March 23, 2017

Miami Republicans will have to make up their minds on health care today

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@PatriciaMazzei

With a vote looming Thursday evening on House Republicans' healthcare bill, two of three Miami lawmakers whose districts have among the highest number of Affordable Care Act enrollees have yet to announce their support or opposition.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart have been undecided -- with Curbelo leaning "Yes" and Diaz-Balart leaning "No" -- since both voted for the American Health Care Act in different House committees.

Curbelo helped move the law out of the Ways and Means Committee before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that 14 million Americans would drop or lose their insurance coverage in 2018 under the law; Diaz-Balart helped break a tie to pass the legislation out of the Budget Committee, despite saying he had concerns with it.

The White House has been wooing Diaz-Balart and other ambivalent Republicans all week. Curbelo was among the group of moderates who met Wednesday night with House Speaker Paul Ryan. They reached no broad agreement.

The third Miami Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, was the first Florida member of Congress to oppose the bill -- and she still does, she said Thursday.

"After studying the impact of this legislation on my constituents, I will vote no on this bill because it does not provide adequate solutions for the working poor, disabled, and elderly in South Florida," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Too many of my constituents will be left paying more for coverage and many will be left without coverage at all. The cuts and changes to Medicaid will make it more difficult to effectively care for uninsured patients as well as individuals with high costs of coverage due to special needs or chronic diseases. Additionally, costs for seniors will increase significantly as insurance companies will charge older Americans exorbitantly high premiums and fees which many cannot afford."

Later, Ros-Lehtinen said in an interview on WIOD-AM (510) that any of the proposed cuts to "essential" healthcare benefits to appease the most conservative members of the GOP caucus would amount to a "humongous concession."

"Oh my gosh -- why have insurance?" she told host Fernand Amandi, who is also a Democratic pollster.

Amandi asked if the White House had tried to entice Ros-Lehtinen to change her mind. She said she'd gotten overtures from "people who never even knew I existed."

"I did get invited to bowl at the White House. Yaaaay!" she said. "But I turned that down."

Spokeswomen for Curbelo and Diaz-Balart said Thursday morning the lawmakers are in negotiation meetings over the bill all day.

A national Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday showed 56 percent of respondents oppose the AHCA, and only 17 percent support it.

This post has been updated.

Photo credit: Hector Gabino, el Nuevo Herald

Scramble for healthcare votes suddenly puts Cuba policy in play

FAZ22 ForunSeguridad News rk (1)
@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres

The showdown in Congress over House Republicans’ healthcare bill might have nothing to do with Raúl Castro — if it weren’t for Miami.

Thursday’s planned vote on the American Health Care Act is so razor tight that House GOP leaders and the White House are leaning hard on every single shaky Republican for their support. One of them: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, whose foremost want is to overturn the Obama administration’s Cuba opening — and who has recently taken it upon himself to outline a possible Cuba policy for the Trump administration.

Perhaps Diaz-Balart and the White House would engage in a little old-fashioned horse trading — a “Yes” vote on healthcare for swift action on Cuba?

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Diaz-Balart wanted assurances from White House officials that President Donald Trump would keep his campaign promise to take a harder Cuba line. There was no explicit discussion about trading a healthcare vote for a Cuba promise, The Times said after initially reporting otherwise.

“I wish that they would’ve given me a commitment on something, but that is just made up,” Diaz-Balart told McClatchy, the Miami Herald’s parent company, on Wednesday.

He added that he’s still undecided on the healthcare bill, mostly based on concerns about insurance coverage and premium costs for older Americans.

“I am very concerned that particularly that population is not being dealt with yet in a way that is giving me a lot of comfort,” he said.

Politically, he noted, it’s better not to be a hard “Yes” or “No”: “Once I do that, then I’m out of the loop.”

More here.

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

March 22, 2017

White House angles for Diaz-Balart's vote on health care

FAZ22 ForunSeguridad News rk
@PatriciaMazzei

In a story Wednesday about the White House leaning on House Republicans to back the GOP healthcare bill, The New York Times reported that Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart used the hot political moment to reiterate that President Donald Trump promised to undo the Obama administration's Cuba policy.

For other House members, the health bill has been an opportunity to deal. As part of the discussions, Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, made it clear to White House officials that he wanted assurances that the president would hold to his pledge to consider reversing President Barack Obama’s opening with Cuba, the White House official said. Mr. Diaz-Balart backed the measure in the Budget Committee last week, although the official said there had been no explicit discussion of trading his vote for a promise on Cuba.

(An earlier version of the story incorrectly said Trump had pledged to Diaz-Balart he'd reverse the Obama policy in return for his vote.)

Diaz-Balart has made no secret that he's brought up Cuba every time he's had a chance to speak to top White House personnel. He was particularly friendly during the transition with Vice President Mike Pence. But a source told the Miami Herald on Wednesday that the Trump administration has yet to make any assurances or commitments on Cuba.

Diaz-Balart's spokeswoman, Katrina Valdés, said in an email Wednesday to the Herald and the Tampa Bay Times that, on health care, the congressman "is still reviewing the recent changes to the bill and continues to negotiate with House Leadership about multiple aspects of the bill, including how the legislation handles older, low income constituents."

A vote is planned for Thursday.


--with Alex Leary

Photo credit: Roberto Koltun, el Nuevo Herald

March 21, 2017

Latino group pushes Curbelo, Diaz-Balart to vote against GOP health plan

@PatriciaMazzei

A liberal Latino group has become the latest organization to release ads to pressure Miami Republicans to oppose the House plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.

NCLR Action Fund -- as in the National Council of La Raza -- issued a "call to action" Tuesday asking lawmakers in key districts to vote against the American Health Care Act on Thursday. Among the targeted legislators: Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart.

"The Affordable Care Act has provided over 4 million Latinos health insurance and millions more have gained greater access to quality health care," NCLRAF's political director, Rafael Collazo, said in a statement. "Latino voters want their federal officials to protect those gains. Voting for the AHCA would be an immense setback for Latinos."

The organization plans radio and digital ads in seven districts with significant Latino populations. The other five districts are represented by Will Hurd of Texas, Mike Coffman of Colorado, Jeff Denham of California, David Valadao of California and Darrell Issa of California.

March 16, 2017

Mario Diaz-Balart advances GOP health bill

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via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Florida Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami and Matt Gaetz who represents Pensacola helped pass the controversial GOP health care bill out of the budget committee this morning, setting up a full House vote as early as next week.

Three conservative Republicans dissented but that was not enough to stop the American Health Care Act from moving forward. Still, the criticism has only grown and yesterday Speaker Paul Ryan indicated it would have to change.

The GOP health care bill has created a split among the GOP House members who represent Miami-Dade: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has said she objects to it while Carlos Curbelo supports it.

- With Amy Sherman

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