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July 18, 2017

'Obamacare is broken,' Rubio says, backing simple repeal

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Marco Rubio said Tuesday he’ll support a simple repeal of Obamacare, if such a vote comes to pass now that the Senate bill has imploded.

“I believe Obamacare is broken. I believe it’s bad for our country,” the Florida Republican said in his daily Facebook Live talk from his office.

But it’s doubtful a simple repeal without a replacement could gain enough support to pass.

"If it is a bill that simply repeals, I believe that will add to more uncertainty” and higher premiums, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told reporters this morning. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said on MSNBC: "I do not think that it is going to be constructive to repeal a law that at this point is so interwoven within our health care system and then hope that over the next two years we will come up with some kind of replacement. I think that would create great anxiety ..."

In December 2015, Rubio joined most other Republicans in voting for a repeal that met President Obama’s veto.

Said Rubio at the time: “Once again, President Obama’s extreme liberal views and actions remind us of why it’s so important for this country to replace him with a conservative president who will actually sign a bill into law that repeals and replaces ObamaCare.”

Rubio this morning again criticized newspaper editorials about the now stalled Senate bill. “The idea that somehow Obamacare is working well for people is just absolutely wrong,” Rubio said, ignoring those the law has helped.

Instead, Rubio said young, healthy people cannot afford the “astronomical” premiums or high co-payments even with subsidies. He made a case for offering more plans that insure only against catastrophic events.

“They don’t have an organization to protest and they certainly don’t have the assistance of some of these commentators. They are the forgotten people in this debate,” Rubio said.

“Or what about people on employer-sponsored health insurance?” Rubio asked, saying premiums for those people are rising because providers are offsetting losses in the Obamacare market.

“Or what about the fact that Medicaid as it is currently structured is unsustainable in the long-term and is contributing to our debt?” Rubio said. “No one discusses that, either. We have an obligation to safety net, to provide health coverage to those the way that Medicaid was designed, for truly disadvantaged, but if we keep doing the way we are doing now, that program goes bankrupt along with Medicare and Social Security.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Former Southcom commander nominated for Trump intelligence post



Former U.S. Southern Command deputy commander Joseph Kernan was nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence on Monday, the White House announced. Kernan would serve as a high-ranking civilian adviser on intelligence matters to Secretary of Defense James Mattis if confirmed by the Senate. 

Kernan currently works as a senior vice president at SAP National Security Services, a company that deals with big data and national security missions. His LinkedIn profile indicates that he works in Miami. Kernan is also a retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral and previously worked as a senior military assistant to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Kernan, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1977-2013, also worked as a Navy SEAL commander. The U.S. Southern Command, headquartered in Doral, oversees U.S. Military operations in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. 

July 17, 2017

FEC sues Rivera, wants $486K in fines over secret 2012 campaign cash

Rivera FEC (2)
@PatriciaMazzei @NewsbySmiley

Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera funneled at least $69,000 in secret campaign cash to a ringer candidate in the 2012 congressional election, says the Federal Election Commission — which wants the Republican ex-congressman to pay $486,000 in civil penalties.

The FEC sued Rivera in Miami federal court Friday, seeking the penalties over the unreported money Rivera and Ana Alliegro, a GOP political consultant, used five years ago to prop up straw candidate Justin Lamar Sternad against Joe Garcia in the Democratic primary. Garcia ultimately defeated Rivera in the 2012 general election.

“Rivera’s scheme involved concealing in-kind contributions by paying vendors mostly in cash to produce and distribute materials for Sternad’s campaign,” FEC attorney Sana Chaudhry wrote in the civil complaint against Rivera.

“Sternad’s disclosure reports failed to disclose the true source of the contributions, instead falsely stating that the contributions were loans from Sternad’s personal funds. Rivera took several measures to conceal his involvement and the source of the contributions.”

Sternad and Alliegro, whom Rivera used as his go-between, wound up with federal criminal convictions in the notorious illegal campaign-finance case. Rivera, however, has managed to avoid all criminal charges. The statute of limitations on criminal charges expires next month. 

