March 14, 2017

UPDATED Miami Republicans remain conspicuously silent on CBO analysis of GOP healthcare plan

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@PatriciaMazzei @learyreports

Miami's three Republican lawmakers in Congress have said nothing about the GOP's plan to replace the Affordable Care Act since the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded Monday that some 14 million people would drop or lose insurance coverage in 2018.

The legislation is the biggest policy proposal in the House right now. And the districts represented by Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have among the highest number of Obamacare enrollees in the country. Yet none of the legislators' offices responded Tuesday afternoon to requests for comment.

UPDATE: Ros-Lehtinen has now said she opposes the replacement plan. And a spokeswoman for Diaz-Balart said he is still reviewing the legislation and CBO report. "He has concerns about the legislation, and is looking into those," Katrina Valdes said in an email.

Only Curbelo has had to cast a vote on the proposal so far, last week on the House Ways and Means committee. He then defended his support for the law -- and on Monday, a group linked to House Speaker Paul Ryan started airing TV ads on Curbelo's behalf in Miami.

A slew of Florida lawmakers have issued statements or answered questions about the proposal. Democrats are universally opposed:

Continue reading "UPDATED Miami Republicans remain conspicuously silent on CBO analysis of GOP healthcare plan" »

February 28, 2017

At least one Miami Republican is 'ready' to work with Trump on immigration reform

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@PatriciaMazzei

When news broke Tuesday that President Trump had told television news anchors he might be open to comprehensive immigration reform legislation -- including granting legal status to some of the unauthorized immigrants already in the country -- one Miami Republican steeped in the issue quickly praised the president and offered to help.

"I am very encouraged by President Trump's recent comments on immigration reform," Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said in a statement.

In 2013, Diaz-Balart helped lead the effort to pass immigration reform in the House, but the legislation was never taken up for a vote.

"It is no secret our country has a broken immigration system," Diaz-Balart continued. "I have said many times that we must come together from both sides of the aisle to find a commonsense solution on immigration reform. It is extremely disappointing that many from both the left and right extremes are quick to criticize the President's willingness to work with Congress to fix our immigration system. This kind of political gimmickry is unnecessary and unhelpful to a bipartisan, legislative solution.

"I continue to believe this legislation must strengthen our borders, adhere to the rule of law, offer a permanent and humane solution to those living in the shadows, bolster our economy, and modernize our antiquated visa system. I remain committed and ready to work with the White House and congressional colleagues from both sides of the aisle."

Photo credit: Matias J. Ocner, Miami Herald

February 10, 2017

Those hot congressional town halls? Don't expect many in South Florida

@PatriciaMazzei

Over the past week, a string of town-hall meetings held across the country by Republican members of Congress have drawn hordes of constituents angry about repealing the Affordable Care Act and the GOP's embrace of President Donald Trump

But if South Floridians want a similar forum to vent to their Republican lawmakers, they're out of luck.

The only local member of Congress who plans to hold open meetings soon is U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat, who's got two scheduled -- in Wilton Manors and Pompano Beach -- Saturday. Democrats just haven't been getting the same sort of protests as Republicans at their public events.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has no town hall planned, a spokesman said, noting that the Senate is still in session. (Progressive activists say they will nevertheless stump outside his Doral office Tuesday to ask him for one.) Neither does Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. No in-person town halls are scheduled either for Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, though he hopes to let constituents call into a "tele-town hall" in late March, a spokeswoman said. 

A spokeswoman for Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart refused to admit the congressman isn't holding town halls.

"The Congressman is constantly traveling the district and meeting with constituents, but we do not publicize his schedule," Katrina Valdés said in an email.

When pressed if that means no public events without pre-screened attendees, she added: "He has countless meetings with constituents and constituent groups while traveling the district. Our office is in touch with those who he will be meeting with."

More than 200 pro-Obamacare protesters showed up last Saturday at a town hall for Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis in Palm Harbor, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

January 31, 2017

PolitiFact: Is Trump's immigration ban comparable to Obama's wet foot-dry foot Cuba change?

Obama Trump (3)AP

@amysherman1

President Donald Trump’s executive order banning entry of people from seven countries prompted a wave of protests from immigration activists and Democrats in South Florida.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American Republican whose district includes parts of Miami-Dade, defended Trump’s ban by comparing it with an action President Barack Obama took on Cuban refugees in his final days in office.

“I am struck by the double standard and hypocrisy of those who are offended by this executive order, but who failed to challenge President Obama when he took similar action against Cuban refugees; especially since President Obama’s action was meant to appease the Castro regime and not for national security reasons,“ Diaz-Balart wrote in a statement to the press Jan. 30.

