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July 17, 2017

Watchdog group says it will get access to Mar-a-Lago visitor records

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - A watchdog group says it has secured access to visitor logs for Mar-a-Lago and will release them by early September.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington brought legal action along with the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University against the Department of Homeland Security.

“The public deserves to know who is coming to meet with the president and his staff,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said. “We are glad that as a result of this case, this information will become public for meetings at his his personal residences—but it needs to be public for meetings at the White House as well.”

CREW, NSA and Knight sued for the release of visitor logs from the White House, Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower. DHS claims to have no records of visitors at Trump Tower. The lawsuit is ongoing for the White House, the group said in a release.

CREW sued the Obama White House for access to visitor logs.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Latvala to announce 2018 plans on Aug. 16

via @adamsmithtimes

We hear Republican State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater,sounded like a probable candidate for Florida governor as some 120 friends and political allies gathered at his place in Boothbay Harbor, Maine to celebrate his second wedding anniversary to wife Connie -- and buzz about his possible run for the Republican gubernatorial nomination against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and possibly Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron. DeSantis.

The gathering including 10 fellow Florida senators, including Joe Negron, once Latvala's rival for the senate  presidency; Bill Galvano, Negron's likely successor, and Senate President Pro Tem Anitere Flores, along with assorted Tallahassee fundraisers and politicos. The other Senators: Lizbeth Benacquisto, David Simmons, Debbie Mayfield, Kathleen Passidomo, George Gainer, René García, and Denise Grimsley.

Latvala, 65, told the gathering Saturday night that he will make his governor's race announcement (Supposedly no other office was discussed) on Aug. 16.

--ADAM C. SMITH, Tampa Bay Times

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

Debbie Wasserman Schultz spends six figures after Tim Canova announces rematch

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Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, spent over $200,000 in the latest quarter of fundraising after Hollywood law professor Tim Canova announced a rematch with the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman in mid-June. 

Wasserman Schultz raised $217,526 in the second quarter of 2017 and spent $238,332, according to Federal Elections Commission reports. The longtime incumbent has $215,220 on hand. The totals include all fundraising and spending from April 1 to June 30, so the bulk of Wasserman Schultz's financial activity occurred before Canova announced his bid. 

Canova, who began the period with just $3,343 on hand, raised $38,117 and spent $32,819 for $19,641 cash on hand. Canova also loaned himself $10,000. The majority of Canova's contributions, $33,822, were small-dollar donations under $200. 

Wasserman Schultz beat Canova in the Democratic primary by 14 percentage points in 2016. The Broward-based district that includes portions of northeastern Miami-Dade is heavily Democratic. 

Biden to appear at Miami Book Fair

Joebidenvia @OgleConnie

At last year’s Miami Book Fair, the impossible ticket to get was the one that got you in to see 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders.

This year, another politician promises to be the fair’s rock star: Former Vice President Joe Biden will make an appearance.

Biden will be in town for his American Promise Tour, during which he’ll talk about his memoir “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose” (Flatiron, $27). The book, due out Nov. 14, will not only touch on the big political moments of Biden’s life, including his work with President Barack Obama, but will also deal with the loss of his son Beau, who died at 46 of brain cancer, and how Biden is finding new purpose in a troubled political time.

Details about Biden’s appearance and ticket sales haven’t been formalized yet, but there is one thing we know: the former vice president is not the fair’s opening night speaker. This year the fair kicks off with journalist Dan Rather, who will talk about his new book with Elliot Kirshner, “What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism” (Algonquin, $22.95). Last year’s opening night speaker was “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah.

The annual “Evenings With...” programs aren’t entirely fleshed out yet, but a few names are confirmed: MSNBC’s Laurence O’Donnell, singer and National Book Award winner Patti Smith and novelist Isabelle Allende.

Other confirmed authors for the week include Armistead Maupin, Edwidge Danticat, Richard Blanco, Bill McKibben, Michael Eric Dyson, Lisa See, Min Jin Lee, Gene Yang, Robert Haas, Victor Hernandez Cruz and Pete Souza, President Obama’s official photographer.

No word on when tickets will go on sale, but as always the best way to get first crack at them is to become a member of the fair, which runs Nov. 12-19 at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave. in downtown Miami.


Photo credit: David Lienemann, The White House

July 15, 2017

Miami-Dade commissioner readies transit-tax fight


Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez has tapped a string of elected officials to help him pressure the county to stop using a transportation tax to plug holes in the transit budget.

