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

Cereijo_HaitianCompasFestival_18

@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: 

January 09, 2018

Diaz-Balart calls White House immigration talk 'one of the most productive meetings I've been to'

Mario Diaz-Balart (1)

@alextdaugherty

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was happy with a high-stakes immigration meeting at the White House on Tuesday where President Donald Trump's negotiating skills were displayed on live television.  

Despite the media saturation, the Miami Republican said the meeting with about two dozen Democrats and Republicans was "one of the most productive meetings I've been to" as Congress tries to find a solution to help undocumented young adults known as Dreamers who came to the U.S. as young children.

"We've been discussing these issues for a long, long time and this is one of the most productive meetings I've been to," Diaz-Balart said. "Particularly when you're talking about a large group like that, diverse and everything else. I think the president set the tone and I think it was exceedingly productive." 

Diaz-Balart said the conversation in real-time with the cameras running made lawmakers from both sides explain what they meant when using terms like "clean" and "border security." 

"One of the things that I have learned over the years is that there are certain terms that when people say them they're thinking of something, and who you are talking to is thinking of a totally different thing which is why i just don't use them," Diaz-Balart said, referring to terms like "clean," "comprehensive" and "amnesty." 

He said the exchange between Trump and California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, where the President initially appeared to back a solution for Dreamers without a promise for border security, was evidence of the productivity of Tuesday's meeting. 

"When the president thinks of DACA, he's thinking of DACA and border security," Diaz-Balart said. "It was good that Sen. Feinstein said 'What are we talking about here? Her version of 'clean' and his version of 'clean' are two different things and it was clarified and that was important. But it was a very, very, very positive atmosphere."

Diaz-Balart said four items, and only four, will be part of any immigration deal between Democrats and Republicans that must pass by March when the Obama-era executive order called DACA that protects Dreamers expires. 

"That's DACA...border security, chain migration and the diversity visa lottery," Diaz-Balart said. "Some want more issues, others want less, but that's what the group agreed to." 

Diaz-Balart, who unsuccessfully pushed a massive immigration overhaul bill in 2014, is part of House Speaker Paul Ryan's immigration working group and was the only Floridian present at Tuesday's meeting. 

Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen voted against a year-end spending bill in December because it did not address Dreamers. Diaz-Balart, who is generally the most conservative Miami Republican in the House of Representatives, voted in favor of the spending plan. 

January 08, 2018

Miami Republicans oppose Trump decision to end TPS for Salvadorans

Donald trump 2

@alextdaugherty

The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday that it will end Temporary Protected Status for about 200,000 Salvadorans in September 2019, and the three Miami Republicans in Congress voiced opposition to the Trump administration's decision. Monday's move comes after the Trump administration decided to end TPS for Haitians and Nicaraguans last year. TPS allows foreign nationals from countries affected by disaster and unrest to live and work in the United States for a period of time. 

"I am in strong disagreement with the Administration’s decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadoran nationals who reside in the United States," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami. "These innocent people fled their home country after a disastrous earthquake, and while living conditions may have slightly improved, El Salvador now faces a significant problem with drug trafficking, gangs, and crime. Since 2001, these people have established themselves in the United States, making countless contributions to our society and our local communities. As I did with the decisions to end TPS for Haitian, Nicaraguan, and Honduran nationals who reside in the United States, I strongly urge the Administration to reconsider this decision."

"Today’s decision about Salvadoran TPS – and previous decisions about Honduran and Nicaraguan TPS – are disappointing," said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami. "Many years of short-term extensions have created anxiety and uncertainty, not only for these immigrants and their families, but also for employers and neighbors who have welcomed them to our communities." 

"It is unconscionable that @POTUS would terminate the much needed  status of more than 200,000 people from  who have been here for years, working legally + sending remittances to their families," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said on Twitter. 

The three Miami Republicans, who all represent districts with large Latino populations, are signed on to a bill that would provide a path to permanent residency and American citizenship for immigrants currently living in the U.S. under TPS from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicarauga and Honduras.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio is also in favor of extending TPS for Haiti, and all of the Democrats representing South Florida including Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson and Sen. Bill Nelson are opposed to the Department of Homeland Security's decision. 

December 06, 2017

For some South Florida Democrats in Congress, Trump is right on Jerusalem

Trump_Jerusalem_97877

@alextdaugherty

South Florida Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch rarely agree with President Donald Trump, but the pair supported his decision on Wednesday to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital along with moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

“My longstanding view is that Jerusalem is and will remain the undivided capital of Israel, and it should remain a city accessible to people of all faiths,” Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, said in a statement. “We must work toward a day where the entire world recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that can be achieved through final status negotiations. I remain as committed as ever to safeguarding Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, at peace with its neighbors, with Jerusalem as its undisputed capital.”

Deutch, D-Boca Raton, issued a joint statement supporting the move with Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The two are the highest ranking members on the House Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee.

“There is no debate that the Jewish people have a deep-rooted religious, cultural and historic tie to Jerusalem, and today’s decision reaffirms that connection,” Deutch and Ros-Lehtinen said.

Deutch and Wasserman Schultz represent districts with large Jewish populations and are seen as supporters of Israel in Congress.

