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June 15, 2018

Nelson offered this man up for a judicial position. Now he’ll vote against him.

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson said today he will vote against a judicial nominee he offered up to the White House along with Sen. Marco Rubio, a remarkable turn that raises questions about Nelson's own vetting process as he tried to put the focus on the state's Judicial Nominating Commission

"Because of the information brought up by the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will vote against the confirmation of Allen Winsor," the Florida Democrat said in a statement that provided no specifics.

His office would not elaborate on the record.

Nelson and his staff interviewed Winsor, who has opposed same-sex marriage, before his name was submitted to the White House, along with a list of other candidates. A spokesman, Ryan Brown, would not answer questions about that vetting.

Nelson's statement punts to the JNC.

"For years, Florida's two senators have relied on a bipartisan Judicial Nominating Commission to select our state's judicial nominees. This system, which was designed to take politics out of the process, only works if Florida's two senators agree to respect the commission's choices and jointly send the names they choose to the White House for consideration. This is exactly what we did in the case of Allen Winsor."

Winsor, picked to succeed U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle for a spot in the Northern District of Florida, was approved along partisan lines by the Judiciary Committee on Thursday and was sent to the full Senate for consideration. Democrats objected over his opposition to same-sex marriage.

Winsor was among the named Nelson and Rubio offered to the White House in December.

"We received the following unranked list of finalists on November 15, 2017: Martin Fitzpatrick, Jan Shackelford, Kent Wetherell, and Allen Winsor. We have separately interviewed the finalists. Subject to further review of their records and background, we are submitting them to you for the president's consideration," a letter read.

That means the White House picked Winsor.

As Gary Fineout of the Associated Press reported, Winsor is currently a Florida appeals court judge, but before he was appointed to that job by Gov. Rick Scott in 2016, he worked as solicitor general for Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Winsor was in that role when he defended Florida's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages that was eventually struck down. He was one of the lawyers who argued in a legal brief for the state that recognizing same-sex marriages from other states would "impose significant public harm" and that the state has a legitimate interest in defining marriage as between a man and woman.

Scott, who is challenging Nelson for Senate, issued a statement through the campaign.

"Bill Nelson is so partisan that a small group of out-of-state democrats can force him to vote against a Floridian that he interviewed, recommended and supported," spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said. "Despite claiming to be independent, Bill Nelson's own actions show that when democrats like party boss Chuck Schumer say 'jump,' Nelson's only question is 'how high?'"

Rubio in 2013 held up a judicial nominee — after submitting a JNC approved name to the Obama White House –amid objections from Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, now chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Republicans blindsided by Trump opposition to immigration plan

Trumpgreetingmiami2april162018

@alextdaugherty

House Republicans who spent months carefully crafting an immigration reform plan found themselves not rounding up votes on Friday but refreshing their phones to see if a presidential tweet would blow up the entire effort.

President Donald Trump had just thrown a wrench in months of immigration talks, saying in an early morning interview with Fox News he "certainly won't sign" the all-GOP compromise immigration bill.

As a result, House Republicans who had planned votes on two immigration bills next week went home unsure what would come next. The House does not plan to return to Washington until late Tuesday.

Don't fret, Republicans said, the president will surely clarify his remarks.

"I think if we get that clarification then I think we're still good to go," said Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, one of the Republicans who had earlier considered forcing a series of immigration votes on the House floor against the wishes of GOP leaders.

Three hours later, the tweet came.

"The Democrats are forcing the breakup of families at the Border with their horrible and cruel legislative agenda," Trump tweeted. "Any Immigration Bill MUST HAVE full funding for the Wall, end Catch & Release, Visa Lottery and Chain, and go to Merit Based Immigration. Go for it! WIN!"

Trump's tweet didn't acknowledge the most important part of any deal for Republicans like Miami Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart: a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as young children.

Democrats hate the all-Republican immigration deal hatched this week. Staunch conservative Republicans are balking at the deal, too.

The deal now hinges on Trump's support, or lack of it.

"This bill will be difficult to pass with Republican votes only unless President Trump says that he is considering supporting it, that might be good enough, even if he doesn't say I will sign it," said Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. "If you're a Republican and you're facing a challenging political environment and the president who is very popular in your district, not mine, says that he's against this bill why in the world would you vote in favor of it?"

Read more here.