Suarez wants to divert tax dollars from the county's cash-strapped transit agency to a plan to spend at least $3 billion expanding rail countywide. On Thursday, he led a progression of local officials, including Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Florida Rep. Kionne McGhee, urging the board that oversees the tax to back ending the transit subsidy.

"We need help," McGhee, a Democrat representing South Dade, told the Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust. "The south is suffering."

Miami-Dade voters in 2002 approved a half-percent sales tax to fund transportation, including a promised expansion of Metrorail. Fifteen years later, the system has only grown by about two miles, while tens of millions of dollars subsidize transit operations that used to rely on property taxes to fill budget holes.

The CITT board passed a resolution sponsored by Suarez's appointee to the panel, Melissa Dynan, that urged the County Commission to shift $50 million of the current $94 million subsidy away from transit operations and to expanding the transit system. Suarez argues Miami-Dade could $50 million from the overall $7 billion budget to fill the hole left in transit, but county officials say that would require drastic cuts.

"There is not enough fat to find $50 million," budget chief Jennifer Moon told the board. 

The operating subsidy is set to drop about 30 percent for the 2018 budget year that begins Oct. 1 as more of the transit tax is needed for debt payments not related to rail expansion. And the CITT board already has endorsed ending the operating subsidy over several years. The resolution that passed Thursday called for stripping the $50 million out of the budget in a matter of months. 

While the resolution backs Suarez's position, it was written as an urging of county commissioners rather than in a way that would force the commission to either adopt the policy or formally overrule the oversight board. Suarez said he was hoping for the more forceful version, but was happy to have the message delivered as the county considers how to fund the multi-billion-dollar SMART Plan to expand rail along six corridors countywide.

"We're going to build the damn thing," he said Saturday. 

Suarez, a former Miami mayor, is widely considered a potential candidate for county mayor in 2020. His son, Francis, is the favorite to succeed Regalado as mayor this fall. 



July 14, 2017

Curbelo’s gang of moderate Republicans defeats anti-climate change legislation

Miami flooding


Carlos Curbelo touts himself as a rare Republican in Washington willing to criticize Donald Trump and conservative members of his own party.

And after months of talk and lots of tweeting, Curbelo’s effort to build a bloc of moderate Republicans capable of swaying anti-climate-change legislation appears to have paid off.

Curbelo’s Climate Solutions Caucus, a group of 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats who are concerned about the impacts of climate change, voted en masse on Thursday against a proposal to nix a Defense Department report on the threats posed by climate change to military installations.

“A bipartisan majority of Members are on the record saying climate change and sea level rise must be taken into account when planning for our national defense,” Curbelo said in a statement. “With military bases like Naval Air Station Key West extremely vulnerable to sea level rise, this vote was a huge win for our coastal military communities. I’m proud of the Climate Solutions Caucus Members who worked to defeat this amendment and I look forward to continuing to build momentum for this cause in the Congress.”

A Curbelo staffer said that an informal vote-counting push by Climate Solutions Caucus Republicans occurred before the vote. Every Republican on the caucus voted against the proposal by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., with the exception of Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., who voted in favor, and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who was absent. The full House vote was 234-185.

Curbelo, who represents a Miami-to-Key West district, identified Thursday’s vote, part of the massive annual Defense Department funding bill which passed on Friday, as an area where moderate Republicans can make an impact.

But environmental groups are keeping a close eye on moderates like Curbelo and making sure their future votes match their rhetoric.

“It’s important to give the Pentagon the tools to plan for this threat to our military readiness, but of course we need to take a lot more concrete steps to solve this carbon solution before it’s too late,” said League of Conservation Voters deputy legislative director Alex Taurel.

Taurel said that funding for green energy, preparing for the effects of climate change and stopping offshore drilling are three policy areas where moderate Republicans could join Democrats, but that more Republicans must speak about ways to reduce carbon emissions.

“This is called the Climate Solutions Caucus, so that’s the key kind of yardstick they should be measured by,” Taurel said. “To what extent are they supporting solutions to climate change?”

Curbelo argues he’s doing his part by urging his colleagues to buck conservatives in Congress.

“I assume that now when we get into appropriations season there will be many amendments where I assume our group is going to be critical to blocking bad policy,” Curbelo said last month.

On Thursday, two Republican members of the climate caucus, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, took to the House floor to oppose Perry’s amendment before the vote.

