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

Miami congressman picked to deliver GOP State of the Union response in Spanish

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@PatriciaMazzei

For the third consecutive year, the Republican Party's Spanish-language response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday will come from a Miami member of Congress.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart will give the speech, the House Republicans announced Friday. Last year, it was Rep. Carlos Curbelo. The year before, it was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart thanked Speaker Paul Ryan for tapping him.

"The United States and the American people face grave challenges, all of which can be overcome with leadership in Washington D.C. that understands the greatness of our country," Diaz-Balart said. "We need a president who will unify, not divide; a president who will stand with our allies and stand up to enemies of freedom. House Republicans are committed to putting our country back on a path to prosperity, creating solutions that will bolster the economy, cultivate job growth, and provide for a robust national defense. The American people deserve nothing less."

The speech gives a national platform to Diaz-Balart in an election year, though he's in a safe Republican seat. Like his brother, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart is known to be a fiery speaker, though his appearance Tuesday will likely call for a more subdued demeanor.

This year's English-language GOP response has been assigned to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, considered a potential vice-presidential pick for the party's eventual nominee. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, now a presidential candidate himself, gave the English-language response -- in which he famously took a sip of water on live TV -- in 2013.

Curbelo broke from tradition in 2015. Instead of giving a straight translation of the GOP response in English, the freshman made his own edits. No word on which route Diaz-Balart will take.

Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

Cuban Americans in Congress back law to curtail benefits

@PatriciaMazzei

Six Cuban-American members of Congress have signed on to legislation to end automatic federal benefits for newly arrived Cubans.

The office of Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, announced the support Friday, a day after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio revealed he would file a bill in the Senate similar to the one Curbelo filed in the House last month.

Co-sponsoring Curbelo's proposal are Miami Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, West Virginia Republican Alex Mooney and New Jersey Democrat Albio Sires. The only fellow Cuban Americans not listed are New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who could only sign on once Rubio files his bill. (Cruz is a Rubio rival in the presidential race.)

"Together, we can protect those fleeing the Castro dictatorship while ensuring that America's generosity is not being exploited and abused," Curbelo said in a statement.

Three other House members from Florida are also listed: Republican Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach (who is running for U.S. Senate), and Democrats Ted Deutch of Boca Raton and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston. Other co-sponsors so far are Reps. Ryan Costello, R-Pennsylvania; Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.

January 07, 2016

Miami Republicans in Congress again ask White House for Cuban refugees plan

@PatriciaMazzei

Three Miami Republican members of Congress sent their third letter Thursday to President Barack Obama urging the White House to draft a plan to accommodate the influx of Cuban refugees to South Florida.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Cuban Americans, blame Obama's rapprochement with Cuba for the increase in migrants from the island arriving in the U.S. -- and want him to help local governments absorb the new arrivals.

The House members have written to Obama twice before. Some 8,000 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica are now enroute to the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal policy stipulates that Cubans who reach American soil can remain in the country. After 366 days, they can apply for U.S. residency.

"Since our previous letters, we have been in contact with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, and Doral Mayor Luigi Boria about their concerns regarding the growing strain on local governments and services in South Florida," the trio wrote Thursday. "Through its Homeless program, the City of Miami has been able to place Cuban migrants into shelters. However, these centers are now at full capacity and can no longer receive any of the 8,000 new refugees expected to arrive in the coming weeks. We have also been informed that Catholic Charities, Church World Services, and the International Rescue Committee do not have the funds necessary to assist these new refugees because they are already overwhelmed by the surge of Cuban nationals that have recently arrived in the United States."

Read the full letter: here.

December 18, 2015

How South Florida members of Congress voted on budget deal

@PatriciaMazzei

The U.S. House and Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending and tax-cut package Friday, called the "omnibus" bill. All of South Florida's House members, Republican and Democratic, voted for it. So did Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio missed the vote -- he's campaigning for president in Iowa. He nevertheless issued a statement against it.

The Florida Republican House members voting no: Curt Clawson, Ron DeSantis, Jeff Miller, Bill Posey, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho.

Here's a compilation about what some of the lawmakers had to say:

Continue reading "How South Florida members of Congress voted on budget deal" »

December 17, 2015

Miami Republicans slam U.S.-Cuba policy, a year after change

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami's Cuban-American Republicans in Congress used Thursday's one-year anniversary of renewed U.S.-Cuba relations to bash President Obama's policies.

In a statement, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called the change a "sham." In an op-ed published on Medium, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart noted that "Cubans are departing Cuba in record numbers." And in a news release styled as an email tipsheet, presidential candidate and Sen. Marco Rubio decried a Cuban "chokehold on freedom."