June 14, 2018

Nelson up with first Spanish-language ad

Bill Nelson

via @learyreports

Sen. Bill Nelson has released his first Spanish-language ad, which will begin today on Facebook and Twitter and other digital platforms, the campaign said.

It follows Gov. Rick Scott's latest Spanish-language ad, one tied to the World Cup. And like Scott, Nelson shows off his bilingual skills in the spot. It highlights Nelson's voyage into space.

The campaign did not say how much money is behind the ad.

Politico today reported on Nelson's struggle with name ID among Hispanics, another worry for Democrats.

Watch Nelson's ad below: 

Here's Scott's ad:

GOP immigration bill overturns policy of separating families who cross the border

US-NEWS-IMMIGRATION-CHILDREN-2-LA (1)

@kateirby @alextdaugherty

Republicans crafting an immigration bill want to overturn a contentious component of President Donald Trump's border enforcement strategy: Separating parents and children who cross the border together.

Children who cross the border with their parents can only be released back to their parents, even if that would mean putting the family in a detention facility, under immigration legislation being drafted by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Its text, released Thursday, would require that officials place children who crossed the border with a parent or legal guardian only be placed with that parent or guardian, not any other relatives or foster settings.

"In no circumstances shall an alien minor who is not an unaccompanied alien child be released by the Secretary of Homeland Security other than to a parent or legal guardian," the text reads.

The 293-page bill, a compromise between Republicans looking to reform immigration law and the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is likely to face a House vote next week. It's possible the bill will be amended before a vote next week.

Under the recently announced zero-tolerance policy of President Donald Trump's administration, children and parents (or legal guardians) who cross the border together are separated. That's because the adult is at least temporarily placed in a detention facility, while current law says children have to be placed in the "least restrictive" setting.

The zero-tolerance policy, announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, charges all adults who cross the border unlawfully with a crime, even if they're seeking asylum.

The policy has gained widespread attention in recent days with dozens of demonstrations planned around the country to protest separating children and their parents.

Read more here.

Once ‘wrong’ on issue, Rubio now wants to protect students who can’t pay back student loans

 

Marco Rubio 3

@learyreports

Saying he was wrong to once support legislation that hurt workers who defaulted on student loans, Sen. Marco Rubio today introduced a bill with Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren to prevent states from suspending professional licenses from borrowers who are delinquent.

"Difficulty repaying a student loan debt should not threaten a graduate's job. It makes no sense to revoke a professional license from someone who is trying to pay their student loans," Rubio said in a news release with his liberal colleague. "Our bill would fix this 'catch-22' and ensure that borrowers are able to continue working to pay off their loans."

The Protecting Job Opportunities for Borrowers (Protecting JOBs) Act "would prevent states from suspending, revoking or denying state professional licenses solely because borrowers are behind on their federal student loan payments," according to the release. "The bill achieves this goal by using the same statutory structure that requires certain members of the Armed Forces receive in-state tuition as a condition of the states' colleges and universities receiving certain federal funds under the Higher Education Act."

Said Warren: "State governments punishing people struggling with student loans by taking away drivers' and professional licenses is wrong. These policies don't make sense, because they make it even harder for people to put food on the table and get out of debt. I'm glad to work with Senator Rubio to make sure borrowers can work to pay off crushing debt and build a future."

Rubio carried heavy student loan debt into his Senate career and used proceeds of a book deal to pay that off.

Two Miami Republicans play key role in immigration compromise

Curbelo (1)

@alextdaugherty

Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo walked into House Speaker Paul Ryan's office on Tuesday, intent on solving 20 years of immigration inaction in 70 minutes.

They got close.

An effort by the Miami Republicans to force a series of immigration votes in defiance of Ryan came up short, and a faction of Republicans including Diaz-Balart and Curbelo who want to find a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants known as Dreamers were forced to compromise with conservative Republicans.

The compromise is a yet-unreleased bill drafted by Ryan that includes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers in exchange for cuts to visas doled out through a lottery and to the family members of immigrants, along with $25 billion for border security. 

"There are things that I really dislike in the bill but I think there has been a very good-faith effort to do something that can hopefully pass," Diaz-Balart said. "My ideal, preferred option is to do a bipartisan bill on this, but we don't have that option."