“I have a Coast Guard base in my district... located right there on the water in Miami Beach and we know the impact of sea-level rise in that area,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “As a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus I urge my colleagues to oppose this Perry amendment.”

Read more here.

Two Democrats raise six figures in bid for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's seat

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The money race for Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's open congressional seat is underway. 

Two Democrats, Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Miami City commissioner Ken Russell, told the Miami Herald they both raised over $100,000 during the second quarter of 2017.  

Rosen Gonzalez told the Miami Herald she has raised $193,000 with $171,000 cash on hand. Russell told the Miami Herald he raised $133,000 and has $128,000 cash on hand. 

Both totals have not been publicly released yet. 

National Democrats see Ros-Lehtinen's seat, which includes major portions of Miami Beach and the city of Miami, as a prime pickup opportunity in 2018. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 20 percentage points in Ros-Lehtinen's district, the highest margin of any seat in the country currently held by a Republican. 

Other Democrats in the running include state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, state Rep. David Richardson, academic adviser Michael A. Hepburn and Mark Anthony Person. Rodriguez and Richardson officially declared their candidacies in July and therefore won't have fundraising totals in the latest quarter, which ended on June 30. 

Rosen Gonzalez said she was running before Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement and filed her candidacy on April 13, meaning she was fundraising throughout most of the quarter. 

"My campaign is using an unconventional local team to make sure that our donors' dollars are put to the best use possible," Rosen Gonzalez said in an email. "While I know that raising money is important, I want to stay focused on meeting people. My campaign finances reflect a diverse group of people who believe in me, especially Miami Beach, where I currently serve."

Russell isn't officially in the race. He filed an exploratory committee to gauge interest and began fundraising about four weeks ago. Russell said he'll make a decision one way or the other by the end of the summer. 

"Anyone who declares right off the bat is going to be the first out the gate and get the attention and publicity around that," Russell said. "For me, it’s more methodical, it’s more having a proper plan in place so that when I do declare I’ll be geared up." 

Republican Bruno Barreiro, a Miami-Dade County commissioner, raised $176,000 during the quarter, he told the Miami Herald earlier this week. Barreiro is one of three Republicans, including former Miami-Dade mayoral candidate and school board member Raquel Regalado and Maria Peiro, planning to run in the Republican primary.




Bill Nelson on Obamacare repeal: It's on the ropes, 'the message has gotten through'

Bill Nelson 71417U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson was approaching the dugout at Tropicana Field to throw out the first pitch at the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Red Sox on July 7, when a woman shouted his name.

"She came down the aisle to tell me: Please don't let them take my health care away," Nelson recalled. "I hear that all the time. People come up to me on the airplane, street corners, public buildings, ballgames -- where ever I am. Some people have told me 'I would be dead without my healthcare.'''

Because of that, Nelson said, he predicts that the revised Senate healthcare bill, which was released on Thursday, is all but dead and repeal of Obamacare is on the ropes.

"I think the message has gotten through,'' Nelson said Friday after a series of constituent meetings at his Tallahassee office. "I think it's going to be hard for them."

Even Gov. Rick Scott, a long-time advocate of repealing Obamacare, said in an op-ed released Friday that smaller changes should be on the table even though he still says "Obamacare must be repealed immediately." 

"D.C. politicians have focused only on the grand bargain of repealing and replacing Obamacare, ignoring the opportunity to make incremental changes to get rid of the taxes and mandates and roll back the federal welfare state,'' Scott wrote. 

Nelson believes that Florida has put itself in a bind by refusing to expand Medicaid to 138 percent of poverty, which he says is about $45,000 for a family of four.

"Now the states like Florida are saying we want you to make us equal with all 31 states that have expanded Medicaid, including states that have Republican governors,'' he said. "This is not only the irony but the travesty of the situation."

Under Obamacare, Florida could have drawn $5 billion a year in federal funds and would have had to match a maximum of $500 million a year to cover an estimated 800,000 uninsured, he said.

Instead, Florida has persuaded the Trump administration to expand the Low Income Pool program and reimburse hospitals and health care about $1 billion over the next two years  to compensate for the care for the uninsured. But to get that money, local governments must pay a 40 percent match for 60 percent of the federal funds.

"So the people of Florida are going to pay $400 million to get $600 million when in fact, if they had expanded Medicaid, they would have paid a maximum of $500 million to get $5 billion," he said.

