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November 03, 2017

Curbelo is ready for a tax fight



Carlos Curbelo, Miami's lone representative on the House tax writing committee, is ready to debate a bill that would revamp the nation's tax code for the first time since the 1980s as special interest groups like the real estate industry voice opposition to the proposal.

"I'm not worried about them, I expected this," Curbelo, a Republican, said. "Every special interest group out there thinks the code is for them and the truth is the tax code, the tax system, is for the American people. What we're trying to do is simplify it, eliminate a lot of the special benefits to benefit more people across the board." 

A markup of the bill, dubbed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, is scheduled for Monday. 

"Most people are pretty pleased with the bill," Curbelo said, adding that there could be a Republican amendment during Monday's markup. "There are many opportunities to improve the bill, but most people are generally very satisfied with the bill."
Originally, Curbelo was in favor of a revenue-neutral tax plan that would not increase the federal deficit, though a revenue-neutral plan was not likely after House Speaker Paul Ryan and tax committee chairman Kevin Brady pulled a proposed border adjustment tax when idea faced opposition from trade groups and the White House.
"I always wanted to have revenue-neutral tax reform, in that sense I wish we could have done better, but politics is the art of the possible and this is where we are and we have to make the best of it," Curbelo said. 
Curbelo was also supportive of increasing the child tax credit to $1,600 from the current $1,000, though some Senate Republicans like Marco Rubio have suggested a $1,600 credit isn't enough to help working families. 
"That family credit is defacto permanent, you can take that to the bank," Curbelo said. "I know members on both sides will be supportive of continuing that." 
Democrats are expected to oppose the tax overhaul effort, though Republicans can pass the bill in the House and Senate with a simple majority due to budget rules that were enacted last week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can only afford two Republican defections in the Senate or else the tax plan will fail much like an effort to repeal Obamacare did earlier this year. 
Curbelo's 2018 opponent, Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, criticized his support for the tax plan in a statement. 
“We can all agree the tax code should be simpler but Curbelo’s tax plan is a giveaway to big corporations and the richest among us at the expense of Florida families," Mucarsel-Powell said. 

November 02, 2017

Curbelo, Ros-Lehtinen can apply for Hispanic Caucus membership (Updated)

Curbelo (1)


Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will receive a letter to officially apply for Congressional Hispanic Caucus membership, and then the body, currently made up of all Democrats, will vote on their application. 

Ros-Lehtinen has no intention of joining the caucus despite the invitation to apply, a spokesman for the congresswoman said.

The CHC executive council discussed Curbelo's potential candidacy during a closed-door meeting on Thursday, according to three members in the room. Curbelo has been trying to join the caucus since February, but the body has yet to make a decision. 

"The congressman’s intention has always been to join the Hispanic Caucus," said Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez

At issue is Curbelo's immigration stance. Some members of the caucus are concerned that inviting Curbelo would be antithetical to the group's position on immigration since Curbelo has not co-sponsored a version of the Dream Act, which would give the children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

The Dream Act has Republican co-sponsorship, including from Ros-Lehtinen, who urged a vote on the measure during a speech on Thursday. 

"Let's bring the Dream Act to a vote so that these young people can make their American dream a reality," Ros-Lehtinen said on the House floor. "The clock is ticking." 

But Curbelo has his own proposal, the Raising America's Children Act, that provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers but is more narrowly tailored than the Dream Act. Curbelo has pitched his solution as a conservative alternative to the Dream Act. 

"Even when I got into the caucus 14 years ago there was a vote by the other members and we'll take that vote," said Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva. "Once we're done that, he can possibly stop complaining that he hasn't been given an audience and start complaining about the result." 

Grijalva does not plan to vote for Curbelo even if he signs onto the Dream Act. 

"He's politicized it more than it should be," Grijalva said of Curbelo's desire to join the group. "He's the one running around whining about the fact that he's not being allowed in because he's a Republican. It has nothing to do with that. It's a political strategy to try to make himself in a competitive district look like he's a victim. He's not a victim." 

"We are absolutely, in writing, making it very clear that we recognize that Curbelo and Ileana informally have asked that they be part of the caucus, now they're going to be invited to formally say they want to be a member of the caucus," said CHC chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. "Every member of our caucus gets a vote." 

