must begin to address the human rights challenges. Within the sunny side of the relationship there are troubling elements to us that bring the relationship into conflict with existing statute obligations. Are we inadvertently or directly providing financial support to the regime? Our view is, we are." 

Tillerson also said he supports efforts to improve internet access in Cuba, but hedged that the focus of the policy review is making sure the Cuban government does not financially benefit from increased U.S. involvement on the island. 

In late May, 55 senators from both parties signed on to a bill that would fully eliminate travel restrictions to the island. 

Cuban-American lawmakers Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart — who favor the elimination of what they see as concessions to the Cuban government — have been involved in the Cuba review in recent months. 

Friday's announcement will reportedly take place at the Manuel Artime Theater, a former church that is symbolic for Cuban exiles. 

June 05, 2017

Progressives plan to target Diaz-Balart, Mast in summer campaign

@PatriciaMazzei

A progressive political group plans to target two Florida Republicans -- Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Brian Mast -- over the summer, to try to drum up grassroots political attention to potential congressional races.

"The groups will help mobilize communities through on-the-ground grassroots engagement and investments in multi-platform media campaigns to hold Republicans accountable for betraying the needs of their constituents and work to put more districts on the map for Democrats in 2018," according to Monday's announcement from House Majority PAC, America Votes Action Fund, Priorities USA and American Bridge.

Diaz-Balart, Mast and 10 other Republicans will be targeted over their vote for House Republicans' healthcare plan.

The progressive groups aren't going after Rep. Carlos Curbelo -- not because he's not important to them, but because he's already a top-level Democratic target for 2018. Mast and especially Diaz-Balart are less vulnerable, so their reelections have drawn less political scrutiny so far.

May 17, 2017

As Trump World turns, Republican lawmakers are forced to react. And react. And react.

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@PatriciaMazzei

It’s become de rigueur for members of Congress: another day, another request from reporters to comment on the latest crisis overtaking the White House.

This week, the questions centered on the momentous revelations that President Donald Trump gave classified information to Russia in the Oval Office — and that fired FBI Director James Comey wrote a memo saying Trump asked him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Democrats have been uniformly critical. But for many Republican lawmakers, navigating the halls of the U.S. Capitol has turned into an exercise in deploying deliberately cautious language — while also sounding increasingly frustrated with the Trump administration.

Take, for example, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Curbelo, one of the most threatened GOP congressmen, is a frequent Trump critic who had been facing stinging criticism in his Democratic-leaning district for voting for House Republicans’ healthcare legislation. He backs the formation of a select committee to investigate the allegations against Trump.

More here.

Photo credit: Aaron P. Bernstein, Getty Images

May 04, 2017

Curbelo, Diaz-Balart vote for Obamacare replacement

Curbelo
@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart voted Thursday for the American Health Care Act, the House GOP’s controversial proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act.

Both congressmen had refused to divulge their positions on the legislation ahead of the high-profile vote. Their districts have among the highest Obamacare enrollment rates in the country; Curbelo in particular is politically vulnerable in the Democratic-leaning 26th district.

“I refuse to condemn my community and the country to a health care system burdened by ever-increasing costs, fewer options, government threats and fines against citizens, rampant fraud, inefficiency, and mismanagement,” Curbelo said in a statement. “So along with my colleagues, I’ve been working on legislation to create a truly patient-centered healthcare system where every American has access to quality care.”

Curbelo highlighted improvements from the original version of the AHCA, which was pulled before a vote in April because GOP leaders knew it would fail. That time, Curbelo refused to take a position on the bill.

Since then, Curbelo said, lawmakers secured $38 billion to help more vulnerable patients get access to health insurance, and $1.5 billion in Low Income Pool money for public safety-net hospitals, like Miami’s Jackson Memorial.

Still, he noted the legislation continues to need work, and said he’s reached out to the Senate, which will now take up the proposal.

“Today’s vote is just a step in the legislative process for this bill — not the end of it,” Curbelo said. We have worked hard to improve the legislation, but we have a long way to go.”

His spokeswoman said Curbelo was making a “game-time decision” on the vote. But his office released pre-taped video statements in English and Spanish explaining his decision moments after he voted yes. His staff later said Curbelo prepared two sets of statements to be able to provide an immediate explanation of his decision once he made it.

Curbelo and Diaz-Balart’s local colleague, Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who announced her retirement from Congress earlier this week, voted no, as she had promised. She was the only Florida Republican to do so, along with all Florida Democrats.

More here.