Diaz-Balart is a veteran of past immigration negotiations, but Curbelo wasn't in Congress when the House decided not to vote on a comprehensive immigration bill passed by the U.S. Senate in 2013. Curbelo initiated a petition last month that would have forced a series of votes on four immigration bills, a gambit that put the immigration issue back on the front burner after the lack of a court decision on the fate of Dreamers in March pushed the immigration issue to second-tier status.

"Think about where we were a month ago," Curbelo said. "We're about to get major immigration legislation to the floor."

The immigration legislation, which doesn't exist as a bill yet, is a compromise among Republicans. Democrats aren't likely to support the bill even though a small group of far-right Republicans will likely vote against the compromise legislation.

"It’s now clear the only way Republicans will consider miserly relief for some Dreamers is if the proposal guts legal immigration, turbocharges deportations, builds a wasteful and unnecessary wall, and intensifies the torture of asylum seekers at the border," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a left-leaning immigration group. "Any member of Congress who says they stand for Dreamers cannot in good conscience support these bills."

Read more here.

What is Scott and Cabinet's approach to questions at Department of Revenue? Not my problem

Florida Cabinet KeelerThe state agency charged with collecting taxes purged the top employees at the Division of Property Tax Oversight, left positions vacant for months, filled the positions with people close to the governor and refused to provide a reason.

Should the public have confidence in the tax agency?

The agency staff wants employees to avoid building a records trail and encouraged behavior that requires them to conduct business primarily face to face or by phone.

How is that transparent and accountable?

DOR requires each employee to sign a gag order prohibiting them from providing any information to the media.

Is that a violation of the employees' First Amendment rights?

DOR removes the visitor parking spaces at agency headquarters and replaces them with tow-away zones, reserved parking for executive staff.

How is that in the public interest?

Gov. Rick Scott and the three members of the Florida Cabinet, who oversee the Department of Revenue, had an answer to those questions Wednesday: not my problem.

"DOR is overseen by the governor and other members of the Florida Cabinet. The governor, like them, expects the department to follow all laws and act in an ethical and transparent manner,'' said McKinley Lewis, Scott spokesman, in an email response to a series of questions Wednesday.

The governor and Cabinet, all Republicans, asked no questions of DOR Executive Director Leon Biegalski Wednesday as he appeared before them and asked for approval of his agency performance review and three routine rules changes. It is the same treatment they have given Biegalski since he was appointed in April 2016, the hand-picked choice of the governor.

This key agency answers to the governor and Cabinet, but they don't ask many questions

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, hand-picked by Scott to replace former CFO Jeff Atwater, has never publicly contradicted Scott. Attorney General Pam Bondi has also not demonstrated an inclination to be independent of the governor. And Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has often sparred with the governor for the last seven years, mostly behind the scenes, has also now avoided any public conflict. He hopes to be on the November ballot with the governor who is running for U.S. Senate.

Since Beigalski last appeared before the Cabinet in March, he has ousted top employees and kept positions vacant for months to make room for Scott's staff. After the Herald/Times reported the shake up, one of the appointments from the governor's office, Thomas Adams, took a $5,000 pay cut and left to work for Patronis.

After the Wednesday Cabinet meeting, the Herald/Times asked Scott to explain why he had confidence in the agency.

"We do reviews of Leon. I can get you a copy of that record,'' he replied, before cutting off questions.

The Herald/Times then posed the following questions to the communications offices for Scott, Putnam, Bondi and  Patronis to get them to elaborate on their reasoning.

Bondi and Patronis did not respond. Lewis provided the above response and Putnam spokesperson Jennifer Meale said: " The executive director is charged with managing the department, and the governor and Cabinet will hold him accountable for its performance."

Here are the questions for which we did not get answers:

* How has the governor been assured that actions are being taken to ensure that there is proper training given to the remaining staff in the PTO section that reviews property appraiser and property tax budgets -- since they do not have anyone with slightly more than a year of experience?

* Please explain how it is not a violation of a state employee's First Amendment rights for DOR to prohibit them from being allowed to have a conversation on background to inform a journalist? 

* Please explain how it is acceptable that DOR is allowed to avoid the creation of public records trails? 

* What will you do if the agency has a misguided employee who is engaged in illegal or unethical conduct at work and, because the agency discourages creating a paper trail of controversial issues, the practice makes it difficult to apprehend and find evidence against them? 

