September 06, 2017

Rubio voted against Sandy aid in 2013. Now he wants money for Irma.

Marco Rubio

@alextdaugherty 

Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson urged Congress to approve additional funds for disaster relief as Hurricane Irma threatens Miami, a bipartisan ritual for politicians with constituents facing hardship from a major storm.

But in 2013, Rubio was one of 36 Republican senators who voted against a Hurricane Sandy relief bill for New Jersey and New York, and now his South Florida colleagues hope he has learned a lesson.

“You can be a fiscal conservative until it hits you and your community and then you have a different point of view,” said Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Rubio in 2013 argued that the $60 billion bill for Sandy relief, which passed after months of delays, was filled with unnecessary spending.

“The Hurricane Sandy supplemental bill goes far beyond emergency relief to impacted victims and communities, which is why I voted no on final passage,” Rubio said in a 2012 statement. “The current spending bill goes far beyond emergency relief and all efforts to strip the bill of unrelated pork are being blocked.”
 
He was the only member of Congress who represented Miami-Dade County to vote against the bill. Nelson, Republican Reps. Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, former Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia and Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson all voted in favor of the Sandy bill, which passed after a minority of Republicans joined Democrats.
 
Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who came to Congress after the Sandy vote, described the decision by some Republicans to vote against Sandy relief as “horrible.”

“I’m sure a lot of them are regretting it today,” Curbelo said of the Sandy vote. “My message is, you could be next. When a significant number of Americans are suffering due to a natural disaster, we need to come together as a country and we’re really worried about spending around here, we should look at our entitlement programs, not refuse to help people who are homeless and lacking food.”

On Wednesday, Rubio and Nelson issued a joint letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, urging Congress to include additional funds for Irma relief in the spending package that lawmakers are preparing to help Texas recover from Harvey.

“As Floridians are preparing for one of the worst storms on record, they need to know that the federal government is both ready and willing to direct the necessary resources needed to help them in the recovery process,” Rubio and Nelson wrote. “As such, we strongly urge you to include additional funding in the Hurricane Harvey aid package to account for the additional costs FEMA will likely incur responding to Hurricane Irma.”

Read more here. 

September 05, 2017

Trump administration 'rescinds' DACA, and Miami Republicans are not happy about it

@PatriciaMazzei

South Florida reaction is started to roll in about President Donald Trump's decision to wind down a program that protects immigrants brought into the country illegally as children -- and his fellow Republicans are unhappy about it.

August 31, 2017

Diaz-Balart to Miami-Dade: 'C'mon, man. Use me.'

Diaz-balart
via @doug_hanks

As Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart tells it, he watches from the chairman’s perch of a powerful transportation committee just waiting to use his authority to steer billions of dollars in federal transit aid to his home county of Miami-Dade. The wait continues.

“C’mon man,” Diaz-Balart said. “Use me.”

His comments to the Miami Herald Editorial Board this week capture one of the biggest divides in Miami-Dade’s ongoing debate about whether to pursue an expensive rail expansion or make do with some sort of modernized bus system.

Advocates of rail say county leaders’ unwillingness to pick a single rail corridor to be built first has left Miami-Dade paralyzed. An ongoing study of six potential rail lines, they say, leaves Miami-Dade unable to start the lengthy federal application process that could eventually let Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, use his influence as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee for transportation to advance a hometown project to the top of the funding list.

Skeptics see the years required for federal approval as a delay that residents won’t tolerate as traffic worsens. Now, Mayor Carlos Gimenez has joined their ranks. A recent memo from the mayor and his financial team outlines a more daunting objection: Even if Washington came through with billions to build new rail lines for Miami-Dade, the county doesn’t have the millions needed to operate it.

More here.

July 27, 2017

Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart's office dogs named top 10 cutest on Capitol Hill

Nola Jefferson Memorial

@alextdaugherty

There's a ton of inside-the-beltway lists that rank the most beautiful, powerful or wealthy people in Washington.  

But one inside-the-beltway list eschews humans in favor of dogs, and Miami is well represented. 

A weeks-long competition by Independent Journal Review ranked the top 25 dogs on Capitol Hill, and two dogs that frequent Rep. Carlos Curbelo's office and Mario Diaz Balart's office made the top 10. 