"They are paying more for it out of the pockets of the taxpayers of Florida and now when the health care bill revision is up, they say they want extra compensation so that the state's that expanded Medicaid don't get ahead of us. It's backwards."

Beruff announces CRC committee assignments, keeping rules committees within his circle

CRC signConstitution Revision Commission chair Carlos Beruff on Friday released the assignments of the committees that will shape the ballot initiatives approved by the powerful board. 

He named 10 substantive committees and two procedural committees, Rules and Administration and Style and Drafting. In keeping with his effort to have the governor's appointees have the most influential control over what makes it onto the November 2018 ballot, Beruff named the two commissioners who drafted the controversial rules adopted last month to chair those potentially powerful procedural committees.

Brecht Heuchan, a Tallahassee political consultant for Gov. Rick Scott, will chair the Style and Drafting Committee. Tim Cerio, a Tallahassee lawyer and former general counsel to the governor, will chair the Rules and Administration Committee.

Here's the full list: 

Continue reading "Beruff announces CRC committee assignments, keeping rules committees within his circle" »

Gov. Scott says the Senate health care rewrite continues to punish Florida

Rick Scott 2015 APWhat exactly does Gov. Rick Scott want in return for repeal of Obamacare?

That's an answer that's been rather difficult to discern judging by the governor's public pronouncements. On Friday, the governor's office released an op-ed that gave us a hint that the governor's not happy about the Medicaid reimbursement rates in the Senate's rewrite of the Better Care Reconciliation Act. He says, the bill is "rewarding inefficient states" like New York and punishing what he considers more efficient states like Florida.

Here's what the governor said he doesn't like about the rewrite:

  • The Medicaid reimbursement rates "lock in past federal spending" that gives Florida only $15 billion in Medicaid funds while New York gets $33 billion. Scott argues that both the proposed House and Senate bills "would make this inequity permanent."
  • He wants to see a cut in federal "income taxes for Floridians by 30 percent" if those provisions remain -- to put the state on par with states like New York that took advantage of the federal offer under Obamacare to expand Medicaid.

The revamped Senate plan released this week continues to cut $772 billion in Medicaid spending over the next decade, with hundreds of billions in additional cuts in the 10 years after that. The cuts include a four-year phase-out of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion with a new restriction on the program's growth rate that begins in 2020.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who said Thursday he will vote to bring up a vote on the new Senate plan, wants to see changes to those cuts, however. He said he will introduce an amendment that ensures Florida, which chose not to expand Medicaid, isn't locked into a baseline "that puts us at a disadvantageous position." 

Here is what the governor's letter appears to support:

  • "incremental changes to get rid of the taxes and mandates and roll back the federal welfare state"
  • immediate repeal of Obamacare.

Scott spokesperson McKinley Lewis added these priorities of the governor's: 

  • Every state receives the same amount per capita for every Medicaid recipient.
  • Every American, regardless of pre-existing condition, has the right to purchase insurance coverage that fits their needs.
  • Every state gets the flexibility to set benefits and reimbursement rates under their Medicaid program that best fit the needs of their citizens.

There are so many more questions left unanswered about where the governor stands. 

Does he support the Senate rewrite that removed two significant tax cuts for the wealthy to add $45 billion to combat opioid addiction and billions to offset  higher insurance costs for low-income people and to stabilize the individual markets?

Does he support the additional $182 billion that goes to states to help drive down the cost of premiums? How much more does he think Florida should be getting in Medicaid money? How much less should states like New York get? 

Does the governor agree with Rubio that the new draft includes some positive improvements for Florida -- like steering more Medicaid DSH money to hospitals that serve the uninsured in Florida?

Does the governor like the piece that includes catastrophic coverage in the scaled down insurance coverage options? 

When the governor talks about efficiency, it is efficient if people can't afford insurance and have to rely on emergency rooms for primary care? If Obamacare is repealed, how quickly will Florida have a plan in place to make sure the uninsured get the preventive care they need to keep them out of hospital ERs? What would that plan look like?

These questions were posed to the governor's office Friday. Instead of answering, Lewis asked that we print this statement which makes clear one thing -- the governor may know what he wants Congress to do, but he's not ready to be pinned down by a statement that tells the public what it is.

"We are carefully reviewing the bill,'' Lewis said. "While it’s better than Obamacare, the governor wants to continue to find ways to make it better for Florida." 

Here's the text of the governor's op-ed:

Continue reading "Gov. Scott says the Senate health care rewrite continues to punish Florida " »