The FEC’s civil case, in the works since April 2013 but delayed until now, is the latest indication that Miami federal prosecutors, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Mulvihill, are unwilling to criminally charge Rivera — even though U.S. District Judge Robert Scola took the extraordinary step of forcing Mulvihill to name Rivera as the target of his investigation back in 2014.

The FEC lawsuit was first reported by Politico Florida. The illicit campaign-finance scheme was revealed in 2012 by the Miami Herald.

Rivera, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing — or that he’s been investigated at all — could not be reached for comment Monday. His cellphone recording says he’s out of the country.

Rivera is now a 2018 candidate for Florida House District 105. Last year, he narrowly lost another state House bid.

More here.

Photo credit: Pedro Portal, el Nuevo Herald

Hard-charging Diaz de la Portilla finally debates in Miami Senate race


For 12 minutes Sunday, voters in Miami-Dade's state Senate District 40 finally got to see all three Republican candidates face off, for the first time, just nine days before the special July 25 primary election.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and attorney Lorenzo Palomares had participated in forums during the campaign. But former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla waited until Sunday to make his debut. And he picked the biggest stage to do so: WPLG-ABC 10's "This Week in South Florida," which hosted the only televised candidate forum in the race.

Diaz de la Portilla made the most of his air time, landing a couple of zingers directed at younger lawmakers -- read: Diaz.

"Tallahassee and the Florida Senate needs some maturity," said Diaz de la Portilla, who has decried what he calls the "House-ification" of the Senate. "We've seen a lot of petulant children: The Florida House members have messed things up."

Even when put on the defensive, Diaz de la Portilla attacked. When co-anchor Michael Putney mentioned political action committees engaging in negative campaigning, Diaz de la Portilla noted his own campaign account funds his ads -- a jab at Diaz, who's been backed by outside groups.

"I put my name on it," Diaz de la Portilla said. "I don't hide behind special-interest groups. I do it like men do it."

Asked about his 2012 misdemeanor arrest in Boston, which the Miami Herald reported earlier this month, Diaz de la Portilla called the incident "a mistake that happened five years ago, totally irrelevant to this campaign."

"I've proven my temperament and my judgment over all those years serving the public," he said. "There are much more important issues in this campaign that we have to deal with."

Diaz, his chief opponent, agreed.

"He raised taxes," Diaz said. "People care more about that than personal issues."

"That's an outright lie," Diaz de la Portilla shot back. "I never voted to raise taxes."

Palomares, who could barely get a word in, cut in.

"Nobody has attacked me!" he said.

Diaz was the lone candidate on stage to defend his vote this lawmaking session for House Bill 7069, controversial legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott that among other things directed more public dollars to privately managed charter schools.

"It was a bill that came in at the last point," Diaz said. "The only alternative was to vote against it, but there were good things."

Palomares questioned the constitutionality of assisting for-profit charter schools and said he would've voted against. 

"It was terrible," Diaz de la Portilla declared. "It was a 276-page bill dropped on the desk of all legislators two days before session ended. They promised us transparency. They promised us open government. They promised to tell us the truth. What they did is, they did it in the shadows."

Diaz got one jab in: He accused Diaz de la Portilla of allowing Tallahassee to end the "district cost differential" aid to public schools that benefited Miami-Dade. Diaz de la Portilla denied his involvement, though he was a close lieutenant of former Senate President Jim King, whose political legacy was in part eliminating the DCD.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated in the headline that the Senate race is for a House seat.

Jeb Bush cuts radio ad for Miami House candidate


Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is featured in a new Spanish-language radio ad for Jose Mallea, a former Bush aide running for state House in Miami.

"Jose Mallea is a trusted friend that's going to defend us," Bush, who is bilingual, says. "Jose will use his Republican values to work for you in the Florida Legislature. That's why I am asking you yo vote for Jose on July 25."

Mallea, a brewery owner who faces attorney Daniel Perez in the Republican primary, a nasty affair riddled with accusations and even a lawsuit between the two candidates.

Bush endorsed Mallea early in the race.

Listen to the ad.

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

Pjimage (2)


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.