Here's Rubio's statement:

The first year of President Obama's Cuba policy has been like the rest of his foreign policy: a disaster that prioritizes legacy-shaping headlines over freedom and results, treats our enemies far better than our allies, and negotiates deals from a position of weakness -– as if we are ashamed of our moral obligations as the world’s most powerful nation. Because of President Obama's Cuba policy, the U.S. has never been closer to the tyrants that rule the island or more alienated from the Cuban people working tirelessly to build a free and democratic future. Because of President Obama's weakness in negotiating with the Castro regime, cop killers, terrorists and other fugitives from U.S. justice continue to enjoy greater freedoms in Cuba than average Cubans who are experiencing a historically relentless wave of repression and political arrests this year.

American businesses have placed a risky bet to enrich themselves and, in the process, enrich the Cuban military that actually controls the economy. The next U.S. president should end the many concessions this one has made to the regime, and send a clear message that betting against the Cuban people's free and democratic future is a losing bet. With a year to go, President Obama can still inflict a lot of damage that further sets back the cause of a free and democratic Cuba, but those who care about freedom and the fate of the Cuban people will continue to fight him at every turn.

Here's Ros-Lehtinen's statement:

Continue reading "Miami Republicans slam U.S.-Cuba policy, a year after change" »

December 06, 2015

South Florida politicians denounce Venezuelan government ahead of elections

@PatriciaMazzei

South Florida is home to the largest Venezuelan community in the U.S., so local politicians -- including Miami's two Republican presidential candidates -- made sure to weigh in ahead of Sunday's legislative elections in the South American country.

All declared support for the opposition candidates looking to wrest power from the party of President Nicolás Maduro, who succeeded the late President Hugo Chávez. Maduro has banned several of the Miami politicians from traveling to the country.

Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate (who in the 1980s briefly lived in Venezuela):

Instead of standing up for democracy, free elections, and the rule of law in Venezuela, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have acquiesced to dictators like Chavez and Maduro whose regime of criminality, corruption, and narcotrafficking threatens Venezuela, the Western Hemisphere, and our own interests.  The eyes of the world this Sunday will be on Venezuela as people seek to overcome the Maduro regime’s campaign of intimidation and criminality to demand their rightful stake in their future.  As President, I will stand with the people of Venezuela and the region as they seek to build a freer and more prosperous future.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is also a Republican presidential candidate:

Venezuela is in crisis. Because of the Chavez and Maduro regimes, Venezuela has deteriorated from a prosperous country to a failed economy, broken society and repressive police state run by narco-traffickers. It’s no surprise that many polls suggest the opposition will win this Sunday’s legislative elections, and even less surprising that Nicolas Maduro’s regime is already threatening to ignore the wishes of the Venezuelan people.

 

Continue reading "South Florida politicians denounce Venezuelan government ahead of elections" »

October 28, 2015

Miami members of Congress back immigration reform - and Paul Ryan, who won't bring it to vote under Obama

@PatriciaMazzei

When Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said he'd likely run for U.S. House speaker, Miami's three moderate GOP members of Congress quickly threw their support behind him -- even though Ryan has said he won't take up one of the lawmakers' top issues: immigration reform.

Ryan said he would not bring immigration legislation to a vote under Democratic President Barack Obama, whom many Republicans say can't be trusted. They accuse Obama of playing politics with immigration to keep Hispanic voters casting ballots for Democrats.

No one expected an immigration vote during the remainder of Obama's term. But Ryan's assertion nevertheless offered Democrats a way to jab pro-reform Republicans for supporting his bid for speaker.

Nonsense, according to the Miami Republicans.

"I'm strong proponent of fixing our dysfunctional immigration system," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "I deeply wish the U.S. Congress could come together and address this issue but I know of Ryan's reluctance to make a deal with the Obama administration. Ryan has also said he believes in the pressing issue of immigration reform. However, instead of working with Congress, President Obama has taken steps that undermine this effort by taking unilateral executive actions that bypass the legislative branch and this develops deep mistrust." 

Continue reading "Miami members of Congress back immigration reform - and Paul Ryan, who won't bring it to vote under Obama" »

October 05, 2015

Heavy hitters introduce Carlos Lopez-Cantera in Washington

10052015_140541_clc_meet_and_greet__8colvia @learyreports

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Lopez-Cantera has some influential Washington backers hosting a meet-and-greet for him later this month.

The Oct. 21 lunch will be held at the Capitol Hill Club and is hosted by Cesar Conda, former chief of staff to Marco Rubio, and Scott Weaver, a top bundler for Rubio’s presidential campaign

Special guests include Reps. Ileana Ros-LehtinenMario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo, an invite shows.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times