Lujan Grisham said the letter will be sent to Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen tomorrow and that a vote could take place next week if the Miami lawmakers reply promptly. Lujan Grisham has not made up her mind on whether she will vote for Curbelo, though she said "it may persuade some members" to vote for him if he signs onto the Dream Act. 

As for Ros-Lehtinen's candidacy, Grijalva said "she's been pretty consistent on our issues" but that the letter to her was more of a "gesture on her part." Ros-Lehtinen, who is retiring in 2018, was once part of the CHC but left along with other Republican members in 2003 over differences on Cuba policy. 

The caucus at one time included members from both parties, but several Florida Republicans walked out years ago and formed their own group, the Congressional Hispanic Conference. That group is chaired by Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who has said he’s not interested in joining the other caucus.

UPDATED 3:49pm

Ros-Lehtinen says she has no intention of joining the CHC. 

“I had informal conversations with Michelle and Lucille (Roybal-Allard) over this issue and I told them that I am saving money in my remaining time in Congress to pay for some Congressional costs I have outstanding and I don’t want to use those funds to pay dues to the Caucus," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Carlos is an outstanding legislator who merits being made a part of the Caucus and I hope that he is accepted by the Caucus."

Lesley Clark contributed 

Jack Latvala sees 'organized effort to tear down the Senate'

Turmoil involving a senator’s extramarital affair and the covert surveillance of another powerful lawmaker is threatening to disrupt the next session of the Legislature, a senior legislator said Thursday.

Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, a Republican candidate for governor, said Thursday that there’s an “organized effort to tear down the Senate ... and make us weak, so that we have a hard time standing up” in the 2018 session.

Latvala, entering his 16th and final year in the Senate, is the second most influential senator as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

His remarks, which are likely to increase tensions with the House, came during the AP legislative planning session during a question-and-answer session with Florida reporters. Some questions cited last week’s revelation that a private investigator was hired to follow Latvala to a dinner at a restaurant with a female lobbyist he has described as a friend for 20 years.

Latvala did not cite anyone by name Thursday. But he made the remark at the end of a lengthy critique of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who he accused of “a reign ... I won’t say a reign of terror, but there is not a good feeling by many, many members of the House about the control that’s exercised on them.”

Corcoran is considering entering the GOP primary for governor against Latvala and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Latvala said Corcoran’s crusade last session against tourism and economic development programs was not about policy, but was done to attract publicity. He said House members, who he did not name, have engaged in extramarital affairs during Corcoran’s tenure but nothing was done.

Corcoran criticized the Senate for a “wall of silence” following last week‘s abrupt resignation of Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Atlantis.

Latvala said the fallout from the Clemens controversy underscores the need for a package of ethics reforms in the 2018 session of the Legislature, including a ban on family members of legislators lobbying the Legislature and a ban on legislators’ law partners lobbying the Legislature.

"The bottom line is, you can legislate till the cows come in, but you can‘t legislate ethics and morality in people,” Latvala told reporters.

Curbelo's Hispanic Caucus invite stalls over Dreamers

via @lesleyclark

WASHINGTON -- Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's bid to join the all-Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus is hitting a hurdle, stemming in part from the Miami Republican's decision not to co-sponsor an immigration bill with support from both sides of the aisle.

The caucus could discuss Curbelo's bid at its weekly meeting Thursday, a week after some members privately raised questions about his inclusion.

Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., had predicted last week that members would easily extend an invite to Curbelo. But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. said Wednesday that members wanted more time to deliberate and seek further clarification about how it would work to have a Republican join the all-Democratic group.

“I don’t think the caucus should be anybody’s foil,” Grijalva said.

Curbelo is a top target for national Democrats eager to win his Democratic-leaning district in south Florida in 2018, but has insisted his bid to join the caucus is not politically motivated. He said he waited until after last year’s election to make the request. 

Curbelo had asked to join the group that takes up issues of concern to the Hispanic community in February, but has claimed that Democrats are deliberately stalling his induction.

Lujan Grisham said she’s been positive about Curbelo’s potential membership, but acknowledged that “in this climate” some caucus members have reservations.

“There is no effort to delay taking an action. There’s more of a thoughtful process to figure out what’s the best way forward,” she said.

More here.

Rubio expresses concern about House GOP tax plan

Marco Rubio 3


Marco Rubio has been touting the importance of expanding the nation's child tax credit to $2,000 as Congress discusses a potential overhaul of the nation's tax code for the first time since Ronald Reagan's presidency. 

