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July 24, 2017

Bush: Scaramucci will help Trump

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Before he discovered unyielding love for Donald Trump, Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, was a Jeb Bush man.

"Jeb has the forward-looking vision and executive experience to lead our country and ensure our economy grows at its full potential,” Scaramucci said in September 2015 after joining Bush’s national finance commiteee. He had initially been with Scott Walker.

“As governor of Florida Jeb turned words into action and brought real reform to the state, creating an environment for job growth and economic prosperity, I know he will do the same as president,” Scaramucci said in a news release from Bush’s campaign.

Bush was eager to show strength — and not scare off donors — as his poll numbers were weakening. “Anthony’s decision to join our organization is evidence of Jeb’s appeal as the executive with the most conservative, results-oriented record in this entire race,” Jack Oliver, Bush’s national finance co-chairman said.

Bush’s prospects never turned around and Trump overtook the Republican primary field. Scaramucci, the hedge fund manager and TV commentator known as the Mooch, eventually turned to Trump, whom he had criticized as a “hack” and other things in the past (he’s been deleting negative tweets).

He steps into the White House at a critical time.

“Anthony is a real talent,” Bush told the Tampa Bay Times in an email on Monday. “He is quick, smart and a whole lot of fun. I think he will help the president.”

Bush crossed paths with Scaramucci in May, when the former governor attended Scaramucci’s SkyBridge Alternatives Conference in Las Vegas. Trump naturally came up and Bush offered some advice: Stop tweeting.

“When he tweets he also gives our enemies all sorts of nuances and insights,” Bush said. “These things matter. We are living in a dangerous world. He is the leader of the free world. There are lots of reasons that you don't want to send out signals to our adversaries.”

Scaramucci on Monday signaled the return of on-camera White House press briefings.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Associated Press

Rivas Logan reports 'You are dead' Facebook post to police


The comment appeared on state Senate candidate Ana Rivas Logan's official Facebook page at 7:08 p.m. Sunday night.

"Michelle Obama sucked!!!!" a user named Minerva Rodriguez wrote. "If you are a democrat, then you are for raising taxes and flooding this country of illegal immigrants. Guess what? You are dead!!!@"

After consulting with her attorney, Rivas Logan said she telephoned Miami-Dade police, who took a report by phone and assigned her a case number, as is routine.

But no detective had followed up by Monday morning, prompting Rivas Logan to question how seriously police took the case. 

"What upsets me is, I just think it's unequal treatment," said Rivas Logan, a Democrat running against Annette Taddeo in Tuesday's primary. "Somebody threatens Jose Felix Diaz, everybody goes to help him. You know, I have kids, too. I have family, too. Nobody cares. It's like, ho-hum. The guy said to me, 'There's no imminent danger.' There is imminent danger. I'm a public person. They can recognize me." 

Police said a copy of their report would be available after 3 p.m., but it wasn't.

Rivas Logan was referring to another Senate District 40 candidate, Republican Rep. Diaz. Last month, police arrested Steve St. Felix the day after he wrote on Diaz's Facebook page, "I'll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next REC meeting," apparently referring the Republican Executive Committee, the official name of the Miami-Dade GOP.

Unlike the Rivas Logan case, news of the Diaz threat didn't come out until police had investigated and St. Felix was in police custody.

St. Felix, 34, who was charged with written threats with intent to do bodily injury. One of Diaz's primary rivals, attorney Lorenzo Palomares, then offered to represent St. Felix, free of charge. Former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla is also running on the Republican side.

The message aimed at Rivas Logan was in response to a July 6 post in which the candidate quoted former First Lady Michelle Obama's presidential campaign line, "When they go low, we go high."

Rodriguez's Facebook page lists her as working at Miami Dade College. An MDC spokesman couldn't find a listing of Rodriguez as a college employee Monday. Rodriguez did not immediately respond Monday to private Facebook messages seeking comment.

"I have no idea if what she meant was, you're dead politically," Rivas Logan said. "I have no idea. But someone should at least call her.... Obviously they're trying to intimidate me. They're trying to scare me. I don't know what the purpose is, but I'm scared." 