* What deterrence is there to inappropriate behavior if an agency requires employees NOT to rely on emails, has prohibited them from keeping substantive meetings off the calendar, and encouraged behavior that requires them to conduct business primarily face to face or by phone?

* Please explain why it is acceptable that DOR removes the visitor parking spaces at agency headquarters and replaces them with tow-away zones reserved parking for executive staff?

June 13, 2018

Rubio hasn't made a decision on limiting gun magazine size

Marco Rubio 3

@alextdaugherty @learyreports

In the week after the nation's deadliest high school shooting in Parkland, Sen. Marco Rubio said he was open to limiting the size of magazines, the spring-loaded devices that feed bullet cartridges into guns.

Four months later, Rubio hasn't decided whether he will back or offer any legislation to limit magazine size, or if he's decided that current law is sufficient. 

"I'm trying not to just find an idea but an idea that can pass," Rubio said Wednesday. "We've talked to a lot of different people involved in the industry on both sides of the debate and we're not prepared to offer any law right now because there's a lot of debate and dispute about what the right number would be and whether it would even make a difference but it's something we'll continue to explore." 

Any potential bill to limit magazine size would need 60 votes in the U.S. Senate to pass.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat who has led gun control efforts in Congress since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting in his state, said he's "disappointed" that Rubio hasn't taken more public positions against the majority of his party on guns over the past four months, though he credited him for introducing a bill that makes it easier for law enforcement to keep guns out of the hands of people who are suspected of being threats to themselves or others. 

"I certainly got a sign from Marco that he was in a little different space than he was prior to the shooting," Murphy said on Tuesday. "I'm disappointed that hasn't (happened). He did introduce red flag legislation."

Rubio's red flag bill, which he co-introduced with Florida Sen. Bill Nelson in March, has four additional cosponsors. 

"That's the one I do believe can pass and we're looking for an opportunity to do it," Rubio said. 

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not included gun-related legislation among his priorities in the U.S. Senate before the 2018 elections. 

"I think his (GOP) leadership has made it clear they don't want to do anything on guns but I'm hopeful that if the moment changes, he might be willing to take a look at some commonsense measures," Murphy said. "When I think of the handful of Republicans we can ultimately work with if we have a bill on the floor, Rubio is on that list."

Similar legislation to Rubio's red flag bill became law in Florida after the Parkland shooting, but the effort in Washington would enact red flag protections in all 50 states.  

"Any Republican is swimming violently upstream if they are trying to move anti-gun violence legislation with this leadership," Murphy said. "I think we've got to live to fight another day and preserve some potential relationships. Hopefully we can work with Rubio."

Jeff Greene says he'll play king-maker if he wins Democratic nomination for governor

Jeff Greene

Jeff Greene says everybody wants to know the same thing now that he's officially running for Florida governor: How much of his own money will the billionaire spend on his campaign?

A more interesting question might ask how much he's willing to spend to get other Democrats elected.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Greene said he'd seek to play kingmaker in state legislative races this summer by dumping cash into competitive state House and Senate races if he wins the Democratic nomination. A real estate tycoon with a net worth estimated at around $4 billion, Greene has the kind of cash to make him a counterbalance to, say, Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas gaming magnate who has dumped at least $10 million into conservative Florida campaigns since 2010 — the last time Greene ran for statewide office.

"Everyone asks me for numbers. The reality is whatever it takes," said Greene, who invested $24 million into his failed 2010 U.S. Senate campaign. "We’re not going to just throw money around. We'll spend as little as we have to but as much as we need to.

Greene, who tossed out the number $200 million when talking Tuesday to the Associated Press, has continued to contribute to other Democrats over the past eight years. He gave $4,600 in 2014, for instance, to the congressional campaign of Gwen Graham, whom he's now running against. But, perhaps with the number 200 on his mind Tuesday, he mentioned $200,000 when speaking hypothetically about his ability to influence competitive general election races through political committee donations heading into November were he to be the Democratic nominee.

"When I win the nomination I’ll be getting involved in other races. I hope the Republicans read this and understand the days of easy rides to controlling the House and Senate are over for good," said Greene, whose enthusiasm waned when asked if he'd do the same should he lose. "I’ll be doing whatever it takes to go toe to toe dollar-wise to get the message out in the general election."