Obama’s rule change was about the “wet foot dry foot policy,” which Diaz-Balart criticized at the time as a “concession to the Castro regime.”

Was Diaz-Balart accurate when he said Trump’s action was similar to Obama’s?

In a word, no. Trump’s order, which singled out immigrants from seven countries and refugees from everywhere, was far more broad than Obama’s administrative rule change to put Cubans on more equal footing with arrivals from other countries.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

 

January 11, 2017

Rubio says he backs Sessions for attorney general

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio today said he supports Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

"Serving with Jeff Sessions over the past six years, I've seen him work relentlessly to uphold the rule of law against the abuses of the Obama Administration, particularly at the Department of Justice. Jeff is a formidable lawyer with an intense passion for defending the Constitution – two of the many qualities that will serve him well as attorney general of the United States," Rubio said in a statement.

“Jeff understands the threats our nation faces, including radical Islamic terrorists within our borders and illicit drugs destroying our communities. I am confident he will make protecting our neighborhoods a top priority. For these reasons, I will support his nomination.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

January 03, 2017

2 Miami Republicans favor gutting congressional ethics office

@PatriciaMazzei

UPDATE: In an emergency meeting Tuesday, House Republicans agreed to reverse their decision to curtail the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics, after facing public backlash and skepticism from President-elect Donald Trump. Here's an updated statement from Curbelo:

"The House ethics process needs to be reformed in order to better investigate allegations of misconduct. I support referring this matter to the House Ethics committee where Republicans and Democrats can work together on bipartisan reforms that would ensure Members of Congress are‎ held accountable while given due process to address accusations."

A full, updated story has been posted here.

ORIGINAL POST: U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said Tuesday they backed the Republican conference's move to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

The OCE, created eight years ago after a series of congressional scandals, would be renamed the Office of Congressional Complaint Review and, instead of being independent, report to the GOP-controlled House Ethics Committee.

Republicans' decision, proposed by U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and made without notice in a private party meeting on Monday, a federal holiday, prompted immediate rebuke from Democrats, government watchdog groups and even some Republicans. But don't count Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo among them.

"I voted for Rep. Goodlatte's amendment to improve and reorganize the renamed Office of Congressional Complaint Review (OCCR) because it includes much needed oversight and accountability from the House Ethics Committee," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement to the Miami Herald. "The reforms will allow for due process rights for all parties involved and will ensure a fair hearing as Members of Congress seek to better serve our constituents."

Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement to the Herald that Curbelo also backs the changes.

"Coming from a district that knows firsthand the impact corruption has on a community, Congressman Curbelo has always been committed to ensuring members of Congress are held accountable and allegations of misconduct are investigated seriously<" she said. "The Office of Congressional Ethics has not lived up to its stated mission and reforms are long overdue to strengthen its ability to take complaints from the public, complete independent investigations, and provide due process for those facing allegations of misconduct. The Congressman supports Speaker [Paul] Ryan's commitment to protect the Office's independence and he is dedicated to making sure that commitment is honored.

"The Congressman will be supporting H.Res. 5, the complete Rules Package for the 115th Congress on the House Floor later today."

Ryan opposed the ethics amendment, which the GOP conference agreed to with a 119-74 vote. Because the vote took place in a private party meeting, there is no public disclosure of how each member voted.

The third Miami Republican in Congress, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, told the Herald in a statement that while the ethics office needs an overhaul, he doesn't think the rules legislation is the way to change things.

"The Office of Congressional Ethics is in dire need of reform," Diaz-Balart said. "Members of Congress must be held accountable to the highest standard in a process that is fair and just. I strongly believe the way to do this is in a bipartisan, open discussion through legislation, not through the rules package."

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that dealing with the ethics office shouldn't be Congress' first priority, though he still called the office "unfair." He used the hashtag "#DTS," from his campaign mantra to "drain the swamp."

This post has been updated to include Diaz-Balart.

October 23, 2016

Former Colombian president to campaign with Rubio

@PatriciaMazzei

Marco Rubio plans an only-in-Miami campaign stop Sunday morning: An event at a Doral Colombian restaurant with former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

The conservative Uribe is beloved by ex-pat Colombians who joined Rubio at the same restaurant, Mondongo, earlier this month after the South American country voted down a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The deal was put forth by sitting Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who despite the loss at the polls was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In two Spanish-language radio interviews last week, Rubio argued South Floridians should keep a loud voice on Latin American policy in the Senate. His opponent, Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, doesn't campaign on U.S. policy toward Latin America, he argued.