Riggins, a 2-year-old Welsh terrier owned by Curbelo communications director Joanna Rodriguez, placed ninth in the voting. Riggins donned a blue bow tie in his photo shoot and according to Rodriguez, Riggins was cute enough to end the Curbelo office's ban on dogs.

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Nola, a 7-year-old French bulldog owned by Diaz-Balart's chief of staff Cesar Gonzalez, placed sixth in the voting. Nola is named after the city of New Orleans, where Gonzalez attended college. She enjoys eating plastic water bottles. 

Nola Couch

The winner of the competition after more than 30,000 votes was Koji, a 2-year-old American Eskimo who belongs to House committee staffer Zach Hunter and White House staffer Mallory Hunter. Koji won a golden water bowl for his cuteness. 

Follow Riggins on Instagram here. 

July 21, 2017

At key moment, Cuban-American lawmakers adopt Venezuela cause as their own

Venezuela Political Crisis

@patriciamazzei @alextdaugherty 

For months, Cuban-American lawmakers have deployed familiar rhetoric to warn Washington colleagues of a democracy under threat in Latin America, where people are deprived of food and the ballot box, and where economic collapse could empower Russia uncomfortably close to home.

“This is a dysfunctional narco-state that is in a death spiral in terms of its ability to function,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

“We are talking about a nearly failed state in our own hemisphere,” said Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

“We will have a swift and firm response from our own administration,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

But the tough talk isn’t about Cuba. It’s about Venezuela.

The fight for a free Cuba — a fight carried in their bones, transcending all politics — has fueled Cuban-American lawmakers for decades in their campaign against Fidel and Raúl Castro. But President Donald Trump has already taken a tougher line toward Cuba, as the legislators wanted. So, the unfolding Venezuela crisis has become Cuban Americans’ new crusade.

“Just like it has been too long for the Cuban people, most people are coming to the understanding that this is part of the same movement, the same cancer that has been sickening the Cuban people and the Venezuelan people for decades now,” Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo said in a Capitol Hill speech to Venezuelan activists and lawmakers Wednesday.

Cuban-American Republicans and Democrats agree President Nicolás Maduro must be stopped. Their united front could amplify their clout: As with Cuba, one of their own — Rubio — has proven to be the White House’s go-to legislator on Latin America.

Rubio, a Republican who’s spent years in Congress criticizing Maduro, says he’s been in regular touch with Trump and especially Vice President Mike Pence about how to sanction Venezuela if Maduro moves forward with a planned July 30 election. That vote would create a constituent assembly empowered to rewrite the nation’s constitution, effectively replacing a democratically elected legislature with Maduro loyalists.

“The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles,” Trump said in a statement Monday, released as Rubio made similar remarks on Twitter. “If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions.”

Rubio, Ros-Lehtinen, Curbelo and fellow Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart back banning Venezuelan oil imports, a drastic measure once considered unthinkable against the No. 3 oil supplier to the U.S. But also in favor is a local Democrat, Weston Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who represents thousands of Venezuelans.

The message: On Cuba, Rubio and company faced significant opposition, both on Capitol Hill and in Trump’s administration. On Venezuela, they don’t.

“There’s not a single senator that I’ve seen, and no House member that I’ve heard from, who still supports this regime,” Rubio told the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute in bilingual remarks Wednesday. “Once there were people who sometimes backed [former Venezuelan President Hugo] Chávez, or said things about Chávez in the past. But that doesn’t exist anymore. No one here supports Maduro.”

Even Rep. Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat who worked with the late Chávez, frequently traveled to Venezuela during Chávez’s presidency and is the only sitting member of Congress who attended Chávez’s funeral, supports sanctions.

“We are compelled to take a stand on what’s right,” Meeks said. “Sanctions that are being considered are the right things to do.”

Behind the bipartisan push is a deeply held belief that Maduro is just another Fidel — and a sense that if Cuban Americans and their allies don’t defend Venezuela in Washington, no one will.

“We need to let the Venezuelan people know that they are not alone in this fight, that we stand together with them, that we will not rest until Venezuela is free from oppression and is once again a nation of democracy and the rule of law,” Ros-Lehtinen said in an impassioned speech Wednesday.