Political strategists and his opponents were skeptical of Greene's chances to win the Democratic nomination when he quietly filed to run this month (without officially announcing his campaign or talking to the press for days). But Greene's money makes him a threat, since the question isn't whether he can dump millions into TV ads but how much he's willing to spend.

"All bets are off if he spends $50 million, and unlike his last attempt spends it in away that compels voters to support him," Democratic consultant Steven Vancore said as news spread that Greene had filed to run.

Greene spoke to the Miami Herald late Tuesday night after a day of interviews, his first since filing paperwork June 1 to seek the Democratic nomination against Andrew Gillum, Graham, Chris King and Philip Levine. Green said he'd stayed quiet because he needed to get his campaign team set up first.

To read more, click here.

String of high-profile legal battles keeps Florida judge in spotlight

Karen Gievers has been on a legal roll of late, as high-profile cases keep randomly finding their way to this circuit judge in Tallahassee.

She ruled that Floridians have the right to smoke medical marijuana — a defeat for Gov. Rick Scott, who's appealing. She refused to dismiss a legal challenge to Scott's blind trust in another setback for the governor, who's asking an appeals court to toss the suit.

Earlier, Gievers handed a defeat to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, when she threw out his "facially defective" subpoenas of a Visit Florida vendor's business and tax records. That was after she approved Corcoran's lawsuit accusing the state lottery of illegally extending a contract. She even had a case in which the state broke leases to flee a bat-infested office building that workers claimed made them sick.

RELATED COVERAGE: Judge halts Florida ban on smoking medical marijuana

Rick Scott's blind trust battle goes to court (again) on July 17

Judge quashes final subpoenas in Visit Florida lawsuit, signaling loss for Corcoran

A long-time child advocate in Miami, Gievers, 69, spent years battling the state over a deficient and underfunded system that kept foster children in state care too long.

A judge had appointed the Miami lawyer to represent six siblings, which became a class action lawsuit. She was a Democrat taking on Democratic bureaucrats and politicians and won the backing of the Florida Supreme Court in a budget crisis early in Lawton Chiles' career as governor.

She was the first woman president of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, and was president of the Miami-Dade Bar Association in the year following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 when many people desperately needed pro bono legal help.

As a lawyer, she grew frustrated with the snail's pace of justice. As a judge, she manages about 600 cases and tries to keep dockets moving, working from a third-floor office in the Leon County Courthouse that's filled with artwork and souvenirs of a long career.

"As a trial judge, I knew I had to put into practice what I had been saying all those years," Gievers said.

In her chambers this week, she prodded opposing lawyers to keep talking in a routine car accident case that's months from trial. One of the lawyers, Cindy Massion, told Gievers: "I don't want to be in here begging for a continuance because I know the court doesn't like that."

Massion said her son once appeared before Gievers as a juvenile, but that the judge probably didn't remember. Gievers didn't.

"She handled it very professionally," Massion said.

Gievers twice sought high office and lost. She ran statewide as a Democrat for secretary of state in 1998 against Katherine Harris, and for insurance commissioner in 1994 — against a guy named Bill Nelson.

Gievers framed the Nelson race as a choice between "a career politician (sound familiar?) who is used to taking money from special interests he regulates and a consumer advocate who will stand up for the people." The editorial boards liked her more than voters did.

She moved from Miami to Tallahassee following the second race after her law office flooded out, set her sights on a judgeship and won.

Born in the movie-making town of Culver City, Calif., where Gone With the Wind was filmed, Gievers grew up a baseball fan. Walter O'Malley had just moved the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.

She kept statistics on Dodger players and worked as an "usherette," as they were called then, at the old L.A. Coliseum, where she had a perfect vantage point right behind the play-by-play man Vin Scully.

"I can tell you how many bases Maury Wills stole," she said (104 in 1962). That led to more ushering work, where she saw the Beatles and met UCLA basketball legend John Wooden and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor. "I go a little past his waist," she said.

Gievers moved to South Florida when her first husband landed a job at National Airlines in Miami. She had dropped out of UCLA and began her college career all over, starting at Miami-Dade College.

In 2010, Gievers replaced L. Ralph "Bubba" Smith Jr., who retired and had been a central figure in the 2000 presidential recount. Voters in six counties re-elected her in 2016 but the mandatory retirement age of 70 has caught up with her and she'll leave the bench in April.

"I'm deferring any consideration of what I'm going to do in the next chapter of my life until after I'm done," Gievers said.