But the initial tax overhaul blueprint released by House Republicans on Thursday only expands the credit to $1,600 from the current cap of $1,000. 

That doesn't sit well with Rubio. 

“Every other element of tax reform has a lobbying corps dedicated to pushing for it,” Rubio said last week. “There is no lobbying corps for the expanded child tax credit. We have to ensure that is not the reason that somehow at the end of this we look at this and say, ‘Yeah they increased the child tax credit, its $1,500.’”

On Thursday morning, Rubio said on Twitter that the "House Tax Reform plan is only starting point. But $600 Child Tax Credit increase doesn’t achieve our and POTUS' goal of helping working families." 

Rubio has been working closely with Ivanka Trump and Utah Sen. Mike Lee on an expanded child tax credit. Ideally, Rubio would like to expand the credit beyond $2,000, but said that $2,000 is the minimum amount that will help working-class families. 

"There's no way we can pass tax reform, there's no way we get 50 or 51 votes in the Senate and commensurate votes in the House to pass tax reform if, when you run the numbers, you show that a couple making $55,000 a year raising three kids are going to get a tax increase," Rubio said. "There's no way you’re going to get the votes for that." 

Rubio said last week that he will vote against any tax plan that does not sufficiently expand the child tax credit. 

Gov. Scott wants more money for human services in 2018 budget

In his final year in office, Gov. Rick Scott will ask the Florida Legislature for more money for child abuse investigators and improved adoption services, he said Thursday.

Scott was the lead-off speaker at the annual Associated Press legislative planning event at the Capitol in Tallahassee in advance of the 2018 session that will begin Jan. 9.

In opening remarks, Scott rejected criticism from Republican senators who have questioned his use of his executive power to make spending decisions after Hurricane Irma devastated large parts of the state in September.

 “I‘m going to spend every dime I can to protect lives,” Scott said.

 Contrary to projections by the Legislature’s chief economist, who has warned that the state is headed for a deficit if it doesn’t restrain spending, Scott said the state has enough money to pay for his spending priorities, including pay raises for select state employees, increased environmental spending and stipends for teachers to buy classroom supplies.

“We have the revenue. Our general revenue continues to grow,” Scott said. He added he‘s not in favor of spending hundreds of millions of dollars for local hometown projects in the next state budget.

Scott, currently the vice-chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said he will not seek the RGA’s chairmanship at its meeting scheduled for next month in Austin, Texas.

The two-term Republican governor is widely expected to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who has been in office since 2001.

Scott was scheduled to travel to Orlando later Thursday for events with Vice President Mike Pence and a Republican Party fund-raiser.

November 01, 2017

Bill Nelson defends his "friend" Marco Rubio during NASA confirmation hearing



Sen. Bill Nelson launched into a full-throated defense of bipartisanship and the nation's space program during a confirmation hearing for Donald Trump's pick to lead NASA on Wednesday. 

Nelson, the only sitting member of Congress who has been to space, took Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine to task for his past comments that were critical of Sen. Marco Rubio's role in crafting a comprehensive immigration bill with Democrats in 2013. 

"You made television commercials attacking my friend and fellow Senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, deriding his work to find common ground on immigration and claiming he was working to make America less safe," Nelson said during his opening statement. He also criticized Bridenstine for his attacks on former House Speaker John Boehner and Sen. John McCain for working with Democrats to craft legislation. 

"NASA represents the best of what we can do as a people," Nelson said. "NASA is one of the last refuges from partisan politics. NASA needs a leader who will unite us, not divide us. Respectfully, Congressman Bridenstine, I don’t think you’re that leader." 

The administrator of NASA is tasked with running the nation's space program and conducting research, and the position is usually given to someone with a background in research and science instead of an elected official. 

Rubio also voiced displeasure at Bridenstine's nomination when it was first announced in September, telling Politico Florida "it could be devastating for the space program." 

"Obviously, being from Florida, I'm very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission," Rubio said. "It's the one federal mission which has largely been free of politics and it's at a critical juncture in its history."

Though Bridenstine's nomination has been opposed by many Democrats and some Republicans, the Oklahoma congressman has received endorsements from space industry groups along with Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. 

