Note: This blog's templates will be updated this afternoon to a responsive design bringing it in line with MiamiHerald.com.

At that time, we will also change to the Facebook commenting system. You will need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment.

January 16, 2017

Rubio still mulling vote on Tillerson confirmation

@PatriciaMazzei

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday he has yet to decide whether to vote to confirm former Exxon Mobil chief Rex Tillerson as President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state.

The Florida Republican said he’s awaiting responses to written questions to Tillerson following last week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

“We’re going to go through the transcripts of the hearing, which I’ve begun to do,” Rubio told reporters in Miami. “We need to have a foreign policy that while always acting in the national interest of the United States is always rooted in our values as a nation.”

Rubio was the toughest Republican to question Tillerson on Trump’s foreign policy, which is unspecific and often at odds with Rubio’s hawkish views.

Over the weekend, Trump told the German newspaper Bild that NATO is “obsolete," though he added that the alliance is still "very important to him."

“NATO is not obsolete,” Rubio said Monday. “It most certainly needs to be reinvigorated, given the new challenges of the 21st century.”

“Mr. Tillerson said, by the way, that he does believe in NATO’s importance,” Rubio added.

The senator was scheduled to speak at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast for the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a mentoring and scholarship program for African-American boys. The morning’s keynote speaker will be U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who got into a feud with Trump after questioning the legitimacy of his election Friday and saying he won’t attend Trump’s inauguration. On Saturday, Trump blasted Lewis, a civil rights icon, on Twitter, prompted immediate public backlash.

“I have tremendous admiration for Congressman Lewis, not only for what he’s done but what he stands for,” Rubio said. “I don’t agree with him that President-elect Trump is illegitimate. I also don’t agree with his decision not to attend the inaugural, though it certainly is his right. It’s not about President-elect Trump – it’s a peaceful transfer of power.”

Regarding Trump’s Twitter response, however, Rubio added: “I also would have hoped that the president-elect would have responded differently.”

These are the gun law changes Florida lawmakers could take up in 2017

OT_402078_KEEL_6_flgov

@ByKristenMClark

Legislators have proposed several law changes for the upcoming 2017 session that would either expand or restrict gun ownership and possession.

None of the proposals have yet been vetted by lawmakers or are on the calendar to be heard in legislative committees, although at least a few are likely to be taken up. Companion bills typically need to be filed in both the House and the Senate in order for a proposal to have a chance at becoming law.

Find the full list of 2017 gun bills here. (Note: This list will be updated if and when more bills are filed.)

----------

RELATED COVERAGE:

-- What gun rights supporters want: Read here.

-- What gun safety advocates want: Read here.

-- How the NRA and Republicans control the debate in Florida: Read here.

Photo credit: Scott Keeler / Tampa Bay Times

January 15, 2017

Miami affiliate debuts Havana-based news crew, a first for local U.S. stations

Hatzel_First Flight

via @HeraldMimi

WPLG Local 10 News reporter Hatzel Vela and photojournalist Brian Ely have become the ABC affiliate’s men in Havana.

The pair arrived last Wednesday to become the South Florida station’s full-time Havana-based crew. That gives WPLG the distinction of being the first local station in the United States to have a news crew in Cuba on a full-time basis.

Local 10 News Havana officially debuts Monday, but when news broke last Thursday that the United States was ending its policy of allowing the entry of Cuban migrants who arrive without visas, the pair had their first big story since the Cuban government granted them approval to set up shop on the island.

WPLG, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, doesn’t call its new office a bureau, but rather refers to the arrangement as having a Havana-based news team that lives and works in Cuba.

“Our goal is for this to last and be there for the long haul,” said Bill Pohovey, the station’s vice president of news. “At this point it is not a permanent thing; it is a trial run. We have to see how this works for us.”

More here.

NRA, Republican leaders shape gun law debate in Tallahassee

Capitol@SteveBousquet

Marion Hammer’s phone rang as news bulletins reported that five tourists were shot to death at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The longtime Florida gun lobbyist said a friend told her that the Jan. 6 shootings probably ended any chance of the Legislature’s passing a law to allow licensed gun owners to carry weapons in airport common areas.

But Hammer said the shooting helped her cause, proving that more guns in places like airports were needed.

That rationale will find a lot of support from Republican legislators in the 2017 session.

Hammer has a powerful ally in House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who said gun-free zones that leave people defenseless are dangerous.

“If law-abiding citizens could carry a gun to a baggage claim,” Corcoran said, “I think you’re going to see gun violence rapidly decline. So why don’t we do that for a change? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Full story here.

----------

RELATED COVERAGE:

-- What gun rights supporters want: Read here.