South Florida Republicans uniformly praised Trump’s decision on Wednesday, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.

“I commend President Trump for following U.S. law and recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel,” Rubio said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is an important step in the right direction. Unequivocal recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be complete when the U.S. embassy is officially relocated there.”

But some of Trump’s top Cabinet officials reportedly opposed the decision, arguing that the move to recognize Jerusalem would needlessly inflame tensions between Israel and Palestinians and potentially put people in danger.

Read more here.

December 05, 2017

As Dreamers protested outside Marco Rubio’s office, a U.S. Border Patrol truck showed up

DQOgHRwXUAI0x11 (1)

via @moniqueomadan

As immigrant advocacy groups rallied outside Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s offices in Doral Monday, protesters say a U.S. Customs and Border Protection truck circled around the group.

“@ICEgov just sent a truck to intimidate the dreamers fasting outside of the offices of Senator @marcorubio and Congressman @MarioDB. #CleanDreamAct #DreamActNow,” posted Florida Immigrant Coalition’s Tomas Kennedy.

The protest was organized to demand the protection for Dreamers, those who were brought by their families to the United States as children even though they were undocumented immigrants.

Many of those participating— some elderly — launched a week-long hunger strike Friday, urging local politicians to fight the Trump administration’s repeal of the country’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

TPS is a program that protects foreign nationals — Hondurans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and Haitians — from being deported to their homelands amid instability and perilous conditions caused by armed conflict or natural disasters. The Obama-era DACA programs has allowed those who entered the U.S. illegally as minors to be protected from immediate deportation.

Read more here.

December 01, 2017

Florida, Texas lawmakers threaten government shutdown over hurricane relief funding

Irma debris 03 Ekm (1)

@alextdaugherty

It’s been 82 days since Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys, and lawmakers from Florida and Texas huddled together on Friday to gain leverage for their hurricane-stricken states as they seek billions in relief.

If congressional leaders don’t do enough to allay the concerns of lawmakers from Florida and Texas, the two states’ delegations will vote en masse against a disaster funding plan that could be attached to a spending plan known as a continuing resolution that keeps the government running.

“Unless substantial changes are made, we are not going to support the CR,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who co-authored a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signed by members from Florida and Texas on Friday. “We will use the clout of both of our delegations. Without significant changes this supplemental cannot be allowed to go through.”

Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, is opposed to the administration’s request and said the government could be shut down if Florida and Texas don’t get what they need.

“We do not have the adequate resources and this is going to be on the verge of a government shutdown if Texas and all the other victims of these hurricanes do not have a compromise where we can work together,” Jackson Lee said at a Homeland Security hearing on Thursday.

The letter opposing the White House’s disaster relief request was signed by 38 members from Texas and Florida as of Friday evening. The $44 billion disaster relief request, announced before Thanksgiving, upset Democrats and Republicans from Florida and Texas, who argue that much more needs to be done for disaster relief.

“Unless the disaster supplemental appropriations bill is significantly improved before it is brought to a vote on the House floor, we will be unable to support this legislation,” the letter reads.

While Republicans are stopping short of an explicit shutdown threat and express confidence that leadership will listen to them, the next disaster funding proposal could be tied to a proposal that funds the government for a period of time.

Congressional leaders must pass a bill that funds the government by Dec. 8 to avoid a shutdown. It is possible that congressional leaders could pass a short-term funding bill next week to keep the government open through the end of December or early January.

Read more here.

November 30, 2017

Mario Diaz-Balart's district now rated "safe Republican"

Mario Diaz-Balart (1)

@alextdaugherty

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, popped up as a potential target for Democrats in 2018 when President Donald Trump carried his district by fewer than 2 percentage points in 2016. 

But Diaz-Balart hasn't drawn a big-name challenger in 2018 yet, prompting Sabato's Crystal Ball managing editor Kyle Kondik to move Diaz-Balart's reelection chances from "likely Republican" to "safe Republican" on Thursday. 

While other Republicans' reelection chances aren't as rosy, Kondik rated 18 Republican-held seats as more competitive for Democrats in his recent ratings, Diaz-Balart was one of just two GOP incumbents whose reelection chances improved. 

"As we cycle more races onto the competitive board from Safe to Likely Republican, it makes some sense to cycle out a couple of Republican-held seats with long-time incumbents where there’s not much going on at the moment," Kondik said, referring to Diaz-Balart and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. "Both of these seats qualify." 

Currently, Diaz-Balart faces nominal Democratic opposition from Alina Valdes, who handily lost to Diaz-Balart in 2016. She has raised barely over $1000 in her bid to take on the longtime Republican. 

Kondik rates Rep. Carlos Curbelo's reelection chances as a "toss up," though he referred to the Miami Republican as one of the party's "best incumbents." 

"Despite the aforementioned retirements, Republicans have some of their best incumbents digging in to defend some of their most vulnerable districts: Reps. Mike Coffman (R, CO-6), Carlos Curbelo (R, FL-26), Barbara Comstock (R, VA-10), and others. If the wave is big enough, there may be nothing these members could do to survive, but they all should run strong, well-funded races and won’t be easy for Democrats to defeat." 

Retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat is rated as "leans Democratic," an indication that it will be challenging for Republicans to hold that seat. 

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.