February 25, 2015

Quinnipiac poll: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker leads early in Iowa

via @LightmanDavid

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has opened up a big lead in Iowa, the nation’s first caucus state, a new Quinnipiac poll said Wednesday.

Walker polled 25 percent, twice as much as his closest rival, in the Republican presidential derby. He benefits from his conservative ties, and because he’s fairly well known since he comes from a nearby state.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is second at 13 percent, followed by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 11 percent each. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is at 10 percent.

"Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is taking the Republican political world by storm," said Peter Brown, Quinnipiac Poll assistant director.

"He's gone from being unknown outside Wisconsin to the hot candidate, poised to become the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination. Front-runner status would make it easier for Gov. Walker to raise money and recruit top talent for his staff, but it also puts a target on his back.”

Walker’s recent missteps, such as his silence when sitting near former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani when Giuliani said President Barack Obama didn’t love America, haven’t hurt him much. "Perhaps most impressive about Walker's numbers is that 57 percent view him favorably to only 7 percent who view him unfavorably - a heck of a first impression,” Brown said.

But he had one note of caution: The caucus is about a year away, and the last two winners, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Huckabee, didn’t come close to winning the nomination.

--DAVID LIGHTMAN, McClatchy Washington Bureau

Obama's torturous routine: defending immigration record on Spanish-language TV

@PatriciaMazzei

For President Barack Obama, it has become a torturous routine — appearing on Spanish-language television to try to defend his record on reshaping the nation’s immigration laws.

On each occasion, he has been reminded that he broke his 2008 campaign promise to reform the system and that his administration is on track to deport more people than any other president in U.S. history.

Yet he will go at it again Wednesday in Miami, a majority Hispanic city in America’s largest swing state, this time in an attempt to reassure people in the country illegally that his latest executive action, which would shield up to five million people from deportation, stands on strong legal footing. A federal judge in Texas temporarily suspended the order last week, ruling that the president had overstepped his power. The Justice Department has appealed.

“My administration will fight this ruling with every tool at our disposal, and I have full confidence that these actions will ultimately be upheld,” Obama wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday by The Hill.

The president is expected to take questions Wednesday directly from undocumented immigrants at the taping of an event at Florida International University that will later air nationally on Miami-based Telemundo and sister network MSNBC. He will also likely address the Homeland Security Department budget, which is pending in Congress amid a political fight over funding Obama’s executive immigration actions. A Friday deadline looms.

More here.

February 24, 2015

White House invites GOP congressman to Miami immigration event, but denies him Air Force One seat

@PatriciaMazzei

The White House invited Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo to President Obama's immigration event Wednesday at Florida International University, which is in Curbelo's district. But the congressman apparently won't be able to make it.

Curbelo said that, after receiving the emailed invitation Monday night, he tried to rearrange his travel plans from Washington D.C., where Congress is in session, to attend. Able to find only early-morning flights that would require missing a full day of votes, Curbelo said he inquired about hitching a ride with Obama on Air Force One, which is scheduled to leave D.C. around noon. For example, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens -- a Democrat -- will be traveling with the president.

"They said, 'Sorry, there's no space on the plane for you,'" Curbelo said late Tuesday when asked by the Miami Herald whether he would be at the event hosted by Telemundo and MSNBC. The White House couldn't be reached for comment.

Characterizing it as a potential "political risk" to appear at an Obama event, Curbelo said he still would like to hear the president discuss immigration. Obama shares common ground -- at least policy-wise -- on the issue with Miami's three Cuban-American Republicans in Congress, who support comprehensive immigration reform but legislated by Congress and not carried out by executive orders.

Instead, it looks like Curbelo will be staying in the frigid Capitol.

"I guess everyone is trying to make it to Miami in winter," he said.

This post has been updated.

'I know he's his own man,' John McCain says of Jeb Bush

via @learyreports

The Tampa Bay Times caught up with Sen. John McCain at the Capitol today and asked about Jeb Bush surrounding himself with former advisers to his brother and his father, the former presidents.