-- What gun safety advocates want: Read here.

-- What gun law changes are on the table this year: Read here.

Photo credit: Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times Tallahassee bureau

January 14, 2017

Miami political players, including county mayor's son, meet with Trump

El Pais
@PatriciaMazzei

The lobbyist son of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Democratic political consultant Freddy Balsera of Coral Gables met quietly with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York this week to chat about Latin America.

Balsera and C.J. Gimenez were part of a foursome that also included Julio Ligorría, a former Guatemalan ambassador to the U.S., and David Duckenfield, a former deputy assistant secretary for public affairs at the state department. The meeting was first reported by El País, a Spain-based newspaper.

Duckenfield works at Balsera Communications, Balsera's namesake public affairs and media relations firm. Until recently, so did Gimenez, a Republican attorney who in the past has lobbied locally for Trump's businesses, recently started his own consulting and lobbying shop with Ligorría. Balsera advised President Barack Obama's 2008 campaign.

The four men sat down with Trump on Thursday. Among the topics discussed: U.S. policy toward Venezuela and the "northern triangle" nations -- El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala -- in Central America. They also posed for what has become the classic thumbs-up Trump photo.

"Obviously I have a longstanding relationship with Mr. Trump and the organization," Gimenez told the Miami Herald on Saturday. "We had a discussion with folks on his team that thought it would be beneficial for us to sit down with him for a few minutes and bring up issues related to Latin America." 

Balsera told El País that Trump "was very interested in knowing our opinion about what's going on, about what's going to happen and about what has yet to happen" in Venezuela. Trump also inquired about Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma and opposition leader Leopoldo López, both political prisoners in the South American country.

"He knew everything we were talking about and responded with good questions and comments," Gimenez told the Herald. "We want to see freedom come back to Venezuela, and prosperity."

He said the meeting lasted 15-20 minutes. 

The men also discussed Argentina, which has sought closer relations with the incoming administration. "I think we can create opportunities for business and cultural ties with Latin America," Gimenez told the Herald.

Not mentioned: Trump's more contentious comments about Hispanics, including his promise to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Now that he's our president, I think it's very important that we find a way to work, to cooperate, with him, to have our voice heard in conversations taking place about Hispanics here or in Latin America," Balsera told El País. "If we want to influence his thinking and his policies, we have to have some sort of interaction with Mr. Trump."

Gimenez and his father, Mayor Carlos Gimenez, plan to attend Trump's inauguration next week, on their own dime. The elder Gimenez, a Republican in a nonpartisan post, was invited even though he said he voted for Hillary Clinton for president.

This post has been updated.

Photo: Screenshot of El País website 

Miami GOP lawmakers won't ask Trump to reinstate special immigration status for Cubans

0070 Trump NAHB 081216 ADD

@PatriciaMazzei @lesleyclark @ngameztorres

For all the bluster Miami’s Cuban-American Republicans in Congress delivered after President Barack Obama’s stunning decision Thursday to dispose of a decades-old U.S. policy favoring Cuban immigrants, the likelihood of President-elect Donald Trump reversing the decision seems almost nonexistent.

And Cuban-American lawmakers seem to know it: By Friday, some of them were reluctantly conceding that they don’t even intend to ask Trump to reinstate “wet foot/dry foot,” the policy that allowed any Cuban who arrived on U.S. soil to legally remain in the country.

“It was going to happen, sooner or later: some reform, some change,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged to the Miami Herald.

She criticized Obama for making a sudden, “arbitrary” move with no lawmaker input. But she also predicted the policy would not have lasted another year.

“Congress would have done away with it — we would have reformed it. Something needed to be done,” she said. “Shame on us for not fixing it. But to do this within one week of his presidency ending?”

Trump, who last year said Cubans’ special treatment wasn’t “fair,” remained uncharacteristically silent Friday about Obama’s move, saying nothing on his preferred platform — Twitter — or through his transition team, which ignored repeated emailed requests for comment.

More here.

Photo credit: Al Diaz, Miami Herald staff

Miami-Dade's Stephen Bittel named new Florida Democratic Party chairman

@JeremySWallace

For the first time in decades, a Miami Democrat will lead the Florida Democratic Party.

In Orlando on Saturday, party loyalists voted to make real estate developer Stephen Bittel the new chairman of the party. Bittel was heavily supported by current Democratic Party leaders like Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

It was not an easy win for Bittel, who had to fight against attempts to disqualify him from the race on Friday. A group of Miami Democrats argued that his recent election to a key county position with the Miami-Dade Democrats, which made him eligible to be chairman, was not conducted properly.