 --with Charles Rabin

Lawmakers divided over a ban on Venezuelan oil amid fears of a Russian takeover



In advance of a July 30 vote that could strip Venezuelan lawmakers of their constitutional power, Cuban-American politicians are going after Venezuela’s jugular: the largest proven oil reserves in the world.

Over the past few weeks, as the tough talk on Venezuela reaches a fever pitch, South Florida lawmakers are uniformly behind a ban on Venezuelan oil imports to the United States, a drastic step that could deal a critical blow to Venezuela’s slumping oil industry.

The lawmakers seem convinced that the White House will do something drastic, going beyond the long-used tactic of issuing sanctions on individual Venezuelan government officials suspected of money laundering and drug trafficking.

“We will have a swift and firm response from this administration,” Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said last week.

“If this happens on July 30, I am convinced without any doubt that the President of the United States will act swiftly and decisively to ensure that there will be measures taken against individuals and potentially sectors for the unconstitutional overthrow of democracy and the replacement with a Cuban-style regime,” Sen. Marco Rubio said on Wednesday.

Read more: As Venezuela teeters on constitutional crisis, Miami lawmakers warn of a new Cuba

For now, Congress is united in its disgust toward Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, but some lawmakers — even among Republicans — disagree over how far the U.S. should go if Maduro’s constituent assembly comes up for its scheduled vote.

The Cuban Americans favor a ban on Venezuelan oil imports, a far-reaching action that could further cripple an economy already mired in hyperinflation. But some leading foreign-policy voices in Congress, including Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, have doubts.

“I believe there’s a crisis coming in Venezuela, and I think we need to be careful about not making ourselves the focus of that crisis,” Corker said. “Sometimes what we do unifies the chavistas.”

Corker, who is close to Trump, added that he plans to meet with Rubio soon to discuss possible sanctions.

Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who ran against Trump as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate, echoes Corker’s concerns. Kaine said he was “pleased” with the Trump administration’s recent actions in Venezuela, but stopped short of endorsing oil sanctions.

“Before agreeing to sanctions on an industry sector, I would want to hear from the Administration how that would impact the Venezuelan people. Sanctions should be designed to punish and deter bad actors and minimize impact on suffering people,” Kaine, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement provided to the Miami Herald.

Venezuela exported 291 million barrels of oil and oil products to the United States in 2016. The United States buys nearly half of Venezuela’s oil, and oil revenues account for 95 percent of Venezuela’s export earnings, according to OPEC.

In contrast, Venezuelan oil accounts for just eight percent of U.S oil imports, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Lawmakers are also worried about the potential for a Russian takeover of U.S.-based oil refiner Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., known as PDVSA.

A Russian state-owned oil company called Rosneft acquired a 49.9 percent stake in Citgo as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan signed in November 2016. If the Venezuelan government needs additional cash, they could hand over their oil assets, including the Houston-based Citgo, to the Russians.

“There’s already been one default on a loan from Russia to Venezuela,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J, a Cuban-American lawmaker who supports tough sanctions against Venezuela. “If in fact that default or any others is used by Rosneft to get the majority of shareholding of PDVSA, which owns Citgo and all of its infrastructure in the United States, we could have a extensive energy infrastructure here in the United States owned by the Russian government. I think we can all agree that the last thing we need to do is open the doors of our critical infrastructure to Russian interference.”

Read more here. 

Florida taxpayers will shoulder $1.1M in legal fees in state's defense of 'Docs vs. Glocks'


From Jim Saunders at the News Service of Florida:

Florida will pay $1.1 million in legal fees to attorneys who challenged a controversial state law that sought to prevent doctors from asking patients about guns, a group representing opponents said Monday.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence announced the legal-fees agreement more than five months after a federal appeals court sided with doctors and medical groups in striking down key parts of the 2011 law --- which became known as the “docs vs. glocks” law. The state did not appeal the Feb. 16decision by the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A copy of the legal-fees agreement had not been posted in an online court file Monday morning. But documents indicate the state and the law's opponents had been in mediation on the fees.