"People are making a big deal out of that," McCain said. "These are the most knowledgeable and respected people, the overwhelming majority of them, on national security. They have been from administration to administration, some of them go all the way back to his father. There is a certain cadre of people who are well respected on national security and it’s not surprising many of them have attached themselves to Bush.”

Bush's campaign-not-a-campaign announced the advisers, including  former former George W. Bush deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, on the eve of a speech last Wednesday in which he declared, “I am my own man.” The juxtaposition of those messages drew stares from a variety of corners.

“I know he’s his own man,” said McCain.

Meantime, Sen. Marco Rubio is making the argument that a senator is in better position than a governor to lead the country on foreign policy. Asked about that, McCain paused. “Aagh, mmmm,” he said, clearly not convinced.

“I think experience really helps,” he added, “but I harken back to another former governor that won the Cold War."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

JIm York replaces George Sheldon in lawsuit challenging Gov. Scott's failure to disclose

Jim YorkWith former Attorney General George Sheldon now named as the top welfare chief for the state of Illinois, he is being replaced as the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott alleging he failed to accurately and publicly disclose his finances.

Former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Jim York has been named as the plaintiff in the case in an amendment filed in Leon County Circuit court today. Scott is asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit and the case is awaiting a June 22 hearing. Download the complaint here.

Sheldon, who was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for attorney general in November,  filed the lawsuit in early October requiring Scott to fully and completely disclose his financial interests. He said the lawsuit was prompted by a story in the Miami Herald that reported Scott's disclosure failed to include as much as $200 million in assets controlled by the governor through various accounts shared with his wife and family. 

Sheldon said he filed the lawsuit in honor of his mentor, the late Gov. Reubin Askew who  spearheaded the adoption of The Sunshine Amendment to the Florida Constitution which requires politicians disclose "financial interests" of more than $1,000.

York, an outspoken critic of Scott on Facebook, also worked for former Gov. Bob Graham, is being represented by Tallahassee lawyer Don Hinkle.

“This case was filed on behalf of all Floridians and is about upholding the Florida Constitution,'' Hinkle said. "We will continue to pursue the case on behalf of the people of Florida.”

Photo courtesy of the Florida Memory Project.

Florida lawmakers weigh in on VA secretary’s false special forces claim

@CAdamsMcClatchy

The Florida lawmakers who lead the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee weighed in Tuesday on the nation’s top veterans’ official for his statement inflating his military service.

The Republican who chairs the committee, Jeff Miller of the Pensacola area, said he was “disappointed” in the claim by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald that he served in the special forces.

The top Democrat on the committee, Corrine Brown, whose district runs from Orlando to Jacksonville, said, “I am confident that his statement was not intended to mislead.”

The two top veterans committee officials were responding to a statement by McDonald, who took over the scandal-ridden VA last year, that he had served in the special forces, among the most elite and prestigious military units.

McDonald’s comment to a man in Los Angeles was captured by CBS News for a story on the VA’s efforts to eradicate veteran homelessness. “Special forces? What years? I was in special forces!” McDonald said. The comment was originally flagged by The Huffington Post.

McDonald, a former chief executive of Procter & Gamble, is an Army veteran and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was not, however, a member of special forces units, which he has since acknowledged.

He has apologized for his comment and was scheduled to speak with reporters Tuesday afternoon.

Miller, the Republican veterans committee chair, said in a statement: “I’m disappointed in Secretary McDonald’s comments. After a rough couple of weeks that also included inflated claims of accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs, I hope Secretary McDonald will redouble his efforts to ensure his statements – and those of all VA officials – are completely accurate.”

Brown, the Democrat, said: “The secretary gave an appropriate apology following his misstatement, which demonstrates his commitment to accountability. I am confident that his statement was not intended to mislead… Clearly, Secretary McDonald’s military service and dedication to our nation should not be ignored.”

Miami-Dade judge who told store owner to 'Go f--- yourself' accepts disciplinary charges

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami-Dade County Judge Jacqueline Schwartz broke judicial conduct rules when she told the owner of a Coconut Grove convenience store last year to "Go f--- yourself" in a dispute over a political campaign sign, the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission has found.