The position is certainly heart-felt, but politics aren’t entirely out of the picture: Venezuelans fleeing Chávez and now Maduro could emerge as a significant voting bloc in Florida, the nation’s largest swing state.

Read more here.

 

July 18, 2017

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen vote against rollback of Obama's ozone standards

Economic+Impact+of+Immigrants+0190+JAI

@alextdaugherty

Miami Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo joined Democrats in an unsuccessful effort to keep ozone regulations proposed by Barack Obama that would lower acceptable ozone levels and require oversight from the Environmental Protection Administration.

Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo were among 11 Republicans who voted against the Ozone Standards Implementation Act sponsored by Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas. The bill delays the implementation of Obama's ozone rule and would require the EPA to reexamine the rule every 10 years instead of every five years. 

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart voted in favor, along with four Democrats and the majority of Republicans. The bill passed with by a vote of 229-199. A slew of environmental and public health organizations opposed the bill while business and manufacturing groups were in favor.

Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen are part of a group of House Republicans and Democrats concerned about climate change dubbed the Climate Solutions Caucus. 

This post was updated to clarify that the Climate Solutions Caucus consists of Republicans and Democrats.  

As Trump writes new Cuba rules, anti-embargo politicians present a compromise

Trumpsign

@alextdaugherty 

Jeff Flake sees an opening in Cuba.

The Republican senator from Arizona, a longtime critic of U.S. trade and travel restrictions on the island, is hopeful that the Trump administration is willing to compromise when it comes to writing out the rules that will comprise Trump’s Cuba policy directive announced in Miami last month.

“This is an area where Marco Rubio and I agree on,” Flake said. “We’ve had broad disagreements with policy on Cuba, but we want to make sure that American travel serves a purpose and that it empowers entrepreneurs. I think what we’ve all recognized no matter where we are on the policy is that over the past couple of years a lot more Cubans have enjoyed a lot more freedom because of American travel.”

Flake was on hand for an announcement on Tuesday by Engage Cuba and the Center of Democracy in the Americas outlining a number of policy recommendations as the White House figures out the nuts and bolts of the Cuba policy announced in June.

Their recommendations include allowing individual people-to-people travel, lifting restrictions on remittances and lifting limitations on bank transactions for Cubans who open U.S. bank accounts.

“Ever since the speech by President Trump we’ve seen a lot of cancellations in our reservations by American travelers. The Americans are scared to come to Cuba,” said Julio Alvarez, co-founder of a restoration garage for classic American automobiles in Havana. “It’s affecting my ability to come to the U.S. to get parts for my cars. I’m not allowed to have a bank account here. This affects my business greatly.”

The entrepreneurs also sent a letter to the departments of State, Treasury and Commerce outlining their recommendations.

“The vast majority of U.S. individual travelers frequent private lodging, restaurants and transportation services,” the letter said. “Fewer travelers will have a direct negative impact on businesses in the hospitality sector as well as an indirect negative impact on connected enterprises.”

Flake was joined by Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, two longtime proponents of ending the Cuban embargo.

“Our government now criticizes that new opening,” Leahy said, after he warmly embraced some of the entrepreneurs on hand and showed them pictures of the view from his home in Vermont. “They say the only Cubans who benefited were Raúl Castro and the Cuban ministry. Well, the Cuban government has benefited, that’s unavoidable in any country where there’s state-owned enterprises. There’s a whole lot of countries like that; China Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, we have no restrictions on travel there.”

James Williams, head of Engage Cuba, said the recommendations announced Tuesday should appeal to politicians like Rubio who have made it clear their intention is to hurt the sprawling Cuban military apparatus and help private citizens engage in free enterprise.

“Senator Rubio since the announcement has been very active in publicly pushing... that this is not against the private sector,” Williams said. “He’s going out of his way to say how much he’s supporting it so we would hope that there should be common agreement.”

Williams added that their recommendations represent the best chance of a compromise between Cuba hardliners and anti-embargo politicians, as they do not address ending the embargo or allowing tourism on the island.

“If we can’t find agreement on this, I don’t think we can find an agreement on anything,” Williams said. “I’m sort of less optimistic about Congressman [Mario] Diaz-Balart than I am about Senator Rubio.”

Read more here.

July 13, 2017

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

AP_16256814661974

@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.