The law, which was backed by groups such as the National Rifle Association, included a series of restrictions on doctors and health providers. For example, it sought to prevent physicians from entering information about gun ownership into medical records if the physicians knew the information was not "relevant" to patients' medical care or safety or to the safety of other people.

Also, the law said doctors should refrain from asking about gun ownership by patients or family members unless the doctors believed in "good faith" that the information was relevant to medical care or safety. Also, the law sought to prevent doctors from discriminating against patients or "harassing" them because of owning firearms.

Opponents argued, in part, that the law violated free-speech rights. The full appeals court found that the record-keeping, inquiry and anti-harassment parts of the law were unconstitutional, but upheld the portion of the law that bars doctors from discriminating against patients who have guns.

“Legislators across the country should learn from Florida's example that if you side with the corporate gun lobby instead of your constituents, you endanger the safety of children and families, impinge upon First Amendment rights of doctors, and force taxpayers to pay millions to unsuccessfully defend unconstitutional laws,” Jonathan Lowy, director of the Brady Center's Legal Action Project and an attorney in the case, said in a prepared statement Monday. “Thankfully, in this case justice prevailed and the court recognized that doctors have a First Amendment right to tell the truth about guns, and the risks they can pose to children and families.”

When asked for comment Monday about the legal fees, John Tupps, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, said in an email that Scott signed the 2011 law after it “was approved by a large, bipartisan majority in the Florida Legislature.”

“Governor Scott is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” Tupps said. “Much of this law was either never challenged or upheld in court. This (legal fees) settlement is in accordance with Florida law and a recommendation from the Department of Financial Services.”

The challenge to the law was filed in June 2011 and played out over nearly six years. A U.S. District Court judge blocked the law from taking effect, but a three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld the law in three rulings before the full appeals court agreed to take up the case.

Supporters of the law said it was necessary to prevent doctors, such as pediatricians, from harassing and discriminating against patients and parents about gun ownership. The also described the law, formally known as the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act, as a Second Amendment issue.

But Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, an attorney with the firm Ropes & Gray, who argued the case for the plaintiffs, said in a prepared statement Monday that the case allows doctors to “go back to giving their best advice to patients when it comes to gun safety.”

“From day one in bringing this case, our commitment has been to protect doctors' First Amendment rights to ensure the safety of individuals, families and communities in Florida,” Hallward-Driemeier said. “The successful resolution of the litigation and subsequent fees and costs award are both critical to furthering that goal.”

Gov. Rick Scott talks tough on Venezuela sanctions but, as governor, his options are limited

Scott VenezuelaTo show his solidarity with Venezuelans, Gov. Rick Scott held a rally in South Florida and repeatedly promised to punish companies that do business with the Nicolás Maduro regime.

But Scott has offered no details as to how that will work and, although the governor and two other members of the Cabinet oversee the Florida Retirement System and its $150 billion in assets, their options are limited. Additionally, a 16-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling may bar him from telling state agencies to boycott companies that do business in Venezuela.

“Next month, at my next Cabinet meeting, I will be proposing a resolution that will say any organization that does business with the Maduro regime cannot do business with the State of Florida,” Scott proclaimed at a July 10 rally at the El Arepazo restaurant in Doral. The crowd cheered.

The governor, attorney general and state chief financial officer act as the State Board of Administration but, because they have a fiduciary responsibility to keep the state pension fund healthy, they may not sell off large amounts of assets if that could affect the profitability of the fund — unless they are ordered to by law.

“We are required to manage the fund with the best interests of the beneficiaries in mind, and that may restrict what can be done in any situation,” said John Kuczwanski, spokesperson for the SBA. “But the Legislature can go beyond that and require us to do something else.”

 Sen. José Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who has announced he is running for the congressional seat being vacated by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen next year, said Venezuela’s human rights abuses, increasing violence and disrespect for democracy, merit such a law.