Bittel, 60, easily won the five-person race, collecting 55 percent of the vote on the first round of balloting to secure the victory. Bittel had 614 votes. In second place was Alan Clendenin, who won 232 votes.

Republicans re-elect Blaise Ingoglia as party chairman

BlaiseSummit
@JeremySWallace

The Florida Republican Party easily re-elected Hernando County Republican Blaise Ingoglia to a second two-year term to lead the state GOP through the 2018 election season.

In Orlando on Saturday, Ingoglia, 46, gave a final speech to Republican activists that pushed back against his main opponent’s top criticism that the party had become fractured during his tenure. He pointed to victories up and down the ballot in November as proof the party is in good hands with him at the helm.

But Sarasota Republican Christian Ziegler, 33, countered that if party loyalists voted for him, they’d get somebody who would work better with Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Florida Senate. After Ingoglia, who is also an elected member of the Florida House, got elected two years ago, Scott and the Florida Senate Republican leaders pulled most of their financial resources from the RPOF.

The Republicans voted 152 to 76 for Ingoglia.

Ingoglia will served a second two year term in the position that pays $115,000 a year.

Gun safety proponents: More regulations will make Florida safer from gun violence

Guh18 GunsBack NEW PPP@MichaelAuslen

Since the summer shooting that devastated Latin night at Pulse, an Orlando gay nightclub, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith has worn a rainbow-patterned ribbon on his lapel.

It’s a physical reminder of 49 lives lost seven months ago in the worst mass shooting this country has seen, an event that led Smith, who is gay and Hispanic, to focus on gun control in his first campaign for the Florida House of Representatives.

“I see a Florida, a safer Florida, where there are fewer guns because only the more responsible, law-abiding gun owners are allowed to possess those weapons and they can only possess certain kinds of weapons to protect themselves,” said Smith, a Democrat whose district is just five miles from Pulse.

Gun-control supporters — mostly Democrats — don’t have much clout in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. Still, they’re pushing new restrictions they say will make it harder for potentially dangerous people to obtain firearms.

They are quick to say they don’t want to take away people’s guns. But they do want an end to what Dania Beach Democratic Rep. Evan Jenne calls a “Swiss cheese” approach to gun regulations.

----------

RELATED COVERAGE:

-- What gun rights supporters want: Read here.

-- How the NRA and Republicans control the debate in Florida: Read here.

-- What gun law changes are on the table this year: Read here.

Photo credit: Miami Police detectives register guns collected from the public during a gun buy back event hosted by the department and the Rickia Isaac Foundation at Dorsey Park in Miami, December 17, 2016. Pedro Portal / El Nuevo Herald

Gun rights supporters: Less restrictions, more guns by the 'law-abiding' could be deterrent

Divided America Far From United@ByKristenMClark

Picture this different view of public life in Florida.

In a college lecture hall, the instructor is licensed to carry a gun and has a Glock holstered on her hip. In a public meeting at city hall, the mayor, also licensed, is carrying a sidearm. A resident — yes, licensed and openly armed — strolls into baggage claim at the airport to pick up visiting relatives.

These and other locations currently are dubbed “gun free” zones because state law prohibits concealed-carry permit-holders from carrying, and it’s that restriction that gun rights advocates say makes gun-free zones vulnerable to attack.

Within hours after Esteban Santiago shot up the Terminal 2 baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Jan. 6, killing five and wounding six, gun-rights advocates offered a familiar refrain: Gun-free zones don’t work.

Proponents of Second Amendment rights say both the Fort Lauderdale shooting and the Pulse nightclub massacre last summer in Orlando are examples of why restrictions on permitted gun owners don’t help prevent tragedy — and why Florida’s gun laws should be opened up to afford more freedom for people to defend themselves.Because criminals are going to break the law regardless, they argue, the solution to less gun violence is more guns — and fewer restrictions — for “law abiding” residents, who might then deter potential shooters or intervene and stop them from doing more harm. 

“Here we go again. Another gun-free zone. Another place where a shooter can take lives and cause injury, and there’s nobody there armed to protect anybody or to stop the shooter,” said Marion Hammer, the NRA’s longtime Tallahassee lobbyist.

Full story here.

----------

RELATED COVERAGE:

-- What gun safety advocates want: Read here.

-- How the NRA and Republicans control the debate in Florida: Read here.

-- What gun law changes are on the table this year: Read here.

Photo credit: Gun-rights advocate, restaurant owner and mother of four sons, Lauren Boebert, wears her usual gun on her hip as she brushes the hair of Roman, 3, as the family gets ready to leave home for church in Rifle, Colo., on May 1, 2016. Brennan Linsley / AP