"NASA is at a crucial time in its history, preparing to explore Deep Space again for the first time in forty-five years," Bridenstine said. "To do this sustainably, we must develop a consensus-driven agenda, based on national interests."

Nelson flew aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1986, 10 days before the space shuttle Challenger exploded in midair, killing all the astronauts on board. Columbia itself disintegrated during re-entry in 2003, killing all the astronauts on board. 

"It is certainly no secret how passionate I am about NASA having qualified and effective leadership," Nelson said. "This passion comes from a deep respect I have for NASA and for everything the space program does to advance our national security, our economy, our understanding of cosmos and of ourselves, and for the hope and inspiration that NASA provides to all.  It also comes from having witnessed, very directly, the tragic consequences when NASA leadership has failed us." 

Nelson is up for reelection in 2018 and is likely to face a challenge from Gov. Rick Scott.

Under Trump, U.S. again votes against UN resolution condemning Cuba embargo

via @HeraldMimi

Saying that Cuba has used the U.S. embargo against the island as a “shiny object to distract the world” from its own failures, the United States bucked the sentiment in the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday and voted against a resolution condemning the embargo.

The General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the embargo, but reflecting the Trump administration’s new harder line on Cuba, the United States voted once again to reject the nonbinding resolution. It was its 25th no vote on the resolution, which has come up every year since 1991.

The final vote was 191 in favor with two no votes by the United States and Israel, which traditionally votes with the U.S.

The renewed hostility between Cuba and the United States was on full display as Nikki Haley, the U.S. representative to the United Nations, called the long-standing debate on the embargo “political theater,” and said Cuba “is sending the warped message to the world that the sad state of its economy, the oppression of its people, and the export of its destructive ideology are not its fault.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez used more than half of his speech to take umbrage at what he called Haley’s “offensive, interfering statements,” condemn the Trump administration’s Cuba policy, and correct what he said were historical errors in Haley’s remarks.

“The United States, where flagrant violations of human rights are committed, hasn’t the slightest moral authority to criticize Cuba,” he said.

More here.

Photo credit: Cia Pak, UN photo

Republicans float another possible contender for Ros-Lehtinen's seat

@alextdaugherty @PatriciaMazzei

National Republicans appear unhappy with their choices in the race to replace Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen next year. And so they've floated the name of a potential fourth candidate: Alex Burgos, a former top aide to Sen. Marco Rubio.

Burgos left his job as Rubio's deputy chief of staff and communications director in April to become vice president of federal policy, government relations and communications for TechNet, which represents the technology industry. Until then, he had been Rubio's longest-paid adviser and the bedrock of the Miami Republican's Capitol Hill office.

He did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Burgos still lives in Washington, where he and his wife are raising three young daughters -- all potentially complicating factors for a congressional bid. But he's a Miami native who still has family ties to Florida's 27th district. Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, is retiring next year, leaving her Democratic-leaning district open to Democrats hoping for to pick up a seat.

The opportunity has drawn seven Democrats to the race -- and three Republicans: Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, former Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado and former Doral Councilwoman Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera. Last week, Barreiro made it onto the National Republican Congressional Committee's list of 31 candidates nationwide who could become eligible for fundraising help from the party.

But at least some in the GOP continue to be restless about their options. The NRCC had tried to recruit Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera to run, but he said in August that he's not interested.

Could midnight appointments to SCOFLA by Gov. Scott lead to constitutional crisis?

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The traditionally staid justices in black robes on Florida’s Supreme Court got emotional and animated Wednesday as lawyers asked them to weigh in on something more intimate than what usually comes before them: their jobs.

The issue before the court was whether Gov. Rick Scott has the authority to appoint three new justices to replace three current justices whose terms expire on the same day he leaves office in January 2019. Those appointment could tip the 4-3 balance of the court from progressive to conservative.

The Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause Florida urged the court to avoid a “constitutional crisis” that could emerge if Scott replaces Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince before his successor takes the oath of office. They argued that if Scott attempts a “midnight appointment” and chooses the successors before the deadline, it will draw lawsuits and send the court system into chaos. 

The justices must decide whether to clarify a law that has traditionally been murky — and potentially influence who may be their replacements and new colleagues in the next term — or leave the issue unresolved to potentially face another lawsuit to be decided by justices whose appointments could be questioned, thereby disrupting the normal functioning of the court. Read more here.