On July 5, he announced he has drafted legislation that would require Florida to divest investments in any “institution or company doing business with the government of Venezuela.”

“The idea is to make this something that we can actually implement,” Rodriguez said Friday. “If we can’t take concrete steps, it won’t mean anything to Wall Street. To Wall Street, money talks.” Rodriguez’s proposal is directed at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which purchased $2.8 billion in bonds in May from Venezuela’s state-run oil company, and at other firms that engage in “the possibility of future investments of this kind.”

Read more here. 

Photo: Florida Governor Rick Scott speaks to the media as he holds a Venezuelan ‘Freedom Rally’ at El Arepazo 2 restaurant on July 10, 2017 in Doral. Scott called on the Venezuelan government to free Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner from house arrest, as well as those that have been wrongly imprisoned by Nicolas Maduro's government. Joe Raedle Getty Images

Lacking key DOE guidance, Florida schools try to adopt statewide reforms in HB 7069



Every year, new state laws hit the books that have to be implemented once they take effect. But House Bill 7069 isn’t your average new law.

The sweeping, 274-page, $419 million measure that reforms Florida’s public K-12 schools spans dozens of changes in statute — some of which are complex and take effect at different times over the course of the next few years.

So, what goes into implementing something like that?

The Florida Department of Education doesn’t want to answer questions about it and hasn’t offered much detail publicly three weeks after HB 7069 became law on July 1.

Full story here.

Photo credit: Miami Herald file

July 22, 2017

Diaz de la Portilla loans himself $443K in special Miami Senate campaign


Former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, running against a far better-funded opponent, loaned himself $393,500 since June 9 to campaign for Senate District 40 ahead of Tuesday's special primary election, according to a campaign-finance report filed Friday. That brings the total amount Diaz de la Portilla has put into his campaign to $443,500.

Diaz de la Portilla told the Miami Herald in a text message he poured his money into the race "to fight against the $3 million nasty defamation campaign waged by my opponent with dirty special interest money."

"I will owe my victory this Tuesday to the hardworking men and women of District 40 and not to influence peddlers who have bought Jose Felix Diaz," he said of his chief rival, a sitting state representative. "Self funding gives me the freedom to fight for the people and answer only to them."

Diaz questioned the source of Diaz de la Portilla's money. Diaz de la Portilla, who works as a political consultant, reported in a May 30 financial disclosure form a net worth of about $618,000, with annual $98,000 income from his consulting firm, First Stone Management. He listed his sole ownership of the firm as an asset with a "fair market value" of $300,000.

He has a $386,000 mortgage on a home valued at about $603,000 that is under foreclosure -- a step Diaz de la Portilla has described as necessary to modify the mortgage after he and his ex-wife divorced.

"Alex's hypocrisy knows no bounds," Diaz said in a statement. "The only income he has comes from lobbying and running campaigns funded by special interests. The real story here is where did Alex get half a million dollars, all of a sudden, with less than a week to go before Election Day? HIs financial disclosure reports confirm that he doesn't have the money he is supposedly lending himself. The dark money he is spending on desperate attacks stinks far worse than his liberal tax-and-spend voting record."

Diaz de la Portilla dismissed questions about his finances, saying he keeps them "by the book."

"My assets have increased in the private sector and all my financial disclosures reflect that," he said. "My next financial disclosure, when due, will, as always, reflect my financial resources."

Diaz de la Portilla's report shows his most recent payment to himself was for $55,000 Thursday, after a $200,000 payment Tuesday.

Diaz de la Portilla also collected $30,250 from contributors from June 9 through Thursday, bringing his total to $52,750. 

Diaz leads all candidates in the race in fundraising, having collected $531,325 from June 9 through Thursday. That brings his total campaign money to $809,729. He has not loaned himself any money.

Diaz's list of contributors reads like a who's who of Miami business, healthcare and political interests, including from several car dealerships owned by billionaire civic activist Norman Braman. Diaz de la Portilla has portrayed himself throughout the campaign as a candidate willing to buck his party and Tallahassee bigwigs. 