"If I'm not in the Senate, who's going to be the leader on these topics?" Rubio said Thursday on Radio Caracol, which caters to Colombians. (He praised New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez as his Democratic counterpart on those issues.)

Rubio will be joined by Miami's three Republican members of Congress seeking reelection: Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

October 12, 2016

Rubio gets 'zero' from gay rights group, but other Florida Republicans score far better

via @learyreports

Sen. Marco Rubio’s support for LGBT issues declined in recent years, according to scoring by Human Rights Campaign.

The group has released its rankings for the 114th Congress and Rubio scored a zero. That was down from 22 percent in the 113th Congress and 47 percent in the 112th.

Human Rights Campaign based its current report on several issues, including a budget amendment from Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, that would have ensured same-sex couples have access to Social Security and veterans benefits.

Rubio also voted against a failed amendment from Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, that included LGBTQ non-discrimination protections or runaway and homeless youth programs. In a couple instances, Rubio missed votes that group scored.

Rubio’s score was higher the previous year because he voted against an amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 striking provisions prohibiting discrimination against victims of domestic violence based on sexual orientation as well as eliminating protections relating to Native American and immigrant victims. He voted against a similar amendment the year before.

Continue reading "Rubio gets 'zero' from gay rights group, but other Florida Republicans score far better" »

October 09, 2016

To see how Trump puts Republicans in a bind, look at Diaz-Balart

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@PatriciaMazzei

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart on Friday denounced Donald Trump's comments about making unwanted sexual advances at women.

"I'm glad Mr. Trump issued an apology for the tape that was released in which he is heard saying disrespectful and completely unacceptable comments regarding his interactions with women," Diaz-Balart said. "It's important that he acknowledged that statements like those are offensive and reprehensible."

But ask him if that means he won't vote for Trump, and things get more complicated.

His spokeswoman, Katrina Valdés, responded to the Miami Herald by saying Diaz-Balart never said he'd vote for Trump in the first place. She pointed to a statement from the congressman in May declaring his intention to "vote for the Republican nominee."

That would be Trump, of course.

And yet, Valdés insisted, Diaz-Balart "has not endorsed a candidate in the general election."

Diaz-Balart certainly hasn't used the word endorsement, and he's repeatedly said he won't vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton. But does he still intend to vote for him?

"His statement has not changed," Valdés said late Saturday. "His vote is conditioned on the clarification of a number of important issues that he has repeatedly said need to addressed by the nominee. As of tonight at 8:15 PM, several of those issues have not been clarified. That is where he still stands."

Diaz-Balart hasn't said what he'll do if he doesn't get his requested "clarification" from Trump. The congressman praised Trump for adopting a hard line on Cuba policy last month in Miami. Diaz-Balart then said he needed more evidence before he could condemn a report that Trump's casino company broke the Cuban trade embargo in 1998.

Though Diaz-Balart's in a newly redrawn district, he's not vulnerable in seeking reelection to the 25th district, which extends from Miami-Dade into red Collier and Hendry counties. His Democratic opponent, Alina Valdes, is a first-time candidate, and the district'a past electoral performance gives Republicans a 10-percentage-point advantage.

In a statement Saturday, Valdes called Diaz-Balart "the only South Florida Cuban-American who still supports the Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, for president."

"Despite all the horrible things Teflon Don has said about Latinos, women, African-Americans, Muslims, and anything not white and male, he has maintained his loyalty to party over country," she said.

An earlier version of this post misstated the partisan composition of Diaz-Balart's district.

Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

October 06, 2016

Diaz-Balart airs first reelection campaign ad, in Spanish

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart has little to worry about when it comes to his reelection race. The Miami Republican faces a nominal challenge from Democrat Alina Valdes, an unknown, first-time candidate.

But Diaz-Balart's name is still on the ballot. And though his 25th congressional district stretches into red Southwest Florida, he's from blue Miami-Dade County.

Taking no chances, Diaz-Balart began airing his first TV ad of the campaign this week, on Spanish-language television in Miami. Its release coincided with the mailing of absentee ballots to domestic voters.

"We;re living in uncertain times," Diaz-Balart says in a serious tone. "Families working more and earning less. We can't continue down this path."

Congress should cut taxes, reduce the national debt and "defeat terrorism," he continues.

"I'm Mario Diaz-Balart and I approve this message to keep fighting for our values," he concludes.