The commission also found Schwartz engaged in inappropriate conduct in a separate incident where she wrote notes on the margins of a legal file. The file, notes included, was photocopied by one of the parties in the case. But when a request came in later for the full file and notes, Schwartz instructed her bailiff to remove her notes, interfering with the court record and making it impossible to appeal any decision based on those pages. The pages were placed in a manila envelope and then lost.

Schwartz agreed to the charges in a disciplinary hearing last month and apologized for her behavior, according to court filings. She declined comment Tuesday through a courts spokeswoman.

"Judge Schwartz accepted full responsibility for the conduct set forth above, and admitted that it should never have occurred," one of the filings says. "She also expressed regret that her conduct reflected so poorly on the judicial office that she holds."

More here.

Were some Florida students forced to cite Islamic prayer and make prayer rugs?

A spat between parents and administrators over a Seminole County high school history lesson in Islam has simmered into a minor cause célèbre for online critics.

Ron Wagner of Longwood complained to a local TV station that his 15-year-old son was required to recite an Islamic prayer as part of a world history class at Lyman High School. The students also had to make an Islamic prayer rug as a homework assignment, according to Wagner, who said lessons like that don’t belong in public schools.

"There’s a difference between teaching of the significance or the impact of a religion and teaching the specific tenets of the religion," Wagner told WFTV on Feb 9, 2015.

Blogs and right-leaning media seized on the report, decrying the lessons as attempts to indoctrinate students.

One blog, DownTrend.com, featured a post on Feb. 12 with the headline, "Students In Fla. High School Forced To Recite Islamic Prayer, Make Prayer Rugs."

We don’t mean to pick on this one site -- because there are manymany other placesthat have reblogged the report -- and the writer did update the story after we asked him some questions. But the headline encapsulated the alleged events that have outraged so many people. Were students forced to recite an Islamic prayer and make prayer rugs at Lyman High School? Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida did his homework.

And from our archives, here is a fact-check of a Pants on Fire claim that "Florida Democrats just voted to impose Sharia law on women."

WSJ: Jeb Bush plans to introduce big donors to campaign team in Miami in April

From the Wall Street Journal:

It may be the most coveted invite in Republican politics.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, still in the preliminary phase of an expected White House bid, plans to reward his biggest early financial backers with a mid-April meeting in Miami with his likely campaign team.

The confab is being organized for so-called bundlers who have “met or exceeded” their fundraising targets, according to an email circulated by Mr. Bush’s finance team. Heather Larrison, who runs his fundraising effort, told a group in Washington last week that the event would take place on April 13, a person present said.

More here.

Joe Garcia gets new gig with Miami Beach merchant and investment bank, talks new U.S.-Cuba policy

@PatriciaMazzei

Former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia has taken on a job as senior vice president of QueensFort Capital, a Miami Beach-based merchant and investment bank.

The ex-congressman told the Miami Herald he will work to expand investment opportunities through federal government's EB-5 visa program, which requires investors to put up big money -- at least $1 million, or $500,000 in high-unemployment areas -- in exchange for a two-year U.S. residency green card for themselves and their immediate family. If the investments succeed and create at least 10 U.S. jobs, investors gain permanent residency plus dividends.

None of the work will involve Cuba, said Garcia, a Cuban American who had been the only South Florida member of Congress advocating for greater engagement with the island before he lost reelection to Republican Carlos Curbelo in November. Still, he was surprised by the extent of President Obama's new Cuba policy, Garcia said Tuesday.

"I think the administration probably went a little bit further that I had assumed it would," he said.

He compared trying to bring about political change in Cuba to changing "a religion, not a policy" ingrained on the island for more than half a century: "The idea that this is going to be easy is nonsense."

"I think this could all be solved if Cuban Americans and Cubans were speaking," he said. "If the Cuba government was wise, it would reach out to leaders and opinion makers in South Florida to create some sort of rapprochement that benefits the U.S. and Cuba."

And if Obama wants a long-term change that outlasts his administration, then his government also has to reach out to Cuban Americans sidelined from the new policy, he added.

As for talk that Garcia might challenge Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez next year, the former congressman brushed off the rumors.

"I am not running for any public office," he said.