Diaz, who voted for a controversial education bill during this year's session opposed by his GOP campaign rivals, also got contributions of $1,000 each from Charter Schools USA and Fernando and Ignacio Zulueta, the founders of Academica, another charter-school chain. And he received $250 from Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, and $1,000 from Carlos Migoya, the chief executive of the public Jackson Health System.

In addition, Diaz has been aided by his political committee, Rebuild Florida, which raised $420,500 in June and spent a whopping $1.3 million in July. Among its major contributions were $25,000 from a Florida Medical Association PAC, $25,000 from Publix, $25,000 from a Florida Hospital Association PAC and $25,000 from Coalition for Conservative Leadership, a group linked to Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota, according to the PAC's website

The third Republican in the race, attorney Lorenzo Palomares, raised $14,4000, bringing his total to $23,400. He's loaned himself a total of $62,500. Diaz has spent $736,434.72, compared to Diaz de la Portilla's $331,886.41 and Palomares' $40,846.69.

Republicans have vastly outraised Democrats since the start of the race. Democratic businesswoman Annette Taddeo's fundraising total far eclipsed the one from her rival, former Rep. Ana Rivas Logan. Taddeo raked in $38,339.75 from June 9 through Thursday, bringing her total to $83,898. During the same period, Rivas Logan collected only $2,835, for a total of $13,260, including $2,500 Rivas Logan loaned herself early in the race. 

Among Taddeo's contributors were Chris Korge, a major Democratic fundraiser who gave her $1,000; former Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, who gave $250, and the committee for Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House minority whip who's backed Taddeo since her first run for office in 2008 and gave $1,000.

Taddeo has spent a total of $59,618.15, compared to Rivas Logan's $10,790.39.

Taddeo's political committee, Fight Back Florida, has raised a total of $38,650.00. The largest contribution, on June 30, came from Diario Las Americas Multimedia, a Spanish-language newspaper. Publisher Nelson Mezerhane did not respond to emailed questions Friday about the contribution. The committee has spent $24,089.96.

Attorney Daniel Perez, for his part, raised $84,750, for a total of $168,200. He, too, got money from various business associations, including a Florida Bankers Association PAC and a Florida Medical Association PAC -- as well as $1,000 from Coral Gables healthcare executive Mike Fernandez and $1,000 from businessman Jorge Mas, who's considering buying the Miami Marlins baseball team.

In the Republican primary for House District 116, brewery owner Jose Mallea collected $97,600 from June 9 through Thursday, bringing his campaign total to $238,256, including $24,000 he loaned himself this month. Among his contributors were several business interests, including the political committee for Associated Industries of Florida, insurer Florida Blue and Publix. A former Jeb Bush aide who worked on his 2016 presidential campaign, Mallea also reported $100 from former Bush campaign manager Sally Bradshaw of Tallahassee.

Mallea has spent $244,001.40 so far in the race, compared to Perez's $162,531.77.

July 21, 2017

Scaramucci has traveled to Cuba to scout investment opportunities

via @ngameztorres

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director has traveled to Cuba several times to explore the possibility of doing business on the island.

Scaramucci, whose appointment on Monday led to the resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, is the founder of the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital. He also is behind the annual SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference that brings together business and government leaders. In 2016, the conference — for the first time —included a panel on Cuba in which the Cuban-American businessman Hugo Cancio was one of the speakers.

At the offices of OnCuba in Havana, a digital media outlet owned by Cancio, Scaramucci was quoted in an interview published in May 2016 about his idea of ​​creating an “investment fund” for Cuba, adding that, “we are eager to exchange (ideas)... about the best ways in which we can contribute to the development of the country, the services and the quality of life of citizens.”

Scaramucci told OnCuba that he first traveled to the island in 2012.

“When I saw that the U.S. policy of rapprochement was heading to reconciliation and the ease of the embargo, I started to get in touch with people to get an idea of whether it was really possible to implement my projects here,” he said.

On his Facebook page, Scaramucci shared the interview on a May 4, 2016 post and wrote that during his visit to Cuba he "saw a very beautiful country. I am very hopeful for the future of Cuba and excited to welcome the Cubans to the SALT Conference!”

More here.

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Trump wants more foreign workers for Mar-a-Lago

via @learyreports

President Donald Trump’s Florida businesses are again in search of inexpensive foreign workers, raising questions during a week the White House has themed “Made in America.”

U.S. Department of Labor records posted Thursday show Mar-a-Lago is seeking 35 waiters and waitresses20 cooks and 15 housekeepers, with work to begin in October and run through the middle of 2018.

Trump has also sought 6 cooks at Trump National Golf Club Jupiter.

Mar-a-Lago has obtained more than 800 foreign workers under the H-2B visa program since 2006. Trump has defended the practice, saying he can’t find other others, a claim local officials say is not true.

There are currently 2,643 qualified candidates in Palm Beach County for hospitality positions, said Tom Veenstra, a senior director at CareerSource Palm Beach County.

"The hospitality industry is Palm Beach County’s largest employer sector and we are expecting considerably higher demand for hospitality talent this fall/winter season compared to past years," he said. "The most recent unemployment rate for Palm Beach County is 4.3 percent – among the strongest job market levels in a decade. Tourism and hotel occupancy rates are at record levels. Employers are finding that the talent market is extremely competitive for many of these high-demand jobs."

During the presidential campaign, Marco Rubio attacked Trump over the practice.

“When you bring someone in on one of these visas they can't go work for anybody else," Rubio said during a debate in Detroit. "They either work for you or they have to go back home. You basically have them captive, so you don't have to worry about competing for higher wages with another hotel down the street. And, that's why you bring workers from abroad."

The use of temporary foreign workers also translates to savings on raises and benefits.

Trump countered that other hotels do the same thing. "Long-term employees, we don't do that, but short-term employees, we have no choice but to do it, and other hotels in that very, very hot area. It is a very hot area."

Rubio shot back: "There were Americans in that hot area."

The DNC said Friday: “After making hiring American workers a consistent theme of his campaign and administration, even anointing this week as ‘Made In America’ week –the latest news out of Mar-A-Lago makes it clear that Donald Trump puts his business interests above everything else, including hard-working American families and workers. Trump’s properties claim there ‘aren’t enough Americans to hire’ – seriously? Instead of basking in hypocrisy, the Trump properties should be examples for the business community and create good-paying American jobs.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Rubio isn't backing new Dream Act for now

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan plan to protect Dreamers from deportation was released Thursday but lacks an influential supporter: Sen. Marco Rubio.

“I’m not prepared to sign on to that legislation right now because I think there might be a better approach,” Rubio told the Tampa Bay Times.

The revised Dream Act released by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., would protect some 800,000 immigrants brought to the country illegally by their parents. It would provide a path to citizenship.

So-called Dreamers have been shielded from deportation under an Obama-era program known as DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. But lawsuits have challenged the program and the Trump administration has sent mixed signals.

“I think DACA is unconstitutional and ideally would be replaced by a law that addresses this issue in a way that takes into account the reality of the situation that we face,” Rubio said Wednesday.

Yet the former Gang of 8 member said he wants to prevent against “unintended consequences.”

“The concern with these laws is they are manipulated by networks, particularly in Central America, as they have been in the past when DACA was first signed where they were lying to people and saying to them that America has this new law that allows children to come. It was one of the drivers of the migratory crisis we faced (in 2014). We don’t want to see a repeat of that effort. “

Rubio said legislation would have to provide “appropriate resources,” which he defined as working with Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to publicize what the law would do and not do. “We don’t want to somehow have this misconstrued by trafficking networks to encourage people to take a dangerous journey to the United States,” he said.

A request for additional information from Rubio’s office was not answered.

Rubio in 2012 was working on his own legislation affecting Dreamers but never produced a bill as conservative criticism mounted. Then President Obama stepped in with DACA.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times